Interviewing Pankaj P. Singh, the owner of The Browser made me relive my childhood in the Union Territory of Chandigarh in the 1980s.
I loved books but in our small laid-back town, only the State Library offered books that I could easily borrow. My parents, though readers themselves, preferred the borrowing route.
Much later in the 1990s, I heard that The Browser had opened. Initially, it was a book store and then, heavens be praised, they started a library. In addition to that, an excited friend told me that they offered home delivery and pick up of the books.
Wondering if they would ever deliver to Panchkula, a small satellite town near Chandigarh where we had recently shifted, I called them, and they said ‘YES!’ It was such a joy for me to know that a library full of books lay at the other end of my landline!
For me, that was my abiding memory of The Browser, and it makes me so glad to interview Pankaj Singh, the owner and founder of The Browser – a book store and a publishing house who made it all possible.
N: Hello sir, how did you start with the idea of The Browser, a library and a bookstore in 1997?
P: Multiple influences around me contributed to the idea of The Browser.
My father is an army officer. Whenever we went to various cantonments, I would always be very fond of army libraries. I used to visit them a lot and I distinctly remember the central library in the Central Command, Lucknow. I still remember the lotus pond near it.
I was in class nine when my dad got posted to Nagaland. I used to go to the libraries there, but the best library I came across was when I was doing my engineering in Delhi.
I used to visit the British Council library and the sheer amount of resources they had was an eye-opener. They would have these British plays and foreign magazines. It was a whole different environment. The kind of stuff they carried was all very attractive for someone who had very little access (to libraries) because our engineering college library was practically in shambles.
N: Actually, come to think of it, libraries are not so common in India.
P: I would not say that they are not common. I have been in this field for so long. We literally have lakhs of libraries to start with but there’s no library culture. They’re not maintained well, nobody funds them, readers are neglected, and the resources are neglected.
Every single university offers a Library Science degree; so many Library Science graduates pass out every year. From the time I opened The Browser 25 years ago, I must have employed, almost a few hundred of them and the most surprising thing I found is that not one Library Science graduate reads. I mean what do you do in your degree if you don’t read a book and how do you deal with books as a career?
The sad fact is that’s how we are teaching Library Science graduates. It’s not just one aspect. It’s the whole culture right from the people who are teaching Library Science to the people who are managing libraries to the government. At that time, there was nobody in the private sector.
When I came to Chandigarh, I had a desire but I didn’t know how to start and I was married by then. My wife and I were debating. I said, “Let’s first do a bookstore. It’s a safer option as everyone understands how a bookstore works but no one knows how a library works in terms of commercials.”
So, we started as a bookstore but the urge to start a library did not go away, within six months, we set aside a corner in the bookstore and declared it to be a library!
We said people can pick any book from the bookstore and we’ll move it to the library. The collection started from zero and every single book since then, over 25 years, has been hand-picked by customers. We don’t have a selection committee to choose books. We don’t do anything. We just give them a bookstore and you know, whatever you want to read, pick and it’s in the library after that.
That’s how it happened and for a long time it was very nice, and then again technology came in, changes happened, Covid happened. So finally, last year (2022) we wound down.
N: That’s sad because now there is only one state library, and I don’t know what state it is in (pun unintended!). 20 years ago, it was in quite a terrible state, and I remember I got an eye infection by reading one of those dusty books. I love reading dusty books…you know, they just smell so good.
P: Yes…some people patronize libraries and have a passion for books. I am not denying it but I wish the culture was deeper and broader. Very good people are doing good work in the bigger cities.
You’ll see them in Pune, Bangalore or Chennai and a lot of work is being done there. There are a lot of these entrepreneurial libraries now, so it’s not as if that nothing is there but yeah, it’s pretty sparsely distributed. I wish there was a much deeper culture, for example, the West has a very deep culture.
In the West, even when you have a population of 10,000 people in a village or a town, you’ll find a Barnes and Nobles, and a library. You’ll find so many bookstores. I mean, even a small place, can boast of about four or five bookstores. Chandigarh has three new stores which are general books and others are all academically inclined. You can imagine, we were the last entrants and we started 25 years ago! No one’s come after that.
N: I can say the same thing for the suburb of Bombay where I live. When I shifted in 2018, there was Landmark (an Indian bookstore chain, at that time) and a small bookstore. Then Landmark shut down but thankfully the small bookstore is still open.
P: Landmark is an example. You know, Landmark was so good in books and the moment it got sold to a corporate, they gradually got out of books and now it sells just merchandise. The Crossword (Indian book-store chain) story is roughly similar. Now again, Crossword has been sold to someone, so now, they’re again going back to books but let’s see…these things are unpredictable.
N: From your experience of the bookstore and the publishing that you’ve started now, what do you see are the most popular genres in non-fiction that people usually pick up in India?
P: See, the surprising revolution in India has been in non-fiction. We never used to publish so much non-fiction, nor did we consume so much. As Indian publishing opened up, many non-fiction options gradually opened.
For example, in ’97 when we started, I think, Penguin was there. Still, the others were not strongly represented. For example, Pan, Simon and Schuster did not have any Indian branches. They were importing. So, for example, Harper Collins was being distributed and imported by Rupa and Penguin India had come up. So maybe, there were one or two foreign publishers in India.
But gradually, we saw each one of the international publishers set up base here. After setting up base, each one came up with the so-called Indian language publishing program. They wanted to do Indian books by Indian authors and that’s when the boom started.
Many Indian authors started writing which gave the impetus to non-fiction. Fiction has always been there and people have always written stories and that has always been the case but in non-fiction, we never had the depth of subjects. Now, if you survey, our shelves are full and some of it is very classy and very good writing.
N: In non-fiction, you do military history, which again, is a very good genre in itself and despite India’s long military history, there’s not much that’s been written.
P: Military history still needs more exploration but there’s been some progress, in fact, good progress has been made. Now all the big publishers have a military list. Penguin and even Harper have it. You’ll find that suddenly military authors are in demand.
So that change has occurred, but yes, by and large, military history is still a fraction of what we do. If you see military history abroad, some specialized publishers only do military history and they have huge lists.
Let’s say for example, if you were to talk about World War II writing about the Indian military or World War writing, it’s very scanty and you’ll find maybe a handful of books. Whereas, if you talk about World War I or World War II books abroad, the catalogues would be thick, although Indians were amongst the most numerous participants in the wars.
N: We never got to tell our stories.
P: The stories never came out. We, as a culture, don’t wish to record or document our stories, whereas in the West, they are very inclined to record everything. So they preserve, note and write about it while we don’t.
N: Yes, there are very few diaries of Indians that you find!
P: Yes, maintaining diaries, noting down things, war correspondence, people who are there for noting things.
N: And when you moved to publishing, how did that come about?
P: So it was the same fear, you know, when I started. I wanted to do a library, but I started a bookstore because I thought, “How will we do a library?”
It was the same with publishing for a long number of years. I was thinking, “Can we do it and whether we should do it?” It was always there at the back of my mind that one day I want to do it and then one fine day, I got a call from General Brar.
He walked into my office and said, “Pankaj, I’ve written a book and I need some advice about how do we go about publishing it?” So, I said that he most welcome to talk about it.
He came to my office, and I gave him the usual inputs that you know, “For Penguin you have to write to the editorial and there is a pipeline. You send your book and they say, they’ll get back to you.” And then somewhere in the middle I just said, “Sir, if you trust me, I’d like to publish the book.”
It just came out of my mouth.
His immediate reaction was, “Why not!”
So that’s how it happened… I took on the first book and he was happy, I was happy too.
N: It’s so interesting that we could talk about gut instinct…when we learn to listen to what we really want to do, it’s worth it.
P: I would say, not only gut instinct, because publishing involves the trust of another person. So, if you’re doing the first job, the other person has to know that you are also learning on the job. He has to be able to trust you because you will also learn on the job and you haven’t done publishing before.
I may have been in the books line exposed to many things but still publishing is its own ball game. Gen Brar’s book…I edited on my own. So, it was my first editorial experience too… Getting the cover design and doing more things like that was a learning curve but he trusted me and what came out was of high quality.
N: And then how did you market the book? Tell us about the marketing journey and the distribution Journey…
P: That is where the real fight is and it is still the reason that small publishers in India cannot overcome these barriers. Distribution in India is very skewed towards the large players. For example, there are only two or three big all India distributors like Prakash, India Book Distributors, IBH which folded up and Rupa is a pan India distributor.
Now, the problem with these people is that they focus on their bigger accounts. So for example, Prakash is the sole distributor of Penguin and Penguin distribution runs into hundreds of crores in terms of business per day. Prakash has say six or seven branches across India, they have the reach…they have everything.
When you go as a small publisher, you don’t get traction because they are interested in the books that will sell 5,000 copies, 10,000 copies, 20,000 copies and there is so much pressure… so many titles rolling in.
Even if it is a good book, like I said Gen Brar’s book for example (it was good book), but I can’t expect it to sell 5,000 copies. I’m expecting it to sell maybe 1,000 or 2,000 copies, so there is no interest from their side. Even if they take on the book, they don’t really promote it the way you want them to and as a small publisher, you don’t have the wherewithal to be in every corner of the country.
Bigger publishers have their own people posted in the major metros, at least. They go around the stores and then get back to the distributors saying, “Yaar iske paas ye khatam hai, uske paas who khatam hai… Why don’t you send them?” (Hey…this bookseller has exhausted this title and another bookseller has exhausted another title… Why don’t you send them?)
There’s a lot of legwork involved and as a small publisher, you are not able to do the field leg-work and you’re also depending on the big distributors who hardly have time for you. There’s only so much you can do for one book.
Amazon is its own ball game. Amazon, today, is like any other social media platform – highly advertisement dependent. So just listing your book gets you in a pile of millions of entries and again, the game is to find professional people who will advertise for you. There is a lot of keyword research and there’s a lot of feedback loop involved…then fighting for reviews is a different game where you have so many people doing paid stuff and whatnot and also influencers.
So sales and marketing are where the real challenge lies for the small publisher. It’s not easy to crack and you struggle with it.
N: And all this talk is only about the latest best sellers, but the main money is made from the backlist…because the marketing for that over the years has compounded in effect. Like even now, when I go to a bookstore, I see the classics section and invariably somebody would come and buy Agatha Christie. And people also like to buy what they know, I think.
P: So, this is where the advantage lies with the foreign publishers. When the foreign publishers came to India, they came with ready-made backlists…when Harper came, for example, Agatha Christie had already been selling for decades.
So the moment they stepped into the field, they had a consistent sale of a certain volume of a certain number of titles from their backlist…so for them to penetrate India was relatively much easier than for a Greenfield publisher like us or someone else who’s trying to break in…we don’t even have the advantage. Our backlist is going to be built painfully slowly over time.
Publishing in any case is a very long-term process. Anyone who wants to be a publisher has to think in decades. You can’t even think in terms of years to build a consistent backlist.
N: When I talk to authors who are writing their own books, I tell them to start talking about what they’re writing. I tell them to start creating some noise so that by the time their book is out, people who are interested know about it…. And slowly build on that because you have to keep on working continuously on your book.
As a publisher, do you help your authors with those things also because they would be completely new to it?
P: We do and again, this is an investment we have made consciously. The biggest lacuna we found as small publishers was that we did not have adequate digital marketing support and that is the key to promoting anything unique today.
You need to create an author’s platform on social media, you need your own platform, you need influencers, you need so many of these things. We ultimately realized that there is no shortcut and if we are to survive and make a difference for our authors, we need to do this full-fledged. So we set up a, sister unit you may call it, or a new start-up—99beagles.
99beagles is a digital marketing start-up focused mainly on publishing and authors. So, while we are definitely promoting our authors, we are also using 99beagles to leverage for other publishers and other authors who may need our help. We realize that this is where the gap lies and this is where the opportunity also lies.
We are developing, so we have people who are specialized in Amazon marketing, who know how to run your ads on Amazon, people who are into Google, Facebook, Instagram— all these kinds of things and therefore, now we are able to support our authors much better and much more consistently than in the past.
N: How does an author get in touch with you and how do they work with you?
P: Getting in touch is hardly an issue because our email, our website and our phone number are accessible on social media and there is no problem there at all.
After getting in touch we are slightly selective. We like to see the manuscript first. Particularly in The Browser, I have kept an open mind when it comes to the spectrum between what is called self-publishing and traditional publishing.
So self-publishing is normally, you know, frowned upon very deeply by bigger players. Self-publishers (vanity publishers) charge and put anything out. Even booksellers frown at them.
I’ve been a bookseller and I know the problems of self-publishing. A lot of the material is not up to the mark, so you don’t want to give it shelf space, you don’t want to lose space for a book that will sell and replace it with something that no one’s going to appreciate just because the author has paid for it.
So self-publishing has a challenge in that sense. I realize and I understand where that is coming from but then… self-publishing is also about democratizing authors’ voices, it is about, you know, bringing those books which mainstream publishers may not want to publish.
Self-publishing does not automatically mean low quality. It is just that people who have not invested in the process enough, don’t get it through editorial, and basically don’t get it into shape. Those are the kind of books that suffer, and one of the problems there is that certain publishers are not bothered about it.
So there are self-publishers who are only looking at numbers or only looking at the money and not looking at standards at all.
In our case, being small, we cannot afford every book.
So, if an author comes to me and says, “Here’s my manuscript, would you invest in this?”
There are certain manuscripts where I would want to invest my money. I would want to invest everything I have because I believe in it, right?
Certain manuscripts where I may be doubtful, I may feel that this has potential but I cannot invest.
Plus, if I can invest in 50 manuscripts, and if I’m getting 60, 70 or 80 manuscripts, I cannot invest in all. That’s where I take the self-publishing route.
I encourage them to share the costs but then again, I’m very selective about what we are putting out and I am equally rigorous in the editorial process. I do not allow them to bypass an editorial. I refuse manuscripts where people say, “I have done everything. It’s final, you don’t have to touch it.” I refuse it point blank.
If you are not doing editorial, I’m not touching it even if you give me any guarantee because I have to be sure of what I’m putting out… and unless my editors see it and come back and tell me that this is absolutely in a fit state, I am not trusting it. Come what may.
So we are slightly different in our approach in that sense, but then it helps us to do better quality books and so I would say that I have the spectrum… I’ve done some self-published books and I’ve done some excellent traditionally published books.
It all depends on the author or the manuscript, so I always request for the full manuscript up front.
I want to see the whole book. People send me a sample chapter or two. I cannot take a call based on that. Give me the whole book, let me see it. You have to trust us if you want to publish with us…that’s my approach.
N: How long does it take after they send you the manuscript?
P: I normally commit four to six months.
N: But do you respond because people say with publishers you rarely get a response until it’s accepted?
P: I like to give a response even if I’m not taking it up. I usually write back and say that we are sorry, we are not going to be able to do this book and I don’t hold back on that side but yes, four to six months is my normal turn-around time.
N: What are the genres you have published till now?
P: We’ve done fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, coffee table books and journals. In terms of genres, we’ve done a lot. The only things possibly which I’ve not done are rom-com and mysteries. I enjoy great non-fiction. I’m inclined more toward non-fiction but military is not the only defining requirement.
N: I found it so good to see military fiction here because though you’re saying publishers like Penguin and Harper have it, but they don’t aggressively talk about it.
P: We are doing more in military history now…
We are launching a special imprint for our military books we are calling it Fauji Days. It is in fact, a bigger project and this has come out of the 99beagles where I have a lot of audio-visual resources. Also, I have a full team on audio-visual with cameras and everything.
I now have the digital marketing people so we thought that you know a lot of the storytelling on the military side is oral. Most military personnel are not writers but they’re very expressive. They are very good storytellers. So I thought, “Why not capture oral history? Why not capture it on camera brilliantly and then if time permits and if this thing works, turn them into books?”
We announced this initiative in the Military Literature Festival which happened in Chandigarh from 2-4 Dec 2022.
We’re just doing the preparatory work. We’ve shot about eight episodes. The first episode has Major DP Singh who got injured in the Kargil War and is India’s first Blade Runner now. His is a phenomenal story of courage and grit. We’ve done one interview with him and we’ve done one with Major Navdeep who’s a military lawyer.
This is how we are now capturing oral history under Fauji Days and we will do books on them after that.
N: Wonderful and you’ve worked with how many titles till now?
P: At The Browser, we have published 35 plus titles and then I also consult for another publisher in Delhi whom I’ve helped set up from the scratch. It’s a publishing house called BluOne Ink. They appointed me as the head of publishing and there we have done close to about 45-50 titles now.
N: That’s very interesting because you’re in publishing and helping another publisher also set up a new business. I can see that you love sharing your knowledge.
P: I have no problem. I am happy guiding anybody. Even if an author comes to me, I have no hesitation in telling them how to reach a Penguin or how to reach a Harper because I think good work should be done…nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter who does it.
N: After working with so many titles, what are your learnings on making a book a success? What do you think should a writer do?
P: I don’t know if you will find my answer slightly unconventional but my ultimate feeling is that what makes a very successful book is Destiny.
This is what I feel…I mean the best of writing can go nowhere and the worst of writing can become a bestseller. There are enough examples on both sides to prove it right.
The second thing I see is that every book is not everybody’s cup of tea. You may like a book or someone may hate it. It’s a mixed bag there.
So while effort has to be put in, there is no denying the seriousness of the effort from the author’s writing it to the publisher— a lot of effort goes into bringing a book to the market; promoting, polishing and editing… all those efforts are genuine and required BUT the book has its own karma.
No publisher can guarantee success. But what I do believe in very firmly is that every piece of writing has its place under the sun. It is important…so whether it is reaching five people, 50, 500 or 5,000 doesn’t matter but there is a reason why we write and there is a reason why we consume, and that reason is everything.
Therefore, even if your book is going to 50 people tomorrow and that’s all it does, I think that’s reason enough to write it and similarly for a publisher as long as the economics work out. I’m not saying everyone has to pay from their pocket but if you can reasonably put a good book out there, you should.
A lot of my decisions have been taken on just this basis that you know this is a story that should be out there…without knowing how successful it will be, without knowing how much money it will make.
N: Personally, in the kind of expert books I write I think the desire to share, to guide and to express learnings should be very strong in an author.
P: I agree with you. There are books which are written for symbolic reasons, there’s no denying that. Some people will write just to, you know, show that they are authors…
Similarly, many people buy books just for the same purpose.
One trend that has emerged recently in book publishing is that books are now being acquired as objects. I don’t think it’s a bad trend but it’s a change in our approach to books.
So, books are more, let us say, more illustrated, more colour oriented, more appearance oriented, there’s a lot of special treatment being done on the covers—embossing and special materials.
All that is happening because now more and more people are treasuring the book as an object.
I know people who buy classics. They’ve already read the classics, they might know it by heart, or they know the story, but they want to acquire a newer edition, just for the shelf value.
That’s another facet of books which is a very interesting in itself—why we treasure books and why books appeal to us in that way…
N: There’s one more trend that I’ve seen in non-fiction books that did quite well where the author created Illustrated versions of that book to cater to a wider audience.
P: Exactly, we are also thinking along these lines for some of our books because there is value there too. If you do special things like illustrations, you get drawings done, you get something done…. it’s absolutely adding value to the book.
N: Can you explain your publishing process? What do you do? How you told me that it takes you four to six months to respond…once you respond with a yes, then what happens?
P: Like I said, at present, I’m the one who takes the call whether we want to publish something or not. I do hope to delegate this shortly as my team gets better.
N: Because that’s a lot of reading for you to do…
P: Exactly, that’s where the delay happens because things pile up on my table…but yeah for the time being I’m the one taking the call that you know whether I want to do this manuscript or not.
Once I take the call then I have a team of professional editors who do the first round of editing. We have a house style sheet that they’re expected to follow and based on those guidelines they complete the editing.
Then, there is the editorial review.
Currently, I’m the one handling this but I have just hired a new person who will join me in that capacity to do the review editing. In the review round, we merge the changes of the first round into the main manuscript.
Then we share the editorial changes with the author, take a final consent and once the author is okay with the changes, we go ahead.
If there is anything to be discussed or debated, we do that and then it goes for the layout.
After the layout, we have a round of proofreading.
Then we come out with a sample hard copy. We print it digitally and that copy is shared with the author again for a final reading, just in case, there are still some typos.
Once everything is approved, we go for the mass printing, in terms of offset or whatever has been decided.
If there are illustrations involved, if there are drawings to be incorporated, photographs to be incorporated, then that becomes the additional process in the layout stage.
Then, there is an independent channel that is the cover design. Simultaneously, we start the cover and again there are inputs taken from the author. We prepare a couple of options and share them with the author to narrow it down.
There are the small things like getting an ISBN allotment and deciding the subject categories, the Amazon listing, the KDP listing, the whole kinds of side processes which have to happen along with that and then, finally, once the book is out then the marketing and you know, the sales processes have to kick in, so that’s the cycle of a book.
N: Is there any benchmark? Like for fiction books, you need some months prior to marketing and later?
P: It depends on the book…
For books where you would think there’s a very high potential, you have to start much earlier because you would need to bring on board influencers, you have to print what is called Advanced Review Copy (ARCs). So, you print the ARCs and send them out to as many people as you can…to newspapers and magazines for review.
In BluOne Ink Publishing, we have done some big titles recently. Sometimes, you even end up hiring a professional PR agency to get articles in the newspapers and stuff like that. It’s about how much money you can invest in the marketing game…time is limited because if you want do too many things, then you need adequate time to build the buzz.
For smaller titles where you will not have big budgets and you’re not going to be spending so much…so the time needed is not so much. You basically put it out in the stores and supplement it with your digital marketing. If you can carry out a few author events, one big release event and two or three supplementary events, that’s about what you do for a smaller title and it’s not a constraint.
N: As you’ve worked with so many authors over the years, have you seen some change in the authors?
P: They are definitely more aware…
Nowadays, you meet very few authors who come without having explored a few things. So, they would be aware of, say, how Amazon KDP works. They would be quite aware of some self-publishers. They will already have some quotes from them and would be quite aware of quite a few things.
Sometimes because they are going to many places…everyone’s marketing is good… so the self-publishers will give them some false hopes or some false pictures. So, they also come with some pre-notions which we have to educate them about…that this is not going to work the way they’re thinking. It’s like what’s happening in medicine literally with a google search…
Sometimes I have to tell them to leave our work to us and worry only about the writing.
N: That takes me to another question, how much do you charge for self-publishing?
P: I don’t have a rate card, absolutely no…
Like I said self-publishing is just one option. My mind is not even made up till I have seen the manuscript. It all depends on the complexity of the work that I think will be involved. So if it’s light-touch editorial and it’s fairly well written, I will not charge much.
We have recently done a coffee table and every photograph had to be improved and touched upon, Photoshop work then layout work was required… so when I know that this book is going to take a lot of effort, I will quote accordingly.
I always tell my authors that I will give you a written estimate with all the details once I have gone through everything.
I don’t have a rate card at all and I have nothing to show that, you know, this is my standard rate nor do I have packages…everyone is working on packages. It’s a very direct thing because I believe that there’s no point in doing a book if you’re not having a relationship with the author. I’m still coming from a traditional mindset even though I have to do self-publishing because I can’t afford every book and I still feel that it should be done… So, if the author can help with the cost, why not? That’s the way I look at it.
N: And what about your learnings in the publishing space? When authors come to me, there are a lot of questions about the publishing space… One is of course for self-publishing but what should an author look for when they go for publishing, what should they be wary of?
P: The problem here is that people have mixed experiences. For example, let’s take the very big publishers, the Penguin and the Harpers. Penguin for example, rolled out a self-publishing program under Partridge and I had many authors come to me with Partridge books saying, “We got this book done by Penguin. We paid a heavy cost but they are not supporting us in sales and distribution. Can you please keep my copies here in your bookstore?”
They (the authors) were reduced to selling their own books effectively, although they had the Penguin logo on the book which is a major thing. I mean your book carrying the Penguin brand logo is a very major thing even though under the Partridge program. They were putting a Penguin logo, but the authors were literally left on their own and they were forced to buy back something. They would say, “I have 200 copies, what do I do, can you help me?”
In that sense, it was not a great program. Ultimately, Patridge though not shut down, now is an independent program but at least they are no longer putting their logos there.
Even the big publishers want to tap into this euphoria of self-publishing. I also know of other big publishers whom I will not name…they charge for certain books. So, they also don’t want to let go of anything. If they feel that the book has some potential, they do it and tell the authors to pay for it. So in a way, they’re milking their brand essentially.
The learning from here is that authors will not have a uniform experience even if you go to the big guys because if your book is genuinely good and you are a name to reckon with in your field then at least you are at a certain level and will get the traditional publishing experience from them. They will put their team behind you, they will do justice and you will feel happy but if you are not at that level or where they don’t assess you at that level, then even they will give you a compromised experience.
I have had authors who went to the biggest teams and have come back and told me that.
For example, one gentleman brought a manuscript to me. He took a quote from me and I’m sharing the figures with you very openly. I quoted about Rs. 90k for all the work that was involved. He went to a big publisher again whom I won’t name. That publisher charged him a lakh plus.
He was very nice, and he came back and said, “I’ve taken the decision, I don’t want to keep you in the dark. I’m going ahead with them even though they’re costing me more, I’m going ahead with them.”
I said, “Absolutely right, they’re a big brand. Their reach is so vast across India. I’m sure it’s the right decision…please go ahead.”
He did that. The book came out beautifully done with all editing support. Everything was good but when it came to sales and marketing, he felt absolutely let down. He came back to me saying, “I want your help to push this book because they are not helping me much with the sales.”
So, his experience was a mixed bag. You know, ultimately, he did not feel happy at the end of it. Even though it come out well. Everything is good but that’s how it is. The learning only is that again it’s partly your work.
Small publishers may invest a lot more with you because they have fewer books to literally bank upon whereas the big publishers really don’t care about individual titles that way.
N: Absolutely, that is what I’ve seen with friends who have published with the big publishers. Yeah, the initial support comes for one or two press releases and one or two readings after that they are more or less on their own.
P: But then you may draw satisfaction that at least you are on their list… you get bragging rights, at least.
N: Thank you sir for this extremely informative interview about publishing in India, the challenges of small publishers vs the big publishers and what should authors look out for.
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