Business Standard


Self-publishing is adding a new chapter to the books business. Is it lit haste, or does it fill an important breach?


Next to the spacious stalls of publishing giants Penguin and Bloomsbury at this month’s World Book Fair, a modest outlet of Blue Rose Publishers beckoned aspiring writers with a board at its entrance that said, “Book Idea”. Inside, another board announced, “Expert Consultati­on”.

Blue Rose was among several selfpublis­hing firms that put up stalls at the World Book Fair 2024, which ran from February 10 to 18 at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi.

“Our business is growing at 20 to 25 per cent each year,” says Syed Arshad, who founded Blue Rose in 2015. “Our total revenue is closing at $1.4 million this year.”

Self-publishing is not new. Some notable authors, including a few who changed the course of literature, have selfpublis­hed. However, it received a big boost during the pandemic, especially in India. Stuck indoors, several took to writing, but not all could find a publisher.

“That year (2021), we published more than 1,000 books,” says Arshad. Next year, 2022, Blue Rose published 1,700 titles, and in 2023 it brought out 2,500. “This year, we are projected to publish around 4,000 titles with 2,000 already in hand,” he says.

Notion Press, which, according to its CEO, Naveen Valsakumar, is the “pioneer of the self-publishing industry in India”, was also the fair. The wooden shelves in its stall were packed with freshly printed copies of self-published books. A board inside flashed: “Every Story Matters.”

Notion Press publishes 30,000 to 35,000 books a year – “around 100 per day on an average,” says Valsakumar. It derives 85 per cent of its revenues from book sales and 15 per cent from services such as editing and designing. In 2016, it raised an investment of $1 million from high-net-worth individual­s.

With business booming, some selfpublis­hing firms are exploring foreign markets. In 2017, Blue Rose set up an office in London. The same year, Notion Press entered Singapore; it also has a presence in California.

DIY another day

Notion follows a do-it-yourself model, where authors sign in on its website and use its tools for typesettin­g, designing, and proofing their books. Then they submit their manuscript for to the Notion Press team for a review. “Once the book is reviewed (for legal issues), it is sent to the printers,” Valsakumar says.

Seventy per cent of a book’s revenue goes to the author, the publisher keeps the rest 30 per cent.

Blue Rose, too, uses the DIY model. "We generally have two packages: A convention­al one, which provides support and services to the author, as traditiona­l publishers do, and the DIY package, where authors can use our book creation tools and publish instantly,” says Shivam, who usually uses one name only and is the DIY Project Manager for Blue Rose.

Though self-publishing companies help authors of every genre, self-help books rule. “Self-help, particular­ly business self-help books, and those around health and fitness make up 45 per cent of our sales,” says Valsakumar. Fiction, particular­ly romance and whodunnit, follow with 30 per cent. Poetry (10 per cent) sells extremely well if the author has a good following on social media, particular­ly Instagram.

At Evince Publicatio­n, which says it helps self-publish about 1,000 titles a year, academic books sell the most. “Books for UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) or government job exams sell well,” says Vikas Singh, co-founder of the Bilaspur, Chattisgar­h-based publisher.

Those aged 25 to 45 dominate among authors who self-publish with these companies, though, according to Arshad, seven- to 90-year-olds have published with Blue Rose.

All bets are off

Bharti Taneja, a marketing profession­al who has worked with Simon & Schuster India and Pan Macmillan India, says several factors are contributi­ng to the growth of self-publishing in India. The support provided by self-publishing companies is a big reason. “With their help, authors can refine their content, and the advent of online marketing has provided them with direct channels to connect with their readers,” she says.

That several authors, who are now well-known, started out by selfpublis­hing helped in no small measure. “Several bestsellin­g authors in the publishing industry initially selfpublis­hed their works,” Taneja adds, listing Savi Sharma, Amish Tripathi, and Rupi Kaur as notable examples.

That said, it is not that every selfpublis­hing author is destined to become an Amish or a Rupi. Some stumble at the first hurdle. Not all manuscript­s that come to these publishers end up as a book.

“About 2,000 books are rejected every month on grounds of libel, blasphemy, or something we deem has no legal grounds to be published,” Valsakumar says. At Evince, the rejection rate per year is 5 per cent of the number of books published.

Lit haste?

The rapidity of self-publishing has sparked concerns about the quality of the literature it churns out. With minimal oversight and allure of instant gratificat­ion, authors may be tempted to skip editing and revision processes, leading to the proliferat­ion of subpar content.

Shabir Ahmad Mir, author of The Plague Upon Us (Hachette, 2020), says there needs to be a distinctio­n between vanity-publishing and self-publishing. “Vanity publishing is an extension of Instagram posts and Tik Tok videos,” he says. “It hardly matters whether anyone reads or buys such books.”

Some however say self-publishing fills a breach. “It is a parallel industry that caters to many talented first-time writers whose manuscript­s often go unnoticed in the overwhelmi­ng submission­s traditiona­l publishing houses receive,” says Ronjini Bora, former publicity and marketing manager, Harpercoll­ins.

It used to be a means of publishing works that could not find a traditiona­l publisher due to factors that had nothing to do with the merit or quality of the writing, Mir explains. These were books that were rejected for lack of commercial appeal, or because they were thought of as too experiment­al, or on moral, political or religious grounds, or simply because they were not in fashion.

“You have examples where selfpublis­hed works changed the course of literature,” Mir says.

Charles Dickens, dissatisfi­ed with his payout, self-published A Christmas Carol. James Joyce self-published his seminal work, Ulysses, considered the best novel ever written, because publishers at the time did not understand his stream-of-consciousn­ess technique. Marcel Proust started with self-publishing his first book, Swann’s Way.

That is not a bad lit list to be on.


Founder, Blue Rose Publishers

 ?? PHOTO: ATTAUL MUNIM ZAHID ?? With business booming, some self-publishing firms are exploring foreign markets. In 2017, Notion Press entered Singapore. Blue Rose set up an office in London in the same year
PHOTO: ATTAUL MUNIM ZAHID With business booming, some self-publishing firms are exploring foreign markets. In 2017, Notion Press entered Singapore. Blue Rose set up an office in London in the same year
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