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A word's worth: how self-publishing Challenges India’s Publishing Norms

Assignment for Boston University's Advanced Writing class, 2015.

While the written word fights a tough battle in the age of the Kindle and e-papers, the publishing industry is slowly but steadily evolving to include a relatively unorthodox direction for literature—self-publishing. As most aspiring authors still fight tooth and nail to get their manuscripts into the hands of traditional publishers and literary agents, a new breed of writers emerges from the crowd in an effort to boost this growing trend in India. The concept of self-publishing, while not entirely fresh, is one that’s still finding its place in the Indian publishing industry. With over 9,000 publishers in the Indian market, electronic consumer publishing accounts for 17 per cent of the books published—a statistic that swings in favor of self-publishing. For Malini Nair, head of publishing services at Wordit Content Design and Editing Services, it’s a process of discovering the different ways in which customers approach the concept. According to Nair, “People are interested to learn more about self-publishing—they’re reading up on the subject, understanding the processes involved, and slowly realizing that there’s more to publishing beyond the traditional avenue.” Niyati Joshi, editor at Crossword Bookstores Ltd., is of a similar opinion. She says, “The biggest change I’ve noticed in the industry is that the belief that only a traditional publisher has the power to validate your work is diminishing.” Nair also mentions that the ability for authors to maintain their rights over their own works is another factor that greatly affects their decision to opt for self-publishing.

Yash Vadalia, publishing associate at Wordit Content Design and Editing Services, further deduces that self-publishing seems to be growing as a trend simply due to the sheer volume of manuscripts sent out by aspiring authors on a daily basis. He says, “Traditional publishers now seem to be interested in starting their own self-publishing vertical due to the number of manuscripts they receive every day.” He goes on to mention that another factor aiding this growth is the number of options self-publishing companies offer in comparison to traditional publishers. “Blogs to books (tie-ups with blogging platforms), setting up the self-publishing arm for traditional publishers, literary agents, printers, working with institutions, and content writing for magazines are just some examples,” he lists. So what other factors influence writers to choose self-publishing versus going the traditional route? Nair mentions that a huge market exists for authors looking to publish books for a niche audience. “Even though traditional publishers wouldn’t be willing to invest in a book with a limited audience, self-publishing gives authors the power to dictate their book’s market reach,” she said. The ability to design their own audience and marketing plan are factors that really drive first-time authors to avail themselves of self-publishing services. Joshi believes that, “The most popular service with authors looking to self-publish is marketing. After all, a newly published book needs to be discovered by more and more people for the author to make any sales.” However, authors with rejection letters from one or many traditional publishers also resort to self-publishing, which raises the question of quality in the industry. “It’s a double-edged sword. Even though a larger number of clients does mean great news for the self-publishing industry, one can't really ensure quality writing in the market,” Joshi concluded. While authors of all genres seem to be flocking to publishers to get their work out in the market, fiction seems to be the popular choice for self-publication, according to both Nair and Joshi. “Fiction writers mostly seem to opt for self-publishing. Now, whether this is because more writers are fiction writers or whether traditional publishers are picky when it comes to fiction is something to be looked into,” Joshi added. Although it may not be the most sought-after route for every author, self-publishing harkens a new age of writers and creators in India’s literary world. Vadalia states, “We’ve received leads to 6,000 aspiring authors in the last year alone. While not all of them are interested in working with us, we still publish the works of 100-120 authors annually.” Monetarily, it provides agencies with the option to hold back on making risky investments, with the authors themselves taking fiscal responsibility for the success or failure of their work. With a plethora of services to offer, self-publishing allows publishers to cut their losses and switch things up by putting the authors in charge of their own work—a system that pays off. Literally.


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