Looking to Get Self-Published in India? Here Are Your Options

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In my interaction with several aspiring authors, I have of late come across a sordid truth – not many people know what ‘self-publishing’ really means. As in any field, ignorance leads to being scammed and cheated, and hence this post is a humble attempt to clear the air.

Basically, self-publishing is when the author puts in their own resources to get published, apart from the writing itself. These extra resources can be in terms of:- (1) time (2) marketing efforts (3) money.

The most important element to know about self-publishing is that the author needs to do everything to not only publish the book but also market it and sell it. There is little or no outside support for the actual sales, and even if there are, they are paid services.

So, let us get to the meat of this article and see the three types of self-publishing platforms that are available to Indian authors.

(Note that I am not including the option of getting the books printed at an individual level and sold on sites such as Flipkart, though that option exists as well. I am only talking of organized methods here.)

Self-Publishing on Amazon

This has gotten really huge in recent times and with Amazon’s zest for world domination, that’s hardly a surprise! Publishing on Amazon goes two ways too.

  1. Publishing eBooks on Kindle Direct Publishing: KDP is a service that allows you to upload eBooks with a front cover page and a blurb. You can price your own book. Your book goes live on the Amazon marketplace, and you can choose the territories you want to make your book available in, internationally. To some extent, you can also price your book for each marketplace. The minimum amount for Amazon India is INR 49, and you can get two types of royalties – 35% and 70%. Visit the site for more details.

  2. Publishing paperbacks on CreateSpace: CreateSpace is an Amazon service that allows you to print paperbacks. You submit your manuscript in its finished – edited, formatted, typeset – form and then it goes live on the Amazon marketplace. There are specific size instructions here and the cover page has to be a full cover page, which includes front, back, and spine. Again, you can price your book above a minimum.

    Note that CreateSpace has a huge drawback for India currently. Since their printing offices are located in the US, the books are printed there. So, if an Indian reader orders this book, they might have to spend a huge sum (upward of INR 700 for a 250 page print book). However, if some inside dope is to be believed, CreateSpace is setting up its offices in India soon, maybe by the end of this year. When that happens, it will be a boon to Indian self-published authors as the MRPs will be quite feasible.

Print-on-Demand Publishing

Print-on-Demand (POD) publishing essentially means that the books are printed when the orders are placed. Hence, there is zero initial investment. All the author has to do is to upload a finished – edited, formatted, typeset – manuscript on the site with a full cover page. There are specifications and even templates to do this on the sites, due to which even a complete rookie can master the craft of uploading in under an hour. All you need is patience to read the instructions.

Currently, the most respectable site that provides free POD in India is Pothi. Apart from this, there are paid POD services as well.

Pothi is an award-winning service with an amazing print quality. It also has a royalty calculator, where you can put in the number of pages in your manuscript, and you get an estimated MRP that you can price the book at. With extended paid service options, you can sell your book through Flipkart and other portals as well. Find out more information on the site.

Partridge India claims to be a POD as well, but it does not really fit into the definition here as it requires authors to buy a package first (see vanity below). However, it provides additional services in the package cost also, including editing.

However, there are a few drawbacks as well.

  1. POD can be expensive to the buyer. The reason is that copies are printed singly and not in bulk. This increases costs.

  2. POD attracts a significant shipping fee. Pothi is currently shipping at INR 70 per book, even for the authors themselves.

  3. If you go for their extended services (optional) of marketing, editing, cover page designing, etc., you might find they are not reasonably priced.

Vanity Publishing

Vanity publishing is the elephant in the self-publishing room that no one wants to talk about, but we cannot ignore it either.

This is the kind of publishing where you pay upfront for getting published. These are small publishing houses that provide printing (and sometimes distribution) services, and their business model is simple – “Pay us a sum of money for printing your book, and we will print them for you.” Usually it is a bundle of 200 or 300 books. Essentially, vanity publishing is a “safe” option for the publishers as the entire risk is borne by the authors. Due to this simple aspect, the vanity publishers do not do much (read: anything) in terms of promotion, distribution, or marketing.

At closest count, there are about 35 vanity publishers in India. These are the houses that charge money upfront for publishing.

It is a mystery why authors go for vanity publishing when other options such as POD and Amazon publishing provide almost the same services, and the onus of marketing in any case lies upon the author. Perhaps it is because vanity publishers have a stronger advertising voice on social media due to which new authors, who are usually quite vulnerable and gullible, see the lure in getting vanity published.

On the international publishing scene, vanity publishing is meant only for people who are looking to circulate some writing between family and friends, such as a family member’s memoir or a child’s collection of stories that has some significance for the family and no one else. It is undoubtedly strongly looked down upon in the literary world. People who get published through this mode are not even considered authors. Vanity comes from the word ‘vain’ as in ‘to be vain’. People who go in for this are generally those who wish to see their names in print as soon as they can.

As a closing word, I’d like to say that none of the forms of self-publishing mentioned here have any checks for quality. They print anything and everything that comes their way. They might have editing and proofreading services, but those are optional and paid. Hence, many authors don’t opt for them, which is why we see a lot of slipshod work in the self-publishing arena.

Better knowledge will help this world to improve. Self-publishing is definitely the new mantra of the publishing world but it can only stay if authors inform themselves better and become sticklers for quality.

13 thoughts on “Looking to Get Self-Published in India? Here Are Your Options

  1. A very nicely written and apt article. Self publishing, almost a rage, also ensures a book in a few months. However, the authors should remember the important aspect though, and all the time: the quality. With the convenience of self publishing to authors, the readers shouldn’t feel cheated. If an enthusiastic reader takes the risk to buy a few well advertised self published books and doesn’t find them up to mark, the reputation of the entire industry gets affected. So let us please (self) publish sensibly.

    1. Indeed. The impatience in putting work out is what is giving the industry a bad name. Self-publishing is actually a great tool if used correctly. Internationally, a lot of self-published books have become huge successes. Sensible publishing is the need of the hour.

  2. Thanks Neil for this info. Do have a question, would love to hear your thoughts on it.

    If POD gets cover, editing, printing done on a price (extended service) and so does vanity, then what is the difference between the two? Like you say Partridge calls itself POD….
    Then, does it not seem that self publishing really has only 2 brackets:
    in which you do it all yourself KDP vs.
    paid-whether Pothi or Partridge?

    1. The big difference here is that POD has these services as optional. For Maya’s New Husband, when I had put it up on Pothi, I did not opt for cover page designing or editing. I got it done outside of Pothi. So, for me, the publishing on Pothi was entirely free. So, Pothi IS NOT PAID if you don’t go for additional services (they are all optional).

      Partridge is a whole different ball-game. It gives you a package, and you have to pay. You CANNOT opt for those services outside. Partridge is technically POD, but for the author it does not matter as they have already paid an upfront package cost.

      Hence, Pothi and Partridge are miles apart. Similarly, there are many grey areas in this world; every business model is different.

  3. This is good info. Now I have actually started looking at publisher info before picking up a book just to exclude “vanity publishing”. Though there are some gems discovered, the percentage is quite low.

    1. I agree. But let us not completely discount that either. At present, many authors – even a lot of really good ones – do not know the difference. They go for vanity publishing because of either lack of research or impatience or some other reason. There might be really good vanity published books out there. I am sure of one thing though – the percentage of the good books will be abysmally low.

  4. Interesting and very helpful. I was confused about vanity publishing and this helped clear many doubts.
    I have a few question.
    1) You say that: People who get published through vanity publishing are not even considered authors.
    But with no checks on editing and proof-reading in the self-publish model, a lot of badly written books also make the cut. Are those writers then qualified to be called authors?
    2) How can a reader find out if a book had been published by a traditional publisher or by other modes? Is there any disclaimer that may indicate to a book being self-published?
    3) If a book is self-published, does it become difficult to publish again through a traditional publisher then?

    1. Hello! Thank you for your feedback. Now to answer your questions.

      1) When I say vanity published authors are not even “considered” authors, I am talking about the general perception of the industry, and even of the readers who know the difference. It is called vanity (from the word ‘vain’) because a lot of these people (and I agree there are exceptions) are vain enough to pay to see their names in print. Here, we must understand that the vanity platform itself was not designed for widespread publication. It was made for private circulation only, and hence it did not target people with literary merit. Amazon Publishing, on the other hand, was made for authors, and hence it gets a better clientele. Therein lies the crux of the difference.

      2) There is no way to find out for sure as there are no disclaimers. But you could see these things (a) there will be no ISBN in most cases (though the self-published author might have applied for one) (b) the imprint of a traditional publishing house will be on the cover if it is traditionally published.

      3) Yes and no both. If the book is very well-received as a self-published book, then traditional publishers might be interested. It has happened with some of the big authors today. But then, most traditional houses (especially the literary agents who represent them) do not wish to work with previously published works.

  5. Vanity/self-publishing/POD…you name it and it involves your money to get your name on a book cover even if the book is written by your maid. Most of these books are written and produced shabbily, and hardly ever edited. One known publisher wanted me to buy 1000 copies of my book, meaning an investment of over a Lac to build a coffee table from the lot in my drawing room! All of them want money, and there are many takers. Now I see two things before buying any “Best-seller”. (A) – the publisher, (B) – two negative reviews.
    Never go by the five-stars, start from the bottom to know about a book even if the cover has a glamorous or a famous name on it.

    1. Vanity requires money, yes. That’s the very definition of vanity. However, self-publishing through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords doesn’t. Neither does POD publishing through Pothi. I do agree about the shabby quality though. That is because these are self-publishing portals, and ignorant people who use this platform do not realize the importance of essentials of editing/proofreading. And good to know you are doing the research on the books you buy in the right way 🙂 It is better to do such review research on Goodreads. Check how many Goodreads community reviews they have; not just friends’ reviews. Goodreads reviews are mostly brutally honest because that is solely a community of readers.

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