Wondering how to publish a book in India? A candid look at my journey through the writing, pitching, publishing and marketing process.
I can hardly believe that just over a month ago, my debut book, The Shooting Star, finally hit bookstores. All those years ago, when I scribbled in my diary that my dream was to become a writer someday (among other dreamy professions like astronaut and detective), I never really meant it. I never really imagined that I’d have a published book with my name on it.
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve walked into plenty of bookstores, pinching myself as I saw
my baby The Shooting Star on their new arrivals and travel / non-fiction shelves. I’ve met plenty of you, my readers, at book launches, feeling a bit spellbound at being called an author and asked to sign copies.
Last night, I received an incredible update that The Shooting Star has already sold 10,000+ copies (in just over a month), acquiring the status of a “National Bestseller” in India!
While this journey has been surreal, the challenges of writing, publishing and marketing a book in India are real. Having sometimes cruised (and sometimes bruised 😉) through this journey, it’s time to share some secrets that authors seldom talk about:
Writing a book is a lonely journey
Even though The Shooting Star has been available on Amazon and in bookstores for just over a month, it has been a large part of my life for over two years. While many authors typically pitch to publishers before starting their first draft, I couldn’t bear to deal with the pressure of writing under a deadline. So back when I started working on this book, I had no idea if it would ever be published or read.
As I wrote and re-wrote, edited and re-edited multiple drafts through the years, my mind felt a storm of emotions and thoughts. Sometimes it erupted with words that filled sheets of paper (word docs actually); sometimes it bred self doubt and no words poured out. And yet those who knew me had no inkling of these inner storms… it was my journey and only I could walk it for myself.
The chances of making money off a book are shockingly slim
I feel extremely lucky to have been introduced to an editor who understood my work right away – and saw the potential of a book that can seek to challenge societal conventions that many of us have l grown up with. And yet, when it came down to the economics of writing a book, I was quite shocked.
The common perception is that if you publish a book, you can live off the royalties for the rest of your life! Well, turns out, only if you’re Ruskin Bond – and even in his autobiography (Lone Fox Dancing; incredible read), he writes about his struggles as a newbie author. Turns out, you already need to be a celebrity or famous guru for your first book to take off in huge volumes.
The harsh reality is that the royalties offered to authors are startlingly low, publishing budgets are scarce and the book industry is in decline. It blew my mind to learn that only a small handful of people can afford to be full-time authors in India.
Yet there is no greater feeling than holding your book in your hands
And yet, despite the fact that I spent years working on my book and harbor no illusions of making money out of it, I can’t quite describe the elation of holding a physical paperback copy of The Shooting Star in my hands. It still feels absolutely surreal that the words that poured out of me are inked on its pages, and will burn into the eyes (and hopefully hearts) of anyone who reads it. It still feels absolutely surreal to hear from those who’ve already read it, that this book, my book, made them contemplate a different path in life…
Also read: How I Conquer My Solo Travel Fears
Marketing is a bitch
During all that time I spent writing and editing the book, I dreamt of the moment the final manuscript would go to print so I could think about marketing and leverage my digital skills as a travel blogger. But when I got to that phase, harsh realisations fell on me like boulders I was unable to escape.
The first shock was learning that newspapers and publications are bombarded by an insane number of books to review every month – and you have to be really lucky to get a genuine review in the severely limited editorial space. I’m really thanking my (shooting) stars that last week, The Shooting Star got a review in The Hindu – one of India’s most widely read publications – written by veteran journalist Vijay Lokapally!
The second was learning that bookstores in India receive 10-20 new books every week – and the chances of a new author getting prominent shelf space, even in new arrivals, are disappointingly slim. A real low for me was walking into a prominent bookstore and finding the entire stack of my books hidden away in the “adult colouring” section. Yes, hilarious in retrospect 😉
The third, that Indian publishing houses don’t tend to spend sizeable resources (money, manpower, time) on marketing. Not surprising then is the mind-boggling statistic that 90% of books in India don’t sell more than 2000 copies!
Writing a book is an addiction
After 2 years of working on the book and a month filled with book launches and promotions, I feel exhausted – and full of admiration for authors who are able to create one beautiful work after the next. I’ve sworn many times in the past few weeks that I’ll never write a book again. That I’ve invested too much of myself (and my time) in The Shooting Star and I could never do it again.
But then I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas for my second and third books! I subconsciously find myself searching for a quiet place to park myself to work on the next one. I try to visualise how it’ll feel in my hands. Turns out, writing a book is a bit of an addiction; I don’t know if I’ll fight it or succumb.
Somehow a book reaches the right people
Meeting so many of you over the last few weeks at my book launch and travel meetups in Mumbai, Pune, Dehradun, Delhi and Goa has convinced me of one thing – The Shooting Star is somehow, almost magically, reaching the right people. Those of you who dream of doing life differently, seek meaningful travel encounters and can’t contain your wanderlust. The rebels, the dreamers.
Although I’ve had this travel blog for over 7 years, I feel like it’s only now that I’m finally connecting with my true readers. As I continue to spread the message of the book through talks and travel meet-ups across India, I’m dedicating this blogpost to:
- The guy who drove early morning from Pune for my Bombay book launch, and back for the Pune book launch.
- To the girl from Bastar, Chhattisgarh who came to Bombay to convince me to visit her state (promise, I will).
- To the guy who journeyed all the way from Manali to attend the Dehradun book launch.
- And to friend and fellow blogger Mariellen of Breathedreamgo, for attending the back-to-back book launch events in Dehradun and Delhi… and penning a heartfelt review of The Shooting Star that had me in tears.