Lovely Book! By Tim Geers

Cost of Self Publishing my Book in India

Image credit: Lovely Book! By Tim Geers at Flickr

Call it epiphany, or a combination of circumstances, or a  mere coincidence. Earlier this week, I decided that I should write a post on how much self-publishing NRI:Now Returned to India cost me. That was on Monday. By Thursday morning, I had the draft ready, but then two events prompted me to re-write this post and publish it a day later.  On Thursday evening, the moderator of the Nanowrimo India group on Facebook posted an article from The Write Life which discusses the costs incurred by four authors on self publishing their books. That article prompted a discussion within the group, and some members shared their costs- which ranged from Rupees 15,000 (around 250 U.S dollars at the current exchange rate) to Rupees 150,000 (or about 2,500 dollars). The latter cost has been incurred by yours truly. And that’s what prompted me to re-write this post.

First and foremost, the cost is very much on the higher side. (Rather as Rasana Atreya put it, that is WAY too expensive). I agree, and I am not making any excuses for it. But first, let us look at the breakdown of the costs. they are as follows:

All figures are in Indian Rupees. On the day I publish this blog, you can convert using the following for US Dollars, divide by 62; for Euros, divide by 70. (follow the links for Euros and US Dollars for the rates in case you are reading this post at a much later time period, also known as the future).

a. Editing: 40,000

b. Cover design: 10,000

c. Printing: 70,000

d. Other setup costs:15,000

e. Author website (hosting, design, etc.): 15,000

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Total: 150,000

Other setup costs include launch promotion, shipping charges, sample copies via Createspce, etc. Adding author website here because  I only have one published book so far. I have also rounded off some of the costs on a higher side to arrive at a ballpark figure.

As you can see, these costs are indeed on a very high side. In particular, the cost of 400 print copies nearly doubled our estimate. Some of the above costs hurt financially, which I will explain below. Practically our break even point (i.e the point where income equals costs) further away from where it should have been.

Lessons learnt:

a. Search harder for an editor next time. we had received quotes that ranged from half a Rupee to 1 Rupee per word. For my 75,000 word novel that would have pushed the cost to 75,000 Rupees. We thought that 40,000 Rupees quoted by the editor we selected was a reasonable price.  Moreover, she was a published author herself, and came highly recommended. But what we got from her in the form of an edited document was an absolute disaster.

b. Stay away from print as far as possible. Takes up too much time, too much up front investment, longer recovery time period for the costs incurred.

First of all, print sales, unless pushed hard, move slowly (i.e. they take a longer time to sell). And the ebook version of my book heavily outsells the print version. Secondly, we had about 80 orders for print copies before launch of my book, only 15 have resulted in actual sales so far. 65 pairs of cold feet was not quite morale booster for a debut author. Finally, mistakes in print are costly. the first lot of 100 out of 400 copies that we printed were are not up to the mark. Maybe some day, I will sell them as a collectors’ items and recover my money.

c. On a lighter note, I will not disclose my background in my author bio, particularly in light of the above mistakes. The reason: I probably did not apply a single principle I learnt in my MBA when it came to book marketing. People might be tempted to ask “really?”

What could we have done differently/ will do differently next time?

While the lessons learnt are the obvious starting point for doing things differently, there are a few other things we are working on. I say “we” because my wife owns the company which is the publisher on record, and for print books in India.

a. For my next book, we are looking for a print on demand publisher in India, so that some of the costs we incurred upfront, and also the time and effort taken to ship the books to Amazon’s fulfillment center can be saved. We have been recommended a few publishers, particularly Pothi or Notionpress. But they do not work for us since they are not pureplay POD. Repro graphics, is another recommendation, but they have simply not responded to us so far.

b. Consider platforms other than the Amazon ecosystem. For ebooks, we used KDP Select, for print, it was Createspace for North America& Europe, for print books in India, we use Fulfilled by Amazon.

c. Plan out the book launch and marketing better. Also, look at the financial projections more seriously. Not that we didn’t plan the launch or marketing. But right around the time of the launch, we moved from Gurgaon to Bangalore (I took up a new job), which took our focus way for nearly a month and a half.

I hope that you will be able to avoid some of the mistakes we made along our journey, but let me also tell you: for us, there are no regrets, the lessons learnt will serve as a reminder to try harder and work smarter next time.

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How our Free eBook promo resulted in nearly 4,000 downloads

On January 9th and 10th, we ran a free promo for my novel NRI: Now, Returned To India, which resulted in nearly 4,000 downloads. This was more nearly four times the number of downloads that we had imagined. Others might have achieved greater numbers, but it was a very interesting experience for both me and my wife (who owns Shree Gajanan Consultants,  the firm who is the publisher on record for my book and  is also the book marketer).

Our objective was to increase visibility of my book (first in four part series), and try and get some reviews in the process. We were looking at about 1,000 downloads and probably 40 to 50 odd reviews. (As we learnt later, this is a very very ambitious number for getting reviews! Steve Scott mentioned in his podcast that the ratio could be as low as 1 review per 1,000 downloads. Ten days after the campaign, we are yet to see a single new review for my book, so probably he was right!)

The timing of our book promo campaign was specific: Government of India was celebrating Jan 7th-9th as Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas or NRI day, and January 9th 2015 marked the 100 year anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s return to India. (Now you can see the why we chose this period for the campaign- not just the title but the theme of the book is relevant).

Free kindle book downloads
Screenshot of downloads during free book promo

Here’s how we went about it:

We used a combination of : (a) Twitter posts (around 4 to 5) (b) Google adwords, and (c) targeted posts to about three or four forums, including the Return to India forum).

Three days before the promo, my wife set up a Google adwords  ad campaign for my novel. In addition, we targeted the facebook groups for NRIs (Non Resident Indians, or Indian diaspora living particularly in North America). We had been turned down by Bookbub, so we were looking for other approaches.

At the end of the two day campaign on January10th, the following were the results:

Number of Downloads: 3,985
Book Ranking: #1 in its category for Kindle (up from 40 or so, now it is back to the 20’s)
Ranking for free eBooks: It peaked at #56 for overall Kindle downloads, then slid down to the 80’s and eventually off the top 100 list towards the end of the campaign.)
Reviews: Too early to expect/ speak about.

In addition, I gained about 10 new subscribers for my newsletter on my author website (www.amarvyas.in) and three new twitter followers.

Call it beginner’s luck, or an early elation, time will tell whether this worked or not over the long run. In the meantime, we are happy with the results. I am not sure how different the results would have been had we tried Bookbub or Buckbooks – for our next campaign, we might try a similar service, greater number of ‘pre-campaign’ outreach efforts, and probably reach out to more number of focus groups.

Hope that is helpful to those of you who are planning to run targeted campaigns, and best wishes!

Note: I had originally posted the below message originally in Pat Flynn’s Facebook group for authors, now re-posting it here with some edits.

added later: Shree Gajanan Consultants site is not accesible right now, we will fix that shortly.