Reviews for NRI:Now, Returned to India

Reviews for my book that you will not see on Amazon

I am posting some reviews I have received from readers who have read NRI:Now, Returned to India but their review was not accepted  on Amazon for a variety of reasons (not having an Amazon account,or outdated credit card information for example).

Written by a friend- Amol Dixit describes his journey that was. A civil engineer who went to US for graduate studies and employment decides on a whim to return temporarily. And how that turned out on many fronts. Gifted with the best style of writing- easy readable language with blunt honesty and sincerity of a person sans hypocrisy, this makes for engaging, riveting and enjoyable reading. Nostalgic for me too ,in a way, I too could identify with some of his experiences. And a wonderful ending- but he does promise to continue. This is Part 1 of his trilogy- I know I will be looking out for Part 2 and Part 3.
Enjoy my friends-and tell me what you think. The book is available on amazon.in and you can review it too.

–Email from a beta reviewer, then a patient reader who tried several times to post this review on Amazon

“Have finished reading. Well done! And looking forward to the sequel!”
–Email from a reader received on Feb 7, 2015

“Dear Amar,
Received your first book. Thanks for sending a copy.  These days my wife’s has a sour throat and not doing her riyaz – so she grabbed the book and is enjoying very much.  We are fighting between us to get hold of the copy!!  I did manage to browse some pages and chapters and stayed awake to read most before she grabbed it back from me.  She is also reading late in the evening to finish it. It only shows you book is very good.  Could not hold my laughter at many places – the Marathi song changing after 20 years….your office being relocated…. directions on A4 glued to the wall .  The description of infantile surround sound stereophonic effect was too good…
Ok.  Keep writing – I guess the new books are on their way, right?”
–Email from a published author who is a faculty at my alma mater

“So far I have read half of your book. The language is simple & flow is excellent. Every time develops interest to read the next chapter. Reading gives me a homy feeling as describes Pune.”
–Email from a professional acquaintance.

“I did  read a few chapters of your book. It is positively hilarious & entertaining !”
–Email from an alum who is a senior executive in a manufacturing firm

“Amar writes really well. Just read his book NRI on a flight from west to east coast. Looking forward to the next volume..”
–Whatsapp message from a reader who bought the ebook.

Hi, finished reading your book yesterday. Must say it was too much fun 🙂 Could be made into a movie…really! Good job!

-Review on Facebook page

And finally,

“Loved the book. Simple crisp and REAL. Was very easy to relate to and the humour and one liners are also nice. All in all a pleasurable read…..looking forward to more from you Amar. Shabash!”

–Review by a friend who posted on Goodreads after trying several times with amazon, and finally giving up.

Which makes me wonder- what would you do if your readers kept telling you that Amazon would not allow you to post a review?

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

—————————————————

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.

Now, Available on Amazon in India!

Last week, my printer delivered 250 print copies of NRI:Now, Returned to India to the Amazon fulfillment center near New Delhi. I was excited, but my excitement was short lived. Turns out that one part of their inventory system acknowledges that the copies are available, but the other says that some information is missing. Nearly 5 days of contacting the Seller support folks has yielded no results till now.

Edited:

So as of now, I am happy to say that till the time issue gets resolved, my book is almost available on Amazon in India.

Super excited! I will summarize my journey to becoming a self published author in the Indian market in a few future posts..thank you all those who have been witnesses, supporters, participants and fellow travelers in my journey.

 

 

What the bestseller lists at India’s online bookstores tell us

In April this year, I wrote two blog posts (part I of the post here and part II here) that discussed what could be the MRP (Maximum Retail Price) per page for a bestselling book in India. I found the exercise fun (though at times tedious), and educating. And I hope that the readers and followers of this blog could learn a thing or two about the book market in India.

This time around, I thought of repeating the exercise albeit with a few changes. The methodology of data collection and the sources of the data remained the same as before, and I collected the raw data on July 20th, 2104. Therefore, all information, indicators and the ratios calculated for the purpose of this post may change with time. As before, I am also including the data sheet (yay, excel!) towards the end of this post, and those who like playing with numbers may find it useful.

But before I begin, I am summarizing the key findings below:

Figures 1 and 2 show the summary results from data collection. I think the table for most part is self explanatory, so I will focus on the comparison between the two months. And for reasons mentioned later in this post, I have compared the data across four online retailers only (Amazon.co.in, flipkart.com, google Play (India) and Infibeam.com).

The MRP per page fell between March and July across all sites except Infibeam, where the price actually rose. Since we are comparing MRP and not the discounted price, it does not mean that Infibeam is selling books at a lower discount compared to its competitors. It is likely that their bestseller list has a different set of books that are priced higher than the competition. The reason why MRP per page fell for fiction books could be because the sets of books that featured in bestseller lists in July and March are different.

Comparison of MRP per page of books across sites
Information compiled from Amazon (India), Flipkart, Google Play (India), Infibeam and others
Comparison of MRP per page of books across sites
Comparison of MRP per page based on Top 20 bestselling books: Information compiled from Amazon (India), Flipkart, Google Play (India), Infibeam and others

And here are the findings:

  • Bestseller lists are still entirely dominated by traditionally published books.

My take on this, as before, is as follows: Self publishers, have faith. The Indian self- publishing and ebook market is untapped, so sky is the limit!

  • The bestseller lists are still dominated by Nonfiction books such as Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis and study guides for Competitive Exams. One can clearly factor in the impact of Competitive exams (which as I said before are mostly held in May and June every year).
  • I was surprised that most of the Fiction books that feature in the bestseller lists were published 2 years ago or even prior. Among the books by International authors, The Fault in Our Stars and The Monk Who Sold His Ferrarri featured across multiple sites. Books by Indian Authors who write fiction, particularly Chetan Bhagat & Ravi Subramanian, have not featured prominently, though both authors are releasing their new books in the coming weeks. The bestseller list for fiction may change in next quarter- and I hope for an update to this post in October 2014. The books by Amish Tripathi (The Shiva Trilogy) still feature in the top 20 lists, but they now figure in the teens. In April, his books were mostly in the top 10 across multiple sites.

The above point makes me wonder: Is there such a dearth of good books that publishers have to keep reprinting a book that was written in 2003? (The Monk Who…)

Bestseller books on Flipkart
Snapshot of bestsellers on Flipkart- July 2014
Bestselling books- Flipkart.com
Bestselling books on Amazon.co.in

OR I wonder…

Are the publishers really doing a disservice to Indian readers by not publishing Indian edition of books such as those by Jonas Jonasson to Indian market?  Look at the price of these books in the figure below! Someone is really on some high grade <<insert the name of the first controlled substance that you can think of>>.

Jonas Jonasson book price in Rupees
Price of books by Jonas Jonasson on Amazon.co.in

I have not read any of this author’s books, but I was in Frankfurt and Berlin last month and I could see his books in multiple bookstores.

Or are the publishers simply trying to cash in on the popularity of a few known foreign authors (Dan Brown, Rhonda Bryne, Jeffery Archer, and the likes) and Indian authors (Amish Tripathi, Chetan Bhagat, Ravi Subramaniam…) and keep milking them?

The same site (Amazon) has listed a Low Priced Indian Edition of  Power of your Subconscious Mind by Michael Hutchison. Why can’t this be repeated for other authors? Alternately, will sites such as bloody good book help in bringing books by new talent in the bestseller list?

  • Time to drop Kobo for now from further analyses. The average MRP of their top five or six selling books is over Rupees 1,500 or over $ 25. These are mostly cookbooks, and these books seem way overpriced for Indian market. Moreover, their list is dominated by one author’s books: Lawrence Block. The see the screenshot below. It almost looks like spamming the website. I hope Kobo will fix this as soon as possible.

    Lawrence Block- Kobo- India
    the Top 20 selling books on Kobo (India page) are dominated by books written by Lawrence Block.
  • I also plan to drop data collection from Crossword and Landmark bookstores in subsequent editions. My focus is on ebooks- and the traditional stores are not really selling them in volumes, ans I feel that tracking these two sites may not be worth the effort. I have provided links in the raw data sheet for those who are interested for their own analyses.
  • I was able to find some indication of how much the bestselling audiobooks are priced at – again in terms of MRP per page. This information, however, is for the audio version of Amazon’s top 20 selling books only. Infibeam was the only other site where I could see some information on audiobooks. However, they had only two items listed under ‘bestseller’ category for audiobooks. One was sold as cassettes for Rs. 3,300 (that is over 50 dollars!), and the other one was in Hindi. I dropped the latter form consideration because Hindi is not in the data set yet. In a future iteration, I plan to fix that.
  • Use the data with a grain of salt. These are ‘spot’ values and not trends, and prices of ebooks particularly on Flipkart seem heavily discounted. Some of the bestsellers are listed at Rs. 2; so obviously that is not the usual MRP. This could lower the Average MRP per page than it actually should be. I have not removed the outliers. Also, on Google Play, sometimes there is a mismatch between the number of reviews that are shown next to description of the book and the actual number of reviews.

What’s next:

  • Going forward, I think that Amazon, Flipkart and Google Play should remain the main focus, with maybe Infibeam if there is some useful information there. I might also take a look at bookadda and other sites that have been recommended by many people across various forums. As a ‘control’ of sorts, I will also try and include names or articles that appear in newspapers, such as this one. ( I commented about it a few days ago in a twitter post)

    Asian Age Bestseller List - 28 May
    Asian Age Bestseller List
  • I hope we can get some more information on Audiobooks. Once ACX becomes available in India, this might be an easier task. Till then, one has to keep looking.
  • In the next quarter, I will focus on Fiction only and look at the non-top 20 books also maybe expand horizon to top 50 because Nonfiction books (read: study guides for competitive exams) are really clouding the data.

 I also plan to take a look at which books consistently figure across sites. And before I forget, here is the data file : July-2014-Top-20SellingBooks-India.

If you like this post and find the information useful, please leave a comment in the comments section below or message me on Twitter at @amarauthor.

How to Price your Book in India

A few weeks ago, I heard a podcast by Joanna Penn in which she interviewed author Minal Hajratwala.  A part of the discussion dealt with the ebooks, self publishing, and particularly pricing for the Indian market. The issue of pricing for the Indian market was also discussed by Joanna during her interview in the Self Publishing Podcast (I have been a silent listener of both these podcasts so far). I had been thinking of this issue myself, because I am exploring the option of self publishing Now, Returned to India. Let me also note that I have sent the final manuscript to a traditional publisher and am awaiting their response, which may take a few more months.

While investigating the market for self publishing in India, I came across a few sites which had guides or calculators for pricing self published books. (For example: Notionpress, a self publishing company, has a royalty calculator that gives the suggested Maximum Retail Price (MRP) based on the type of the print book (Paperback/Hardcover), size of the book, and number of pages. You can find it here. Note that I have no affiliation with Notionpress, except that my fellow alum and  author Anirban Das self published his book through them recently.

Coming back to the topic, bookstores often mark down the prices in terms of discounts or bundle them with other books every now and then. Then there is the problem of piracy. For example, a street peddler may sell a book for a third of what a bookstore sells it for. Therefore, a royalty calculator alone might not be a good indicator to determine how to price a book. That got me thinking: is there a different indicator that one can use? As I gathered more and more information, a few questions kept cropping up in my mind. What type of books sell the most in bookstores, both online and offline? What is the typical price of these books? What is the number of pages? And finally, what about ebooks?

In order to find answers to these questions, I scanned the top 20 bestselling books on the websites of the following stores in India. In alphabetical order: Amazon.in, Crossword, Infibeam, Flipkart, Google Play, and Landmark bookstores. I also looked at the pricing for ebooks on Kobo, I went through Crossword bookstores site for this purpose. Based on this information, I have developed a table that lists the MRP per page across these stores for the print books as well as eBooks. Also,I have tried to arrive at the median prices for MRP per page for fiction and ebooks based on the information available. I hope that this will will be helpful to those of you who are looking to sell their books written in English in the Indian market.

MRP data
MRP Per page for top 20 selling books

What does this table mean?

As an example let us consider a fiction book of nearly 300 pages. On an average, a this book has a MRP of Rupees 255 (300 *0.85). If we consider the median, the same fiction book should cost Rs. 234 (0.78*234). The ebook version of this book would be around half that price at Rupees 133. I have included both the average and the median price because of the large variation in the price of the ebooks across the stores, depending on the format of the book. This data only provides some guideline for pricing the English languages books in the Indian market, and should be treated as an indicator and not as an absolute.

Fiction may include Romance/Humor/Satire/Literary fiction/ Mythology or Historical fiction, while nonfiction includes everything else. While this could be an over generalization, and I am sure some purists may not agree with my approach, please note that this is the first time I conducted such an exercise. As I learn more about the book publishing market in India, I might add more categories in subsequent studies.

Let me also clarify a few things up front. I have based the results on the data that I obtained from the websites of online/physical bookstores. While I do not have the sales figures,  it is reasonable to assume that sale of books from online bookstores is a very small percentage of the total number of books sold in India. Also note that I have looked at books in the English language only. The market for books in local languages is much larger than the market for English language books.I have also not discussed it with the folks who are in the business- representatives of the publishers, category heads for online booksellers, etc. I plan to do a similar review in the coming months, and will try and get their views to make this effort more worthwhile for the readers. And finally, I had to use my judgement for compiling the list of top 10 selling books each in fiction and nonfiction in a few cases (e.g. Crossword Bookstores, which did not rank its top selling books).

I have also not listed the names of the books, author or the publishers in the compilation. I did this for two reasons: first of all, I manually entered the data into a spreadsheet, since I am not savvy enough to automate the process via writing software for it. (If someone is willing to help me on that front, I will be glad to take their help!) Secondly, the titles in this list are likely to change with time. But I believe that the the ratios are likely to stay the same range. These ratios include: MRP per page, MRP per page (fiction), MRP per page (ebook), ratio of fiction:nonfiction books, etc. Of these, the last ration (fiction:nonfiction) may change in three to four months’ time, I will explain in my subsequent post why this could be the case.

At each store, I looked up the following information

a. Which category of books is selling more: Fiction, or Nonfiction?

b. What was the MRP of the book?

c. What were the numbers of pages for these books?

d. How many comments/ stars has the book received? Do they play a role in the sale of the books?

e. Do self published books figure in the top 20 selling books?

f. Are there any other trends or patterns that show up when we look at the data? For example – recency factor: how long has it been since these books were published? Which author’s books figure the most on these lists? Also, in fiction category, which types of books figure the most, etc?

In order to keep this post as brief as possible, I will upload the detailed report tomorrow where I discuss the findings and try and answer the questions posed above.

added later:

I have considered the MRP for books because the selling price may vary from store to store. Moreover, there may be a transaction cost involved that may extend beyond the MRP or the selling price. For example, the time and effort cost of visiting a physical bookstore, or shipping charges applied to a book when buying from an online bookstore.

For the same book, the MRP per page may vary for different formats of the ebook (epub versus mobi,etc.). Whenever I was able to compile this information, I did go ahead and add it to my results.