Let me begin by saying that I do not buy books from peddlers who sell books on traffic junctions on the streets of Gurgaon near New Delhi, where I live. Nor is the intention of this post to promote this “trade”.
I have been observing these peddlers with great interest over the past several weeks. The books they sell very closely follow the bestseller lists one reads and hears about. This is not rocket science. It is quite likely that someone using these peddlers as another ‘point of sale’. I have touched and felt some of these books and have noticed that the quality of paper used, printing, and binding is at par with the books published by the major trade publishers. Many of these books are wrapped in plastic cover, and are sold at nearly half their list price. Almost none of them have dog ears or any other signs that they are used.
At two different traffic intersections this week, I saw that the following books were being sold. And to me, it is proof that these books are indeed in demand from readers. And the list is an interesting mix of both fiction and nonfiction. In a random order, the list is as follows:
I am left wondering: should the folks at Nielsen Bookscan India include these sales in their rankings? And as an author, would you be excited to see your book being sold at traffic junctions? (i.e. would that be an indicator that your book is indeed selling well, even though you lose out on the royalty payments?)
I am happy to post a guest blog by Vinod Kaul, a fellow first time author who has just published his book, Confessions of an MBA. In only the sixth decade of his life, Vinod has turned into an author. This is his story in his own words below. Note that this is not a sponsored or paid post. Vinod has in fact written this article based on my request. Hope you will find his story useful.
“In a sense I have been a closet writer all my life. In spite of being praised for my amateur pieces from school onwards, I never got down to putting together a manuscript long enough to submit for a book. Even when I was between jobs in Canada, I found the tumult of looking for one too distracting to focus on a treatise.
The first challenge was, therefore, to write in the first place.
Luckily, in my last assignment I launched a somewhat successful e-journal in retail and fashion. I was the proud editor and was compelled to not only write but to also correct other writer’s pieces. However, when I finally got down to putting a manuscript together, I switched to fiction. Once I started it came out so smoothly and I cursed myself for not starting earlier. Looking at the calendar, I realized I was over sixty. But that didn’t stop me from starting my marathon running and I was sure I could do this for writing as well.
I decided to write a collection of short stories. I thought this would be easier than writing a single 50-thousand-plus words manuscript. There were many smaller hurdles to cross but I must say I enjoyed the ride. Often, I would write non-stop for hours. I wasn’t sure if what I wrote was good enough. So I selectively shared some of my works with alumni, my running mates and other friends. I wanted to guard against the ‘it is nice’ comments that friends are wont to say. However, I did discern that my writing had an appreciative reader. There was, of course, a lot of brushing up to do, but I would learn it along the way. Finally, over a year, I did complete a manuscript of 50-thousand-plus words, a collection of eight short stories.
I knew that publishing was another cup of tea that I would have to grapple with. I was keen not to self-publish but to go ahead with the old system of publisher-author relationships. This I thought would ensure that my writing stood on its own merits rather than being hoisted by self-serving thoughts.
Having read about ‘rejections’, I was ready for a long haul to find a genuine publisher. This started with research and listing of the top and commonly known publishers. I started my submissions of sample chapters and other information. Submitting online made things a lot easier but a number of the publishers were still old world, asking for hard copies which they would gladly sell by the weight. I smirked at the comments such as ‘if you don’t hear from us in three months, we will not be going ahead with your manuscript’ or ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’. A number of publishers did send polite notes of ‘no’. It did help to hear something rather than nothing at all.
While scouring for publishers, one kept hearing about the ‘vanity press’. These are publishers who play up to one’s vanity and vulnerability by agreeing to accept your manuscript as a ‘conventional publisher’ but pushing in costs for editing, cover design, printing and myriad other things. After two publishers accepted my book, some hard research on the net threw up the ugly truth – that they were vanity press in mufti. I didn’t even bother to reply to them despite getting a ‘yes’.
When I did get a call from a publisher, not too familiar, but seemingly with clear credentials, I thought I must investigate further. What impressed me about them was that they were well organised, accessible and were able to give clear and meaningful explanations. An online search indicated that they were quite sturdy in distribution to book chains and independents. This was one of the important features I was looking for. While a lot of book retailing is going online, I thought that a store presence is important for a new writer like me.
In my research I was also able to pull out the publishers history and past association with authors; some of the books and authors had reached national status. The publisher was also regularly participating in all the major book awards. By signing up for their newsletter, I was able to keep a track of their new book launches and even attended a couple of them.
Through references I was able to reach out to an established author for advice. He had already published three books which were medium successes. His publisher was Harper Collins. He was quite helpful in guiding me through the Agreement I was offered by my publisher.
I had been offered a straight classic type of publishing but with possible marketing delays or a shared cost basis with higher royalties which would put the whole arrangement on a fast track. The cost suggested was quite reasonable. I had also built confidence about the publisher by this time. So I decided to go ahead with the latter with the blessings of my wife and the writer-reference.
Unfortunately, the story does not end with ‘they lived happily ever after’. Being new I didn’t realize what an enormous work needs to be done after the first draft of a manuscript. What I thought would take three months, took six. The editing itself took three whole months. The cover design and layout another month, not to talk of the printing and distribution process itself. While it was reasonably fast to sign up the online sites, the distribution to book stores on a national basis takes three whole months.
The author, especially a first time author, cannot completely rely on the publisher to market his book. The latter will do a basic job and at minimal costs. The author has to dig into his own resources, friends-circles and networking to make a din. Worst of all is that feedback is not easily forthcoming. The book retailers, especially the independents, are a law unto themselves. So one has to keep huffing and puffing and keep hoping that it is producing results. It is as much as a year before the numbers can actually speak.
There are no promises of success. A writer must write because he is a writer and nothing more. Today I have to divide my time three ways: my regular work, writing and the marketing of what I have written.”
About Vinod Kaul
Vinod Kaul is an alumni Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedadab and St.Stephen’s College New Delhi. He has worked 40 years in fashion & retail and today he has refocused on writing and marathon running. His debut book, Confessions of an MBA and other stories, has just been published. The author can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org
Confessions of an MBA and other stories can be found on Flipkart and Amazon
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.
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.
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.
I visited a local bookstore on Saturday and spent a couple of hours browsing books their fiction section. Over the past few weeks, I have followed the Top Selling, Newly Arrived, and the Most Popular sections of online booksellers with interest, and today it was time to visit a physical bookstore. I was both amazed and amused to see the variety of books in the store. Amazed, because the fiction section was overflowing with books – half the aisle space was occupied with fresh arrivals and bestsellers. Amused, because I noticed a few recurring themes about fiction novels.
In order to get your fiction novel published in India, you should meet one or more of these criteria (not necessarily in this order)
You should write love stories
Romance involving characters who go to college is great, teenage romance is preferred.
Write about life as a student
Experiences of students who are in school or colleges. Again, school life preferred. Teenage anxieties, adjusting to a new school in a new city… you get the picture!
You should be a Non Resident Indian
Writing about random themes that not many Indian authors write about- stories involving fashion, marriage, self discovery, etc.
Be a previously published author
You need not have authored books, any form of the written word would do- blog, newspaper columns, even a PhD thesis for that matter. Best if you have published something abroad.
Write fiction involving religious characters
In order of preference, plots involving the Holy Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh) or the incarnations of the latter two. If you prefer, pick any century and write about the dominant empires that ruled most of the country at that time.
Be a Bengali
Maybe it’s the fish, or the sweets that they like, but lets’ face it- Bengalis have a flair for the written word. And they are able to put it to print in much greater numbers.
You should be an alumnus of IIM or IIT
This phenomenon is most visible of late. By sheer numbers, alums of IIMs (Indian Institutes of Management) outnumber alums of IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology).
Be an Expat Living in India
If you can write about everything from the colorful drapes to the heat and the dust, your novel will get published.
Needless to say, the higher the number of the above criteria you meet, the higher your chances of getting published. So do you think you are eligible to get your novel published?