Transition of Thoughts

Weaving thoughts into words

The dark world of contemporary Indian publishers!

So you think you have what it takes to be the next Amitav Ghosh, Rohinton Mistry, Anita Desai? You think you can put your ideas into words? You dream of becoming a writing sensation? You cannot think of anything else other than writing? Stories, ideas, opinions keep sprouting up in your mind even when you are busy in your work? Then this is the post for all you guys!

Lets get some things straight right-away. Everyone isn’t a Rohinton Mistry or an Amitav Ghosh or an Anita Desai. And so understandably a lot many of us have set their standards pretty low. Chetan Bhagat is widely regarded as the God of Indian writing. Whether that’s good or bad, I leave the reading public to form their own opinions.

Once the idol is set and the content is decided and penned down; the biggest question, “How do we find a publisher”? To get a deeper understanding into this, I approached a couple of publishers by email. Some of them were renowned names like Random House India, Hachette India, Fingerprint Submissions etc. While some others weren’t so renowned.

Expectedly, the renowned ones asked me to send in my submissions along with the CV. And once I did, they replied back saying that they would get back to me within a few weeks. The replies from two of the not so renowned ones made me think about a deeper malaise among the Indian publishers today –

Publisher 1 – He read my work and seemed genuinely interested in getting it published. But then, he told me that Rs 1500 per script is what I am supposed to pay. He told me that the money was based on the following tasks –

a). Pre Productions Involves
  1. Proofing
  2. Editing by our inhouse editors, with inputs for improving the book.
  3. One round of author proof corrections
  4. ISBN assignment
  5. World-class cover page design (front and back covers, spine, and inside cover)
  6. Page-making and layouts
b). Production of the book:- High quality of printing the book.
c). Post Production
  1. Getting approvals from book stores and online websites to feature the book in their
  2. Logistics
  3. Inventory Management
  4. Warehousing

Publisher 2 – He didn’t bother reading my work at all. He said –

“It costs around Rs.70,000/- to produce the first edition of 1000 copies. And you have to spend at least Rs.30,000/- on publicity (which will go towards giving away free copies and deep discounts) to have a realistic hope of selling 1000 copies.”

He went on to bargain with me and also convince me of how even a lot of Chetan Bhagat’s works have been ghost written. According to what he said, it seemed as though a lot of first timers spend a lot of money to get published.

All the publishers may not be like this. Probably even these two may not charge all their writers money to get published. Probably, the Indian publishing industry isn’t really at a very bad stage. Probably I am thinking too much.

But what you take home from this is that “Writing has to make business sense.” If it doesn’t, people won’t really care. Obviously agreed. But then, where is the merit in selection gone? Are we really generating quality with such printers in the garb of publishers? Is it all just about making money and having a brand name, giving some interviews and that’s all? Is writing just reduced to being measured by meaningless numbers in today’s world?

One of these publishers is a startup while the other one is seemingly well established with well educated ‘entrepreneurs’ running it. If there are two who can have such views, who knows how many publishers like these still exist across the nation. So what exactly is there problem? Some are started by entrepreneurs while others by wannabe writers who only write about SEX! They know its really difficult to build their credibility among the top writing class of this country. So why not target the 15-25 yrs crowd who is desperate for some fame and money? And that’s what makes them tick and rake in the moolah.

So now think again. Do you really have the money to become a writer? Because according to a lot many publishers “It’s not all about talent, but your bank balance.”


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  1. If this is true then Amazon is going to rake in some serious money in future !

    • aseemrastogi2

      Oh! How do you exactly say that? From what I have heard and read, they have encouraged self publishing of e-books and stuff like that, isn’t it?

      • I meant that if the publishers are asking for money then authors would prefer to partner with publishing portals like Amazon instead of traditional publishers ….

        • aseemrastogi2

          Yeah but then a lot of people; me included still love the feeling of holding a printed book in my hand :). And interestingly for many, paying money isn’t that big a problem as they believe for short term losses, one is looking for long term gains.

  2. forum

    I am not really that surprised cuz the same principle applies that works in the film industry. Big star publicize their films so much and in the end one gets nonsense in the name of entertainment.and yes I have come across some books which have some nonsensical stuff and have poor editing etc . So one can only understand that the way a book is selling in the market is only through sheer money and not through real talent

    • aseemrastogi2

      That’s the point. Spend as much money as possible. Publicize even more while there are others who don’t publicize much at all. But finally the stuff generated is of awful quality :).

  3. Aseem,

    I know know about publisher #2, the numbers are exactly the same. Instead of a publishing house, wondering they have just opened a call centre :o)

    I’ve contacted the roughly around 20 publishers and I’ve quite an interesting take on the publishing industry.

    Just wait till I get my all the replies. I do have quite an insight view on that.


    • aseemrastogi2

      Hi Mukesh,

      Hahaha. So I am not the only one to get the so called ‘gyaan’ from that publisher ;). Nice to know that you contacted so many publishers. Would surely be waiting for your insight. Real pity to see writing in such a pathetic state in this country.

      But you know at one level I would blame the writers as well many of whom are desperate to pay to get published. And that’s why the money making exercise by these publishers :(. So guess both to blame too.


  4. Old story, Aseem 🙂 The kind of publishers you’ve written above are called ‘vanity publishers’. Too many of them in the country. There’s one at every street corner in Delhi, if you ask me. And it’s worse in the West. (There are websites dedicated to it and it’s all legal.) But to answer your topic, I’d say the malaise in India is a function of demand & supply. After the CB sunrise, there have evolved more writers, than there are readers. Most writers are not rich, so they submit to publishers who evaluate on merit (the ones you’ve named above). But there are so many writers for whom the sum you’ve mentioned above is a paltry one to find a shelf-life at Crossword. Hence vanity publishers exist since there is a demand for them. (May I take the liberty to state here that Fingerprint is NOT a vanity publisher and it publishes books on merit? :))

    • aseemrastogi2

      Yeah Arcopol, actually the way he spoke made me wonder if this is really old. Haha yeah I heard that term – ‘vanity publishers’ from somewhere else. Truly applies to these publishers. 🙂

      As far as the west is concerned, really surprised that it exists in full flow there. Didn’t really know that. But yeah completely agree with you on the demand – supply issue. Everyone seems interested to come out with a book and become the next big thing. But with poor quality and content wonder where do they really except themselves to reach. You know for someone whose probably pretty old fashioned in this, I consider this an ethical issue. It’s so easy to get published today that there are no challenges. That’s not something which writers like me crave for. And that’s why I still feel the big names rule :).

      As far as Fingerprint is concerned, I already got the feeling that you guys work on merit and not some extra cash :).

  5. Rajesh

    Hey Aseem
    Respect to your thoughts and no offence as well. But to be true to you, everywhere you go or if you intend to get a book published a specific cost is involved. People like you dont realise the actual hardwork and money involved in getting a book out.
    Where as in you rightly stated two kinds of publishers let me give you an example

    1. Publisher 1
    Here this specific publisher intends to get the thoughts of people out in the open field and is charging a meagre Rs 1,500 per script which is right on his part to charge as getting a book out involves more than the above mentioned steps. Here if he gets around 20 such meaningful scripts the collection turns to around Rs 30,000. If that publisher gets a total content of 100 pages Printing of 100 page book cost around Rs 40-45 per book. This has to be multiplied by the number of books. Here no printer prints less than 500 – 1000 books. Here the publisher has to print minimum 500 books @ Rs 40 example it turns to Rs 20,000.
    This is only the printing cost. Cost other than printing involves the designer cost for the cover page, proof reading cost, Registering the book on the online stores for sales and logistics which is the costliest affair of all. Mounting up all it comes to nearly Rs 30,000 – Rs 35,000. At this stage the publisher has put in more Rs 10,000 to 15,000 from his pocket taking the risk for sale.
    I all or nearly 80 percent of books are sold then the cost might be recovered along with some earning which is well deserved one after putting in all of these efforts time and energy.

    2. Publisher 2
    Considering the same cost involved her the publisher prints 1000 books @Rs 40, then the printing cost only turns to be Rs 40,000. Here this publisher is an established one considering the references used by you. This specific publisher has more out of pocket expenses and overheads. Here This publisher does not put any money from his pocket but only earns only after the sale of the book.

    Considering both the publishers or any publisher for that matter
    No publisher will invest into any project apart from a known author because there they know they will be able to sell book by the number of thousands on hand.
    If there is an unpublished new writer the publisher wont take any risk rather to be more specific monetary risk on investing. thats the reason why the publishers are charging. And you wont understand the risks involved in it.
    Here if a publisher charges a new writer the publisher gives the writer to be listed in the elite list of being a published writer as that of prominent writers. And if the works clicks in the market the number of avenues opened for that writer will have no bounds.

    To conclude its not the dark world but the true world of publishing

    • aseemrastogi2

      Hi Rajesh,

      Thanks for the informative post on the mathematics that goes on behind the scene. I would agree that I wouldn’t know too much of the mathematics that goes behind the scenes personally speaking.

      Yes I agree the publishers have to make money and to survive they have to take all measures to ensure that they succeed financially at least. Obviously no ones here for social service and so in that case probably that’s why they charge some amount from writers to get published. Yes. Agreed. One has to survive obviously in the long run

      But I would like to point a different aspect here altogether. The boom in the number of publishers has come up from Chetan Bhagat’s time when he came up with “Five Point Someone”. Many thousands started emulating him and tried to become successful. Some did and some didn’t. And thus it became an industry which everyone – publishers and writer, started milking on their own terms. But then sadly, in all this race to become like CB, the writing started to fall into the mediocre category. More and more writers were concerned with selling more and more number of copies and giving more and more interviews. Thus the quality of writing started to die a slow and painful death.

      As the quality started dying down, many more publishers came to the scene. I am not saying every publisher who charges money serves poor quality. But today with this kind of revolution where even very few young writers care about quality, publishers are thriving because they get their money and everyone is happy in the end. As one of the readers commented, its a case of demand – supply situation. Since there is so much demand from people to get published, more and more publishers are coming up.

      And if you see, there are competitions and events like where one can submit short stories like by Grey Oak Publishers, Crossword etc without having to pay. So writers who write well do have good avenues to start without paying money. These competitions have independent judges who judge based on merit. Yes, its a very slow road to the top if one goes by this method. I agree. But then that’s what I feel right.

      Personally speaking, you may think this is a very old fashioned view I have. But then would again like to state, neither do I think publishers will come running to me or neither do I believe I will become the best author overnight. Another old fashioned view of mine is that creativity is something which cannot be bought :).

      Maybe I am just comfortable with taking the slow road to the top :). As one publisher told me “You are just living in hope”. Fine. I wouldn’t have any problem in living in hope rather than regretting doing something which I believe is wrong.

      No offense meant to you or any publishers.

    • Rajesh,

      Let me award your comment as the ‘Bullshit Comment of the Year’ award.

      I can buy your math for the printing cost. But the rest is just absurd. Whoever goes by your logic doesn’t deserve to be called a publisher. He’s a glorified printer, nothing more. He is just milking Chetan Bhagat wannabes, giving them a kick of ‘getting published’. If these publishers continue to proliferate, the future of publishing is headed downhill. That’s my theory.

      The very heart of publishing and the sheer joy of it, is in identifying unknown writers, believing in their work and taking the risk of bringing it to readers. That’s how Chetan Bhagat got published, as did the best writers of our generation.

      And why does the publisher take that risk? Because it is the publisher who is responsible for the content. He becomes the richest when the book becomes a success. (For the uninitiated, here’s how the existing revenue share for books stacks up – Say on a book MRP of Rs 100, the publisher pockets Rs 40, author keeps Rs 10, distributor keeps Rs 10-20 and retailer keeps the rest.)

      Considering the author is already making such a small margin, it is only fair that he’s not asked to pay ANYTHING to get his work published. And in case the author is asked to pay the costs you mention, he/she deserves to pocket margins of the publisher and distribution margin too (Rs 70) for all copies sold in that print run. Which doesn’t happen.

      By your theory, the publisher wants to have his cake and eat his cake too. It’s unfair, almost akin to bribery.

      A publisher isn’t supposed to bombard the author with the pain of bringing out a book, like printing costs, logistics, etc. Agreed that the publisher’s net margin (Rs 40) goes down (since he incurs printing and marketing costs), it is still he who is supposed to bear it.

      An author is expected to WRITE and it is that writing which should be the ONLY consideration for publishing it.

      Whatever’s the cost of printing the book, putting it up in bookstores, distributing it – it is the publisher and distributor’s headache. That’s where their gut instincts and eye for publishing good books comes into play.

      I work at an independent publishing house myself and we’re very extremely ethical about these matters. We totally detest the kind of ‘vanity publishing’ that you speak of. It’s not a question of overheads. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about doing readers a favor by bringing out good books, than my exploiting authors who are desperate to get published.

      Just like there’s a casting couch in Bollywood, your theory is a bit like the ‘publishing couch’. Such publishers are nothing but prostitutes working on MS-Word and Excel sheets. “Show me the money and I’ll give you the time of your life. I’ll make you famous!”

      I also don’t know from where you cooked up that figure about spending the most on “registering the book on online bookstores and retail chains”. I work at an online bookstore myself and there is NO FEE for listing your book on our site! Nor is there a fee for Flipkart or any online store charge a fee. The only understanding that could come into play is SOR (Sale Or Return) which means if your book doesn’t sell within a certain period of time, you’ll HAVE to take it back, we won’t stock it anymore, unless a fresh invoice is made.

      It is a grey world – the world of publishing that is, and writers who are committed to good writing will stick to the right publishers. The desperate writers who have the moolah and are keen to put the title of ‘author’ in their CV, may stick to your kind.

  6. Considering the state of Indian publishers, I think a team of few writers, who genuinely are interested in writing good stuff, should start a publishing house by themselves, yes it is a far fetched idea, but then if a CHETAN BHAGAT can sell, then the works of hard working, creative dreamers can surely make a way in the Indian market. I m sorry but after the making of 3 idiots, it seems that CB is less interested in writing and more interested in SCRIPT WRITING!

    • aseemrastogi2

      Hey Forum,
      Actually a couple of authors have teamed to form publishing houses off late. some of these examples include Grey Oak Publishers. Grapevine Publishers etc. But the question remains on what is actually constituted in “GOOD WRITING” matter of perception you see. 🙂

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