Category Archives: Self Publishing

Five Mistakes an Indian Self-Publisher/Author Often Makes

15401031_084808915a_z1. The Indian Self-Publisher/Author sometimes picks up images from the internet

Although everyone has access to thousands of images online, most of these images can not be used in your self-published book.  There are two major reasons for this:

  1. Legal Issues: There is a general feeling that any image on the internet is free. This perception is incorrect. Most images are protected by copyright and users could face legal consequences if they use images that are copyrighted and thereby do not have permission to use. Unless specifically mentioned in public domain or under suitable creative commons license, you should assume that the image is copyrighted. Also when you search for images at google you can search using the usage rights option.Read this: http://creativecommons.org.au/blog/2015/08/think-before-using-photographs-from-the-internet/

     

  2. Technical Issues: Most of the images on the net are low-resolution and don’t print well. You need a minimum resolution of 300 DPI for the image to print well, otherwise the resulting image will be pixelated. More about understanding image size and resolution here

    So think twice before you use an image from the internet.

 

2. The Indian Self-Publisher/Author doesn’t often write in the language s/he is comfortable with

Many writers opt to write in English not because they are well-versed in the language but because it is far more convenient to get copy typed and not worry about font issues. Plus the English language has a wider reach.

Unfortunately, without  fluency in the language you publish the book in, having a wider target audience is pointless. Writing in a language you are not comfortable with means you don’t put your best foot forward. Nowadays books published in regional languages are making a mark, so why hesitate to write in the language that you love?

3. The Indian Self-Publisher/Author doesn’t always think about marketing

Whether it is traditional publishing or self-publishing, marketing is key and this is something the author is responsible for. Just because the book is written, readers won’t come. The writer has to think about building a platform even before the book is written.

4. The Indian Self-Publisher/Author is prone to scams

Instead of focusing on platform building authors end up being taken for a ride and  fall prey to expensive promises.  If something is too good to be true, it probably is. Publishing is the easy part. Getting readers and becoming an author readers are looking to read is difficult. If someone promises to do that for a lot of money, they are probably lying.

5. The Indian Self-Publisher/Author is usually paranoid about manuscript protection

“One setback many writers bring in their own path is their obsession with protecting their manuscript,” says Jaya Jha, co-founder of Pothi.com. “If you are just starting out, your problem is obscurity, not theft or piracy. Focus on writing the best book and bringing it to as many people as you can, instead of being paranoid about someone stealing your work. Selling a book is a difficult task. People, in general, aren’t on the lookout for a manuscript to steal.”

What makes for a bestseller in India?

A bestseller could be defined as a book that sells at least 10,000 copies every year. Any book genre can be a bestseller, but there are some books that sell more than others.

Education Books: Yes, this is number one in the list! According to Nielson’s India Book Report:
The K–12 market (school books) has grown from 63 billion INR ($956 million) in 2007-08 to 186 billion INR ($2.8 billion) in 2013-14. Higher education book sales have grown in this period from 16 billion INR ($242 million) to 56 billion INR($849 million).

So if you want to write a bestseller, why don’t you write a book about how to ace an exam? Take one of the books at Pothi.com. Cracking the Coding Interview by Gayle Laakmann Mcdowell is a fast selling book . “This book is proof of how the Indian book market caters to a textbook bestseller phenomenon,” Jaya Jha, founder of Pothi.com says.

Romance fiction: If fiction has any say at all in the bestselling space it is primarily in the romance genre. Though forums like Quora lead you to believe otherwise, books by Chetan Bhagat are quite popular. Other romance authors who have aced cupid’s formula are Durjoy Datta, Nikita Singh and Ravinder Singh.

Mythological fiction: It’s impossible to ignore myth in India. You may be an urban yuppie, but everywhere there is the memory of myth- stories you have heard, stories you see sprouting up as architecture, television dramas based on epic heroes. Writers like Devdutt Pattanaik and Amish Tripathi have spun stories out of existing stories and now have a huge fan following.

book

Once you write the book for the appropriate target audience, a lot of marketing goes into making the book a bestseller. You have to remember that if you are writing for a traditional publisher, you earn 5-10% royalty; with self-publishing you bake the cake and eat it too.

When it comes to both kinds of publishing, authors are expected to pitch in when it comes to marketing effort. The author’s platform is often a criterion.

Says Jaya Jha,“The real difference between traditional and self-publishing isn’t so much that author gets to rest after writing in traditional publishing but that the ultimate responsibility as well as control lies with the author in self-publishing.”

It takes a great deal of effort to sell your book. You can earn a lot more money self-publishing but for this you need to do your homework right by spending a lot more of your time in marketing it by participating actively in the launch, perfecting your social media pitch and actively promoting yourself. Once the sales starts picking up by word of mouth, you can sit back, relax and see the book turn into a bestseller.

Check out these links for more ideas about writing a bestseller in India:

Five Questions to Answer When Self-Publishing a Technical Book

We asked Gayle Laakmann McDowell, author of Cracking the Coding Interview, a bestselling book for technical interview preparation, for some advice for technical self publishers. Here she outlines the five essential questions one needs to consider when self publishing a technical book. We believe this is useful even for other non-fiction writers and self publishers.

The best advice for authors of a similar genre (anything in the business / technical type) is to think about your book as a business. Writers are entrepreneurs, and writing a book is a business. The same concepts apply to both.

Building a great product is important, but it’s not everything. You need to think about the following questions:

Is there a big market?
How many people want your book? Your book won’t sell well if it’s too “niche.”
Is there good demand in your market?
Just because people need your book doesn’t mean they actually want it. Is your book useful to your market? How useful? Are they already looking for something like yours?
There is a tradeoff between the size of the market and demand; the bigger your market, the less “perfectly suited” it is for any one person. My book, for instance, is only for software engineers and would be considered very “niche.” However, because it’s a small and focused market, it outsells any of the “general purpose” interview books out there.
How much competition is there?
You should be aware of the existing competition for your book. If there are a ton of other books out there, you need to hope that you’ve written a really, really good book (and that’s hard!).
Remember though that just as too much competition is bad, too little competition is bad too. There’s often a reason that there isn’t competition, and it may mean that there isn’t actually a big market out there.
How will you market / promote your book?
You can’t expect to just write a great book and suddenly have people desperate to buy it. You need to think about how you are going to promote it. Do you have a popular and relevant website or blog? Do you train people? There are many ways to promote a book or product, and you need to find one that works well for you and your market.
What is the minimal viable product?
In start-ups, there’s a concept of the “minimal viable product,” which is the quickest product that you can build that basically solves the customer’s needs. It might not be fully functional and do everything that they want, but it fulfills their most pressing demands. If you release with that first, it will help you get customers and to understand what customers really want.
The same concept applies to non-fiction / business / technical / reference books. The 5th edition of Cracking the Coding Interview is a 500 page paperback book. The 4th edition was “only” 300 pages. The first version? It was a 20 page PDF.
The first edition was the “minimal viable product.” It wasn’t perfect – in fact, it was far from perfect – but it was enough to establish that there was a good demand, a good market, and a good reason to continue to develop the book.
The wonderful thing about print-on-demand services like Pothi.com is that you don’t have to spend a lot of time writing the “perfect” book so that you can print 3000 copies of it. You can write the “minimal viable book,” and then write a bigger and better version once you figure out that lots of people want to read it.

Note 1: Read the interview with Gayle about her experiences of self-publishing and her book “Cracking the Coding Interview.

Note 2: We have extended the deadline for Tech Publishing Festival to August 5, 2012. If you are looking to self publish a technical title, make sure to submit your manuscript before the deadline to avail free design and distribution services.

[Author Interview] Gayle Laakmann McDowell, author of Cracking the Coding Interview

Gayle Laakmann McDowellGayle Laakmann McDowell is the author of Cracking the Coding Interview, a featured book in our Tech Publishing Festival. She used Pothi.com to bring out an Indian edition of her book which is available for sale on Pothi.com, Flipkart, IndiaPlaza and other Indian retailers. Cracking the Coding Interview is the #1 book for Software Engineering interviews preparation currently.

[Pothi.com] Please tell us about your book. What inspired you to write it?

[Gayle Laakmann McDowell] Cracking the Coding Interview: 150 Programming Questions and Answers is focused on helping software engineers prepare for technical interviews at top tech companies, like Microsoft, Amazon and Google.

It grew out of my company’s website, CareerCup.com. CareerCup offers thousands of free interview questions from tech firms added by users after their interviews.

I realized though that providing sample questions to practice on isn’t enough. Candidates also need to learn how to solve problems.

So, I took the best 150 of interview questions and wrote up thorough solutions for all of them. I showed multiple ways of solving problems, in a way that candidates can follow along with to improve their solutions, and offered concrete strategies to develop new algorithms. The book is now over 500 pages long!

[PC] Tell us about yourself. What is your background?

[GLM] I have worked as a software engineer for Google, Microsoft, and Apple, and I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Computer Science. In addition, while I was at Google, I became very involved in the hiring process. I was in the top 1% of interviewers at Google, and served on its hiring committee. In addition, I have interviewed with 12 of the top companies (including Amazon and IBM) and received offers from all of them.

In short, I know both sides of the software engineering hiring process thoroughly!

[PC] Have you written any other books? Tell us about those.

[GLM] I have written one other book, called The Google Resume: How to Prepare for a Career and Land a Job at Apple, Microsoft, Google, or any Top Tech Company.

Whereas Cracking the Coding Interview focuses just on software engineering interview prep, The Google Resume is a more comprehensive book that details the entire recruiting timeline, from college projects and majors to designing a resume, writing cover letters, and negotiating an offer.

Getting a great job starts well before the interview and continues long after, and The Google Resume shows candidates that process.

[PC] Why did you decide to self publish your book? Did you first try the traditional publishing channel or had you decided to self-publish from the beginning?

[GLM] Being an engineer, I took an “iterative” approach to writing. Actually, I really hadn’t intended to write a real “book” at all.

I wrote Cracking the Coding Interview as a PDF interview guide which I sold directly from CareerCup. Candidates loved it, so I continued to expand the contents. Pretty soon I had written a book – only it was a PDF instead of a physical book. Finding someone to print it was the next logical step, so that’s how I wound up self-publishing. It was mostly an accident!

I’ve since gotten a number of offers from publishing houses to publish my book for me, but there’s no reason for me to do that. With enough work, you can do almost everything that a traditional publishing house can do – and make far higher royalties in the process.

For my second book, The Google Resume, I did decide to publish with Wiley, which is one of the largest US publishers. The reason that I did that is that I knew that there was an awful lot I didn’t yet know about publishing, and I wanted to learn from how they did things.

[PC] How much time and work went into each revision?

[GLM] For the most recent edition, I worked on it for about nine months.

[PC] How is the book doing?

[GLM] It’s doing better than I ever expected! It’s currently Amazon’s #1 book in Interviewing, #1 in Software Development, and #361 out of all books. (PC: The Indian edition is also in the top 100 bestsellers across all categories on Flipkart for past 7-8 months.)

[PC] We recently saw a Russian version of your book. How did you decide which all markets to cover and how did you go about releasing the book there?

[GLM] The book is being translated and published in Russian, Traditional Chinese (Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan), Simplified Chinese (China), Japanese, and Korean. I’m also working out some other deals right now. The publishing houses have all approached me. They are, presumably, finding me from my high sales rank on Amazon and picking my book based on the large technical audiences in those countries.

[PC] It is clear that writing a good book takes a lot of effort. Do you think it has been worth it? Has it helped you in advancing your career?

[GLM] I’m a bit unusual as compared to most non-fiction authors. I actually support myself from my book sales. So, yes, it has helped my career a lot!

My book has also landed me a number of speaking engagements at top schools around the US, a major conference in Canada, and an NIT and an IIT in India. And when I start my next venture, I’m sure the credibility and name recognition will be very valuable.

[PC] Do you get fan mail? 🙂 How does it feel when someone comes back and thanks you for writing the book?

[GLM] I get a number of emails, tweets (@gayle), or Facebook comments (http://www.facebook.com/gayle) from people thanking me for my book and telling me how it helped them land their dream job. I try to respond to all of them, and it always feels great to know that I helped someone.

[PC] Thanks a lot for talking to us! We wish you all the success and even more readers in time to come!

Note: We also asked Gayle for her advice to fellow authors in the technical genre. That will be coming up in the next post. Stay tuned!

Technical Books, Self Publishing and Print-on-Demand

TechnologyJuly 2012 is the Tech Publishing Festival at Pothi.com. You might be wondering why this special attention to tech publishing? There is a reason – actually multiple reasons. One of them we will explore in this blog post.

Increasing pace of technology change

As technologists, we live in an exciting world. The rate of evolution of software technologies is breathtaking. There was a time when it would take a new technology, a new programming language years to mature and become usable. Today that time period has come down to months. Consider how long it took Python and Ruby before they became mainstream and came into large-scale usage. Then consider CoffeeScript and Node.js that are already becoming part of many job descriptions. iPhone and Android appeared on the scene 3-4 years ago and the demand for expertise in those platforms is exploding through the roof.

Another aspect of the current technological scenario is the increasingly shortening iteration periods. Most modern browsers are now on monthly release cycles. Ubuntu, a popular Linux variant is on a six month release cycle. What this means is that a significant chunk of technical knowledge and information gets stale very fast. Even blog posts have a hard time keeping up with this. Traditionally published paper books with a publishing cycle of a year or longer don’t stand a chance here.

These two trends are fundamentally changing the tech publishing as well. It is no longer feasible to produce large tomes containing thousands of pages, covering something comprehensively, and expect it to be useful for several years to come. The short cycle of technology change is forcing a short cycle on the publishing as well. This means a move towards eBooks and print-on-demand which reduce the risk of stale inventory and offer much faster time to market.

That’s where the Pothi.com’s model comes into picture. Pick up on a technology on which information and education is needed today and now. Write a book and let us help you bring it to market quickly and professionally. If you haven’t already done so, you should check out the details of the Tech Publishing Festival now.

Happy Writing!

🙂

Copyright O’ Copyright! (Part II)

You may want to read the first part on this topic before reading this one: Copyright O’ Copyright (Part I)

In the previous post, we have seen what copyright and copyright law mean to an author. Now let us look at some of the common queries people have in mind.

Should I register a copyright?

As mentioned in the previous post

  • Copyright registration is optional. Copyright comes into existence as soon as the work is penned down. Whether or not copyright has been registered, the protection under copyright law in available.
  • Registration is a prima facie evidence in case of a dispute, but it does not guarantee that the dispute will always be in your favour.

Give the above, there isn’t a strong case for registering copyright. However, if you have either the time for paperwork or the money for an Intellectual Property (IP) lawyer to do the work on your behalf and you absolutely want to do everything in your power to protect your copyright, you can go for registration. If you are doing in yourself, the details are available on Copyright Office’s website. Otherwise you may want to contact a local IP lawyer. Typically you may have to spend upwards of Rs. 10,000 for a lawyer’s services.

Is it necessary to register a copyright before publishing a book?

No. The copyright protection comes into affect as soon as you have penned down the work. Hence, it is not necessary to register a copyright.

Is it necessary to register a copyright before publishing a book on Pothi.com?

No

But wouldn’t it be a proof that the book is indeed mine?

Not really. Copyright office does not go around scouting for whether the work has been written/published by anyone else originally. They only give around 30 days for someone to raise objection and then go ahead with registration process. That is hardly a guarantee that only original work passes the process. In fact, it is probably for the same reason that in a court case, a copyright registration is not a conclusive proof and other proofs can actually take the decision of the court against the registration.

Would the name of my book be protected under copyright?

No, title, sub-title, short phrases would not generally be covered under copyright.

If there is a book already published under a name and I give the same name to my book, would I be violating somebody’s copyright?

In general, the name of the book is not protected by copyright and if you browse through a book store, you will see several books with the same name, especially non-fiction ones. So, just because a book with the same name has been published earlier, does not mean that your book can’t have the name.

But you should keep in mind that the name could be trademarked (especially famous ones) and if that is the case, it should not be used without proper permissions.

Also, you should avoid using the names of famous books. Because it not only about copyrights or trademarks all the time. Other laws also have to be taken in to account. If you use a very famous name or refer to a very famous name somehow, the originator of that name may sue you for trying to mislead people. Copyright may or may not have been violated, but consumer protection laws may come in to play!

So, the safe thing to do is not to bother too much about the name being used earlier, but definitely stand clear off the famous ones.

Somebody told me I should not use content from Internet. It will be a violation of copyright. Why? Aren’t they in public domain?

No. Public availability of content does not mean it is in public domain. Unless some content is clearly declared to be in public domain, you should assume that you can not use it without permission. A lot of content is available on the Internet, where the copyright and licensing information may not be available. In such cases, make it a point to get proper permission from the content owner to reproduce the content or use it in other ways. If you can’t get the permission, do not use it.

I have used images from the Internet in my book. Is that a problem?

Most likely it IS a problem. Like with written content, just because images are available publicly, it does not mean that they can be used freely by anyone. You must check the licensing information or get explicit permission from the owner before using images from Internet.

I have an ISBN for my book? Does it mean my copyright is protected?

This is a surprisingly common confusion people have. So, to clarify, ISBN has nothing to do with copyright. ISBN is only a cataloging system for books and it makes no statement whatsoever about copyright. Your literary work is protected by copyright laws irrespective of whether or not your book has an ISBN. If you want to register a copyright, you can do so, but getting an ISBN is not equivalent to registering a copyright.

Where do I read more about the copyright and related laws in India?

Copyright office has a fairly comprehensive website. While reading through the laws and rules might be infeasible for normal mortals (read non-lawyers), the handbook of copyright law explains things in a language that can be followed even by the novices.

Copyright O’ Copyright! (Part I)

I consider myself fairly good with spotting patterns and categorizing things. But the number of angles from which people can get confused about the copyrights confounds me. In general, it is not possible to give a quick, short, satisfying answer to copyright related queries. Because this is after all a legal issue and “if”s and “but”s are endless before you can make any statement.

So, if you have a query about copyright, I request you to read this blog post (and others to come on this) first, even if it is slightly longish and even if it does not come to the point you have in mind immediately. Because most likely, your point has to come through several “if”s and “but”s!

Since we are touching on a legal topic – a big and important disclaimer. This article is not written by a qualified legal expert. This is just our understanding of the copyright issues and should not be taken as a legal advice. If copyright questions are really worrying you, you should consult an Intellectual Property lawyer. Also, all the circumstances, examples, cases used in the article are completely hypothetical – and work of imagination. They may or may not stand a proper legal scrutiny. They are mentioned just to illustrate the idea and are not supposed to be actual legal cases.

So now, on to the real stuff.

A big nuance of law in general

Before we start on the copyright relates issues, there is something about law in general that we need to understand. There are always two aspects of law. One aspect talks about what should happen. The other governs, how do you go about enforcing that law. For simplicity let’s call them the theoretical and practical aspects of the law.And “theoretical” and “practical” should not be taken in the sense that “theoretical” is just that – the theory and “practical” is the main thing. No! Its just a nomenclature and does not carry any such loaded meaning.

  • Theoretical aspect will talk about what should happen. If X has murdered Y under ABC circumstances, then X should be punished with a life imprisonment. That’s what the theoretical law says.
  • Practical aspect is concerned with ascertaining what actually happened and which part of theoretical law is applicable. Did Y get murdered or did Y commit suicide? If it was indeed a murder, was it X who did it. If so, was X provoked in any way or did X do it for self defense and so on… How will these things be ascertained? Based on evidences. So, the law will say that a postmortem report from a government hospital can be an evidence to ascertain what was the cause of death and whether it is more likely to be a murder or a suicide. The law can say that the weapon of death being found in X’s house is not an evidence enough for claiming that X is the murderer and so on.

So, given the practical aspects of the law, whether or not the theoretical aspect gets observed in the end can never be predicted in advance. If in reality X was murdered under ABC circumstances, then he should have gotten life imprisonment. But with all the evidences and other nittigritties related to ascertaining the situation, it is a possibility that X gets away free because the circumstances could not be ascertained definitely. There is also a chance that X was not really guilty, but evidences got framed up in a way that he was punished.

Depressing as it may sound, it is a reality. The law is after all a human system and can not be fool-proof. (However, to practically compensate for that, most modern laws – specially criminal laws – follow the principle of letting the accused go if there is even the slightest doubt about the crime. Let go of a thousand guilty people to save even one innocent person).

The outcome of civil and business related legal conflicts are usually less fatal to individuals (we are normally not talking about murders and violence here). But the theoretical and practical aspects of the law are still there. So, the theoretical law may say that if company X has violated the patent of company Y, then they should compensate for the losses incurred and immediately pull their product out from the market. But the practical law has to go through the exercise of ascertaining a bunch of things here. Did Y have that patent? Has the patent really been violated? If so, how do we calculate the losses incurred (different parties would definitely have different calculations!)? What would pulling the product out mean? Can company X provide support to their existing customers and charge for it? Or would the customer also have to suffer? And so on…

Apart from unpredictability caused by the practical aspect of the law, there might be issues in the theoretical aspect of the law too. There may be laws that contradict with each other (legal systems are vast, complicated human systems, after all). Law may be vague about certain definitions. Certain concepts may just elude strict definitions and law has to depend on its interpreter to take a call on those. So, unpredictability reins all through!

The same nuance for copyright law

Similar situation exists for the copyright law as well. Law says certain things about what is copyright, in what circumstances is it violated, what is the punishment for violating the copyright and so on.

But if there is a practical conflict, the outcome can not predicted because the process of ascertaining the claims is not predictable. Just like in the murder case example taken earlier, someone might actually have violated the copyright and may still get away with it because the court could not ascertain whether or not the copyright belonged to the other person in the first place!

We should look at the remaining discussion, keeping the above in mind.

But let’s not be overly pessimistic. While the outcome is not quite predictable in case of an actual conflict, it does not mean that totally arbitrary things can happen to us. If we understand the important aspects of the law correctly, and follow some good practices, we should be fairly safe on copyright grounds.

The theoretical part of the copyright law

  • Copyright in actually a bundle of rights given to the creator of creative work – normally the works of literature, art, drama, music etc. The bundle of rights include things like right of reproduction, right of adaptation, right of translation etc. Given Pothi.com’s business, we will restrict our discussions to the copyright of literary works (computer code is also treated as literary work for the purpose of copyright, but we’d not include that in our discussions).
  • The copyright law grants certain protection to the owner of copyright. Typically for literary work, it means that all the rights from the bundle can not be exercised by anyone other than the copyright owner, unless there is an explicit permission or a right transfer has happened.
  • There is a provision for registering the copyright. However, it is not necessary to register the copyright to claim protection under it. Copyright and protection under copyright law comes into existence as soon as the work is penned down. Registration is optional. Registration serves as prima facie evidence, if there is a dispute in court. This means that it can be basis to file the case, but it does not mean conclusively that the case will be decided in favour of the person having registration. The other party can present other proofs, which can put the case in their favour.
  • In Indian copyright law, the copyright protection for literary work is available for up to 60-year period counted from the year following the death of the author. If the publication is done anonymously or with a pseudonym, the protection is available for 60 years from the date of publication.
  • Copyright mostly works like any other property you own. You can assign a copyright to someone else in a lifetime, you can assign it to someone starting from a future date (like after your death). If there is no explicit assignment, then like any other property, the copyright passes on to your legal heir after your death.
  • You can assign individual rights from the bundle of rights copyright law protects to other people/organizations while keeping the remaining with you. So for an English work of yours, you can give Spanish translation rights to one company, Hindi translation rights to a relative of yours and movie adaptation rights to a bollywood producer. The remaining rights will still remain with you. None of these assignments will entitle them to print and sell the copies of your original work.

Practical Parts to remember

  • Recall the theoretical and practical aspects of the law and apply it here. The law grants the protection, but that does not mean that someone who wants to, will not be able to violate your copyright. They may violate it and you have to keep track of them and take the legal recourse, if they don’t agree to stop the violation. Once the case starts, you will have to go through the process of proving that the copyright was yours and it was violated. You will have to produce evidence to this effect and so on. The outcome is not completely predictable.
  • The law does not say that any government body will actively monitor copyright violation irrespective of whether or not you have registered the copyright. That is something you will have to do on your own. There is no copyright police anywhere to actively monitor and stop illegal copyright violations!

In the next blog post on copyrights, we’d get into some of the practical things a self publishing author should look for while dealing with copyright issues.