The fairy-tale version of finishing a book goes something like this: You dramatically pull a final book page from the typewriter carriage, stack it on top of a huge pile of papers, stuff it into a bulky package, rush ship it to your favorite publisher, and immediately get a call praising your book and offering you top dollar. Of course, we all know that’s not how it really works.
With the advent of self-publishing, authors have a significant amount of choice in their publishing process, and with so many traditional, self, and niche publishers to choose from, the publishing process looks different for everyone. So, what should you really expect when publishing your book?
To help us understand how to separate the publishing fairy-tale from the reality, we recently spoke with Dipa Sanatani from Mith Books, a company that specializes in helping authors through the publishing process.
TBE: As the Founder at Mith Books, can you explain what your role is and how Mith Books works?
Dipa Sanatani: I’m both an author and an entrepreneur. I started Mith Books because I was downright fed up of dealing with traditional publishers who’re stuck in the past. The lack of innovation is apparent both in titles offered as well as the refusal to change business practises despite tremendous developments in tech.
Currently, I’m in the process of marketing my debut novel The Little Light. I’m also working with fellow author Sanchari Das on a co-authored book. I hire freelancers who work with me on a project basis. It all depends on what I need at that moment.
TBE: Can you give a flavour of a day in the working life of Dipa Sanatani?
Dipa Sanatani: (Laughs) Working in a startup is entirely different to working in an established business. I spend my day looking for opportunities and then trying to harness their potential. Sometimes it works out wonderfully and sometimes things go south.
I also have a regular job – the details of which I won’t go into. Like me, many of the people who work with me are passionate individuals who are doing this ‘on the side’ because they want to do more than just earn a pay check. I’ve had the opportunity to work with people from tech, traditional publishing, online marketing experts, and even artists and animators. It’s been amazing collaborating with so many talented people from such diverse backgrounds.
It’s all one step at a time. One day at a time. There’s a lot of uncertainty but there’s also a lot of room to grow.
TBE: How did you get into this publishing industry?
Dipa Sanatani: My family was in textiles – both wholesale and retail. I used to watch my great-grandfather rip open crates of goods with his bare hands. It was a physically-demanding job. Needless to say, the men were in charge of the business and women managed the household and took care of the kids.
But for some unfathomable reason, my great-grandfather Mancharram Nagindas took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew about the world of commerce. I ended up working in the family business. I didn’t do any heavy labour, but I was that person that quietly made things work behind-the-scenes. My first job was managing the till – collecting money from customers and giving them the appropriate change. As I grew older, I was relegated to administrative tasks and accounting.
Having said that, as a woman and the youngest of my generation, I was never next in line to inherit anything. During my time, that privilege belonged to the eldest son.
But what my great-grandfather did give me was a solid foundation in entrepreneurship. He instilled in me his austere work ethic of perseverance, resilience and resourcefulness. It would later prove to be far more valuable than any monetary inheritance. Those years managing the finances and watching the men in my family run a business were subconsciously grooming me to start and build my own publishing business one day.
My grandfather Ratilal Mancharram believed that business is not about money, but about creating value in this world through your work. He was a fiery person with a big heart. He was deeply passionate about developing people to their fullest potential. On the business front, he strongly believed that if traditional businesses don’t innovate, they eventually stagnate and lose touch with the people they’re meant to serve.
I’m not in this for the money. I’m here to build on the legacy of those that have come before me in a whole new way.
TBE: What are you looking for when you read a manuscript?
Dipa Sanatani: Firstly, there needs to actually be some content that I can work with. A lot of people approach me saying they want to write a book, but never actually ever begin the process of writing it! It’s impossible for me to offer much in that situation.
I am currently looking to work with as well as publish other authors. For those looking to traditionally publish, At Mith Books, we can polish up your manuscript to increase its chances of being picked up by a publisher. For those looking to self-publish, I can offer a range of services depending on the state of the manuscript.
In the case of partially completed manuscripts, Mith Books is able to offer a beta-reading service. I highly recommend this to all authors who are unsure of what the next step is.
Beta-readers are not editors. They read your work and give you feedback on the plot, characters, your writing style and their overall impressions of your story. Most beta-readers are writers themselves so they’ll be able to pick up on the more technical aspects of your writing that your friends and family won’t.
In the case of completed manuscripts, Mith Books offers editing and other services such as developing a marketing strategy. A lot of books don’t go as far as they could because creative people often struggle with the commercial side of publishing. That’s where I step in and offer more practical advice.
I’ve also worked with authors who’ve released books and not had the success that they were looking for. In those cases, I read what they’ve written and study their marketing strategy to come up with solutions on how they could better move forward with their next book.
Like my grandfather, I’m passionate about developing people to their fullest potential. As a former teacher, I have years and years of experience inspiring and challenging my students to be the best that they can be.
TBE: What are the pros and cons of traditional publishing and self-publishing, respectively?
Dipa Sanatani: In traditional publishing, an author writes a book and then sells the manuscript to a publishing house that takes care of the editing, marketing and other promotional activities. In self-publishing, the author has to manage the dual tasks of creating the work as well as polishing it and promoting it to an audience. There are pros and cons to each decision.
If you decide to go down the traditional route, you will lose a fair bit of control over profits as well as how the book is presented to the public. If you’re self-published, you get to make all marketing decisions as well as keep all your royalties.
TBE: What is the first thing someone should do before approaching a publishing company or deciding to self-publish?
Dipa Sanatani: When you decide to publish, your book stops being a creative or educational venture and becomes a commercial product. If you’re unwilling to deal with the business side of things, you are setting yourself up for failure.
As an author myself, I know what it means to pour your heart and soul into your work. But when it’s time to deal with facts and money, I leave my feelings out of it and deal with it as a business person.
If authors think of themselves as artists, they forget that publishers are looking at it as a commercial venture. If publishers keep looking at sales potential, they forget that writers have poured their heart and soul into making that book come to life.
It’s a tricky balance on both sides.
TBE: What is the biggest initial hurdle to starting the publishing process with a new client?
Dipa Sanatani: If you want your book to reach a wider audience, it needs to be accessible to the average reader. I used to be a high school teacher. In the classroom I learnt that if only five percent of my students understood my lesson, I have failed miserably. There’s nothing more humbling than 30 blank faces staring at you like they have no idea what you’re talking about.
Many writers get caught up in the art of their craft without stopping to think if anyone will actually get it. In my opinion, this is a mistake. Authors should seriously think about how to communicate with an audience.
TBE: What should an author expect to do to make his or her book successful? What does a successful book look like?
Dipa Sanatani: It depends on what success means to the author. Everyone has their own definition and measure of success. Are you in it for commercial success or literary acclaim? Books that garner literary prizes are not the same books that top the bestsellers lists.
Unlike other ‘products’ available in the market, a book is different – especially when we’re talking about fiction. We can do our best to hustle and get it out there into the hands of reviewers and readers, but we never know when the story will take off and find its way into the public imagination. It’s not a linear path… and it’s going to take time.
TBE: What are some of the stereotypes that you’ve run into when approached by writers?
Dipa Sanatani: For some reason, many of the people around me seem to think I live a very glamorous lifestyle of drinking whiskey and going on book tours. Right now, it’s mostly a lot of time on the laptop. Making ads, testing ads, targeting and re-targeting audiences… And writing, writing and more writing.
You should read my post on FAQs for the Self-Published Author. It’ll tell you about all the strange questions that people asked me after my book came out.
Hilarious, I tell you. Just hilarious.