Dipa Sanatani is the Merchant of Stories. Working in her family business from a very young age, she learnt the special skills of entrepreneurship from her great-grandfather, and that turned out to be the most valuable lesson of her life. With a background in both business and education, Dipa Sanatani established her own publishing house and made her debut as an author by self-publishing her book “The Little Light”. Currently she is in Singapore, busy working on her publishing house “Mith Books”.
Her struggle to establish herself as an author led her to choose the path of self-publication and finally establish her first business venture “Mith Books”.
I recently had the pleasure of conversing with the author and got the wonderful opportunity of conducting an exclusive interview. Here is what Dipa Sanatani reveals about ‘The Risky Business of Publishing’.
“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.”
Q. What made you go for self-publishing rather than traditional publishing?
A: When I tried getting published the traditional way in 2013, I collected over 200 rejection letters. I had positive feedback regarding my work, but the general consensus – that no one said to my face – was that no one wanted to take a chance on a complete newcomer. In life, one has to learn to read between the lines.
At the end of the day, traditional publishing is a business. The value of a book is understood in one of two ways: sales potential and the ability to garner literary prizes. As a debut author, I didn’t have a track record or contacts. From the business perspective, I can understand why traditional publishers wouldn’t want to invest in me.
But everyone has to start somewhere. Even experts were once amateurs.
That’s why I started Mith Books. In hindsight, I’m glad things happened the way they did. It gave me the opportunity to start from scratch and build my way up on my own.
Q: Can you share an interesting or memorable incident related to your journey as a publisher?
A: 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. That privilege belonged to the eldest son. Whether he is deserving or not is another story.
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.
Q: Nowadays money is all you need to get published. How true is the statement?
A: Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve seen people mishandle resources in every industry I’ve worked in. Money has a way of slipping through fingers like grains of sand.
If you want to see your book succeed, you have to invest in your own education. Learn everything you can about literary techniques and figure out how to communicate your message to an audience. After that, educate yourself on the business side of publishing. There is so much to learn and you can never allow yourself to stop learning.
After that, you need to put everything you’ve learnt into practise. Pour your resources into places where you are likely to generate a return. Although some sunk costs are inevitable, I’m far too fiscally conservative to put my limited resources in the wrong places.
My grandfather Ratilal Mancharram believed that business is not about money, but about creating value in this world through your work.
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.
Q: Emergence of several fraudulent publishers have corrupted the publishing business. Do you agree?
A: These days there are many companies offering authors packages to help them self-publish. I considered going down that path, but I found the fees exorbitant. The people I spoke to also didn’t seem to have any vested interest in seeing my book succeed. It was a hard and pushy sales sell and I didn’t feel good about it. I thought I would be better off investing that same amount of money hiring freelancers who were more aligned with my vision.
I simply couldn’t stomach the notion of trusting both my book and a significant sum of money to a company that may or may not care about my novel in the long run. In that respect, the traditional publishing model is far less risky. The author pays no upfront fees and income is generated through sales.
Q: Can you suggest any ways how the authors can choose the right and genuine publisher for themselves?
A: Trust your instincts and do your research. Target publishers who have titles that are similar to the books in your genre. Make sure the people you work with want to see your book succeed. Don’t get taken in by empty flattery or by the naysayers. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
I didn’t have much luck getting published the traditional way, but I was fortunate to cross paths with a marketing manager from a big publishing house. She worked with me on my book on a freelance basis. Her advice made all the difference in how I packaged my book so that it could reach its intended audience.
Q: What, according to you, are the best ways to promote a book and make it reach more readers?
A: Firstly, figure out who your target audience is. Male or female, age group, what other books have they read, where would this reader be located, what kind of shops do they frequent and so on and so forth. Once you have an idea of who your reader might be, approach them.
Be prepared to hustle and put yourself out there. Authors are generally introverts and reticent when it comes to dealing with people – but I got over it and so can you.
To publish is to make public. Start a blog. Be active on social media. Engage with your readers. It’s part research and part trial-and-error. Ignore your critics and keep going.
Q: What marketing techniques should a writer adopt to ensure maximum reach?
A: First of all, take a long hard look at your book cover. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we all do it. And in this day and age of e-retailers, make sure your book looks good as a thumbnail. I hired two freelancers to work on the cover of The Little Light. One for the artwork and another for the typography. It took me four months and several revisions to get it right.
And you have to make a pivotal yet personal decision – do you want your book to look like all the others in your genre or do you want it to stand out?
I wanted The Little Light to stand out.
Q: Off-line or Online marketing, which works better?
A: I haven’t done much offline marketing. I don’t come with contacts in the publishing business. So to me, Instagram has been a godsend. I’m not a social media person at all, but it’s been invaluable in getting my book out there. And the best part of it has been all the talented people I’ve crossed paths with along the way.
If I had stuck to offline marketing, I would have limited myself to small group of people instead of reaching out to potential audiences I wouldn’t have been able to connect with otherwise.
Q: What, according to you, are the qualities of a good publishing house?
A: A good publishing house needs to compete in the market for both authors and customers. One of the main takeaways I had from attending the London Book Fair in 2019 was that even industry veterans have no idea how well a book is going to do.
If a publishing house focuses solely on acquiring authors with a proven track record, they run the risk of squashing the very creativity upon which the profitability of the publishing house depends on. It is difficult to predict what the next great novel will be. Even big hits that provide an influx of sales can later fall off the radar. Some books start off slow and then suddenly take off a few years later.
It is managing this risk that ultimately sets apart good publishing houses from the rest of the pack.
Q: What do you think is an important aspect of the author-publisher relationship?
A: Passion, commitment and common sense. 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.
“Business is not about money, but about creating value in this world through your work.”
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About the Author