Just as I am getting ready to go for the second print of my first book, “Be One with God: A guiding light to mankind”, a compilation of the timeless wisdom of Swami Vivekananda, I felt it is a good time to write down what it was like to publish a book and also to recall how it felt like. It has also been a long time since I wrote any blog and hence I felt it is a good time to start writing again.
We have all read books and continue to read them. It is in the very nature of our brain to sort the books that we have read in the order of the impact that they had on us. It is a process that happens by itself. For many of us who have mostly been readers and who never thought seriously of writing and publishing a book the idea of publishing a book seems quite distant. Though I used to write very regularly on my Facebook wall and even as I was advised by many friends to write a book the idea didn’t take deep roots in my mind till the Indian Government officially announced a Corona Lock-down. The other reason why I was hesitant to write or publish a book was that I was not sure of the value that my writing would add to the world of literature and I was thinking how much of what I write is really true and why should people spend time reading what I write? Considering that I have spent a lot of time going through Swami Vivekananda’s literature which is such an enlightening world of knowledge I was naturally tempted to ask myself, “What is that I can write which Swami Vivekananda has not spoken of?” That was really the reason why I didn’t attempt to write a book of my own. No! The time is not yet ripe for me to write a book but Yes! Definitely I can compile a book that contains some great ideas which will add a definite value to the world of literature. This was the beginning of the thought process.
Getting acquainted to the World of Books
It is a lock-down time. There is no going outside. Everything is digital. So even the introduction to the world of books was digital.
I started with the Google Playbooks. It is a little less complicated compared to the Amazon Kindle. I initially started by compiling a small book which I thought I would need myself. It is the Bhagavadgita e-book in Kannada, a title which was not there in Google Playbooks then and something that would add value. Even compiling the Bhagavadgita script which is readily available in the web was quite an onerous task. Going verse by verse and making sure it is right and is easy for the reader to chant was quite a demanding work and required immense attention. But the e-book came out quite well. More importantly I learnt a lot of things in the process and the book gave me complete satisfaction. It was also the time to put into use some of the photographs that I had taken in the past. The Cover page of my Bhagavadgita compilation features a photo of Lord Krishna and Arjuna’s statue taken in Kurukshetra in the year 2015. If you want to publish a book in Google Playbooks it is easy. Use a tool like reedsy.com and prepare your e-book, open a Publisher Account in Google Play Books and you are good to go.
The beginning of real work
As I said earlier since I felt that I was not yet ready to write a book of my own and that the world would be more benefited by reading the thoughts of someone of the caliber of Swami Vivekananda whose thoughts and guidance to humanity are just too invaluable to be kept to myself. Even though there are hundreds of books containing Swami Vivekananda’s sayings and many other personality development books by other authors across the world, I felt my own collection of Swami Vivekananda’s sayings on this subject is quite as good as any other. I wanted to approach the subject from the perspective of an individual who is looking to evolve further. I thought it was also the right time for me to put together different teachings of Swami Vivekananda that I have had the fortune of going through for close to two decades. Now there was a real purpose to compile a book and a definite value that it would add to the world of literature and to human life. The Corona lock-down really helped me to forget everything else and focus on the book.
I have been reading the teachings of Swami Vivekananda since 2002. I didn’t understand much of what Swamiji said then but every time I took up his literature it gave me the feeling of strength and there is very little outside to compare with his literature. The content, the choice of words, the strength that a person can inject through his words and the light that these words show to mankind have kept me engrossed in Swami Vivekananda’s literature. One thing I have been doing since I got access to this Tablets and Smartphones is bookmarking and storing the quotes that I like of Swami Vivekananda. I actually worked on a website www.swamivivekananda.guru for quite some time and here I have published 1000 quotes of Swami Vivekananda. So I had a ready material to start with.
Compiling the quotes
Even though these 1000 quotes were highly selected, not all of them could be easily understood by all and perhaps not all of them were meant for all. So the first task was to select quotes even among this 1000 quotes. I think I selected around 500 quotes from this existing collection.
Making the book relevant to the reader
I have sincerely believed in Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s saying that Naren(Swami Vivekananda) was born to show direction to mankind. So the task was to approach the subject from this perspective. Swami Vivekananda’s teachings show direction to mankind–So arrange them in such a way that people can relate to them and derive benefit from them. Thus the task began with identifying the broad subjects that a human being deals with in his or her life. I chose them as
- Make your own future
- Know yourselves
- Day to Day Guidance
- The ideal of service
- Religion & God
- Raja Yoga
- Karma Yoga
- Bhakti Yoga
- Jnana Yoga
- Practical Vedanta
These subjects were covered with 1000 quotes but that didn’t feel adequate. I myself knew many more wonderful quotes that were not featured in this book. Hence I thought of extending it further up to 1863 quotes (1863 is the year in which Swami Vivekananda was born) and another chapter was also added – 2. Struggle & Hope. While selecting all these quotes I referred to the selected portions of The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda where I was most likely to get more quotes suited to the particular topics chosen above. It took me roughly 3 months to bring the book to a level in which I thought it was presentable.
Choosing the Title of the Book.
This was a tough task. Initially I wanted to go with the title “The Teachings of Swami Vivekananda” – I also have a Facebook page by this name but later I found that Advaita Ashrama has already published a book with this title. After some reflection I chose “Be One with God” (Taken from one of Swami Vivekananda’s inspiring sayings) This appeared to be the best title I could choose for the book. It was in line with Swami Vivekananda’s life mission and was quite catchy too.
Choosing the subtitle
Initially I went with the subtitle “The manual of liberation” and it remained so until the morning of the day it was to go for print. As I was waking up from my morning meditation that day, it flashed to me that it should be “A guiding light to mankind” reflecting the true spirit of the book and its message.
Encouraging response for the E-book
First I took the book live on Google Playbooks in e-book format. The response was quite good and the reviews were encouraging with some people even suggesting that I go for a printed version. Later I got the book uploaded to Amazon Kindle also. Amazon Kindle is definitely far more popular than the Google Play Books. As I uploaded the book to Amazon Kindle it came to my notice that Amazon also gives a print on demand service. All you need to do is to prepare the print ready pdf of the book according to Amazon’s specification and upload it. They will take care of the rest.
Preparing for Amazon Paperback
This book printing was totally new to me and thankfully there was sufficient time to learn the basics of book printing. I went through Amazon Kindle’s documentation of preparing a book for print and spent considerable amount of time understanding it. I used Apple’s Pages software to prepare the print ready pdf. I had no clue who will buy this (as this service was available only in select countries outside India) but it was something worth doing. I did and I uploaded it. Sometime later I was pleasantly surprised to find that somebody in United States had placed an order for the print version and little later someone from Japan also had placed an order. So, many encouraging signs were there.
Getting ready for the Indian Print
I sent the same print ready version that I had prepared for Amazon for a draft print with www.pothi.com. I was not very satisfied with their quality and pricing but their platform helped me to get the first feel of my book. Since most of the contents were copied directly from the web, I had to spend considerable amount of time in proof-reading. That took sometime.
Enhancing the book
The first draft that I got through www.pothi.com gave me an idea of what the book would come out like. There was plenty of room for improvement. I started to observe different books. It opened up a whole new world for me. I found that I had never observed the books closely. There is so much to know in a book apart from its contents! :). About 2 years back one of my clients had presented me a book that he had authored. For 2 years I had not opened that book! Now I took it out. It had a thin layer of plastic sheet cover over it and it had preserved the book in very good condition for 2 years. Then and there I decided that even my book should get this kind of protection. It preserves the book for a very long time. As I went through that book I found that the paper quality was of much better quality than what I had chosen with pothi.com. Fine! Couple of things became clear. I decided to change the paper also.
Getting the Foreword
For the book foreword I had two people in mind viz, Revered Swami Muktidanandaji Maharaj, Adhyaksha of Ramakrishna Ashrama, Mysore and is also one of the Trustees of Ramakrishna Math & Mission, Worldwide and Smt. Sudha Murthy, Chairman, Infosys Foundation. Finally I requested Swami Muktidanandaji for the foreword. I am immensely thankful to Swamiji for agreeing to write the foreword amidst his really busy schedule handling so many responsibilities. It was quite fitting that he wrote the foreword and it has really been well received by all the readers. Maharaj has also been a great support for all our activities.
Choosing the Cover Page – when the DSLR photos really served some useful purpose
In Amazon and also Pothi I used their templates to design the cover page and I was not at all satisfied with either of them. With few days to go for the Print I explored the options with Canva, a tool that I have been using almost daily for close to 3 years to prepare Swami Vivekananda’s daily quotes. I chose a couple of templates. Then I went through the DSLR Photos that I had taken in the last 3-4 years. Of all these the photos taken in the Harsiddhi Mata temple in Ujjain just about 7 months back appeared much in sync with the title and the message of the book. So my DSLR Photos finally served a good purpose. Later the back cover photo was also chosen from one of my DSLR clicks and that one was during the Amarnath Yatra in 2018. The DLSR investment wasn’t useless after all!
How many copies to print?
Amazon KDP had given me a fresh perspective to printing — Print-on-Demand! In India www.pothi.com and www.notionpress.com provide a similar service. I was thinking to go with them and as I was talking to Rev. Swami Shantrivratanandaji of Ramakrishna Ashrama, Mysore he suggested that I can think of 500 copies! Who will buy and how to sell during the lock-down was the question. But considering Swamiji’s thought that buyers could be from across the country and also with that thin plastic layer over the book that I had thought of earlier, I thought, “Okay! it can be preserved if it’s not sold!” 500 copies were thought of.
Deciding on the Printers
My client’s book that I referred to earlier was printed in Bengaluru and I spoke to the same Printers as I was impressed with the quality of their work. But there was not a complete sync yet. Then I thought of another Printer who has been printing books related to Ramakrishna Movement for a very long time. After meeting him and explaining him my requirements and taking his feedback, I felt more comfortable to go with him.
Arranging for funds
As there was not much business in the past 8 months, I was totally out of cash on hand. For 500 copies it would cost around ₹90,000 and for 1000 copies close to ₹1,30,000/-. Where to go for cash! I decided to liquidate some shares that I was holding for a very long time. Though I didn’t want to sell it that time as the market had crashed during the lock-down bringing down the investment value to below my buy price there was no other suitable option for me. That got me around ₹90,000. A friend volunteered to give ₹40,000. So the funds were arranged. The printing cost went up slightly towards the end as I decided to go for a better quality paper. I wanted a Premium Book! We decided to go for 1000 copies, come what may. At the most if the books are not sold immediately they will sell next year. What is there to worry?
Deciding upon the price
The printing cost and the associated works would bring the cost price of the book to close to ₹150/-. What should be the selling price? It was not practical to keep it at any price less than ₹300/-. If you are selling through the book stores, they want 40% commission and distributors want 50%! Uh! After some deliberation I decided to keep the price as ₹350/-. At ₹350/- there is a provision to discount it wherever necessary. During the initial phase it was sold at ₹280/-
Can the book be launched on the historic day of September 11th?
I wanted to get the book launched on September 11th, the day on which Swami Vivekananda appeared on the World Stage in Chicago. The Printer said they would need at least 7 days to give the Books. I thought my print ready pdf was ready. But the print specification of Amazon KDP and Indian standards differ a lot and the book was also upgraded to a Hardbound instead of Paperback. When I changed the margins according to the new specification there was lot of disturbance in the content arrangement. I had arranged to start the new Chapters on the right side and with the new specification it got altered a lot. So I had to sit again to rearrange the quotes so that all new chapters start on the right. These things take time and I gave up all hopes of September 11th launch as my print ready pdf was not ready even on the 7th of September! I resigned to fate. On 9th morning, barring minor shortcomings, everything else was ready. Sri Munna(The Printers) assured me that he can get 10 copies ready by EOD of September 10th. So September 11th reopened!
Rev. Swami Nityasthanandaji has been a great source of support, guidance and inspiration for me ever since I started to associate myself more with the Ramakrishna Movement. It was my earnest desire that the book should be released by him. Revered Maharaj is currently the head of Ramakrishna Mission, Davanagere. I immediately called Swamiji and informed him about my plan. Swamiji consented to it kindly even though there was the COVID scare.
Launching the book on September 11th
I got the promised 10 books around 7:30PM in Bengaluru and I started to Mysuru after collecting the books. 5 of us started to Davanagere from Mysore on the early morning of 11th and reached Davanagere by afternoon. After offering a copy of the book to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Dev, Revered Swami Nityasthanandaji released the book on September 11th at 6:15PM. Revered Swami Teerthakaranandaji was also present. Br. Vijaya Chaitanya Maharaj helped us to organize the event smoothly. Mission Accomplished. I received immense help from Krishna, and Vyshakh.
Selling of Books
It was all new. These 1000 books occupied a good part of my office space. How to sell 1000 books during the pandemic? Facebook has been a good friend over the years. So it all started with it. Around 50-100 orders came through my own Facebook and WhatsApp list. Then I was greatly helped by the Viveka Vani Channel. It is maintained by a friend. Viveka Vani has tens of thousands of subscribers across various Social Media channels and mainly WhatsApp, Instagram and YouTube. A WhatsApp broadcast brought about a hundred orders. Then another friend Vinayak Lohani came up with a great idea to promote the book. He and his friend volunteered to donate an equal amount of money to a charitable cause during a period of 10 days. This announcement across various social media brought about the sale of over 550 books. Of this Sri Amit Chandra of ATE Chandra Foundation, Mumbai alone volunteered to sponsor 300 books to Volunteers and students. So we were almost done with the inventory in less than 4 months! I have been voluntarily sending a few free books to different Ashrams and Swamijis. Now I am almost at the close of my inventory and am preparing for the second print.
Couriering the Books
How to send these hardcover books? I had no previous experience of that. I knew that the Cloth Line envelope would damage the books during the transit. Then one of my friends told me about the Bubble line envelope. I went in search of it. Strangely enough! No local shop sold it. I was advised to go to the Avenue Road. After quite a lot of search I found one suitable cover and it costed ₹16 per cover. That was quite expensive but the quality was good. Anyway I didn’t want the shipments to get damaged during transit and hence decided to go for it. I didn’t have much time to search for these book covers online either as I had to start sending the books immediately. Later I started to get similar covers at a slightly lower price through Amazon. To send more than 1 book, I purchased the Corrugated boxes of various sizes. Towards the end I was able to get Corrugated boxes to send a single copy also.
The weight problem
I initially didn’t measure the weight of the book. By holding it in hand I thought it is not more than 300gms! That was a very strange way of estimating the weight and then even deciding the shipping cost based on that. Postal charges by India Post Registered Parcel for 500gm is ₹36. But when I went to the Post Office it was found that the weight of the book along with the parcel cover was coming to 550gms and that is counted under the 1kg slab! That was a bit of learning. I had charged for 500gm slab shipping and I didn’t expect that the shipping cover would cost ₹16 and postal charges itself would cost a minimum of another ₹52 by India Post. Anyway that was all a good learning.
Sending a large number of shipments at once can be a problem with India Post basically because India Post operates in the old style and with limited staff and fixed working hours and lot of people are dependent on India Post services. It is really time for the India Post to modernize. On one occasion I had to handover the books to the Staff and collect the receipts the next day and on other occasions I had to wait in the queue for close to an hour to book the shipments. The staff were friendly but it meant a lot of waiting time at the counters especially during the COVID.
Then I came across the ShipRocket platform and that was really a Godsend for me. ShipRocket is a Courier service aggregator using which you can sit at your place, enter the shipment details, get a quote from various courier service providers and then even book it online. They will come and pick the shipments at your doorstep. That was really a Godsend as I had to send hundreds of shipments. But even here I was doubtful of the weight. It was not viable to pay 1kg cost for a shipment which weighed just about 30 to 50 gms over the 500gm slot. 1 Kg by Courier is highly expensive. When I expressed this concern to one of the pick up boys he told me that that much margin is given in their company. Even though one company charged for 1 kg for 5-6 shipments all other providers considered it good under 500gm slab. That relieved me a lot. Door pick up of shipments were done at the same price that I would have paid at the India Post but with the advantage that I could send 50 to 100 shipments per day without moving an inch from my place. ShipRocket is a fantastic platform. The book was listed on our own e-commerce portals www.swamivivekananda.net and swamivivekananda.guru and also on Amazon. Majority of the orders came through our own websites and about 54 orders have come through Amazon. We recently got it listed on Flipkart also.
Couple of shipments were lost and some were damaged during the transit and some were returned undelivered but with all that our delivery failure rate was less than 1% and that is perfectly acceptable. It was a very satisfactory feeling when I was taking out the last few big boxes to prepare the books for dispatch. This Marathon of publishing my first book lasted close to 9 months and has given me immense satisfaction. I know this book is good and will be definitely be useful to the readers. Really, I couldn’t have taken up a better work during this lock-down and the year 2020, though not the greatest year in the human history, has certainly made me introspect and brought the best out of me and has reformed me in many ways. It is really a marathon in the sense that it was long and I had to do it mostly on my own from the beginning till the end. But I am not complaining. What a great learning it was! What a great opportunity to accumulate some good karmas, and to sacrifice a bit for a great cause. It was a thorough win win situation every moment. There was no competitor in this Marathon but the Marathon had to be completed. I feel we should approach even our own lives in a similar manner.
The book has been received well by all the quarters. Books were dispatched to just about every state of India and to people from various backgrounds – teachers, students, doctors, engineers, social workers and also Swamijis and Nuns. Recently one Swamiji whom I admire a lot called me after he saw the book and remarked that he didn’t know that I am such a great man! 🙂 Well! There is some greatness in everyone. Isn’t it?
Thanks a lot for reading.