Last week I went to the Bangalore Business Literature Festival at the Century Club in the heart of Bangalore – Cubbon Park. The event had an interesting theme- business leaders and authors who had written books on topics that relate to business. I was expecting a typical air conditioned hall with dim lighting,lengthy presentations and very little opportunity for networking, but was in for a surprise.
But let me begin with what I liked most about the event: it was lively, with delegates and speakers alike willing to share their experiences and a few interesting anecdotes. And finally, some facts and figures about book publishing in India. This was the first incarnation of this event- and a big congratulations to the organizers for this event. I am looking forward to the 2016 edition of this festival, and would encourage the authors, readers and anybody interested in the world of (largely nonfiction) business writing to keep this event on their radars.
It all begins with the Keynote
The setting could not have been more ideal. The brightly lit, naturally ventilated Wadiyar hall (aided by some fans) had nearly 100 people when I reached the venue by 10:30 A.M. It was a warm, sunny day and the hall was next to a garden where the greenery added to the appeal of the setting. While it was sometimes hard to ignore the traffic and the occasional beeping of horns from the nearby road, it did not affect the experience much.
The keynote address by Vinita Bali, Managing Director of Britannia Industries, was quite interesting. I caught up with the tail end of her talk- where she spoke about the impact of business books on her career. She summed it up quite nicely: that business literature helps in gaining insights at a “subliminal” level. But for tactics and at strategic level, business leaders tends to work with consultants because markets and business needs change. Ms. Bali spoke how thought leaders spoke about knowledge economy and Corporate Governance in the 1970s and 80s when these terms seemed like alien language. Theodore Levitt, Gary Hamel and Peter Drucker were some of the names that I probably hadn’t heard since my IIM Ahmedabad days.
She also summed up a list of business books that have impacted her the most, she also added a few other books to this list during the Q & A session:
- Charles Handy- The Age of Unreason
- Jim Collins – Good To Great
- The Essential Drucker
- Peter Senge- The Fifth Discipline
- Corporate Governance and Chairmanship
- Power of Systemic Thinking
- Clayton Christensen- The Innovator’s Dilemma
This is a great list by any standards, but also made me wonder why no Indian author made it to this list. The follow up sessions gave me some idea, which I will cover in Part 2 of this post.
Discussions around Business Writing
Of the several sessions that were held at the event, I attended the following:
Business Book Writing: Discussion between V Raghunathan, CEO of GMR Varalaxmi Foundation had a very engaging discussion with Ajitha GS , Senior Commissioning Editor from Harper Collins Publishers India.
Two sessions that I wanted to attend, but could not (because I was running a fever) were:
Screenwriting: Learn to Write Movie Scripts from a Pro: Conducted by Anjum Rajabali
Why I Wrote What I Wrote – How to Strengthen India’s Culture of Reading, Writing and Publishing: Subroto Bagchi
I am summarizing some of the discussions from these sessions. Some speakers had mentioned that what they had mentioned should not be quoted, therefore respecting their request, I am summarizing the takeaways from the different sessions below.
- Nearly 90,000 books are published in India every year (some comparable figures: 300,000 books/ year in the US; and 28,000 books/ year in Canada and Australia each. China publishes nearly 400,000 books per year.)
- Out of the total number of books that are published in India, nearly 22,000 (or about one fourths) are in English language.
- Nearly a decade ago, Indian authors wrote nearly 10 business books. In recent years, nearly 100 business books are written by Indian authors, out of which 80% are by one-time authors.
- Total number of business books published in India is less than 400 per year. Going back to the list of influential books mentioned by Ms. Bali, I think that it is not just a matter of quantity of books published, but also the consistency with which authors write business books.
- Some authors write a book keeping the commercial interests in mind, which is a very short sighted approach. Unless the author has something interesting to offer to the reader, business writing can be difficult.
- Some categories to keep in mind:Business biographies sell the most, Business imports from US/UK are next in line.
- For aspiring authors, the following was suggested: Keep a two year time horizon to write a business book. For to be true, one should read for about one and a half hours a day, and write for two hours a day.
Dr. Raghunathan, who has authored 12 books himself- in academic, fiction. nonfiction and genres that fall “somewhere in between”, asked some interesting questions, for example why don’t Indian authors write about startups that have done really well? He gave the example of Delhivery, started by an IIM Bangalore alumnus and son of Samir Barua, the former director of IIMA. Four years ago, he left his job at Bain & Co and started his logistics company that today has 12,000 employees and is valued at more than a couple of million dollars.
Process of bookwriting
Some of you may know this already, the process of bookwriting that was discussed was a refresher of sorts for me
For a debut author, the questions that come to mind are as follows: Where do I begin? How do I start writing? Where do I find a publisher? Should I write the book first before I approach the publishers?
Takeaway: shooting off the manuscript to publishers blindly does not work. Do your research on the publishers and the genre of books they typically publish in.
Coming to the process itself,
- Send sample chapters to publisher
- 3 to 4 months later, if the publisher is interested, they send a form in which they ask for details of the book (Marketability, genre, key takeaways, etc.)
- Once the author sends back the form, after another 2-3 months, the publisher informs whether the book has been accepted or not. No advance is to be expected at this time.
- Once the contract is signed, the author has about 3 months to finish the manuscript.
- 2-3 months after manuscript submission, the editor sends their broad comments.
- Another 2-3 months later, we reach a stage called first submission (when the manuscript enters the queue of the copy editor)
- That’s when the copy editing process begins.
Sometime before the copy editing process, the acquisitions editor “pitches” the book to an internal committee- which may include the sales head, the business head and the publishers.
Total time for the above process was somewhere around 12-16 months before the copyeditor takes up the task of fine tuning the manuscript. Made me wonder again why in an era where self publishing is gaining momentum, one would want to go the traditional publishing route. But then there was one particular session in the afternoon that was my Aha! moment; I will write about it in part 2 of this blog.
There is Money to be made.. though very little
The good news is that some reputed publishers are willing to offer advances to the authors. The bad news is that it is very little amount considering the timeline involved and the level of effort. At a royalty rate that is 7.5% of the net, (could be 10% in some cases) and advances that are somewhere between 20 and 40 thousand Rupees (between 300 and 600 dollars)
Bottomline– the recurring theme in the discussions was that bookwriting is not a sustainable profession financially, one should write books as a hobby. Unless, of course, the author is Chetan Bhagat (which was mentioned by more than one speaker!)