An interview with Devinder Sharma: JAI3E Books & Publishing.

Do you think an author or a novelist can be an entrepreneur?

 Your question is intriguing. However, I believe people who write or author books cannot be called entrepreneurs in the classic sense. Let us look at the process of creating and reaching a book to a reader. There are two natural but sharp divides – the process of creating a readable book and the business side that covers advertising, marketing, printing, delivery and collection. Lest, it gives you a wrong impression the writing part has too many components unlike the business side which are repeatable, while writing is a one of its kind, energy burst. If the author is also largely involved in the business side, surely, he/she is an author entrepreneur. If an author purely writes and lets the publisher take care of the business side, he is not an entrepreneur.

 Have you heard of author entrepreneurs?

Yes, and if I may enlighten you the words “authorauthors” and “Authorentrepreneurs” have been in vogue for the last 20 or more years. The advent of Amazon, and to remind you Amazon began as an online book retailing business. I heard the word “authorentrepreneurs” first time from an Indian probably 7/8 years ago and he emphasized that authors should turn entrepreneurs, describing his journey and his suggestions and advisories. “Authorentrepreneurs”, create a business that is tied to their books, and make a part or full living off of their books. Also,” Author-entrepreneurs” may have a running business and using their business skills try to make their book writing into a business. They could do it in ways they are comfortable with. Today the word for “Authorentrepreneurs” is authorpreneurs and there are at least 2500 titles on Amazon Kindle using the word authorpreneurs.

 When and why did you start writing?

 As far as I can remember, I always found books and time to read. This was fostered by my peculiar circumstances and a large library of books and encouragement. I was very fond of comics, at that time there was no Hindi comics, which in popular culture was discouraged because it was supposed to effect one’s English usage. I had no restriction at home. My English teacher Grover Ji encouraged students to read classics and other books including the newspaper and exhorted us write and often gave sweets to the best essay writers in the class. He used to tell us that every person, educated or not, had one book within him. His encouragement, “Any one can do it”, affected me and a truth I carry today. Anyone can “do it”. Repeat writing is the challenge. Opportunities like writing press releases, creating house magazine, writing technical and managerial papers in professional and trade journals, participating as a speaker seminar honed my language skills and fired my writing spirit. I realized I could affect, motivate and inspire people with words.

So, you believe that every individual has a story?

 Yes, I think there is a lot of truth in that assertion. The first book is waiting to be written. It is independent of language, country, profession and age. In the worst cases it could be your life and the best could be creating an outline or a canvas of what interests you and filing it in. Writing the next book is a challenge. Look at this truth, if I may call it so, in another way, after the first book the next one will be easier in terms of craft because you most likely use few of the ones you used earlier. However, the story line is the challenge. The raw storyline may not present such a challenge but expanding it four to six pages as the book outline will take some doing. In the end, hearing it a few times that ‘there is one book inside every person’ inspired me and continues to challenge me, and encouragement for those who wish to write.

Is fiction writing an art form or a craft?

Writing is a combination of art, craft and facts. The art form is using the elements of a language to build word pictures to tell others, your readers, about what you are seeing, what is happening, the conversations between your characters, the stories within stories, sharing information etc. Writing is a semi craft with some big ground rules and the rest the writer makes for him/her self for telling his/her story. Lest we forget, the word “novel” means original, new, one of a kind and not seen before, therefore writing a novel means creating something new. That newness gives me intellectual challenge, spiritual fulfilment and joy in telling stories.

Please share your experiences with publishing.

 My first book was published by an English publisher the experience bad over a year, which an Indian publisher wanted a huge sum to publish. Our publishing industry is as good and bad as the proprietors and employees. There are more than 4,000 publishers and the companies a revolving door, unprofessional employees under threat of dismissal. They have little knowledge of commenting, advisories, copy/manuscript preparation, intellectual property rights, royalty, packaging, pre publishing support (editing, designing,) press support (type setting, proof reading) and book production (printing, folding, binding, trimming) etc.

I interacted with three editors, still had a logic error, suppressed sales, not honored the terms of the contract and calls himself undefeatable. Another published 4 books, reneged on royalties, and even denied publishing in spite of certificates he issued for each book.  Another, so called an old venerable publisher would publish if I bought 200 copies. Still another from Madras, took many months to publish, a book formatted that required no editing with a cover, never shared the copy and sales. My book was the first a publisher published, and after he fails to recognize me. They are still in the game.

Most Indian publishers are rogues and cannot be trusted. There are over 2,000 who are active, they are not making you money, they are making money “off you”. In spite of promising high royalties, they cheat quote false sales, pedal lies and outright deceit. All of them have the same model a matrix with payments and services which do not translate on the ground.

As regards conventional publishers, their staff who reviews your manuscripts, the editorial or the management staff have never written a book and God knows how they judge your work. Some have detailed formats to pitch your work which could take many hours of work and after many weeks regret without a reason. There are some who will take on your work on a self-publishing basis.

The self-publishers list your book on Amazon Kindle and you cannot access see the sales of your book for they do not share the password of your book listed.

But I am happy to say, I see a welcome change with more professionals entering the business and fresh people determined to be honest, professional and give the writer their due place. I would also say, some of them are arrogant, with a specious argument they are from IIT’s or IIM’s. With such a large number of publishers, the fifth or sixth largest non-educational book market in the free world, the competition, the growing number of readers and writers the market is under ferment and could see another business level.

It is time for readers to band itself as much as the writers to put truant publishers in their place.

Can practicing meditation help contemporary entrepreneurs?

 Focus, single-minded pursuit and hard work are the basis of success in every human endeavor, more so with cerebral ones. Remaining focused is easier said than done. Man has always been restless and driven by novelty and continues no matter how sophisticated his thinking and his achievements. By nature, we have monkeys on our shoulder telling us nice and interesting stories, persuading us to try many exciting things and beguiling us with our good and bad pasts and wondrous future possibilities. We are forever evaluating, balancing, calculating, creating choices instead of living in the present and focused on what we are engaged in. Meditation and similar practices train the mind to be one pointed, not to be agitated by the bewitching panorama of the ever-changing transient world and engender a strong focus where thought and work merge. Meditation helps its practitioners to reprogram the mind to remain focused, phlegmatic and goal oriented. This trait is important for success for any endeavor including entrepreneurship. (meditation began as a search for divinity but here I use the word as a means of controlling the mind).

If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out as a writer or an entrepreneur, what would it be?

I think any person who wants to be a writer, he/she should know the basics of writing, produce writing works that are is easy to read and comprehend and logically build your narratives. A writer should build his/her vocabulary. Since, we are talking about ‘writing in English for a non-Englishman’ or even ‘writing in Indian English’ we cannot take liberty with the golden rules of English writing. As a writer writing in Indian English you should have a vocabulary over 10,000 words. An average high school student in England has a vocabulary between 7,000 and 8,000 words, a graduate has a vocabulary of 8,000 to 10,000 words, a master’s student 9,000 to 11,000 and a PhD over 12,000 words. Professions as journalism, medicine, politics, lawyer is expected to have a vocabulary excess of 10,000. It is not, unless you have that big a vocabulary you can’t qualify as said earlier, but if you have that big a vocabulary you will be that much better. Vocabulary is like coins, the more you have the richer you are. Also, a word is a potential idea and larger your chest of ideas the more powerful your speech, clear, easy on the reader, and thus a powerful expression. Lastly you should be able to make complex things simple, comprehend what you read when researching, provide information that a reader may not know.

Another view

 I think it is important for a writer to think like and behave an entrepreneur also.  Only very large established publishers have selling networks, being in such a network, a well written book will generate at least average sales. If badly written book becomes a failure, no grief be shed andlikewise sometimes very well written books also fail, as bad books become best sellers. Therefore, a writer has to be actively involved with or without the publisher in selling. A writer must know his craft (grammar, composing, marshalling arguments and logic, and a big vocabulary. The real test of a book is the number of paying customers and in today’s world they decide how good your product is. Therefore, whether an entrepreneur or a writer you should constantly think how to reach potential customers and convert them into real customers. Lastly “my word is my honor” is a dictum that has never failed. A word given to editor, publisher, designer, reader is sacrosanct but more to yourself.

What do you mean by magnum opus? Will you say “Nirankar” is your magnum opus?

The word magnumopus means(comes from Latin, and means great work)a great or a signal achievement, usually referred to as a great work of art, music, or literature, and regarded as the most important or best work of the creator.

I consider “Nirankar” as my finest work to date. It took 5,000 hours, considerable research, certain amount of field work, which I did not do for the book, but had seen, observed and experienced earlier. The raw cut book was over 1,000,000 words and through its refinement many times reduced to 750,000 words.

What is a magnum opus?

 A Masterpiece is also referred as a magnum opus or chef-d’œuvre in today’s terminology.  Its modern use is a creation that has been given much critical praise, especially one that is considered the greatest work of a person’s career or to a work of outstanding creativity, skill, profundity, or workmanship.

Why did you choose to be an entrepreneur?

 I enjoyed the excitement of building two outfits, after working with some of the best IT companies, that gave me a ring side seat for business development, where I felt the impact of IT and the entrepreneurs it created. After my entrepreneurial adventurers I worked as a consultant and a full-time writer, which I likened to entrepreneurship.

India contributed 32 % to world trade, 300 years ago which testifies the entrepreneurial skills of Indians. The British arrived 200 years ago and ruined our enterprising spirit by turning Indian industry to produce cheap goods for England, by doing so they killed the local industry and to some extent dampened the venturing spirit of Indians.

India became a net importer of English goods and exporter of raw materials. Their systematic impoverishment of India its people killed Indian entrepreneurship and when they left in 1947 the country’s share fell to less than 2.0 % and has continued to fall as low as 1.3 % in the 1980’s and inched up to 2.1 % in 2016. However, the enterprising communities like Marwaris, Chettvyars, Banias, Parsis, Marwaris, Khatris, Bhatias, Jains, Bohras, Chettiars, Banias and others kept the Indian flag of Indian entrepreneurship aloft, andafter independence have come into their own.

I choose to be an entrepreneur because, entrepreneurship is the best possible test of a person and I took it as a challenge and an adventure.

Can you share your thoughts on modern Indian entrepreneurship?

Until 1970 twenty big families – Tatas, Birla’s, Dalmia’s, Lohia’s etc. controlled 80 % of organized manufacturing, trade and commerce and from 1985 emerged the next generation of entrepreneurs like Reliance, Wipro, Videocon and some more taking the total to 40 which controlled 85 % of private business and apart from these there was no entrepreneurship of note. Around 2010 entrepreneurship sprouted through the software industry, stirringanimal spirits of the Indian youth and many ventures were mostly connected to the software industry.

There was no book in the form of a story focusing on entrepreneurship, software, call centers, emergence of the country as a software powerhouse, export of quality work leading to recognition of Indian intellect and the aspirations of new generation of Indians. I found a vacuum and wrote “The Age of Aspiration”. In other words, it was a piece of history waiting to be written.

From your experience what are the most popular genres in Indian writing?

 I think 65 % of all Indian books are romances, from 50,000 to 110,00 words or 65 to 180 pages. 15 % are thrillers and mystery, surprisingly 10 % are political works including biographies, autobiographies and hagiographies, 8 % self-help and improvement, and the rest science fiction, family sagas.

Once you are in the business of writing you will learn that low brow and almost pedestrian books greatly outperform highbrow books you would be proud of writing. It is humiliating and demeaning to realize how much money you can make from a low-effort books than quality work. I see the books listed on Amazon Kindle and some of the bestselling ones from Indians are either hard- or soft-core erotica. I have no qualms in promoting this genre, because it sells and surprisingly some of the best writers also wrote erotica.

I got talking to one erotic author and the figures he gave of his works were astounding. He could turn out a book in 3 months and uploaded on kindle himself. Another lady for whom I have a grudging respect never talks with publishers puts her soft erotic works on Kindle and promotes through her web site.

To make your books Kindle compatible and upload on Kindle I have prepared a 16-page manual which is available free on request. Why go to publishers if you can do it yourself and with no investment.


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