Building her universe around the world of books ever since her childhood, Dipa Sanatani calls herself the Merchant of Stories. Spinning tales of love and life while exploring the mystery of human existence in the vast universe, Dipa can’t remember a time when she didn’t harness the desire to be a writer.
She comes from a family of merchants and educators with roots in Singapore and the UK. In 2007, she left behind her roots to discover her wings. Since then, she has lived, studied and worked in Australia, Israel, Japan and China, adding uncharted territories to a long list of previously ventured destinations.
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 “Mith Books”, her first business venture.
I recently had the pleasure of conversing with the author and got a great opportunity of conducting an exclusive interview. Here is what Dipa Sanatani reveals about her self-publication journey.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your background of becoming an author with “The Little Light” as well as an entrepreneur with the launch of Mith Books?
A: I’ve always believed that our real opportunities in life don’t show up as a present neatly wrapped up in a bow. It takes a real crisis to force us to change direction and walk down a path we wouldn’t have taken otherwise.
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. As a kid, books fired my imagination and transported me to a world far far away without leaving my bedroom. I completed a screenplay and two-full length novels before I finally published The Little Light. In 2013, I tried getting published the traditional way and failed miserably. I collected over 200 rejection letters that I imprinted into my broken heart.
In 2019, I decided to try again. I couldn’t be bothered with the unnecessary hassle of going down the traditional publishing so I started my own business Mith Books.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Q. How is self publishing different from traditional publishing?
A: 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.
Q. What are the difficulties that an author has to face in the publishing market?
A: 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.
Q. What challenges did you face while establishing your own publishing company?
A: The well-meaning ‘advice’ of friends and family. I come from a traditional and conservative Gujarati family. No one could understand why I would give up a ‘safe and stable’ existence to write books. I can’t say anyone came forward to give me a hand. All I heard from people around me was cynicism and criticism.
People who hadn’t read a book in decades offered me their opinion on how to publish a novel. People who had never started a business were giving me advice on how I should run my own. The most well-educated people I know gave me the least practical advice in the world. It was incredulous. Some unsavoury individuals even called me up a few days after my book came out to tell me I couldn’t do it.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. But I had faith. Faith that I could do it. I didn’t have all the answers walking in. I still don’t have all the answers. I’m learning each day. I don’t believe I’ll ever stop.
Q. What is the hardest part of the publishing business?
A: There’s an inherent uncertainty that underlies the publication of a book. Even veterans have no clue when the books will take off. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes into making a book happen. It’s also an industry that’s been going through an overhaul since e-readers entered the market. The game’s been changing for several years now and will continue to change in the future. Personally, I think it’s an exciting time to be in the book business.
Unfortunately many people dislike uncertainty and would rather deal with the tried-and-tested way of doing things. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s hard to innovate if you stick to the rules and boundaries of tradition.
Q. Would you like to share one brutal truth of the publishing world which the budding writers ought to know?
A: 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.
Q. What perks do “Mith Books” promise to offer to its authors?
A: I approach writing as both a creative and commercial venture. If you’re looking for someone who can give you practical insight about how to pitch your project so that it will reach its intended audience, I’m your person.
I offer beta-reading, editing and marketing consultation for authors. I’m interested in working with people who want to publish their own books. If you don’t know where to start, let me help. I’ve learned it all the hard way so you won’t have to.
Q. A good author must also know good marketing tactics. What’s your thoughts on that?
A: Many of my readers have said that The Little Light is a unique book in the spirituality genre. My novel handles themes like reincarnation, mythology, cosmology and folklore. There’s nothing else like it available in the market. Titles in the spirituality genre are typically non-fiction and intended for an adult audience. I’ve written The Little Light with younger readers in mind. My goal is to inspire their curiosity in these topics in a fun and accessible way.
This has been both my debut novel’s strength as well as the challenge I’ve faced in marketing it. This is typical of books that don’t fit into a neat category. Even marketing veterans from traditional publishing houses have told me that they’ve faced this very same challenge with some of their favourite books.
Firstly, I’d say get the buzz going about the kind of book it actually is. Target the right bloggers and reviewers that will ‘get’ your book. Don’t be hasty and rush into things too quickly. Once you have a better idea of the initial response, you can plan a more large-scale promotion campaign.
Q. Many well-written books aren’t that popular and many popular books are not well-written. Do you agree? If yes, then what can one do to set right this anomaly?
A: If you want your book to reach a wider audience, it needs to be accessible to the average reader. I used to be a 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.
Q. As a publisher and an author what advice would you like to give to the aspiring writers?
A: You’re not here to please everyone. You’re here to write something that is both true to you and will be able to engage an audience. Not everyone is going to love your book, and that’s perfectly fine. Just remember that to publish is to make public. There’s a big difference between the stuff you write for yourself and the stuff you write for publication.
It would be ill-advised to confuse the two.
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