7 Lessons In Self-Publishing I Learnt In The 7th Grade – Guest Post by Mainak Dhar

I have a guest post today from a writer you are going to be hearing a lot more about in the future: Mainak Dhar.

He first self-published (for the Kindle, full story below) in March of this year. He had come from a traditional publishing background – but with Indian publishing houses, which didn’t give him any head-start on Amazon.

Initially, his sales were modest enough, but by July, he began to see better results on the back of some clever marketing campaigns.

In fact, his professional background in marketing and branding shines through in all the presentation of his work, as you can see quite clearly from his striking covers.

By last month, his sales had really taken off and he shifted well over 6,000 books – with Vimana leading the charge (which has recently been knocking on the door of the Top 100 in the overall Kindle Store).

This is a longer guest post than I usually publish, but it’s well worth reading. Mainak has a different perspective than most writers I encounter, and there are some truly excellent insights in this post. Here’s Mainak:


Every writer has their own journey, but one thing binds us all: the joy we feel in writing and then forming connections with readers through our words.

I sometimes cringe at the hard lines people try and draw between ‘indies’ and ‘trads’. At the end of the day, as Stephen King once wrote, as long as someone pays you to read your work, you’re a professional writer.

Whether you reach those readers through a large publishing house, a small press, or on your own is merely the means to that common end. My journey has given me exposure to all routes, but my beginnings as a professional writer go way back – when I was in the seventh grade.

That was when I self-published my first book – a collection of my poems bundled with solutions to problems from the coming term’s Maths textbook that I sold to my classmates. The lessons I learnt then still hold true today, and while my writing journey has taken me far from that day, when as an eleven year old, I triumphantly held aloft my first book, even today I realize that the basics of what it takes to be a successful self-publisher haven’t changed all that much.

1. Embrace what makes you different.

Often, new writers wonder whether there is a formula for success, or which genre they should write in to maximizes chances of success. The short answer is – write what you are passionate about and what makes you unique.

Marketing 101 says that any brand will succeed when it’s differentiated, not when it tries to ape other more successful brands. The same goes for self-publishing – don’t rush to write stories because others have succeeded in a similar genre. Instead, embrace what makes you special and unique.

I was a geek in Grade 7. I’d come first in class, but was pretty introverted. But when I self-published, I turned that to my advantage. Girls may not have been lining up to be friends with me, but when it came to solving Maths problems, I was the person they’d bet on.

Fast forward more than two decades – I was well-published in India by majors like Random House, but in finding an international audience, I discovered the amazing opportunity the Kindle provided and decided to self-publish my upcoming work on the Kindle.

I wondered for some time whether I should try and write something that would be more ‘relatable’ for Western readers, but then remembered this lesson and instead of fighting what made me different, embraced it. My bestselling book on the Kindle, Vimana, is a science-fiction thriller springboarding off Hindu mythology. There are a lot of global themes there, but the core of it is the whole idea of ancient gods in their flying machines (vimanas) as related in Indian epics, a field where I could contribute some unique ideas given my Indian background.

So ask yourself what life experiences, backgrounds or ideas make you unique, and don’t be ashamed to make that the cornerstone of what makes your writing different. Embrace your diversity and individuality, don’t try and be another member of a large herd.

2. First appearances do count.

That’s a cliché, but when it comes to books, it’s true. I still meet self-published writers who say that they will invest in a professional cover when they are more successful. To me, that’s a bit of circular logic – you will increase your chances of being successful if you have a professional cover.

To be clear, for me the definition of a professional cover is not necessarily one for which you’ve paid a lot of money to someone. That is a means to the end. A professional cover is one which when put side by side with the bestselling books in your genre will not disadvantage your work in the eyes of potential readers. If you really want to be successful at self-publishing, ask yourself whether your covers can meet that benchmark, and if not – then either polish up your design skills or invest in the best cover designer you can afford.

Back in Grade 7, I obviously had no money to create a cover, but I did have an older brother in High School. So I told him what I was doing, and in return for doing his share of cleaning the snow off the driveway (this was in Ottawa in the winter, so it was a significant payment!), he designed a cover for me on his computer and printed it out. When I showed my book to my classmates, their ‘ohs’ and ‘wows’ when they saw the cover told me I had made the sale.

3. Make the gatekeeper your friend.

Some self-published writers assume that not going through traditional publishers means that they have bypassed so-called ‘gatekeepers’ that stand between them and their readers. Here’s a dose of reality – there will always be gatekeepers. Review sites and blogs play that role, as do Amazon reader reviews. Sometimes, self-published writers try and fight this, and degenerate to the pathetic spectacle of publicly complaining about poor reviews. Don’t fight gatekeepers, make them your friends.

Back in Grade 7, the biggest gatekeeper I had never counted on was my Maths teacher. When she learnt of what I had done, she was quite pissed off, and had a chat with me. She appreciated my aptitude and my enterprise but was worried that it would lead my classmates to take the easy way out and not study for themselves.

That made sense to me. So for the next term, I asked her to share the test questions for the past couple of years, and I solved them and put out a new version which was more of a workbook – a compendium of past questions, blank spaces for students to solve them, and answers at the back. My teacher thought it would be good practice and would not come in the way of coursework, and while it meant some of my classmates seeking an easy way out didn’t buy it, it was more than compensated for by the fact that my teacher endorsed it, and even let me put up my cover on the school noticeboard. My gatekeeper had become my biggest advertiser.

When I get a negative review today, I never react emotionally, but understand whether there is something I can do better. When any reader writes in, I write a response within the day. When a publisher rejects me, I never burn bridges. Even if I got a form rejection letter, I write a long, personal letter back to the editor thanking them for their time, and more than once, I have got feedback in return which has helped me strengthen my work.

Now I am in the curious situation of being commissioned to write novels by publishers in India who had rejected my first novel, and a reader who had once written in with some criticism became a good pen-friend (or it’s digital equivalent) and recommended my novel onto one of his friends, who turned out to be the biggest book blogger in India, for review. It’s a small world, and those who appear to be gatekeepers may sometimes open up opportunities later- so never fight them. Learn from what they are telling you, never burn bridges, and even if you really disagree, don’t create a public spectacle.

4. Create and leverage a portfolio of work.

Writing one book is much easier than truly becoming a writer over the long term and as the cliché goes, the best marketing strategy is often to get the next book out there. However, for me, it’s not just having more books out there – but how you can use your portfolio of work deliberately to achieve more success.

In Grade 7, I was really into writing poetry, but figured (correctly so) that not too many of my classmates would be willing to pay to read my poetry. So when I put out my first book, I bundled some of my poems with the Maths solutions. My classmates bought the book for the Maths, but inevitably many of them read my poems. And guess what, by the time I was ready with the next term’s edition, a few of them were actually requesting new poems to be included. The other lesson learnt of course was that writing poetry had its fringe benefits in impressing girls, but that’s another story for another day.

Not much has changed – and I am still learning on how best to leverage my portfolio of work. When I did my first big Kindle Nation Daily sponsorship for my novel Zombiestan, I tagged on two free chapters of Vimana.

Zombiestan had it’s day in the sun, and I reached close to the Top 1000 ranking (since then, it’s settled back down to the 6-7K range), but what was fascinating was what that added exposure did for Vimana. From selling 65 copies a month, Vimana sold more than 200, and then it really exploded. In October, I sold more than 5500 copies of Vimana, and by the 13th of November had already sold close to 3200. All this, with no paid advertising for Vimana in that period.

You should never underestimate the power of exposure and the power of what one satisfied reader can bring in terms of word of mouth for your writing- which can impact your other books – but don’t wait for that to happen, engineer it as I did. In turn, I have another KND sponsorship in December for Vimana, and am tagging on another novel of mine – Heroes R Us.

5. Keep practicing your craft.

In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell concludes that you need 10,000 hours of practice to really excel at anything. Even if you dedicate three hours a day to writing (and I know that is a lot for most people), that means you need to keep doing that non-stop for 9 years to really start mastering writing.

I think there’s a way to short-circuit that- and that is to inject a bit of your passion for writing and self-publishing into everything you do. In school, even after my early experiments with self-publishing, I had been bitten by the writing and publishing bug, and would try and recreate that in everything I did. So even a minor school report became an event – with a designed color cover and neatly typed and formatted interior. I remember a teacher asking me why I was putting so much effort into it, and I told her that I imagined every report was a book I was writing.  So even when I was not ‘writing a book’, I was practicing my craft.

My day job today is in the corporate world, and how I bring the craft into my day job is to banish Power Point as much as possible. I don’t try and hide behind slide transitions and fancy pictures, but communicate everything I want in simple writing. Trainings I give take the form of a talk and a single typed sheet. That keeps me sharp in communicating what I want through the written word, and ironically, perhaps helps me do better, because what makes me unique (see lesson 1) is that I’m not just another cubicle dweller, but one who is a professional writer, and I am embracing that – so that even when I am not ‘writing a book’, I am writing and perfecting my ability to communicate and persuade through the written word.

6. Re-invest for future success.

Self-publishing is a business, and for any business to thrive, you need to invest in future success, not just fret about short-term sales. That means re-investing some of what you gain for future growth.

In Grade 7, I earned the princely sum of $12.50 from my first edition (a quarter a copy with 50 copies sold), and I spent a dollar on a big stapler, so that next time the book would be more stable and not risk falling apart as it did the first time around with small staples.

Today I reinvest 25-30% of everything I earn every month from Kindle sales- into booking sponsorships/advertising, getting professional cover designs and so on. I have a spreadsheet where I keep a tally, and like any business, I started off not fretting about my investments in the first few months. So in Months 1-3, I actually spent more than I earned, but by looking at my sales momentum, I knew I should hang on and I recovered all my investments by the fifth month, and now every month, I am nicely profitable.

So don’t give up too soon or think too short term. Treat it like any business – define your investment appetite (for me the worst case was to not be profitable at the end of year 1) and spend for future growth.

7. Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Writing gives a writer joy, and self-publishing is never worth it unless it retains that sense of joy. The biggest tragedy is when a passionate writer becomes a pessimistic, nervous wreck when it comes to the business aspects of self-publishing. The key to me is to enjoy the fruits of your writing, to remind yourself that your writing helps you pay back into things that bring joy into your life.

In Grade 7, I splurged on ice-cream and comics and treated my parents to chocolate. These days, I reframe every cent I earn in terms of what I can do for my family. Just today, my wife and I were planning a vacation for our anniversary, and when she said that the suite at the resort I was suggesting was expensive, I said that it was just four days of royalty from Kindle sales.

Moments that like make me realize that my writing is not just feeding my passion or my desire to be read, but in a very real way is helping me create special moments and joy for those who matter most to me. That inspiration is what every writer, self-published or not, needs to keep going.

I hope these lessons help you in your own writing journey and if you are ever beset with self-doubt about the business aspects of self-publishing, tell yourself what I tell myself at those moments. Even a kid in Grade 7 can figure out the basics – so don’t stress about it – just focus on putting the next word on paper and keep writing.

About Mainak Dhar

Mainak is a cubicle dweller by day and writer by night. His writing journey began with that stapled book in Grade 7, and has seen him traditionally published in India with major publishers like Random House and Penguin.

His self-publishing journey restarted in March 2011, when he began to reach out to readers worldwide through the Kindle. Mainak has written ten books, including the Amazon.com science fiction bestseller, Vimana. Learn more about Mainak, and contact him, at www.mainakdhar.com.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time he spends outside. He writes fiction under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

155 Replies to “7 Lessons In Self-Publishing I Learnt In The 7th Grade – Guest Post by Mainak Dhar”

    1. Hi Mainak,

      SoundEagle loves your seven-point wisdom —- they are seven lessons well learnt and crystalized.

      May you continue to find your international market and readers through Kindle and other publishing channels!

  1. Thanks for sharing those great lessons. And for the reminder to embrace what makes us unique.

    I’ve been eyeballing Viamana for awhile (Hello! The cover totally rocks my socks!). Heading over to Zon… 😉

    1. Thanks Shea. For my covers, I do need to thank some wonderful designers I discovered on Kindleboards- Tara Shuler for Zombiestan; Robin Ludwig for Vimana and Heroes R Us and Glendon Haddix for my next book. What I loved about my first steps into self publishing on the Kindle was the great sense of community and how people are willing to help out. Wonderful to see that same feeling on David’s blog and the way he’s trying to give back to all writers and I hope in a small way, I can help fellow writers as well.

      1. I have self-published three titles, two children’s and one non-fiction. I need better covers. I love how the lessons you lernt in seventh grade are identical to the ones I have been learning over the past three years. I gained affiramtion and some new directions from your post! And Thanks David for sharing an important point, practice, practice, practice. And for those of you reading this…blogging, journaling and commenting ARE practice…time adds up fast! Again, many thanks and The Best! AmberLena

  2. Thank you, David, for bringing in this guest. Thank you, Mainak for some fabulous insights and lessons learned. Best of success to you. (Now I have to go put Zombiestan on my wish list)

  3. Excellent post, David.

    Great lessons to remember when things get tough with brain overload due to too much information. There have been times when building a brand along with real life interrupts the creative joy, which is what brought us here in the first place.

    Good Luck, Viamana, I like your style! And the covers are superb!

    1. No worries- it does sometimes feel like books end up having a life of their own and sometimes taking over yours 🙂

  4. Mainak & David:
    Fantastic post on one of the most inspiring sites for writers! As someone who favors and writes humor essays, I was thrilled to read the “Embrace what makes you different” section. While other authors soar to great heights with their paranormal romances, suspenseful serial killer thrillers and gritty detective tales, I was inspired to write collections of humorous essays about my life experiences: for example, the loss of a longtime job and my subsequent search for a new opportunity (Does This Pink Slip Make Me Look Fat? Tales of Job Loss, Weight Gain & Sweet Revenge) and my adventures in shopping, marriage and friendship (Her Royal Thighness and the Mannequins of Doom).

    Since publishing my books earlier this year, I’ve been thrilled to hear from readers who enjoy diverse, unique and entertaining humor as much as they love paranormal romances, suspenseful serial killer thrillers and gritty detective tales.

    Thanks to you both for sharing your experiences, recommendations and advice. Mainak, I look forward to reading Vimana. And, David, I very much enjoyed Transfection and If You Go Into the Woods, both of which I read last week.

    Cheers! Lulu

  5. After reading that, my first thought is just, “Wow!” Wonderfully thoughtful post. I loved every single suggestion. Sometimes as a little guy, it’s so easy to lose perspective. Thank you for bringing that perspective back.

  6. Yet another wonderful post – I’ve come to expect nothing less on your site, David – with some insightful suggestions from Mainak. I think I’m going to print this off and hang it by my computer for those anguished, stressful moments when I consider my marketing skills and (woeful) sales figures.

    1. Lynda, here’s a trick I use to keep myself motivated, since all of us do suffer the blues. When I start work on a new novel, I mock up a cover, even if its a patchy Photoshop creation of my own, and stick it next to my bed. It’s the first thing I see (well second after my wife!) when I wake up and the last thing I see before I sleep. Visualizing my idea as a finished book with a cover that I can see every day does wonders for motivation vs just dealing with ideas in my mind or scribbles in a diary. I can’t take credit for the approach- I got the inspiration from The Secret and the power of visualizing success….

      1. That’s a great tip. I’ve been thinking of doing the same with my current WIP.

        Mainak, I remember touching base with you on KB back when I did a kind of call out for fellow goal-setter types (I refuse to call us Type A). I have often wondered how you’ve been doing, just hadn’t had the time to hunt you down. So happy to hear of your success! I knew you would do it.

  7. Hey Mainak,

    While you’re about, I’ve a question not really related to the above, but would love to hear your thoughts.

    How do you view the potential for e-books in the Indian market? When I was traveling there a few year’s back, it was quite obvious that printed book piracy was rampant – new releases (often including American books that hadn’t been released in Europe yet, or even in paperback in the States), were for sale on every street corner, and the vendors seemed to be doing a brisk trade.

    My immediate conclusion from that (and seeing the prices of imported English books in bookstores) was that there was a huge demand for cheap books in India that wasn’t being properly served by local publishers, possibly due to the price sensitivities of many readers.

    To me, that seems like a market ripe for e-books, once the technological hurdles can be overcome including – but not limited to – the cost and availability of e-readers and tablets. I’ve been watching the development of the $35 Aakash tablet with great interest, and I think a device like that (along with a similarly priced dedicated e-reader) and Amazon’s imminent entry into the Indian market could really jump start things there.

    What’s your perspective? Do you think there will be an appetite for e-books? Or are the logistical hurdles too great to expect much in the short-term?


    P.S. Loved your post – thank you very much.

    1. David, I think there already is an appetite for ebooks in India. Some time ago I submitted to http://www.getfreeebooks.com an entry for a free ebook by a friend available in ePub/Kindle format. About half the international traffic we got at our site hosting the ebook came from India, if I recall correctly.

      You may experiment for yourself by submitting to getfreeebooks.com an entry for the free edition of “Let’s Get Digital”.

      1. That’s very interesting Paolo. When I did my LibraryThing giveaways, most of the “winners” were from where you would expect: USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Ireland. However, there were quite a few from places you wouldn’t have expected: Venezuela, Syria, Egypt, Malaysia – all sorts of far-flung (to me) locations. I found that very interesting.

    2. David,

      It was my pleasure and was great connecting with you. I do think ebooks would have a huge potential in India. The basics are all there- an established culture of reading English, a large population base and so on. Three barriers have existed which may change fast.

      1. Availability of devices at low cost. While mobiles have exploded in India, it is a pain to read novels on a phone for many people, and tablets have been a recent entrant and with relatively high prices. But once Amazon enters India that could change fast, together with the low cost tablets many Indian firms like Reliance are launching. In a years time, India could be a huge tablet market.
      2. Low price of paperbacks- that will be a real barrier, since as you said, piracy is rampant and even Indian editions of large publishers are pretty cheap in absolute close to half of US editions. So people will have to find the right value to make ebooks take off- and that may be a great opportunity for self published writers who won’t have to deal with the overheads of large publishers.
      3. Connectivity. Wi-fi hotspots are coming up fast and 3G connections are coming up in big cities. Again in a year, with the rate of change, India will probably have the best connectivity in Asia outside of Korea and Singapore, and then the market may really take off.

      Net, there are challenges but the potential is there and Amazon’s entry could be the spark that really ignites the market.

  8. Wow. Not only did Mainak relate some very helpful information from first-hand experience, he sounds like an all around great guy! Sounds to me like his attitude towards life simply spills over into his writing, and that’s awesome. Thanks for the post.


  9. Mainak’s success is because of his terrific attitude. It’s not fake put-on positive thinking, but is grounded in hard work, an entrepreneurial spirit and joy joy joy.
    Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. I completely agree with what you’ve said, Christine. Mainak’s joy is evident throughout his post. I admit, sometimes, I leave the joy behind too often.

      David, thanks for hosting this amazing writer. As always, your posts serve as balance. I think I’ve said that before!

  10. Great post. I’m in the position of having some traditionally published young adult novels that are not selling well; although I’m not self-publishing, I can see ways that these tips can be applied to help with sales of my books.

  11. Two things stand out to me in this compelling post: Mainak’s passion for writing and his insightful and practical approach to getting his writing in front of readers.

    No wonder you’re so successful, Mainak. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  12. What an exceptional article, educational, positive, and moving. The part about your vacation with your wife brought tears to my eyes because I, too, am experiencing such times due to my success with self-publishing (almost 30,000 sales of two books in six months.) How wonderful that self-publishing is enhancing the lives of so many writers!

    Like you suggested, I wrote the kind of books that I like to read and that aren’t being offered from traditional publishing–sweet (meaning not sexy) historical Western romances. I didn’t sell to New York (although two agents tried) but have found that there’s a lot of people wanting what I write. It’s been a wonderful experience for me.

  13. Hi Mainak and David,

    Once again a wonderful super post full of great ideas and advice. Really enjoying reading them of late. Like loads of people commenting here its great to see really inspirational writers sharing realistic and honest advice. Like you all finding that early, initial process of putting work out their daunting, challenging but hugely exciting. Whats so good about this (and other posts on your site David) is that they are finally offering some clear guidance about how to move forward in this exciting new age of digital publishing. Coming to it all new, I’m never sure quite where to look, how best to move forward and what is best practice to do. So the advice and tips have been extremely helpful.

    Have a couple of questions to both of you and anyone else who would care to respond. Sure they are relative novice questions but they are the ones that keep flitting around my head;

    – what would you see as the best ‘starter’ way to getting work produced? (know all about smashwords and so forth but the minefield of how to turn that manuscript into all the different formats etc is a huge and tricky one)

    – Whats the technical requirements for the front cover (format) and where would you recommend looking for the people/skills to do them? (like you guys believe strongly in the need for high quality packaging and design, books are sales after all)

    – what do you see as the best way forward in terms of books/novella’s/shorts and pricing (the whole debate about free vs 0.99 vs higher price is becoming confusing in terms of advice!)

    – Lastly, probably the most open ended question, who do you all see as the best ‘gatekeepers’ to be working with today? (mean that in terms of websites, blogs, reviewers and so on)

    Keep up the amazing work. Its becoming a real inspiration (especially as you introduced me to fundit david!!)



    1. Hi Stu, I’m not great at formatting- and get help with them. Lots of people on the Kindleboards Yellow Pages for that. As I’ve mentioned in another reply my covers were done by Tara Shuler, Robin Ludwig and the most recent one by Glendon Haddix. All great to work with, and all contactable on Kindleboards.

      Pricing is a pretty hot topic nowadays, and I have shared my thoughts on it in another reply below where I was asked about the pricing for my work. I am yet to fully make up my own mind so may not be of much help, but one advice I can give is to not think of pricing either in isolation or as an emotional thing (`my book is worth more than…’). It’s just another lever in the marketing mix to use as appropriate for your situation. I chose to start with 99 cents pricing and strong covers as my big marketing vehicles to get trial (of course, assuming that strong content would kick in repeat sales and word of mouth as the first few readers tried my work) since i had no fan base or name recognition and also juggling a full time day job, a family with a young kid and my writing leaves me little time to really build a big online presence or platform for marketing. Now that I’m making some headway, am thinking whether it’s time to launch my new novel at 2.99- but really haven’t made up my mind yet. Sorry I can’t be of much more help on this one.

    2. Stu,

      1. Here is how I did it. I followed the Smashwords Style Guide to the letter! This allowed me to format the rest. For Kindle/Amazon, I downloaded a free program called Mobi Pocket Creator. I uploaded my formatted document into that program and it spit out the file in HTML format. Uploaded my cover hit “Go” and tada! .mobi format that you need for the Kindle. For Nook/Barnes&Noble, I just uploaded my formatted file into their system. (I might have used PDF rather than a Word file, can’t remember. But there are programs out there for free that can convert your Word file into PDF.) Now for a disclaimer, most anyone else out there will tell you NOT to use Word to format. *shrug* It worked fine for me so I don’t have any thoughts on why.

      2. When it comes to covers, I don’t know anyone to recommend really. But, based on what I’ve seen/read, here are some thoughts for you. Don’t crowd the cover with too many elements. My book has a team of 6 warriors, but I did not represent all 6 of them on the cover as that would make it far too busy. I only have 1. Also, keep in mind font. Don’t let it blend it with your image color wise and watch out for unclear font (aka ones that are hard to read). Remember, that this will be resized many times for the ebook version, so make sure your font is big enough (and the image too) to survive being shrunk to smaller sizes.

      3. This part is confusing and really in the end, it’s up to the author. For me, my e-book is at $4.99 and I’ll lower it to $2.99 when the print edition comes out next month. The reason I priced mine so “high” was because I donate a portion of my royalties to charity and my husband, who is a business genius, told me that pricing it at .99 cents could have a potentioally bad affect because of 2 reasons: 1 – everyone else is selling their book for that price nowadays (it seems like anyway) and 2 – Readers/reviewers might avoid the book thinking “It’s only .99 cents, that means it’s Indie and I don’t want to read indie.) NOW, before anyone jumps down my throat here, I don’t think readers judge a book by whether it’s Indie or not. But, I still thought my husband had a bit of a point with his first statement and as a reader myself, I’d rather buy a book at 2.99 than .99 as well, with the idea that “the more expensive book is better”. Now, yes, I know that is not always true but, it’s how I think as a consumer. So, in the end I still decided to charge the $4.99 price for my book. That is my experience, Stu. I hope it helps you figure something out. Just remember that in the end, it’s your book and you have to decide for yourself how you want to sell and market it. I know many authors who are successfull selling for $.99 but I know others who are not.

      4. I can’t give you a definitive answer on this one. However, I do have a giant list (797) links of book reviewers and another list of links for writers on my blog that can at least get you started. http://labotomyofawriter.com

      I hope that helps you a little bit Stu. And I apologize for such a long comment!

      David, great guest and I just love your blog! and Mainak, thank you so much for a wonderful post. I definitely needed to “hear” it. Now, I think I’m going to take a day off of marketing and promotion, and get started on the second book. 😉

  14. Great guest post! I loved reading about Mainak’s international experiences – and especially about the snow in Ottawa all those years ago. Too bad we don’t get as much anymore.

    1. Thanks Scott. I moved to Canada when I was 9, and stayed there for 4 years. We moved in October, so snow was just starting to fall. That was the first time I saw so much snow (I lived in North East India near the Himalayas as a kid, but seeing snow-capped peaks from a distance and seeing it all around you is a different ball game). So my mom told me to help clean out the driveway. Not knowing any better, I took a bucket of water and threw it on the snow, hoping to wash it away. As you may imagine, it took a lot of pain to get that damned ice off the driveway later. Basic lesson in science learnt the hard way 🙂

  15. This is truly an excellent post. Every point you made gave us a great deal, but, most of all I liked your understanding that there will always be gatekeepers.

    BTW I just listened in for a few minutes to a free webinar hosted by a major magazine for writers. The webinar is call “Seven Secrets of Successful Self-Published Authors,” and the speaker didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, was approaching the subject from the point of view of self-publishing using a subsidy publisher, self-publishing as we knew it ten years ago, not really digital publishing at all. I found it amazing that publishers still think of self-publishing like it was.

  16. Wonderfully written post! Fantastic advice and I loved how you tied it to your childhood. Even back then, you were determined. Congratulations on your successes, Mainak, and I wish you many more sales. Your covers rock!

    1. Thanks! The flip side is that I’ve always been told I was a trouble-maker (I flunked my Grade 1 admission test in India because I insisted the teacher had the wrong answer, and then my self-publishing in school, while fun, as you may imagine had several teachers fuming), but then as I always say, the only way to stand out is to break the mould! I claim no credit for my covers- have had the fortune of working with some amazing designers- Robin Ludwig, Tara Shuler and (for my upcoming book) Glendon Haddix….those guys make me look good 🙂

  17. Great post and some excellent points. Just today I saw a post on KB discussing how the poster did not want to invest in his writing, that money should only flow to the writer. That is a fine concept as long as the writer is NOT the publisher. Like Mainak Dhar, I think our writing is worth investing in. Of course, so is life away from writing.

  18. Mainak

    Congrats in your indie success and thanks for all the self-pub advice, sounds very solid. It was very inspiration when I first saw Vimana in a top spot for Sci-Fi.

    Yes! There’s someone else who’se not a household name (yet) and is selling well!

    Question if you might have time: A lot of name indie authors have experiements underway with price changes, namely increases, to test popular ranking vs. profit among other things. I see most of your Kindle prices are at the .99 point. With some established popularity and a growing readership would you consider pricing changes?


    1. Hi Dave,

      Good question and one to which I can’t pretend to have a conclusive answer. What’s good is that you’re thinking of pricing as a marketing tool- I see some writers react emotionally with thoughts like “my writing is worth more than..’. As a marketer in my day job, I realize that pricing is just one of the Ps of marketing, nothing more, nothing less. And as I embarked on this journey of self-publishing on the Kindle, part of my strategy was a ruthless assessment of where I stood v/s other writers. I had no name recognition, no established fan base, and while like any writer I believe my work is good- you need a critical mass of readers to experience it for that to generate any word of mouth. So I chose to invest in two things- covers (to make the right `first moment of truth’ as they say in marketing) and value (to make price a non-issue in generating trial). I think now I’m reaching the point where I need to re-evaluate how I think of value moving ahead. Part of my mind says that quantity has a quality of it’s own. In November, I should sell around 10,000 ebooks- even at 99 cents, that’s a decent chunk of change, and with sales growing month on month, another new release set for Dec and sponsorships booked on KND and Pixel of Ink for the next 3 months, I can expect this to grow further.

      The other part of me says, nothing ventured nothing gained and while I may keep my current work at 99 cents to not risk losing the readership I’m getting, I may try putting my new title out at 2.99 and learn what happens.

      Still in the middle of deciding- so sorry, I don’t have a conclusive answer, but it is something that’s very much on top of my mind now.

  19. Thanks for this post, lots of great advice and encouraging thoughts here. Your covers look fantastic and I love the way you’ve brought your own unique qualities and experiences to your books. I’ve taken a similar approach, playing with unusual genre crossovers and characters, going places that readers hopefully haven’t been before. I do think it takes a bit longer to find your audience this way. Some writers are doing very well by sticking to a concise formula that their fans crave. Nothing wrong with that either, if you can do it.

    I lean more towards Jimmy Page’s philosophy of taking the essence of something familiar and turning it into something completely new. So far it seems to be working, slowly and steadily. I’m less than a year in, but I’m impatient. My best selling book has been touching the 6-7000 rank for the last couple weeks, adding sales exponentially month after month since May. I hope the trend continues, but in the meanwhile I’m just keeping my head down and my fingers on the keyboard.

  20. Great post. I especially liked the suggestion to embrace what’s different about you. I think the more you are passionate about what you write, instead of worrying about what people say you should be writing, the more you will enjoy it. With enjoyment will come increased commitment to improving the craft, and readers will see that. Just my thought.

  21. Thank you for this wonderful post, Mainak! I like what you said above in the comments about mocking up a Photoshop book cover to keep you inspired. You’ve inspired me in my marketing efforts, the enthusiasm for which was waning. Thanks also, David, for such a consistently interesting blog.

  22. I am considering going the self-publishing route myself — after looking at the hard realities of “traditional” publishing ($1,500 at signing and 15% royalties…give or take…), I would argue that “newbies” can earn much more on their own if they have some level of marketing savvy.

    It’s nice to hear about the successes — thank you!


  23. Mainak

    Thanks for the response. I haven’t yet decided on a price point for my first release but am still leaning towards the priority of growing readership with an attractive “impulse buy” price, especially when considering projected kindle sales this Christmas season.

    Just bought ‘Heroes r us’, best of luck in the future.


  24. so cool and great post. I am not much of a writer but i did write a book once called ‘how to make roti’…it was in the fifth grade. not so good lol; i was forced to do it. anyway great post! congrats on fp’ed

  25. Thanks for the post, Mainak.

    Whilst not a professional writer, I certainly endorse much of what you say.
    My blog http://bizarrebitesofbrazil.wordpress.com/ is written to take advantage of my ongoing experiences in Brazil; that is its selling point, but it is also overlaid with a bizarre theme, hence the title, somewhat ala Roald Dahl.
    I have yet to be published, but am using this blog as vehicle as I intend to publish this collection of short (and not so short) stories as a book one day and I believe the cover I designed does stand up against what is out there in the market place, but that is for others to judge.

    Best of luck with future publications

      1. Thanks David.

        I have just had a look at your site and it certainly looks fascinating; South America is the most exotic continent I have visited (I’ve visited all but North America and the poles).

        I am truly fascinated by its history and have tried to find and live the real Brazil. I am currently living in a tiny favela in the mountainous rain forests of Rio de Janeiro, where once slaves were used to cultivate the massive coffee plantations and the rotting ruins of their humble dwellings can still be found beneath the creeping verdant growth of the forest..

        One difference I see between your site and mine is that yours is factual, whereas mine is fictional. Having said that, I am drawing from my experiences and the history and culture of Brazil and am trying to blend the reality with my fiction.

        I would be very happy to share link backs and such like, but I’m fairly new to this blogging experience and have yet to master its subtleties.

  26. Mr. Dahr,

    Your post has just given me the little push I needed to carry on with my writting project.
    I am Mexican, so sharing your experience with digital format and not having a US background, like me, was very useful. Thanks!

    1. Mr. Herrera,

      I agree- ebooks and Amazon KDP are a huge boon for international writers. Since most book rights are bought by territory, even if I was published by Random House India meant very little for my chances of being picked up in the US. Now, we can get straight to readers wherever they live….good luck with your writing.

  27. This post was wonderful, perfect for me (I’m in the middle of writing my first novel) and I find it very different from writing poetry. I am publishing my first draft for the world to see on a blog I’ve designated to long term writing projects. I have several blogs now that I’ve been maintaining for years now. That might not be impressive to some but I’ve been web publishing since I was 13 and WordPress is the platform that has strengthened my technique and love of writing the most. My editing process seems daunting. I will probably pick my 50,000 word first draft apart until it resembles a compact middle level novel. This guest post is just what I needed! Thanks 🙂

  28. Love, love, love this post. Congrats to both of you. I’ve self pubbed in the past and did okay, until I stopped marketing it and went on to write two more novels. That’s the only thing that I cringe from, in the self pubb thing.

    But it’s writers like you, Mainak, and like you too, David, that give inspiration to those of us who are daring enough to grab life by the horns and call our own destiny into fruition. Bravo!



  29. Pingback: Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing | Roads Diverged
    1. Eva, looks like you’re doing the best thing possible- to keep writing, whether it’s a blog or a novel. A few years ago, when I was struggling to sell my first novel and beginning to get disheartened, I took up a gig as a columnist for an online portal. I had to write a weekly column- the money was peanuts, but it forced me to write every week, and kept me disciplined about writing. Also, it was my first exposure to getting real-time feedback which I think helped me step into the world of self-publishing via the Kindle.

  30. Thank you to Mr. Dhar for sharing this great advice and to the blog owner for introducing me to a writer I am likely to enjoy. I love the image of the writer as a boy selling poetry + math solutions to his class-mates!

  31. Thanks for the advice. You really motivated me. I have been thinking about self publishing for awhile. I am glad it has brought you so much success. Keep up the good work.

  32. Congratulations on your success, Mainak — it shows that consistent work and ingenuity pay off — and thank you for the excellent tips and encouragement. Well done! (And thank YOU, David, for hosting this guest post — congrats on Freshly Pressed!) 🙂

  33. quite awesome…giving hope to the world of bloggers, writers, authors and other who just WANT TO LAY THE SMACKDOWN on self publishing to make a difference in the world or reach a goal.

  34. How interesting! All of us who write must have at least at one point thought about self-publishing. I just find self-publishing so confusing in a way- thanks for posting this – great tips and myth-busters on self publishing!

    1. There is a lot to learn, and it can seem daunting at the start. But there are a whole host of great resources out there – mostly for free – where you can learn everything you need to know. And the whole community is so helpful, if you have any questions, just ask!

  35. Very nicely put. All excellent points. Especially about the gatekeepers. Self publishing has made Amazon reviews one of the main engines of sales. Be nice to reviewers. Even if they’re not nice to you. Hit the “Recommend” button on the reviewers you think might like your book. And review your favorite writers. Maybe some day they’ll do the same for you. Great post

  36. This is some great advice, especially the part about branding yourself by a unique voice, not an imitation. Publishers will often look for something like a popular book on the market, but that doesn’t result in long term success or big sales. Some of the best books in America were unique ideas that authors were driven to write. If I don’t even find a home in mainstream publishing, I may turn to the digital medium myself.


  37. I find this post informative because I just self-published my quirky Franco-American comic novel “Agnes et Yves” on CreateSpace. I’m seeking for creative low-budget ways to market my book.

  38. Really fascinating post. We were talking about self-publishing in our English seminar the other day. It has taken a while, but it looks like the kindle will end up doing the same thing for literature as youtube has done for music.

    I’m trying to write some short stories at the moment but feeling quite uninspired. The fact that there are writers out there writing what they believe in and finding readers who want to pay to read it gives me hope.

    1. It’s already happening in the US, where e-book sales are approaching a third of all fiction and non-fiction combined. The UK is, by my reckoning, around 9 months behind the US and closing fast.

  39. Congratulations on your success! My dream is to be a successful professional writer. It’s a bit daunting but I’m still aiming for it. Thanks for the inspirational advice. =)

  40. learnt? with a T? really? if it’s meant to be funny, like a middle school kid who doesn’t always spell things correctly, then that’s cool.

    1. Really, that’s a little bit arrogant. Learn is one of the peculiar class of verbs that can be both regular and irregular at the same time. The same goes for dream, earn, burn etc. Please, be aware of your facts before critisising others. And yes, this is the correct spelling for criticise!

    2. rmv,

      “Learnt” is correct grammatical usage in British English (which is the form of English spoken in India, where Mainak is from) – it’s the past and past participle of “Learn”.


    3. Hi there, I noticed in your profile that you were a teacher so perhaps you noticed what many others didn’t. As David said, put it down to the fact that the English language is written and spoken in different yet perfectly equally legitimate ways around the world. For example, I do hope you don’t let the candour of some of the replies colour your view of this fine blog- and that you can see the humour behind it all…..


      1. O U R (Oh, you are) cheeky, Mainak…!

        Candour, colour, humour… 🙂

        On a side note: are you targeting Indian readers with your ebooks as well? This would seem logical but somewhat harder to do than simply targeting the US/UK market.

  41. Pingback: Hello World: Joe’s Edition « My thoughts exactly…
  42. Thank you SO much for this post. The timing couldn’t have been better. I’m in the process of converting my third book to an e-book to start selling on my own website and maybe even help others do the same. I have hit a wall in the process and was thinking of ditching the idea altogether, but this post gave me some hope and much more direction. Thanks to both of you!

  43. Thanks for this advice. It’s so well thought through and relevant, much appreciated my friend, keep up the good work!

  44. This blog post came at just the right time for me. I love your enthusiasm for writing and your humility in being so open to gatekeepers. And I especially love your advice to “Embrace what makes you different.” That’s the attitude toward creative experimentation that I hope to maintain in my writing, and self-publishing certainly allows us the opportunity to do that. I also love your advice to “Enjoy the fruits of your labor.” The joy of writing is a great motivator, when we remember to tap into that. Congratulations on your success with VIMANA! I’ve noticed this novel with its awesome book cover on the Amazon best-seller lists for some time now. VIMANA sounds fascinating – I’m going to purchase a copy right now. 🙂

    1. Hi Arindam,

      Thanks! Went to your blog BTW and found this line in your introduction pretty cool- “I do not want to be successful, I want to be happy. Most importantly I want to be a good human being. Which i am not completely, but I am confident that one day I will be.” That’s a pretty good attitude to have…..take care.

  45. It is great to see you share your thoughts on what you have done successfully. This should serve as an inspiration to any aspiring writers out there.

  46. There’s a frustrated writer in all of us. I had wondered about self publishing and wondered if kindle was the way to go. Are there any other suggestions? I’m surprised therte are not more opportunities for Ipad owners.

  47. Amazing post – Nice to meet you Mainak –these are truly inspiring words and great advice. You’re absolutely right about doing what you’re best at and facing the gatekeepers…so very true and I promise to follow this advice.

    I’m a Copywriter and have been blogging since some time, but, I felt my work on another blog – creative writing, was really not me… Now I know, after reading this post is that I must persevere; perfect my craft and stay unscared of the practical aspects involved in being a success. At WP, what I post is truly me – good, bad and ugly:)

    Thanks for this wonderful post and I loved meeting the fab duo David and Mainak!!

  48. Thank you so much for this post, both of you! I recently finished my first novel and am pursuing the independent publishing route, and need all the help I can get. This was a great read!

  49. Really enjoyed this post! Everything Mainak said is absolutely true. All of these lessons are things I have been learning myself throughout my writing career. I’m still going the traditional publishing route for my current novel, but have decided to self-publish my previous novel next summer, once I finish my Psych degree. So Mainak – I may be in touch! 🙂

    Also, I definitely plan to order a copy of Vimana. That is a very cool concept for a story, especially as I have a bit of Indian in my background.

  50. Thanks for such a motivating read! I’ve started a writing and editing business and needed some encouraging words.
    Best to both of you,

  51. William Faulkner said that the problems of human heart in conflict with itself alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

    What makes good writing? Do you agree with Faulkner?

    1. That’s rather a sweeping statement. Faulkner did go to Hollywood to try his hand at writing movies. He also wrote a lot of wonderful books. But there’s a bigger universe to choose from than only the conflicts of the heart.

    2. I would agree with him in a descriptive, but not a proscriptive sense, i.e. such matters can make great stories, but not exclusively. There is a whole universe of other subjects that can make great writing and gripping stories. However, at the heart of it all is a conflict. A story, after all, is the journey of a character dealing with various conflicts – obstacles that prevent him from reaching his goals. But those conflicts don’t have to be internal to make great writing. Although, one could argue that a truly engaging character (and story) must involve some level of internal conflict.

    3. Preetinder

      The one rule about writing and any other art is that there can be no hard and fast rules. There are many ways of engaging, inspiring and provoking- all essential to get the emotional reaction needed to really create great writing. There’s no doubt at all that a strong internal conflict is one way to do that, but I’m not sure I’d say it’s the only, or even most important way to connect with readers.

  52. This is a great article, and from the list of other blogs, I’ve got some more reading to do.
    Thanks for including the guest writer. What a sweet set of observations and advice. I’m adding his books to my list of eventual reads. I like science fiction and I think it will be interesting to see through the lens of HInduism.
    I’m just starting with blogging. I hope my voice finds a purpose, and my experiences turn out to be helpful to others, but if not, I guess I can count the hours spent as part of my writing practice 🙂 I’m trying my hand at writing a book, just a few chapters so far. My daughter says she looks forward to reading the rest of it. She says it has already drawn her in. It’s going to have an ensemble cast, and each character is going to tell his or her own story in it. Frankly, I’m looking forward to writing the rest of it, as I don’t yet know entirely how it’s going to go either, but I figure if I like the way it reads, it’s probably good, as I am a picky reader.

  53. Very interesting and helpful 7 lessons are inspiring as well. David and Mainak are doing great job helping struggling writers like me.

  54. Thanks, Mainak, for some great advice. It reinforces the validity of my ongoing pursuit of writing. I am a food blogger who loves cooking and writing about food. You help me feel that it’s all right to do something just for the joy of it. I love my blog and especially enjoy comments from viewers all over the world. Now that I have 176 posts, I would like to self publish a book. I work with a fantastic food photographer but still view the undertaking with great trepidation. Can I put together a knockout cover? I have much more confidence in the content than with the technicalities.

  55. Thanks for a great post, Mainak. I do enjoy reading a post that is both inspirational and practical. I hope David continues to host such good posts.

    I’d like to pick up on one small item, and that is your choice of the title for your book ‘Zombiestan’. I think its a superb title. With just one word it conveys the genre and your Indian take on it. You get an awful lot out of just one word. Well done.

    You could say you were lucky in that this book leant itself to an easy name choice, that other books wouldn’t be so easy. However, I think successful people tend to make their own luck because they go looking for opportunities. I get the sense that you’re a person who makes his own luck, and that was why I found the post inspirational.

  56. Pingback: 7 Lessons in Self-Publishing from Mainak Dhar | booksby
  57. Pingback: Amazon Reader Reviews: 12 Things Everybody and His Grandmother Needs to Know - Anne R. Allen's Blog... with Ruth Harris

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