Self-Publishing in S. India: A Guest Blog Post by Nadira Cotticollan

Traditional publishing, the kind that engages literary agents and monolithic publishing companies, has always been a challenge for writers. In my quest to find either for my soon-to-be-released novels, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” it feels akin to winning the lottery. Fortunately, self-publishing is rapidly becoming a mainstream empowering alternative. What’s your experience with either buying or publishing self-published novels?

A blogger/novelist from India, Nadira Cotticollan, shares about her venture into releasing fiction on her own…

When she’s not writing novels, Nadira Cotticollon loves being a grandmother.

“The Winnowing Waves” and Self-Publishing by Nadira Cotticollan

I belong to a  Muslim community from the coastal state of Kerala in South India. We are said to have been winnowed out from the rest of the Kerala populace by the inter-marriages that took place between the Arab traders and the local women. Most of the cultural aspects continued to be picked up from the customs prevalent in Kerala, with some changes to create a distinct identity.  But there was a marked Arab influence as well.

During the years I grew up, there were many changes that were happening which were, in fact, slowly erasing the differences in dress and lingo and the social mores of confining women indoors, etc. A female like me, therefore, got the benefit of education, which was a rare thing during my mother’s generation and almost non-existent before that.

Then, there was a  turn towards more strict observance of the religious customs although there was no going back on the education, fortunately.  In part, this had to do with the political changes that saw an upsurge of right-wing sentiments and the political events that they ushered in, as also with the influx of the Wahabian influence brought in by those who had found a livelihood in the Gulf countries. These attempts at aggressively establishing religious, political, and cultural identities between the Hindus and the Muslims, is now gradually bringing in a subtle divide and disturbing the harmony that had existed for thousands of years.

My novel has been woven through this backdrop, but it is in no way discourse on any of those aspects. It creeps in through the different characters, of course, but not stridently so.

The story is told from a woman’s perspective for the most part.

I am sixty-two now, and I have always cherished the idea of getting something that I wrote published. After finishing this novel, I did tentatively explore the regular publishing route. I realized that it would take a very long time and that there was no certainty of any of the established publishers taking it up. So I decided to look for self-publishing platforms. My children offered to bear the cost.

Notionpress, who I approached, came across as very professional, with a good team who managed the different aspects of the publication process. I chose the minimum package which would take care of the formatting, the cover design, the copyrights, and the online listing on their online store as well as on Flipkart and Amazon India. The editing is a facility available with a higher package. So I did the editing myself. They did allow for post-publication correction of the grammatical and spelling errors and a couple of errors in the names, etc. The whole process was completed in two weeks.

They do not do any promotion with this package, nor will the books be available in the bookshops.

But I’m happy.

My friends were the ones who read the book first and gave me feedback. They have liked it and assure me that they can relate to it, that the flow is smooth, that it speaks to them of what I had wanted to convey and so on.

With the money I earned in the last two months, I decided to upgrade the package, which would make the book available outside India on Amazon.com

The pricing they suggested appeared to be almost the same as that of many well-established authors, and I expressed my doubts to them about that. I was told that my book would be printed only as per demand, which would hike up the production costs, as compared to the mass production of the books of established authors.

The royalty I get on the sale of one copy after they deduct the production costs and half of the profits (that was the agreement) is only about 2/5th of the MRP if purchased through the Notionpress store and much less (about 1/8th) if sold through Amazon and Flipkart.

But what’s more important to me is that more people get to read the book.

da-AL’s kind offer to let me put up a blog post here about it is therefore very much appreciated.

I do hope some of you will pick it up from Amazon.com and give me your feedback after you’ve read it. Go to Notionpress here. Go to Amazon here.

Thank you all very much for reading this ☺

What’s your experience with buying or publishing self-published novels?

The Henna Artist’s bighearted Alka Joshi on saris, plus my wedding henna

“When’s the last time you read something unapologetically pro-choice — & that’s as empowering as it is romantic? Me? Never. Can’t wait for Joshi’s next book! Wish there were more novels that discuss pro-choice issues head-on. Enchanting story set in 1950s India from women’s point of view about the choices we’re given and how much we can make with them. Audiobook narrator Sneha Mathan is marvelous!”

~ My review of The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi for Amazon and Goodreads

I absolutely adore books (after all, I’m writing two)! Whenever I finish reading an exceptional novel, I review it on Goodreads and Amazon. Sure, not all stories resonate with me. As a tender-hearted author, I know too well the blood/sweat/tears that even a crappy book demands, so I don’t review those.

Then I email the novelist to thank them for making my life more thoughtful and maybe even fun. Ditto for any audiobook performer involved. Some thank me back, and on the days my stars are truly aligned, they agree to contribute to Happiness Between Tails.

Anyone who doesn’t read The Henna Artist is missing out. Clearly it’s written by a generous spirit. Just glance through Alka’s website and Youtube channel, where she lauds other authors to the extent that poses with their books! Here she is, holding Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic as she says how grateful she is for it. Btw, I love that book too, so she’s got good taste to her credit as well lol 🙂

Bighearted author Alka Joshi lauds Bighearted author Alka Joshi lauds “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert in a video.

Allow me to digress a moment: Henna, oh, henna, you magical green powder! You enhance my hair, and you make lovely tattoos!…

Photo of da-AL's henna-tattooed hands. The day before I got married, I went to Los Angeles’ Little India for these gorgeous henna tattoos.

They’re far more forgiving than the permanent ink ones, and brides aren’t allowed to do housework until they’ve worn off…

Photo of my henna tattooed hands and feet. I needed just the right sandals to show off my enhanced tootsies!

Dusting off my photos to show you these provided an excuse to reconnect with Chris Miller, the super-talented photographer (check out her Instagram too) who was beyond kind to gift them to my sweetie and me. Back when she shot them, we both worked for the Beach Reporter, a Manhattan Beach community weekly. I reported on Hermosa Beach and, In addition to her work as an event fotog, at the time she was the publication’s photojournalist.

Wedding party photo of Khashayar and da-AL. It seems like yesterday when you’re having fun…

Back to our esteemed guest: Alka was born in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. At the age of nine, she moved to the U.S. As a Stanford University grad, she’s worked in advertising and PR, and owned a marketing consultancy. On top of all that, she has a Creative Writing MFA from Cal Arts San Francisco. The Henna Artist is her first book. In way less than a year, it’s a huge success! The sequel, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, is set for July, plus the third book in the trilogy for 2022. And — she’s an executive producer for the novel’s upcoming Miramax TV series!

Read on for her thoughts on women in India. Note that it’s not just India — unfortunately, I’ve met women architects in the U.S. who encounter discrimination here too…

Alka Joshi, author of Alka Joshi, author of “The Henna Artist” and more!…

“The Sari vs. Modern India” by Alka Joshi

In January 2019, the Architecture faculty at Ansal University in Gurgaon, just outside New Delhi, received an email from the registrar to attend a convocation.

Architecture faculty at Ansal University in Gurgaon's news bulletin board. Architecture faculty at Ansal University in Gurgaon’s news bulletin board.

It requested formal dress: “trouser, coat and tie for men” and “saris for women.”

Students wear western clothes. Students wear western clothes.

This sparked a lively, funny, albeit very polite, conversation on WhatsApp among the female faculty, who normally wear trousers, Western blouses/tops, or salwar kameez (long tunics with legging-like bottoms) most days.

“I may not wear a sari…I don’t even own one!”

“I do not even know how to wear a sari.”

“[I’m] not against saris. But at 7:30 in the morning, especially when I’m not used to it is definitely a challenge.”

“Can’t tie one at 7am and drive…and get through the day!”

“No sari. Impossible to wear and report at 7:30 in the morning.”

“Why a sari at all?”

“If the women must wear a sari, wouldn’t a *dhoti be more in sync for the men?”

*(Now mostly worn by village men, a dhoti is a white cloth from five to seven yards in length, wrapped loosely around the legs and tied in a knot at the waist. While dhotis have gone out of fashion, saris are still a mainstay of female couture for weddings, special occasions and family gatherings.)

This Adjunct Prof of Architecture chose to leave her sari (if she has one) at home. This Adjunct Prof of Architecture chose to leave her sari (if she has one) at home.

“We are all sensible enough to know what to wear. Most of us might even have worn saris to the event without being asked. But when you tell us exactly what to wear, we are going to have something to say,” laughs Monisha Sharma, associate professor. “Our Dean, who is female, told us to just look as smart as we do every day, so that’s what we’ll do.”

Associate Professor Monisha Sharma prefers a salwar kameez over a sari when she’s teaching. Associate Professor Monisha Sharma prefers a salwar kameez over a sari when she’s teaching.

In addition to teaching in the Architecture school, these women are working architects. At construction sites they are often greeted with curious expressions: Can women really be architects? Are these women here to tell us what to do?

One professor told me that she had organized a site visit to a factory for her students. When they got to the site, the founder only responded to the junior male faculty who had accompanied her, choosing not to acknowledge her at all. 

Similarly, a female architect who was managing a project for her father’s structural engineering firm was not being consulted by the construction team until her father ordered them to talk only to her. She was, after all, the project manager and the only one who could answer their questions.

Architecture Professor in India. “At 7:30 in the morning, I don’t have time to gather and pleat a sari. It’s a lot of work!”

To someone like me, who’s been raised in the West since the age of nine, it’s surprising that the women’s reaction is not anger (that would have been my response, along with bewilderment and confusion). 

Instead, the Indian women laugh it off. “We have already made our mark in our profession,” they say. “We don’t need to hit them over the head with it.”

At the convocation, the female faculty wore Western trouser suits. Not a sari in sight.

There’s more than one way to make a statement.

Are dress codes unbiased where you work?…