Based in Chennai, Helios’ Books aims to publish books we had always wanted to read, but could never find in bookstores. Distinctive vision, creative use of narrative and plot, and elegance and finesse in the style of writing are the distinguishing features of their fiction, while the hallmark of their non-fiction is the lucid presentation of original research.In conversation with Abhilasha Dafria for YourStory.in, founder Geetanjali J B tells us more about how her aim in setting up Helios Books is twofold: to publish high-quality books in various genres and to share the joy while doing so!
Geetanjali J.B was the finalist of British Council’s Young Publishing Entrepreneur Awards, 2011. To know more about the Young Creative Entrepreneur Awards, click here. Follow the Young Creative Entrepreneur Awards (YCE) on Facebook
Gitanjali, tell us about your Publishing Firm Helios Books. What is your background like and what is the story behind starting up HB?
I am the founder and publisher of Helios Books, an English-language independent publishing firm set up in Chennai in 2009.After a brilliant start in academics (a topper in school, a gold-medalist in college and amongst the top ten in MBA from the Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar), I worked in management consultancies and multinational firms in the Indian corporate sector for 8 years, including a one-year stint in Copenhagen as the Head of European Operations for a software company. I then worked in our family business of setting up power plants for 6 years, a business I had established with my husband. Thereafter, I chartered out on my own in the field of publishing, thus fulfilling a long-standing dream.
To me, Helios Books is a labour of love. We aspire to bring out beautiful books in various genres, which are uplifting, progressive, inspiring and contribute to nation building. Helios Books was founded to publish those books that we wanted to read but could not find in bookstores! The vision of Helios Books, over and above bringing out quality books in various genres, is to showcase the best of India and its forgotten glory and other universal human values to the world.
How did you come up with the name?
Helios is “sun” in Greek and symbolizes Truth and Knowledge. The byline of Helios Books, “Sunlit Resplendence” epitomizes our philosophy of bringing to light anything which is uplifting and beautiful.
Is Helios a certain genre-specific?
Helios Books is an independent publisher with a strong commitment and vision to publish quality fiction as well as non-fiction of a high standard, based on meticulous and original research. The various genres in which we are planning to bring out books are fiction, children’s books, history and social studies, non-fiction, indology, and Indian philosophy.
How do you make money?
Through the sale of physical books through distributors, retailers, both traditional and online. We plan to have our own payment gateway and also to introduce audio books and e-books soon.
Could you tell us a little about your tie-ups?
We are tied up with the payment gateway provider, printers, distributors – physical and online, graphic design companies, several freelance editors and illustrators and several libraries. We keep our core competencies in-house, which are editing and research, and we out-source other activities to our partners and suppliers who we work with, on a long-term basis, with a mutual understanding of each other’s expectations. We are exploring co-publishing opportunities with larger publishers as well.
How many books to do you sell on a monthly basis? What is the traction on your site like? How many unique visitors per day?
We sell close to 30 – 40 books in each title every month. Some books which are designed for niche audiences like Savitri sell better. Our site, which was just static information page, is being developed and made more dynamic through various blogs, review pages and our own payment gateway. In a month’s time we expect it to generate sufficient traffic.What is the size of the market you are trying to tap?
As mentioned in the answer earlier, the Indian publishing industry (books segment) has an estimated worth/ turnover of 13,000 crore rupees (Business Standard, June 2011) and is growing at the rate of 30% per year. Close to 70,000 titles are published every year, 30% of which are in English. India is the third largest publisher in the English language in the world after USA and UK.
We at Helios Books try to capture niche markets. For instance, for our first book, The Wind and the Rain, we approached MCC for the author was HOD English there and they have promised to make it a textbook in the coming year. Similarly we plan to sell the War Heroes book in bulk to the Indian Army and so on. The target audiences for the republication of the first edition of Savitri were devotees of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo across India. This strategy has helps us reach target audiences directly without wasting time and money in mass advertisement and distribution.
What is the size of your team?
Our team size is 12. That includes 6 Full time (2 Directors, 2 Editors and 2 Researchers), 4 Part time (2 Illustrators, 1 editor and 1 proof-reader) and 2 Consultants - (Review Panel)
Going forward, what would be your market differentiators?
All our books are based on original research. We do not just publish whatever manuscripts come our way, but also fund research in our publishing areas of interest.
In Fiction we look for distinctive vision, creative use of narrative and plot, and elegance and finesse. The uniqueness of our Children’s Books lies in their narration and illustration, designed specially for the growing and impressionable mind of the child.
Indian history was written by colonizers and when you read it in school, it doesn’t make you proud of being an Indian. India seems to be always on the receiving end. Its achievements are always trivialized and its failures exaggerated. But when one reads Sri Aurobindo’s “Foundations of Indian Culture”, one is introduced to India, as it were. One can see Her greatness in literature, arts, architecture, sculpture, dance, music and politics. Our endeavour in bringing out books in History is to revivify India's glorious past and aim to amend many of the oversights and exclusions associated with traditional historical accounts. And in our category of Historical Fiction we plan to explore some of the lesser-known but important aspects of Indian history in an interesting way.
The hallmark of our non-fiction is the lucid presentation of original research. Our projects in this genre include War Heroes of India that aims at celebrating the spirit of heroism and courage in India. Another area we focus on is the recovery of ancient Indian scriptures and their relevance to the modern world.
Our market differentiators are our beautifully produced, high quality of books based on original research.
Any advice you want to share with budding entrepreneurs in publishing?
It is a tough field but very intellectually and creatively rewarding. The gestation period is high and takes longer than our businesses to break-even. So please get into it, if you have deep pockets, high solvency, unparalleled passion and loads of patience!
So what next at Helios Books? Are you looking at rental/library services as well?
We plan to get into other forms of books like E-books, Audio books and also creation of audio-visual content for TV channels based on our bestsellers.
Lastly, share with us your experience at YCE.
It was a pleasure to be selected as a finalist at YCE. The idea of participating was to validate the business plan and the assumptions therein and to meet other like-minded entrepreneurs in the same field. And, I must say that the experience was a great learning curve. During my presentation there and on interacting with other finalists I became aware of a few weaknesses in my business model like the use of technology and e-commerce options, which I was not availing of and which I have now incorporated in my operations.