From aircrafts to books: Meet Naveen Valasakumar of Notion Press who can help you publish your novel
When Ruskin Bond once said “India could soon have more writers than readers”, he captured the mood of the nation that is rolling out reams and reams of content every year. From gentle romances to tomes on self-development to children’s literature, there is no end to the kind of books that are coming out today.
Fortunately, the editorially-curated world of books, where a handful of people determine what people should read, has disappeared. Today, we live in a market-curated environment where an author determines what he or she wants to share with the world.
At one time, self-publishing was considered as the last resort of an author, but not so anymore. But ever since several self-published authors shot to fame, like Beatrix Potter, E. L James, John Grisham, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mark Twain, it became clear that this was a route that held so many possibilities.
Naveen Valsakumar, discovered this fact, as early as 2012. An Aircraft engineer by qualification, Naveen was always keen on using technological innovations as solutions to every challenge he faced.
After graduating in Aircraft Maintenance Engineering, Naveen joined the booming Indian IT industry and worked in various profiles including Sales, Marketing, Training and Software Engineering, before deciding to start a venture of his own.
His love for books took him to the world of publishing and soon Naveen had launched Notion Press with his co-founders Jana Pillay and Bhargava Adepalley. Today, he is CEO and Co-Founder, Notion Press Publishing, which allows both authors and publishers to create, sell and promote their content across the world.
In an interview with YSWeekender, Naveen speaks about his days of entrepreneurship, the business of books and why self-publishing is so popular today….
YSWeekender: How did you get into the business of books?
Naveen Valsakumar: Bhargava and I, were looking to publish a book. Jana was already working in his father’s publishing firm. He tried to make us understand why it was difficult for two 25-year olds to get picked up by a traditional publisher.
While researching alternative ways to publish our book, we stumbled upon self-publishing, which was already quite a popular trend in the west where independent authors were publishing books themselves and becoming successful. We realised that there could be others like us in India who were struggling to publish a book and we wanted to see if we could democratise the publishing of books.
Notion Press was started by three of us who have been friends since our school days.
YSW: Why did you launch into entrepreneurship after graduating from Aircraft Maintenance and IT?
Naveen with Co-founders, Jana Pillay and Bhargava Adepalley
NV: The three of us have always been entrepreneurial and have had a side hustle going on ever since we were in college. Even while in college, we used to build websites and write paid content for a lot of small companies. As we pursued different careers, we were constantly discussing business opportunities.
One day, we quit our respective jobs to take the plunge. Our varied work experience and skill-sets acquired during that time helped us tremendously as we started up.
YSW: What was the book market like when you launched and how has it changed over the years?
NV: When we started in 2012,had just started becoming popular in Indian Metros as an alternate to bookstores. Amazon had not yet started operating in India. Sales at Brick-and-mortar Bookstores had just started declining. Self-Publishing was an unknown concept to most authors.
Over the years we have seen several positive changes in publishing. E-commerce has become a major sales channel for publishers. Readers have an option between a physical book and an eBook.
YSW: At one time self-publishing was considered the last resort for the writer but now more and more people are doing it. What caused this change?
NV: Self-Publishing is an entrepreneurial venture now. An author invests his time and money learning the skills required to publish his own books and promoting them in the marketplace. As a benefit, the author owns all the rights to his or her content and enjoys more profits.
Platforms like Notion Press make it extremely easy by partnering with such authors and providing them with the tools and services required to publish and sell books around the world.
Books can open up a new world for a reader
Three major changes have enabled authors to become independent entrepreneurs. Firstly, the emergence of e-commerce as a major sales channel led to every book getting a fair fighting chance, unlike in bookstores where major publishers and authors used to take up prime real estate.
Secondly, the adoption of print-on-demand allows authors and publishers to work with a zero-inventory model, enabling them to only print a book when an order is received. This frees up cash flow that’s usually locked in printing thousands of copies and allows first-time authors to enter the marketplace at almost zero upfront investment.
Thirdly, the rise of social media as a major marketing channel has enabled authors to directly reach out to their readers or build a strong community of readers who are attached to them via Social.
All of these factors have enabled a world where the barrier to entry has been lowered for content creators to directly sell/promote to their readers.
YSW: What is your opinion on the many small publishing houses that have sprung up everywhere?
NV: I think it’s a good thing for the ecosystem. We need more publishers publishing more content in more formats. The market is mature enough to reward great content and reject content that is not up to standards.
We do not live in an editorially curated world anymore where a handful of people determine what should be published and what should not, we live in a market-curated one.
YSW: How are online publishing houses playing a major role in sourcing the best texts today?
NV: Most online publishing companies are making publishing more accessible for authors and also connecting authors with readers directly thus creating a completely new ecosystem. Many platforms are also experimenting with alternative revenue models for authors like advertising, selling individual chapters, subscriptions, etc.
YSW: Who are your famous self-published authors who are famous today?
NV: A lot of today’s successful authors have started by self-publishing their books. Some of the mainstream authors of today like Chetan Bhagat, Amish, and Ashwin Sanghi, started out by self-publishing before their books were acquired by traditional publishing houses. JK Rowling also started out by self-publishing her book.
Several Notion Press authors have become successful and gone on to sell thousands of copies of their books in India and outside.
Authors like P.B. Kolleri of the Rachel Markham Mystery Series have tasted mainstream success in markets like the US and UK. There are other authors like Karthik Kumar, Sangeetha Sumesh and Pravin Shekar who have been able to build a strong authors brand with their business books, in their respective subject matter.
YSW: Do you think the quality of books has come down due to the easy accessibility to printing? How do you make sure you bring out the best?
NV: If you track the evolution of a platform like YouTube, it enables just about anyone with a camera to create and publish videos. The videos range from home videos shot on inexpensive phone cameras to commercially produced music videos and even live sporting events. The market always rewards good content by making it more discoverable. It is a similar story with books. If you take the effort to create quality content and address a market-need, you are rewarded with more visibility and sales.
Although we are a democratic publishing platform where authors can publish their books themselves, we also provide publishing services like editing and design at very reasonable prices to authors who are quality-focused and want to ensure that their content reaches more people.
YSW: Can everyone write a book?
NV: I believe anyone can write a book. Storytelling and communication are skills that most people already possess. Language skills will only improve if you keep writing and honing your skill. Besides, not everyone is writing literature. Most business books are written today in the simplest of language and in a very conversational tone.
YSW: What were your greatest challenges when you started and what are your challenges you face today?
NV: The biggest challenge we faced when we started was to build awareness among authors about self-publishing as an alternate way to publish books.
The Notion Press team
So, we spent a lot of time promoting self-publishing as a viable alternative. Today, the ecosystem has evolved and most of our effort is in educating authors on how to self-publish well. How to identify potential market opportunities, how to write for a certain target group and how to build a strong author brand etc.
YSW: What kind of books are you looking the most for today in the self-publishing arena?
NV: I love business books, especially from Indian authors. I think as a country, we have several entrepreneurs and professionals who are extremely successful in their domain and we need their wisdom, experience and ideas to be documented and spread for others to emulate.
YSW: Can you give three tips to aspiring authors?
NV: Writing is a skill. You get good at it if you do it more often. Constantly keep writing short content like short stories and articles, post them online on your favorite social media or on your personal blog.
• When you are publishing a book, you are building a product. You might have started writing the book as a passion or hobby, but the moment you decide to publish and expect someone to pay for it, you have an automatic responsibility to add value to your reader. Focus on quality and build a product that you are proud to sell.
• There are huge upsides to building your brand. But brands are not built overnight. Your first book is the vehicle through which you can start creating your author brand. Spend an hour every day over the next 6 to 8 months diligently promoting your book and connecting with readers online to build your reader-base.
YSW: What has entrepreneurship taught you about life?
NV: The biggest lesson I learned was that failures are an inherent part of your success. So, it's imperative to keep moving forward, doing things and failing often in order to hit these success milestones.
YSW: How do you de-stress and unwind over the weekends?
NV: I am an aspiring home-brewer and I am also learning to cook. Over the weekends, I de-stress by trying out various recipes and I also brew small batches of fresh, home-made craft beer.