18 October 2020

Top 10 Bhutanese Mobile Apps 2020

This has been something I wanted to do for a long time; to assess Bhutanese Mobile Apps and make a Top 10 list. I wanted to measure the apps based on the tangibles such as the number of downloads, users and reviews. But when I actually began working on it I realized that if I were to base my list entirely on the tangibles then there is no input from my side. I found it important to grade the apps based on the usefulness and user-friendliness. Since it's my list I want to judge the apps based on how useful they were to me. 

Top 10 Bhutanese Apps

After the list was made I found out that only two apps of the 10 are strictly private, rest are all institutional and government service apps. His Majesty the King shared a story about how Instagram, with just 13 employees was bought by Facebook for $ 1 Billion in 2012, which was way more USD than Bhutan had saved since the reign of the Third King. Since hearing that powerful speech I have been showing an extra interest in apps because I feel the only equitable chance we have at doing something big in the world would be a made in Bhutan application. It's worth creating a national think tank and making a big investment. 

For now, all top ten apps combined + Druk Trace app doesn't total up to a million download. 

Following are the top ten made in Bhutan apps on my list;

1. mBOB (100,000+)

mBOB

It is the official mobile banking app of Bank of Bhutan. The app has literally put banking on our palm. Until recently BOB deducted Nu.10 every month from the mBOB users, which was sharply criticized. I didn't mind the small fee because of all the conveniences it offered; Mobile recharge, Mobile payment, Money Transfer, Bill Payments, etc.  Since installing the app some years ago I have never bought a single paper voucher or went physically to pay the electric bill or house rent. 

There are similar apps by other banks, such as MPay, TPay, ePay etc. which may be as useful but since I personally benefited from mBOB alone I chose mBOB. 

DDC Dictionary

2. DDC Dictionary (1000+)

It's a bilingual Dzongkha - English Dictionary app from G2C Bhutan. The app is quite handy in confirming Dzongkha spellings and meanings. It has come to my rescue every time I help my daughter with her Dzongkha works. I think the developer has uploaded an entirely new version instead of updating the original app because it should have more than 1000 downloads it has recorded. 

Druk Zakar

3. Druk Zakar (100,000+)


The Druk Zakar App from Dratshang Lhentsho provides a 12-month day-to-day astrological calendar based on the Bhutanese lunar year. As Bhutanese, we are believers of tag da tendrel (Auspicious signs) before starting a new venture or a long journey or making major decisions in life. Traditionally, we had to go to an astrologer for a consultation but with this app, we could be astrologers ourselves. This may have disappointed the astrologers but for the rest of us, it was a blessing. 
B-Trowa

4. B-Trowa (10,000+)

It's a TV and Radio streaming app from Bhutan Telecom. The only reason this app is on my list is that it streams BBS TV live for free without requiring to register. I feel that this must be the app that's keeping fellow Bhutanese living and working abroad in touch with their homeland. 
Azha Pasa

5. Azha Pasa (10,000+)


It's an eCommerce app with the vision to expand to delivering skills and services but for now they have made their mark by delivering vegetables, LPG and providing garbage pickup services. I have used the app several times to refill LPG cylinders and it's amazing that they charge just Nu.100 for their service. For that cost, we don't even get a cab ride from home to town forget about getting a heavy cylinder delivered home. I have also used the app to get vegetable delivery during the lockdown, which has made me forever grateful to the app. 
Druk Ride

6. Druk Ride (1000+)

Druk Ride is a taxi and bus ticket booking app. It's an app whose time has really come in Bhutan but I am yet to see the real success of the app. Initially, there were three taxi apps but only Druk Ride survived because the market is just too small and awareness on the smart technology is way too less, especially among the cab drivers. I have used the app to book bus tickets to Pling and I was really impressed. I only wished if Haa Bus tickets could be booked on this app. 
POL Depo App

7. POL Depo (10,000+)


This app is from the Department of Trade to facilitate the issue of the coupons for LPG and Kerosene, In pursuit of Improving Public Service Delivery. If you don't have this app you have to visit DoT physically to get the coupons and then head to the Fuel pumps to get LPG or Kerosene. Strangely, you can't just download and use the app right away, like many services in Bhutan, you have to visit DoT physically to get the app registered. 


mRSTA

8. mRSTA (10,000+)

This app built by RSTA gives access to Information related to Driver License and Vehicle Registration of an individual and facilitates services like the renewal of both the documents, which otherwise require us to visit the office physically. The app though poorly branded (both the name and the logo) has really good features. Very soon we may not need printed license or registration documents as long as we carry a phone with this app on.



9. eTeeru (50,000+)

This mobile financial app from Tashi Cell is perhaps the best-marketed app but it has more than a few shortcomings; first, it came into the market too late. There are over five banking apps that are giving the same services eTeeru is offering. Second, it is only for the TCell subscribers which leave the majority of the population out because more Bhutanese use bMobile, including me. If it could be registered using bMobile number I could have at least tried because I have seen so many shops with eTeeru QR code ready to be used but seemingly no users because for now, everyone is happy with mBOB. But if they could maintain the pace of promotion and make necessary changes, I can see it replace all the banking apps, especially on the shopping front. 
Bhutanese Bloggers

10. Bhutanese Bloggers (1000+)

This app features the latest blog posts from the community of Bhutanese bloggers. It was designed to create a platform for every blogger to enjoy equal readership, but since the developer doesn't live in Bhutan anymore, it's really difficult to update the list of bloggers. Without a functioning association, we don't have a dedicated team to look after the app. We may revive it soon. Yes, I am involved in this. 


This is the end of the top 10 list but while talking about the Bhutanese apps, let me draw your attention to the most important app at the moment;
______________________________________

11. Druk Trace (100,000+) 

Druk Trace is designed by G2C for contact tracing during the pandemic. I am sure this is the most downloaded app in Bhutan and I hope you have it on your phone. Having the app on your device is not enough, you must use it wherever you go. I hope someday when all this is over, we can make good use of this app and the data. 

Perhaps we could upgrade this to the national chat platform, Sungjoen App the government envisioned. 

Druk Trace



17 October 2020

Rate for Domestic eCommerce Vendors-2020- A Milestone

I first got in touch with Bhutan Post in December 2019, sharing about my Bhutanese book project called BOOKNESE and how it needed the support of cheaper postal service to become a success that I had envisioned. 

In my proposal, I urged Bhutan Post to consider a subsidised rate for sending books within Bhutan, because I wanted the bookstores in Thimphu to be accessed by every Dzongkhag through BOOKNESE at an affordable rate. I don't see a possibility for some Dzongkhags to ever have bookstores of their own, and therefore it's a smarter option to link them to bookstores in Thimphu, and even Paro. (Read about how BOOKNESE is going to do that.)

October 16, 2020

The current domestic rate of sending a book (or anything), which weighs 500g, is Nu.196 and the next unit on the weight slab is 750g which costs Nu.232. At an average, a book is 300-600g, and it may cost Nu.300, if we add the postage cost, it's going to be a staggering Nu.600+. Who will pay so much for a book? Seriously, books are hard to sell and a heavy postal charge will only make it harder. 

Domestic Rates

As a big national institution that is as old as history, Bhutan Post doesn't need us to promote them. They are bigger than any brand. So what is in it for them? I proposed to appropriately acknowledge Bhutan Post on our platforms, packaging materials and media publications as our partner in promoting Bhutanese literature, reading culture and Bhutanese book market. I found more wisdom in asking them to share the responsibility of creating a better society through the promotion of literature. 

Even though I wasn't good at negotiation, Mr Thinley Wangchuk found merit in it and passionately took it up with management. It went back and forth a couple of times in the course of the last 10 months. He agreed it was timely that they made their services consistent to the changing market trends, especially the emergence of e-commerce in the country. While discussing my proposal, they took a broader stance and made room to accommodate all eCommerce ventures within the framework that is worked out for BOOKNESE.

The MOU was signed between Bhutan Post and BOOKNESE on October 16, 2020, wherein, Bhutan Post offered a new "Rate for Domestic eCommerce Vendors-2020"  which will also be offered to any eCommerce venture that may apply hence. 

When I tested the usual EMS service by sending a package weighing 808g, for which I have only taken Nu.20 as a postal charge from the clients, I was charged Nu. 250. With the new rate, I will only have to pay Nu.100. Unlike the regular rate, where it will climb with increase in weight, the new rate has just two slabs, and the next higher rate we pay is just Nu.150. It's going to make a significant difference in the way we do eCommerce. 


By making it a standard rate for the entire rising eCommerce industry, BOOKNESE was relieved of any conditional burden arising from the partnership. But we shall always remain grateful and adhere to other terms of the Agreement, and ensure that we as a pioneer set a good example. 

09 October 2020

Saving Old Toilets in Schools- An Example from Bhutan

The most satisfying among the projects carried out by Bhutan Toilet Org is the School Toilet Upgradation project. We have been able to train hundreds of school staff to help us transform hundreds of toilet overnight. The combination of smart process and amazing SATO technology made the project one of the most cost-efficient projects.  

We have crossed over a thousand toilets in just over eight Dzongkhags making a saving of at least Nu. 13 million for the government. Of course, these many toilets wouldn't have been upgraded if it wasn't for the project that offered get rid of the old toilets and upgrade them to the next generation toilets using SATO pan. 


Punakha

Within the project, another surprise emerged when we learned that some of the really old toilet structures that were waiting to be dismantled got a second lease of life. While working on some 16 units of pit latrine in a school in Thimphu as part of the pilot project, I noticed an old but strong 10 -unit toilet structure that was closed and left unused. Upon inquiry, the school told me that the toilet was closed for decades and they were only waiting for a budget to demolish it and construct a new one. 
Samtse
Honestly, school toilets are hard to come by. There are a hundred other important things to build in school that toilets are the last things to get attention. That's why you will see that it takes tenures of several principals to finally get a new toilet constructed in a school. And when you hear someone say that they are waiting for a budget to build or renovate a toilet, you know they are being a buffalo waiting for the yak. 
Thimphu
I requested the principal to open the old toilet, which was shut so brutally with hundreds of random nails. Once open, I could see it was a pit latrine with cemented floor and the only problem seems to be the pit which was filled with thousand random things. If we could empty the pit then we could install SATO pan over the pit. The school took the challenge to empty the pit by filling it with water and sucking it out using sewer suction truck. When I visited the next time the pit was emptied and ready to be upgraded. It took was a few hours to install SATO pan on each of the ten units and within the next few days, it was ready to serve its second term. 

Calculating the cost, we found out that we managed to save the old toilet in less than Nu.50,000. If the school had to rebuild a 10-units toilet it could cost at least Nu.1.5 million. Therefore, to be able to save Nu. 1.4 million within a few hours was a significant achievement, but the priceless part of this was reviving and adding 10 more units of toilets for the students to use in a few days. 
Chhukha

The same magic was done to a toilet each in Samtse and Saprang, two blocks each in Chhukha, Zhemgang, Haa, Wangdue and Punakha. To Punakha and Sarpang, Education Secretary, Karma Tshering, then the DG, specifically ask us to go there and save the old toilets that he had instructed the school not to touch until we came to upgrade.  

Since then, we have requested the Education Ministry to disallow school to demolish any old school toilets and it's been circulated thus across the country. 

This story of saving old school toilets inexpensively has been shared on various platforms to encourage similar initiatives across the globe. This could not just save millions in the cost of constructions, but also ensure an instant solution to toilet shortage issues and also the quality of toilets in schools.

Punakha


23 September 2020

Sorry Dasho Nishioka- A Book Review

Dasho Nishioka (1933-1992)


The story of Dasho Nishioka and his life in Bhutan is no short of a fairy tale; I still can't fathom how a sophisticated metropolitan had possibly left behind his comfortable Japanese life and decided to work in Bhutan in 1964? 


The book, Dasho Keiji Nishioka- A Japanese who lived for Bhutan by Tshering Cigay and Dorji Penjordeserves the recognition of being the first to recount the life of a great being who by all means deserved to be remembered. However, it should be forgiven for not being a comprehensive biography, one that is worthy of celebrating an extraordinary life and works of Dasho Nishioka.  

A foreigner who is awarded Bura Marp by His Majesty the King, given a grand state funeral, awarded Druk Thugsey Medal posthumously, built a chorten in his memory and has a flower named after him, if he is not worth several volumes of books then something is missing.

Dasho Nishioka Chorten in Paro

His numerous accolades are not what defines Dasho Nishioka, the true value of the man is in knowing why has he been recognized so grandly. His death from a tooth infection in 1992 at the prime age of 59 could have been avoided if he was anywhere outside Bhutan. He paid the ultimate price for his dedication to this country. When lamenting the loss of a great being, his daughter, Yoko says her father had nothing much to live for, having achieved so much in his short life. His was truly a short and fat life. 

I have heard of a certain Japan Sayab who revolutionized agriculture in Bhutan but it was only in this book that I connected all the dots and began to form a whole picture that I could appreciate. He came to Bhutan in 1964 when life in Bhutan was physically daunting; only Thimphu and Paro were connected by road and it wasn't until the 1980s that we had electricity. But despite the formidable odds the Japanese volunteer chose to stay beyond his two years assignment and gave 28 years of his life to Bhutan, until his death. He spent five years of his life in Bhutan in Zhemgang, the Dzongkhag that took weeks to reach on foot back then and that still is considered a difficult place in 2020. 

Dasho Nishioka's Home in Panbang

A prosperous life awaited him in Japan but he laboured in Bonday Farm to change agriculture in Bhutan. The book gives us an overview of his experiments and initiatives to mechanize farming, improve seeds, enhance yield, create access to market, improve storage, initiate processing, packaging and exporting, build the capacity of the farmers, leverage on the organic brand from Bhutan. What? déjà vu! 

If I hadn't read this book I would be disillusioned into thinking that we have come a long way but half a century later we are still talking about the same issues in agriculture. My conversations with Dr. Lam Dorji on his 'farm to market' project and with Farmer Sangay on Farming 4.0 will never be the same. I want them to read the book and have a soulful conversation with them on how we failed Dasho Nishioka. 

This year the pandemic forced us to wake up to the hard reality that we are still not capable of producing our own food, not even rice. The book tells us that Dasho Nishioka succeeded in enhancing the rice yield three times by improving the seeds. How much have we enhanced it since? It's a shameful revelation of our hypocrisy that we haven't been faithful to the mission that Nishioka started. We left it to him. 

On page 59, a picture of Bonday Farm from the 1980s is juxtaposed with another one taken from the same spot in 2010, almost 30 years apart, and in sharp contrast to the common expectation that the Farm would have flourished into a mega farm, one could see the farm was doing better in the 80s than 30 years later. 

The book relates how even back in the days Dasho Nishioka had to bargain with insincere and lazy Bhutanese to work hard on their own farms by means of reward and punishment. Imagine the frustration of a hardworking Japanese when faced with our suffocating complacency. Had we inherited a little bit of Nishioka essence we won't be having the debate on food security today. We will be exporting premium organic food to the world.

But Sorry Dasho Nishioka, we failed you. Should you come back somehow and see how far we have reached since you left you will be heartbroken.

This book should be read like an initiation prayer by every Bhutanese who joins the agriculture sector so that they recognize and appreciate the history of modern agriculture in Bhutan, and about the foreigner who put his everything in it; to let them question why we are still where we began and to inspire them to work toward a real change with the dedication that would have won the approval of Dasho Nishioka.

The book that was published in 2011 deserves a second edition with more contents on the legend's private life in Bhutan to make it a complete biography. The book needs better design and change in the paper type (non-glossy) to make it reader-friendly while printing the pictures on glossy paper. 

22 September 2020

Tribute to My Late Teacher Karma Wangchuk (1965-2020)

It was in 1997 that I maintained my first journal. My English teacher in Class VII, Sir Karma Wangchuk gave us the assignment to record our day in a small notebook to build our writing skill. The class captain had to collect our journals and take to him for review every evening. We would get it back the next morning with his feedback. Back in the days, we could hardly write an intelligible sentence. We put him off every day. 

One day, by a great stroke of luck I got one sentence correct. I still remember that sentence after all these years, it read "Thinley Gyeltshen left the school on his own accord." My poor English teacher was overjoyed. The remark he left in my little diary had a big impact on me: "Beautiful Sentence. Keep it up!". I kept writing hard to get better remarks from him each day.

It was my teacher Karma Wangchuk who named me PaSsu. He was fond of Haap's accent and found it too funny to call me PaSsu, as a Haap would do, instead of Passang or Passa. I liked it so much and proudly kept it as my pet name.

Knowing him from Junior School to College, he wouldn't be easily impressed but he was openly proud when I handed him a copy of my book PaSsu Diary in 2018. It made a complete circle. It was he in whose class I began journaling and I came to be known as a blogger by the name he gave me, and finally, here he was holding my book. 

Back in March, Among his students who had established a lifelong friendship with him, there were three of us who made it to the funeral despite restrictions due to covid19. We stayed till the end with the members of his family. I stayed till the end because I wanted to his ashes being cast into the river to be washed into the sea and feel the sense of him becoming a part of nature that he loved so much. I thought to myself that he would have loved this part. 



With his death, we lost a living encyclopaedia on the natural world. He would talk about butterflies as if he lived among them. He knew orchids like he had an orchid farm. He could talk endlessly about a bird just by hearing its distant sound. He knew wild animals like a farmer knew his farm animals. He loved wild cats the most and have all the species of it painted. 

His life was simple- the guy seemed to have known the true essence of life already- he spent all his saving during the vacations to explore the wilderness or travel to a historic site. His notes, painting and photographs from the wilderness will very well make up several volumes of books. But he never published anything. I don't think he ever regretted that because he just loved doing it. Publication or exhibition never bothered him. He once told me, "I will always have my side of the story to tell which no one can own. The challenge is even more exciting."


In 1998, I took the only white t-shirt I had to him and requested him to paint something on it for keepsake. He did a black-necked crane on it effortlessly. The shirt didn't last for long but I managed to cut out the crane and preserve it (See pic). He was one of the finest artists I have known and the first to introduce me to art. His favourite subjects were his cousins from the wilderness; there are hundreds of paintings of birds, orchids, mammals, cats, etc. some from as early as 1987 when he was a boy himself. He never exhibited his artworks. In fact, his works were taken by others and published in their books, when he could easily do his own. 

I managed to convince him to do a massive exhibition that will not only showcase his artworks on the natural world but also his photographs on butterflies and his notes. The plan was to hire the RSPN hall and divide it into several sections- Cats of Bhutan; Orchids of Bhutan; Butterflies of Bhutan; Mammals of Bhutan; Birds of Bhutan; and after the exhibition the exhibits will be compiled into several books. But the timing was wrong. He fell ill shortly after that and he could not recover to do it. But I know even if he had recovered fully he may not have been so eager to do it because he was just happy that he had created them. That's all that mattered to him.

The other dimension to the man was his natural love for Shakespear and the literature in general. In 2006 when Shakespear was being removed from the Bhutanese curriculum, Sir Karma was devastated. He didn't say much in protest but when he hosted the Annual Award Ceremony in Paro College, he ran the two hours show using nothing but Shakespeare quotes. He did it so effortlessly like his mother tongue. That night some 400 of us in the hall knew how relevant Shakespear was to this day.

For us, Shakespear means two plays and a few sonnets we struggled with in high school but he was someone he read Shakespeare plays like a love letter he just received and watched the same plays alongside books like we would watch some hot movies. English literature came naturally to him, almost like a household chore and he must have scribbled hundreds of pages of poems and stories, hidden among his countless valuable papers. 

His brother and brother's children agreed to our proposal to form a team among his students and pay him a tribute by doing an exhibition and publishing his works.


Death is but a man becoming a memory, 

You are a powerful memory alive in hundreds of us.

You are alive in me and my beautiful life. 


So Long!

20 September 2020

BOOKNESE- Just for Bhutanese Books


When I was growing up, becoming a writer was the most romantic idea to choose as a dream. I tended to this dream by reading biographies of authors, watching movies and documentaries based on the lives of writers, collected pictures of V.S Naipaul, Salman Rushdie and Sidney Sheldon when kids of my age were collecting posters of Leonardo DiCaprio and Salman Khan. 

One day after I became a man, the beautiful dream turned into a disappointment when I learnt that there was not a single dedicated book publisher in the country and that the Bhutanese book market was too poor to produce any fulltime writer. There were only a few authors who managed to go beyond their first book, which is a sign that they managed to sell their first book enough to save them from bankruptcy and dare to publish again. In short, there was no hope. The idea is only romantic. 

I didn't want to believe that there isn't any hope after a lifetime of waiting to become a writer. I wanted to make things work. That's why Nawang and I sat down and charted out a plan to bring together all the Bhutanese writers under Writers Association of Bhutan (WAB). We thought we could collectively create a society where literature thrived and therefore writing became a well-paid profession. A decade into building WAB with some founding members we came nowhere. 

We failed to convince our writers that we could be a lot stronger if we worked as a community, create services and facilities that every writer could leverage on, build a platform to launch books and reach masses in ways that we individually could not achieve. We are disillusioned individuals who carry a massive ego to form any functioning team; everyone thought they are popular enough to survive and thrive alone.  

Crowdpublishing-What an Idea!

Well, all is not lost. WAB managed to create a platform where aspiring writers honed their skills and gained recognitions. Nawang's 'Crowdpublishing' model helped several new writers publish their books, including my book PaSsu Diary. I used my social network to sell 3000 copies of my book easily. If WAB became an institution much can be done to help every Bhutanese who aspire to become a writer and also those who have already published but couldn't do much as writers, which is a common problem that we fail to recognize. 

But when WAB didn't happen as expected because it involved so many players to make an association, I pushed for a more personal and smaller dream with Nawang and Tharchen, to do almost the same thing as WAB but as a private venture. And that's BOOKNESE. 



What is BOOKNESE?

BOOKNESE is an ecosystem of Bhutanese books, their writers, their readers, and the bookstores where they are sold at. It’s the platform that is making an extra effort to celebrates Bhutanese literature because if we don’t, no one else will. 

BOOKNESE is archiving and exhibiting every book ever written by Bhutanese so that we could come to appreciate that a small country has produced so many works of literature, perhaps the highest per capita in the world. We showcase and promote every book with equal passion and unbiased attention. 

86 Bhutanese Writers Registered on BOOKNESE thus far

BOOKNESE aspires and works towards becoming that national archive where anyone interested in Bhutanese literature will come to seek authentic and reliable information so that no one will have to rely on random third-party foreign online sources, where we are not even treated with due respect. 

BOOKNESE ensures that every book receives its fair share of readers and that the content of the book is discussed objectively, reviewed fairly, and judged for its worth. BOOKNESE has established ways to celebrate good books, critique bad ones, and ensure that no writer is disillusioned by a few good reviews from close friends, or disheartened by a few bad reviews from jealous readers. 

BOOKNESE guarantees every book gets equal access to the market; ​the ​market that is enhanced through ​a network of bookstores​ that is made accessible from any dzongkhag through this online platform. Booknese establishes trust and goodwill with the bookstores and sources books from them and expands their reach beyond their towns to the whole of the nation and even beyond.  

BOOKNESE is a nonprofit venture, not because we aren't interested in profit but because there is no way we will ever make a profit out of books, especially Bhutanese books. It's, therefore, more profitable not to do this business but if we don't do it, who's going to do it?

It's been a difficult two years building the idea into a platform, and putting together 151 books by 86 writers, one by one, suffering the lukewarm response and complacency of so many writers. It took me hundreds of hours, sleepless night, more than three request messages and reminders to each writer before they responded. 

Of course, it's time for me to sit back and watch because the BOOKNESE is now ready to receive entries directly from you. 

Someday you will beg to be on BOOKNESE! That day is not today, so tell your writer friends to register their book for free. It may not remain free for long. Who knows, one day if a book is not on BOOKNESE the book doesn't even exist. 

If you are a good reader, you can become an asset for BOOKNESE by becoming a star reviewer who is loved and feared by every Writer. They will wait to see your review and quote you on the cover of their second editions. Your reviews will be printed in newspapers regularly and it might become a second source of income. 

18 September 2020

My Pandemic Paintings

The Pandemic has brought me down on my knees along with the world. It gave me time to face the empty canvases and fill them with colours. They have been waiting for two years for me to find some time. If it wasn't for something as big as a pandemic, life would have to go on and on, everyone claiming to be busy. 

Following are some of the painting I managed to complete in 2020. 

1. Buddha 

2. Phobjikha



3. Human Nature 1 (Wit and Wisdom)

4. Picaso Imitation (lol)

5. The Golden Girl, Taktsang and the Monkhood

6. Human Nature 2 

7. Four Friends



If I don't compile all of these and post it together like this, someday I won't be able to trace any of them. I don't have the original pictures of some of these paintings, let alone the original paintings. 

I want to write a longer narrative of these pieces but then I need to think harder and time longer, which will eventually lead me to abandon the idea. I am not going to wait for a better time or a story. 

30 August 2020

How to Self-Publish Your First Book (in Bhutan)

In 2003, I took the manuscript of my collection of 30 short stories and went to the two places I knew might help me in publishing it. I first went to Kuensel and then to DSB. It cost me all my pocket money to print two manuscripts, and both the places didn’t even read it, yet kept them. My idea of publishing was limited to them and it stopped there. I now understand that even they were limited by so many factors. They were not the true kind of publishers we heard of to expect anything. And I fear we still don’t that kind of a publisher. Therefore, I shall tell you about self-publishing. 

 

In 2018, during the Mountain Echoes Literature Festival, I was telling DSB how it broke my little heart when I didn’t get back my manuscript. He couldn’t believe that I came to him 16 years ago. He went back, dug into his storeroom and fished out the manuscript I submitted. 

 

That book could not be published. It’s been my dearest dream to print that book but somehow, I managed to publish another book. With the experience from publishing PaSsu Diary, my first book of selected posts from this blog, and several other books for friends, I have acquired the knowledge and confidence to publish books. I may finally publish my short stories any time this year.

 

In this post, I will use my experience to create a simple guide to self-publishing a book in Bhutan. I will do it as if I am explaining the process to my younger self back in 2003 so that it becomes of help to everyone who is aspiring to publish a book. 

 

WRITING & EDITING

Once you finished writing the book, start rewriting it. It’s said that good stories are not written, they are rewritten. You must hire a good editor to refine your book. Even the professional writers have to get their works edited by their editors. Stephen King said, “To write is human, to edit is Devine”  

 

It could cost you anywhere between Nu. 20,000 to Nu. 80,000 for a serious editor. But don’t worry, you could get your English teacher or someone who is strong in language to edit your work for free. 

TITLE & COVER

This process is about branding your book. For your book to be talked about or bought, way before the story is read and reviews written, it’s important for the book to carry a captivating title and cover. 

You can start off with a working title for the book while writing but once you have completed the story, consider naming the book all over again. Note that for a Bhutanese book to stand out with an identity of its own, always try to add some Bhutanese elements in the name and even the cover. 


 Cover Design: PaSsu Diary
Cover design (Jacket) with spine and Blurb  


The book cover is the face of the book and you must invest as much time in it as you did in writing the book. Seek help from artists, graphic designers and people who have experience in the field. Look for examples and show them to your designers to work out several drafts for you. 

Remember, a book with poor cover design can hardly sell because no matter what, people judge the book by its cover. Forgive them. 

LAYOUT & DESIGN 

Hire a graphic designer to design the layout of your book, this is when your book is transformed from MS Word format to PDF format on software like InDesign, in exact shape and size it will appear when printing. 


You must let the designer know the size you desire for the book. If you are not familiar with the standard dimensions of the book, take a book of desirable size and ask the designers to design your books like that.


Layout Design Sample, with Technical Page

Technical page and sample layout work done


Once you have your book layout done, then you know the number of pages and the exact amount of paper it will require. These details are required for the printing company to decide the cost of printing your book. 

 

Designing the layout of your book could cost you Nu. 10,000 to Nu. 20,000. Some printing company will do it pro bono since you are printing the book with them. 

COST OF PRINTING

The cost of printing a book is determined by the following factors;

 

  1. Paper quality
  2. Number of pages (after the layout is done)
  3. Color or B&W
  4. And the number of copies

 

To give you a rough idea, if you are printing a novel of 200 pages on a good quality paper, and you are printing 1000 copies of the novel, the printing house will quote approximately Nu.150 per copy, which means you need to pay Nu. 150,000 for printing the 1000 copies. 


However, if you are going for 2000 copies then the price per copy will drop from Nu.150 to somewhere around Nu. 110. So, you will be paying Nu. 220,000 for printing 2000 copies. That’s because the printing machines use a certain aluminium plate to transfer the image onto the papers, and when you increase the number of copies the cost of the plates gets divided further. If you are not interested in the technical details, just note that the printing cost per book reduces if we increase the number of copies. It’s more economical to print in bigger bulk but the risk is big too.

 

Once you know the cost of printing, then you can determine the price of your book. If you are paying Nu.150 per book, then let the price of your book be Nu.300, be gentle on the price, since it’s your first book. One day when you are popular then you could strike higher. 

 

Always print the price of your book on the back cover to ensure that your readers get the book at the price you set and that bookstores don’t charge higher than you intended. 


The cover page of the book will either have a separate cost (Nu. 5 per piece) or will come as a compliment with the book. This has to be agreed upon while negotiating. 

ISBN & BICMA No.

ISBN Number is issued by Centre for Bhutan Studies (CBS) in Bhutan. Go to their website and apply for ISBN number for your book by furnishing the online form with your book details or (download an actual form and emailing it to Mr Tashi Tshering at ttcering@gmail.com/ttshering@bhutanstudies.org.bt.

You will get it issued within a day or two. You don't have to pay for this service. 

 

Also, you need to get the publishing approval from BICMA. Print a dummy copy of your book and submit to BICMA along with the application form. You should get the approval certificate with BICMA number within a week or so. A Nu.1500 fee is charged.

BICMA Certificate for Book Publication
Certificate of Registration for Book Publication from BICMA


You have to put both the ISBN and BICMA number on the back-cover page along with MRP and also on the technical page of the book. Generate a bar code using the ISBN number and have it printed on the back cover. 


PaSsu Diary: Bar code, ISBN and Price of the book
Barcode and Price on the Back Cover

Once you have these details, you can wrap up the design and layout works and send the work to the printing house. 

Note: You must compulsorily deposit three copies of your book to the National ISBN Agency, the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research, and additionally 2 copies to National Library. 

PROOFREADING 

But wait, one last thing before sending for mass printing, send it for proofreading. This is the last chance for you to remove any error from the book, so get the copy proofread by someone who is good at it, preferably a fresh pair of eyes. If any error is spotted, you have to ask your designer to make the necessary corrections. 

Once all is done then you give green-flag to the printer, and they will take about a month to print your book and deliver it to you. 


LAUNCH and PROMOTION 

Once you receive the book from the printing press, organize a book launch ceremony. Invite people from media as guests. This is your opportunity to let the country know that you have published a book. Set up a bookstall somewhere and let the guest buy the book, let someone else sell the book for you. Arrange a corner for 'book signing', where you sign the book for the guest.

PaSsu Diary: Book Signing
Book Signing during the launch of PaSsu Diary

When this event is over, it's time for you to run for marketing, I know it's a little too undignified but the goal is to sell your book and there is no other way around unless you have someone else who will do it for you. Go to the bookstores and distribute the books and negotiate a percentage commission for them. They will ask anywhere between 20-30%. The tragedy is that you don't get paid upfront. They will pay you only when the books are sold, so it's important to keep you online promotion aggressive and send buyers to bookstores. 


For wider recognition and possible promotion, register your book on BOOKNESE, the online platform for Bhutanese books. They will help you stage your book in the circle of readers and get it discussed, besides marketing it online and distributing it to different dzongkhags through Bhutan Post. 


 

 NOTE: If you don't have the money to publish your book, then wait for my post on Crowdpublshing. 

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