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 them 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 have heard of to expect anything. And I fear we still don’t have that kind of a publisher. Therefore, I shall tell you about self-publishing. 


In 2018, during the Mountain Echoes Literature Festival, I told 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That book could not be published.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 published 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 to help everyone who is aspiring to publish a book. 



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 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. 


This process is about branding your book. For your book to be discussed or bought, way before the story is read and reviews wrote, the book needs 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 its own identity, 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 people judge the book by its cover no matter what. Forgive them. 


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, 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. 


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


ISBN Number is issued by the Centre for Bhutan Studies (CBS) in Bhutan. Go to their website and apply for an 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 it to BICMA along with the application form. You should get the approval certificate with the 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 on the book's technical page. 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. 


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 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, you give the green flag to the printer, and they will take about a month to print your book and deliver it to you. 


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 guests buy the book, but let someone else sell the book for you. Arrange a corner for 'book Signing', where you sign the book for the guests.

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 your 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, wait for my post on Crowdpublshing. 

26 August 2020

Unlocking Life Under Lockdown

In the beginning, it seemed quite unfair on my part to stay at home and not be part of the team that goes out to do something more significant to help the government in our fight against the pandemic but over the days it is made clear to us that the act of staying home is a big service. It's strange that absolute inaction could be an excellent action, but this is part of the new normal.

When Nationwide lockdown was announced on 11th August, I panicked about the big consignment of SATO toilet pans that were stranded in Phuntsholing due to tax bureaucracy. It could have easily reached Thimphu way before the lockdown if it wasn't for some obvious bottleneck. I panicked about the much delayed Toilet Ambassadors' Conference that was finally scheduled this month. We were one day behind sending out the invitations to our participants. 

The first two days went into assessing everything that's been disrupted by the lockdown. By the third day, I began to read a book and reflect on everything that's been disrupted by the pandemic. I started listening to audiobooks on Audible while jogging in my room, all the while appreciating how the lockdown was decided because of a lady, and that she hasn't spread the virus to anyone. She rather came ahead like a message to save us from a real threat, much like the first case in the country, the American man who brought us the message to close our borders and to make serious preparation. 

I began counting the blessings, mine and my family's, and that of every Bhutanese born in the warmth of His Majesty's compassionate leadership. I set a writing table outside on the veranda to edit short stories manuscript that's been collecting dust since 2003. 

One audible program I listened during an hour-long exercise helped me reorganize my blog and reconstruct my outlook on blogging. Next time I talk to young bloggers, I have more ideas to share. More than that I want to share with them of our luck in having the universe conspire so beautifully in giving us a doctor as the Prime Minister and an epidemiologist as the Health Minister. They fought two battles with mastery; one with the virus on the medical front and the other on the social front in dealing with people, rumours, misinformation, fake news, fear, oh you name it. The world would have been in a much better position had they had leaders like ours. 

I explored places on Google Maps and started adding and editing places, at the same time visiting interesting places like Doklam and checking how far the Chinese roads have come, visiting hundreds of lakes along the northern frontiers and checking which one is the biggest. As level 8 Google Local Guide I have added hundreds of places and reviews and thousands of pictures on the map, at the same time encouraging youth to try Maps rather than PUBG or Mobile Legends. If we have all our places accurately added on maps, then in times like this when we have to do home delivery of essential items, we could do it efficiently using an app. 

I have managed to use the pen tool in Photoshop to draw shapes and paths and explore the iMovie deeper to help edit my daughter's show better. You could see I have made a logo for Ninzi Show on Photoshop and used it in iMovie to add in her shows. We worked on a new episode to share with families likes ours during the lockdown, to help the parents engage their children in meaningful activities just like I have been doing with my daughter. In Ninzi Show, my daughter is not merely acting for the show, she is showing what she had learned. It would be a shame to come out of the lockdown without having learnt a new skill or polished an old one. 

It will be a shame also to keep any canvas from last years still empty, so I am doing a little bit of painting here and there, experimenting concepts and emulating art masters Asha Kama. My daughter likes it when I settle in the painting room because she loves colours and does a lot with them. 

In teaching my daughter the following household chores, my wife and I learned patience and in recording and editing the show I explored the art of videography to a new depth. Like all of you out there, I want the lockdown to end sooner, not based on sentiments but based on science, however, should it go on for a little longer time then I have plans for unlocking more potential within me and my family. 

3. How to Fold Clothes

2. How to Cook Rice in the Cooker


1. How to Make Tea

The lockdown may be proving to be difficult for different groups of people for different reasons, therefore it's important for us to reach out and help in every way possible without judgement. It may be a good restful holiday for some while it could be overwhelming isolation and loneliness for others, not everyone is equally strong but we could be there for each other, showing how to see the light. 

18 August 2020

8 Questions for an Aspiring Bhutanese Entrepreneur

When I was invited to talk to a group of young entrepreneurs at the “I’m an Entrepreneur” event last year in Thimphu, I had to stay up late into the night thinking of what to talk about because my regular subjects weren’t going to make any sense to the entrepreneurial audience. 

Young Bhutanese Entrepreneurs with Lyonpo Lok Nath
Bhutanese Entrepreneur with Lyonpo Loknath at RIM

So, I came up with a list of 8 questions a Bhutanese Entrepreneur must ask himself or herself, which is a compilation of bits and pieces of wisdom I have gathered from my encounters with successful entrepreneur friends, books, talks and from my own experience of founding and running Bhutan Toilet Org.

Despite several suggestions from the young entrepreneurs in the audience that day to rewrite my talk into an article, I didn’t get the right time or motivation to do it till today. The lockdown has given me a long and quiet time to catch up on the things I have missed, this being one. And I also thought if I shared this during the lockdown, chances of you reading it wholeheartedly and contemplating it is greater.

One of the organizers came to me after my talk and said, “Acho, I felt like you were talking about all the mistakes I have made.” I had to assure him that these were general theories that are often overlooked and that’s how we land up making the same mistakes;

Following are the 8 questions, in no particular order, an aspiring entrepreneur or a new entrepreneur must ask him/herself to ensure that they don’t have to make the same old mistakes people ahead of us made.

1.     Are you ready to start a business?