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. 


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 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?

26 December 2019

How Better School Toilets Can Influence Better Public Toilet

Condition of Public toilets of a country is a perfect reflection of its school toilets. We cannot pretend to be surprised to see a scandalising public toilet when we haven’t paid attention to school toilets, where the foundation is built. As is school toilet, so shall public toilet be.

Considering the conditions of school toilets during our school days in the ’90s, we have come a long way but in comparison to the outside world, we are nowhere. There are some school toilet that could infect you just by looking at their pictures, and you can imagine children using them. I personally conclude that the cleanliness of school toilet depends absolutely on the cleanliness of the school leadership.

It’s not the lack of facility but the misuse and negligence of the facility, which can be attributed to a general lack of social ethics in the culture of the school

"The Culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”-Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker
At home, everyone knows they need to flush after using the toilet, that shoving a solid thing down the toilet would cause blockage, and that when the toilet door is falling apart one needs to nail it back or tell someone to do it, but what happens to that sense of responsibility when a child comes to school? Where does it disappear? What makes them so carefree and mindless? 

Signing MoU with Ministry of Education

This can be best explained as herd mentality, wherein we see that even a well-behaved child tends to be as mindless as the rest of the students. Basically, it’s a crowd of good youths not being good enough collectively. It usually happens among animals and turns out we are animals too. But the good news is that we can influence that herd mentality and turn things around just by influencing a small part of of the group. Five per cent to be precise. And that’s perhaps what we call the building of culture. We focus on the golden five per cent. We have hope. 

However, we need better toilets to make the new beginning but looking at the condition of toilets in schools across the country, we seemed to need a lot of time and lot of money just to set the stage for a new beginning. We can neither afford that much time nor have that amount of money. Therefore, we needed a smart solution to upgrade the old toilets, in record time and at the lowest cost possible. On top of that, the toilet must be resilient enough to withstand the misuse and survive to see the rise of new toilet culture. 

That’s when SATO technology came into the picture. It was the silver bullet we found. Bhutan Toilet Org partnered with UNICEF Bhutan and Ministry of Education to upgrade all old school toilet by 2020 end. From the data available from five Dzongkhag’s we have completed, we are looking at close to 3000 units of toilets at Nu.9 million. This would have cost government over Nu. 240 million if done in a conventional way. 

By the end of 2020, we are expecting to get rid of all pit latrines and aqua privy toilets from the school and have equity in terms of toilet facility across all schools. That’s when we shall see the beginning of a complete shift in the herd mentality. If this goes according to the plan, then in the next five to ten years, public toilets across the country will be in perfect conditions even without caretakers. 

Once school toilet is upgraded, the first great step schools can take toward building good toilet culture in school is by letting teacher share toilet with the students. 

SATO technology is donated to Bhutan Toilet Org by Lixil Japan through Junior Chamber International (JCI). 

03 November 2019

I Lied in 1988

I have only a few fragmented memories from my early childhood. It’s said that you remember those moments for certain reasons, buried deep within our subconscious mind. One such memory is of my friend Pempu. He was the first best friend I had in my life. We went to Gyensa Pry School together in 1988. I was 5 and he must have been a few years older. 
My First Best Friend Pempu. I owe him an apology. 
A senior from our village, Achu Rinzi, locked us inside an abandoned BHU during our exams and we had to repeat PP together. From the next year, we refused to be kidnapped during our exams and I did well in exams year after year but Pumpu repeated PP several times and realised school was not for him. We went on to help his father who was a rich nopoen (Yak header of Dasho Lampon). That’s how our journey parted.

During my Young Professional Leadership Program (YPLP) at RIGSS, Dr. Adrian Chan gave us a seemingly simple exercise to draw a Personal Event Timeline. It was to dig deep into our memories and record those events that had some sort of lasting impact. He believed that an unexamined life is not worth living. 

In deep silence we were to travel back in time and note down those impactful events from our life: 
  1. What was it? When did it happen? 
  2. Why was it impactful then?
  3. What have you learnt from it...?
Wow, it was intense. I never thought it would be so emotional to evaluate something that has become a part of the past a long time ago. There were some seven events that made me slow down and take notes on my swift walk down the memory lane. I hope to blog about them all gradually. 
Pempu During 2017 Yangto Bongko

The very first memory was of Pempu. I saw myself waiting for Pempu to come out and play with me after we returned from school. My mother was not home so I was still in my school uniform. He did not come out. I made our usual code sounds but he showed no sign of coming out. 

I was lonely and upset, and thinking of ways to take revenge on him. I still don’t know why I didn’t just go in and play with him in his house. The next moment I saw myself climbing on the stonewall of his kitchen garden to get his attention. That was when I stepped on a loose rock and the stonewall came crumbling down with me. My big toenail was gone and it was bleeding badly. I cried as loudly as anyone could hear but no one heard me. I limped my way home and fell asleep at foot of the ladder. 

“Lama kheno, look what’s happen to my son.” My mother's loud cry woke me up and I began to cry again. She asked what happen and before I knew I had said, “Pempu did this to me.”
My exhausted mother, who has just returned from the field carried me on her back and stormed towards Pempu’s house. 

“Chimi Gyamuuuu..... Kaka Tsheriiiiii... come out and see what your son has done to my child.” My mother screamed from outside Pempu’s house. The whole village would have heard it. 

The whole of Pempu’s family looked out of their window, shocked. “Pempu didn’t even go out after he reached home.” Aum Chimi, his mother, shouted back as a matter of fact but my mother was so furious and went on cursing them. They defended Pempu for sometime and after a while, they were convinced that he must have sneaked out without their knowledge. I could see him being dragged away from the window by his father, who is known for his bad temper. Then I heard my revenge, some thud sounds and his deep bear-like cry. 

I could almost see the look of evil on my face as I recollect that event. I was five. How did I even do it! We must have made it up the next day despite our parents warning us not to be friends anymore. And over the years I thought the event had faded out but during the exercise, in deep silence, the event played in front of my eyes like it happened yesterday, and more dramatically I could see myself in the third person. 

That’s when I realised that guilt from 1988 has lived with me for all these years, because otherwise why would I remember it so vividly when I can’t remember any other thing from the ’80s. I think, perhaps that event must have shaped me into an honest person that I am now- considering the burden of guilt I had to carry to this day. 

And yes, this has helped me become a smart teacher and parent who adores children for their cuteness and innocence but won’t rule out their capability to lie and manipulate the truth.  

I owe Pempu an apology but I think he won’t even remember, it’s me with whom I have to make peace.