Neetu Singh never thought that the poems she wrote for fun for her Instagram followers would end up as a book. The Muzaffarnagar-based lecturer began writing poetry to relieve the stress and isolation she felt during the first national lockdown to prevent the spread of covid-19. On the insistence of her 15-year-old son, she began an Instagram account in June 2020. “I would write my poems on my phone and show them to my son. It was he who motivated me to self-publish my poems as a book,” says Singh, 44. “There is a sense of achievement and satisfaction.”
Over the last couple of years, companies that help people self-publish their work have reported a rise in poets wanting to publish books. At Notion Press, a self-publishing company in Chennai, about 300-400 established, amateur and aspiring poets, who have presence on Instagram, have been approaching them every month to self-publish work from India and abroad, the company claims. Poetry is a growing market for the company, Notion Press founder Navin V says. “I call it the Rupi Kaur effect. She and other poets like her have become brand ambassadors for closeted poets. Many are short poems or haiku,” he says. While most of the poets write in English and Hindi, Marathi and Malayalam are gaining traction.
For poets who have gained fame on Instagram, being published provides a stamp of authentication and helps create a distinct identity. “Having an Instagram account definitely adds to the poet’s brand and reach. Generally, physical distribution of self-published books, especially poetry, is difficult. But some poets have made it, with bookstores requesting copies,” says Syed Arshad, founder, Blue Rose Publishers in Delhi. Overall, there has been a spike in people wanting to publish either their own work or works of their family members across genres.
Unlike traditional publishing houses which handle all the costs and manage distribution, sales and marketing, self-publishing companies charge the writer according to the number of books printed. The printing cost is often included in the MRP of the book. Self-publishing houses print on demand--as and when someone places an order for for a title, they print and ship a copy. A few offer marketing and design services as well.
The sales of these self-published books depends on various factors -- how well they are able to market it, brand building, how engaging their content is . On average, only 20% of self-published writers and poets are able to break through and do well. “The rest are figuring out how to succeed. In poetry, it’s a slow growth over time,” says Ahiraj Pratap, senior digital marketing strategist at Notion Press.
Bengaluru-based pothi.com, a self-publishing and print-on-demand company, has seen an increase in all genres including poetry. “At least 20% of the books we publish are poetry. Individuals compile their own work, or works of their family members,” says Pratibha Rajasekar, publishing advisor at pothi.com.
Financial advisor and café owner from Kolkata Vickey Uppal, 37, whose Instagram handle is @poetbymistake, says publishing a book helped him gain new readers as well as gives his online followers another way to engage with his work.
“Since you spend so much time and effort creating the content, you need to think of ways to set yourself apart. With a book, your followers know who is behind this content. Being a published author helps create an identity online,” he says. Uppal’s haikus are based on the themes of love, heartbreak, healing and motivation, which resonates with college students and people in their 20s. He has about 70,000 followers. Currently working on his second book, Uppal spends at least three hours a day on Instagram to engage with readers.
Since Instagram is a visual medium that allows users to experiment with the “look and feel” of posts, many like to retain that in the books as well. “They’re used to creating eye-catching posts for social media, and use a similar layout for their books,” says Navsangeet Kaur Batth, director of Chandigarh-based self-publishing firm White Falcon Publishing. She too has noticed a surge in Insta poets wanting physical proof of their work. “There is an increase in the number of people expressing themselves through poetry on Instagram and feeling encouraged to publish their collection of illustrated posts with poems as a book,” she says.
Once the book is out, the poets market it on Instagram as well. “In fact, poets who have something to offer beyond the content they put on Instagram are the people who make it. The reader has something beyond the phone,” says Ahiraj.