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A few years ago, here in Paris, I met one of the most memorably optimistic and entrepreneurial people I’ve met in my life. Nick Booker-Soni’s English, but he’d been living in Delhi for years, where he and his wife run a business called Indogenius.
I knew I’d just met someone who saw the world in an unusual way from his reaction when I mentioned I lived in Istanbul. “Istanbul?” he said. “We just visited. First time! But you know, we were a bit disappointed. Just not that much history there.” No one had ever said that to me before. Was that supposed to be dry British wit? A “Boston’s not a big college town” kind of joke? I looked at his face. He was dead serious.
So I asked a few questions, and pretty soon I realized I was speaking the first person ever to lament that Istanbul lacks in history, the first Westerner since the 1930s to believe that the key to the mysteries of the scientific world lay in the Rig Veda, and the only profoundly optimistic Westerner I’d met since the 2008.
This is Nick’s introduction to India, and it’s also a pretty good introduction to Nick:
He’s absolutely persuaded that India is the new land of opportunity for Americans. I was a bit doubtful, as I’m sure you are. But he invited me to see it for myself. And so I did. I was sufficiently intrigued that I pitched an article about it to City Journal.
I was a lot more persuaded by Nick’s optimism than I expected to be.
I wound up writing a book about it. Now, I wasn’t supposed to do that. I’d been asked for an article of 4,000 words. But it was impossible. I just couldn’t say everything I thought at a minimum should be said about a country of 1.3 billion people and why Nick might be right.
So I’ve had the book sitting on my computer for a while, unpublished. I figured conservative publishers wouldn’t be interested in a book about India — for them, that’s a left-wing hippie book. Mainstream publishers wouldn’t be interested in a book about Indian entrepreneurialism, innovation, and private medical care — for them, that’s a right-wing radical kook book. Just no niche for a book about the entrepreneurialism and ingenuity of the Indian middle-class. It doesn’t fit neatly into any publisher’s idea of “a bestseller.”
Publishers tend to like this kind of book about India: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. That’s deservedly successful, by the way. It’s riveting and beautifully written. I recommend it highly. What’s frustrating, though, is that there’s more to India than poverty, injustice, and telegenic suffering. There’s a reason the venture capital’s flying to India these days. It’s the wildest West in the world.
It didn’t occur to me just to publish it myself until I saw how enthusiastic people were about Brave Old World, which I haven’t even written yet. I figured by self-publishing Screw the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Pleasant, Middle Class, Gated Community in Delhi I’d at least learn something about how to format and design a book for Kindle, how to package it, and how to do it without editors, copy-editors, graphic designers, publishers, and a sales force.
I have to say I miss them a bit. If a major publishing house buys your book, it tells you that at least one other person with a personal, financial interest in the book’s success thought it was interesting. I’ve got no idea whether anyone but me will find this book interesting. I’d feel much more confident in saying, “Buy this book!” if I knew that someone who buys books all day for a living had already read it and decided, “This is a winner.”
On the other hand, publishing this way allows me set the price really low. I’d rather sell it for $.99, which is roughly what I’d pay to buy a random book on Kindle about India, but Amazon won’t let me publish it for less than $2.99. Maybe that’s low enough to be in the impulse, “what the heck” zone. Especially if people have already got one-click set up.
I just saw that Nick gave a TED talk about India. You’ll be able to see pretty quickly why we he and I hit it off:
If you’re interested, I’m sure he’d be delighted to join us for a discussion about India on Ricochet. Shall I invite him?
If you buy the book, would you give me your thoughts? Do you think things like this are interesting enough to publish? I’ve got volumes of similar stuff sitting on my computer. I could publish many more books like this; they’re basically already written.
Does it seem as well-produced as a Kindle book published by one of the commercial majors? If not, why not? Is the editing up to snuff? Did the cover appeal?
Any other suggestions?