Faheem Bhat | Literary Entrepreneur rewriting rules of publishing in Kashmir

Last year when author turned entrepreneur Faheem Bhat decided to start a publishing house in Kashmir the challenges looked enormous and prospects gloomy. Though the market is virgin, yet working in a place like Kashmir was full of obstacles. “There were host of issues ranging from lack of good infrastructure including quality printing press to lack of even a decent readership,” said Faheem Bhat 20. “But we were prepared for the challenge and thus Lieper Publication was born.”

Barely months into the business, Lieper Publications hit the trajectory of growth that no other publishing house has seen in Kashmir in recent times. With huge social media presence and intelligent promotion of books appealing the younger generation, Lieper got the knack of the market. Authors started pouring in with their manuscripts and the end product had decent sales too.

The unique thing about this self publishing house turned out to be its flexible packages, which it offers the authors. In a traditional publishing house, it is the publisher who pays the author for the book, but in a self publishing house, it is the author who pays to get his book published.

“We never sweet talk with authors. We have certain packages from lowest averaging Rs 16000 to highest which we offer to authors. The choose whatever they wish and we give equal commitment to every package,” said Faheem CEO of Lieper Publication. “The royalty to authors is 100 percent. If an author witnesses sale of 1 lakh copies, he or she will earn equal amount. Everything is transparent.” Some of the authors like Dr Henana Barjes and Shuja Tasleem have seen good revenue from their books, thanks to the royalty model.

With packages that suit even a person from a lower middle class income group, the otherwise shy and poor authors got a boost of confidence. An author from Peer Panchal region came all the way to his office recently just to sign agreement for a book and left. Similarly another person doing menial jobs saved the amount and went on to publish his dream book. “We have so many stories to tell. Every author is a story,” said Faheem.

After the stupendous success, which saw almost one book release every week, the publishing house changed it tagline from “We turn writers into Author’s” into “Kashmir’s first and fast growing self publishing house”. It happened just in nine months. At present they have published 33 books.

Most of the books are fiction followed by books in other genre. Though English is dominant language in majority of books, but the house has also published books in Urdu and a book in Kashmiri is in pipeline.

“One of the biggest challenge of working in Kashmir is the lack of readers. If you ask me I would say that we have readership rate of just 8 percent. We may have literacy rate higher than that but people don’t read. Of the 8 percent majority are urdu readers and 3 percent read western literature. Now that leaves us with small space to work with,” said Faheem. “So there are two ways either we have to work in that narrow space or try to expand that space. We are trying on both fronts.”

The books they have published are also doing anything from very good. One of the biggest success stories has been the The Mahzur by Dr Henana Berjes. The books has received tremendous response from readers not only in Kashmir but outside too. Among the 118541 paid books on Amazon India, The Mahzur is currently on rank 2009 in anthologies category and 7840 in contemporary fiction category on Amazon India. It is doing good even in UK market. People have been loving the fiction and the reviews are equally great. The book set in a middle eastern country has raised bar for Kashmiri authors.

A unique thing about the publishing house has been its encouragement of teens and even children to write books. Of the 33 authors which the house has published 25 are below 20 years of age. The youngest is Gowhar Mubarak who is just 14.

Faheem himself is an accomplished author whose fiction Wandering for Love was released in 2017. The fantasy book is a story  about Fenin, a reckless young man, and the journey of his transformation from a carefree person to one who loses his faith in reality. Fenin’s whole world is turned upside down on meeting Arabella. Without even realising it, he falls in love with her. However, Arabella, due to certain of her beliefs, can’t reciprocate his feelings. Upon rejection, Fenin becomes detached from everyone.  “He finds solace in books. He becomes obsessed with them and reads about fictitious worlds all day. This behaviour of Fenin makes his parents worried. One day, all of a sudden, he finds himself living the life he always wanted. His life becomes a fairy tale, and he enjoys every second of it. This new life of Fenin violates the principle of possibility. But how did his life change? Can imagination affect reality? Is ‘impossible’ just a word in the dictionary? These are some of the questions answered in the book,” the description of the book on Amazon reads.

Wandering for love was one of the fast selling books in 2016 to 2017 across India. The success brought following on social media, new connections and a key to further success. The book got 4.8 out of 5 stars in its customer reviews on amazon.

The love for writing made Faheem to ditch his engineering degree that would have made him a software engineer.  The book was a huge success in comparison with other writers of same league.  “As people particularly youngsters saw my success, there was sort of encouragement in air. Many authors approached me to enquire how to publish their books and how this industry works. At that time it was evident that people with deep pockets could easily get their work published and rest struggled. I got the idea to start a self publishing house to meet this demand. It took almost six months for me do research in the market as I knew nothing about it,” said Faheem. “We carefully planned everything keeping a watch on every variable.”

Lieper’s strength has been its social media presence. Its Instagram page has crossed 10000 in a year and they are now applying for blue tick. Its blog is widely read and very blog gets readership of around 6000. “No self publishing house has social media presence as like us in entire India. We opt number of small strategies like keeping address of our Instagram page Delhi during promotions to reach wider audience. It is continuous improvisation, ” said Faheem. “And investing in social media has brought us benefits. Now we are even going national. Very soon we are launching a book by an author from Lucknow. ”  Then there are open mic events organised by youth wherein authors from Lieper interact with readers at cafes.

In addition to being available on e platform like Amazon, Faheem also started courier service to cater to the needs of hard cover loving readers. The company has 24 hour delivery commitment in Srinagar. Working in Kashmir has its own period and Faheem is aware of the consequences. The publishing house usually avoids political books and even conflict is wetted.

“The future looks equally bright. If a person has a clearer vision and gives 100 percent commitment then success is not far away. We have few more collaborations in mind and even are on the lookout of international authors. We want to make Lieper a brand from Kashmir that has global audience,” said Faheem content with the fastest growing tag in an industry that is struggling to cope up with declining reading trends and online onslaught.