From brick and mortar to pages and ink

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By Frederick Noronha

THIS IS such an unusual, optimistic, upbeat story that it almost sounds too good to be true. But when Gerard da Cunha, the Godhra-born architect of Goan origin, sheds his inhibitions and tells you the story of his forays into publishing, the candour of his tale hits you hard. You had better believe it!

The other day, Cunha did the same at the PublishingNext 2013 conference in Goa. He’s a man who has achieved a lot in the field of architecture nationwide, and therefore it comes as a surprise that he’s covered so much ground in publishing too.

“Being an architect, practising in Goa, about 12-14 years ago, I felt it was my duty to come out with a book on Goan architecture. So very idealistically, I started writing the book. I got co-authors in place, and a photographer. Then I tried to look for a publisher. I had spent a lot of money already, a lot of effort. Others said it was not feasible. It would take two years to do, and if we could find some sponsors, then it might work out.”

Gerard came back to Goa, completely disappointed, as he puts it, and started contacting the printers. Gerard points to his slick coffee-table book ‘Houses of Goa’ that resulted from all this effort. But, we’re moving ahead of ourselves in the story.

Some 4000 copies would cost Rs 18 lakh, he was told by the printers. Co-incidentally, he got sponsorship for an exhibition on the same topic. He says he offered the book — “I didn’t even have a dummy at that time” — at the exhibition. While its price would be Rs 1400 after publication, his pre-print offer was a sharply discounted Rs 875 (or even less, for bulk orders). “With no book around, I sold about 300 copies of this book,” recalls Gerard, with a mild chuckle.

He then started going to corporate houses and hotels. He managed 1300 bookings for the book. For the remaining money, he mortgaged his wife’s school, and printed the book, he adds. “It was enormously successful. I printed 4000, and then sold two more rounds of 2000 each.”

The book is now out of print.

With just one book under his belt, he went to the Frankfurt book fair, and found distributors for Portugal and England. But distributors in Bombay told him the book wouldn’t sell. “You should have put beaches in it. You should have put food in,” they told him, as “Goa means beaches and food”.

So, as Gerard says, he stayed off the publishing network. Nonetheless, this was the start of his publishing career, a very successful one too.

A little later, he encountered the author Manohar Mulgaonkar, who since passed away. He and noted cartoonist Mario Miranda had done a book called ‘Inside Goa‘, for the government in 1982. They wanted to re-write the book, and requested him to do it.

He tried pre-publication sales. It wasn’t very successful this time round though, Gerard admits frankly. “I printed 7000 copies this time. I’m the guy who prints a lot,” he jokes. After 10 years, he still has some copies left.

But there were other successes on the way.

Next, Goa’s most noted cartoonist-illustrator Mario de Miranda approached him and requested Gerard to “do a book on me”. This was around 2005. Gerard says he responded, “I’d love to do a book on you.” But Mario himself had second thoughts, and felt he was not “good enough” to have a book written on. This went on this way for awhile.

Finally Gerard went in for an exhibition, and put up the main pages of the Mario book on the board. He sold 8000 books. Including corporate sales, pre-publication. “I sold about 2000 to individuals. These were people who would not even buy books otherwise. They were getting it so cheaper, so they probably thought that for the next 10 years their supply of wedding gifts would be met. People like bargains. And they like things when they’re not out. Once the books are out, it’s there (and they’re not interested as much).”

He then brought out a five-book series of Mario. “But you can’t use the same trick of pre-publication sales all the time,” he adds.

In the meantime, the architect was onto frequent travels to Japan, and was invited for programmes there for some three years in a row. There, he was presented with a book entirely in Japanese, called ‘The Architecture of the Indian Sub-Continent‘. “It was the best guide on India on architecture, but all in Japanese. I got the rights of this book, got it translated and got it out,” he adds.

Says Gerard: “This has been my journey. I’ve done 12 books so far, and do a book every year or two. I’m not very experienced (with the printing or technical aspects of the trade), and use only one printer. I only use one printer, and am not very into this aspect. I never print less than 5000 books. I have to sell 3000 copies just to make up my money, so I might as well print more than 3000, no?”

Gerard sees himself as being successful, and selling about 6000 books every year, including some diaries. His books are priced between Rs 395 and Rs 2700, that’s what h is most expensive book costs. “That’s my story…,” says he.

“No, no. I don’t want to become a full-fledged publisher. I’m an architect and somehow got drawn into this,” says Gerard. But he concedes that it’s a “very compelling” field.

“When you do a building it’s so much more difficult; you have so many people bossing you around. Someone saying ‘I don’t like the colour of the carpet, make it pink. Then something comes out crooked, and you have to check. You’re responsible for everything. When you do a book, you’re just doing a book. When I started work, I started in a ‘pucca’ manner, where I had a designer. I now do the design of the book myself, because I’m a designer essentially. Then I sit with a DTP (desk-top publisher) operator, and we do it about three times. By the third time, I’ve probably got it right.”

“Once I sit on it, the final thing I bring out very fast. In a building, a plumber can’t finish the work unless the electrician has come. Here, he finds it quite simple,” he says, placing together the unusual story of the architect turned accidental publisher!


3 thoughts on “From brick and mortar to pages and ink

  1. Thank you for this piece – Architechture of the … is one of my favourite travel books – I always assumed it was a Japanese publisher – such a pleasure to find it was printed right here in Goa.

    1. You’re welcome, Gouthami. Pleasure to get your feedback. Gerard is a friend, and someone whose work I admire. During the recent PublishingNext event in September 2013 in Goa, I got a chance to learn all these details from one of his talks. So I thought I’d share it online. See and something earlier:

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