The pain, tears and realities of publishing

CA Week  8 posterA few years ago, I was determined to teach Stan Gazemba’s The Stone Hills of Maragoli in my East African literature class. I could not get the book on the shelves. A colleague of mine, who knew the publisher personally, called the publisher in my presence. I was asked how many copies I needed and they would be delivered. They never were.

For a moment we were tempted to use bootleg copies, but (un)fortunately for me, this friend who knew the publisher was also a member of KOPIKEN, so I was given a small lecture on respecting the rights of the writer and publisher.

I didn’t get a copy of the book until its reprint by Kwani?.

Many writers who’ve facilitated Creatives Academy have similar stories. Of manuscripts that took three years to be published. Of editing that wasn’t properly done. Of lack of publishers’ interest in your book because it is not a text book. Or even if one does get a publisher, marketing the book remains the writer’s job. Unless one writes a book endorsed by KICD for schools, chances are that you will sell your book much faster than your publisher or the bookshops will. Most publishers, and almost all bookshops, sit pretty and wait for teachers and schools to force parents to buy their books.

And so writing and publishing become not the income earner, but the tool to earn the income. Apart from those who write regularly for magazines, most writers we have hosted say that their income comes from speaking at forums in which they expound the content of their book. As Bonnie Kim, a motivational speaker told us, when you speak well, your audience will want to be left with a piece of you. And that’s where you sell your books.

Others just opt to skip the publishers and publish online.

As you can imagine, many people feel let down by publishers. But publishers too, have their side of the story. In our session with Muthoni Garland of Storymoja and Shiro Marima of Phoenix Publishers, we also heard that publishers need to pay bills, and if, as Muthoni said, the greatest determiner of book sales is the teacher, then publishers have to listen to the textbook market. Some manuscripts are so poorly written and finished, it would take too many resources to edit.

Have publishers done their fair duty to society?

Musyoki Muli, CEO of Longhorn says they have, and that there can be a more amicable relationship between publishers and writers. But from the business side, they also have their challenges. That’s why this Saturday promises to be an engaging conversation in which we can take Mr. Muli to task on those issues, strengthened by the experiences of the two other panelists, Stan Gazemba and of Alex Nderitu who has published digitally. The discussion will be moderated by Zikiswa Wanner, a South African writer who has made some poignant observations about the publishing culture in Kenya.

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