In The Nation of Tuesday, December 15 2015, there was an article titled “Is self-publishing the way to go?” below it was a photograph of Professor Felix Mnthali with a caption; “self-publishing is the way to go now.”
This view has taken time to hold in the minds of some authors, established or budding. It is one of my regrets as an author that I did not take the example of late Aubrey Kalitera, who was engaging in self-publishing and marketing as far back as the 1980s.
There is prejudice against self-publishing. As in most cases bias is grounded in ignorance of the necessary facts. There are those who feel that since he published the book himself, it must have been unworthy of a publisher’s investment; publishers rejected it because it was not a marketable product. But conventional publishers do not always make the right decisions.
In a book “How to get happily published” by Judith Appelbaum and Nancy Enas, we are given a list of some of the famous authors who first published their own works and were taken on by conventional publishers later after their first books had proved them right on the market. Among these authors were Thomas Paine, William Blake, Washington Irving, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain.
The two authors are American, they concentrate on American examples. From the British side we may add Jane Austen who self published what was to become one of the most enduring classics in English language. I am talking of Pride and Prejudice. The most famous economist of the 20th century John Maynard Keynes, an English man, first got the attention of the world with a book he published by himself called Economic Consequences of the Peace. It built his name overnight. Whatever he wrote thereafter, the public eagerly sought and read.
Long ago, I was in the habit of sending my manuscripts to British publishers, one of them was said to be receiving at least a hundred unsolicited manuscripts annually. The firm would only publish five of these. That means ninety five percent were rejected not because all these were bad, but because the publisher’s budget could not accommodate them. Some of the rejected ones turned out to be best sellers when the authors sent them to other publishers.
Self-help as an author is better than self-pity. This self-help should take the form of self publishing.
I have some of my books published by local publishers. They have shown common traits which have compelled me to start publishing the books under the imprint of my own company. Because they have spent their money printing your book they take it that it is their book and handle the matter of royalties perfunctorily. They do not tell you how many copies they have printed. They may issue royalty statements for two or three years and then suddenly stop without explaining why. Once the book is printed they do market it, thinking it is enough they have put it in a bookshop. This weakness they share with the Malawi Writers Union (Mawu). If they decide to discontinue publishing it they do not inform the author or surrender their rights so that the author, if he so wishes, may find an alternative publisher.
With all the four local publishers, I have dealt with, I doubt if all the royalties due to me have been remitted. In such circumstances self-publishing is an option.
But you must have the capital. The costs of getting a book printed and marketed are enormous. This is especially so if the printer insists you must settle the bill in full before he or she releases the production. Where do you find the money since banks and other creditors are unwilling to provide credit unless you offer your urban house as collateral.
To be an author, what you write must be published. When published, the book should be marketed. Authors, publishers and book sellers in Malawi complain that the reading public is too small and yet they do not promote a reading culture. The chicken and egg riddle is at work here. Which comes first, readers or books?
A month before late Bingu wa Mutharika died, he told me at Sanjika Palace that overseas publishers are reluctant to publish biographies and autobiographies of African presidents. For this reason he went on to say, upon retirement, he was going to set up a publishing house for the benefit of Malawian writers. The devil intervened, Malawian authors lost a potential patron.
I strongly feel that Mawu could do more to support established writers, who want to be published and promote their work. n