Going it Alone


Harare – African writers, like musicians are being ripped off by publishers. They are working hard but with nothing to show for their efforts. To avoid being fleeced by publishing houses, writers can opt to self-publish.

The surge in self-publishing platforms has taken publishing from the confines of large publishing corporations into the hands of individuals.  Somewhat, it has thus ensured that wide variety of books are published by cancelling out those weird decisions some individuals set for themselves as to which book to publish and which not to. 

Self-publishing is “the act of publishing your work independently of an established publishing house”. Questions that beg for answers are, will self-publishing benefit or harm the writing industry of Africa? Will the increase in quantity move in tandem with the quality? Or will the quality be so much affected as to entirely discredit the works produced in such a manner? 

To answer effectively, it is critical to note Africa does not have the freedom of choice that much as the number of publishing firms which could churn out significant titles each year is scanty. 

Accordingly, to many African writers, self-publishing would present the easiest of routes towards authorship. In the words of bestseller and award winning suspense writer James Scott Bell, “In the digital world, an author can do just as much as a publisher can do.”

This means African writers must embrace self-publishing because it has all the benefits – one need not go shopping one’s manuscripts or shopping for agents. All one needs is a computer with an internet service and a lot of time.

Self-publishing costs are relatively inexpensive, sometimes free and it is great if authors only want to sell few copies of their works.  Furthermore, self-publishing is significant to writers since it offers fast, easy formatting, book design and other services to the author for a relatively low price.

Frankly, regular or traditional publishers in Africa normally do not do much for new authors. This makes self-publishing more attractive because all promotions are done by authors. 

David Carnoy, editor of CNET, an American technology media website that publishes reviews, news, articles, blogs, and podcasts on technology says self-publishing allows authors to keep their works the way they want them to be.

“Writers are not stuck into long term contracts, therefore, they can create e-books, articles for their websites, videos and booklets from their books’ contents without contractual repercussions,” remarks Carnoy. He adds: “Authors have options of taking their works elsewhere if they decide to. 

“They can take their works from self-publishing at any time if they also decide later on to try to publish them the traditional route.”  Self-publishing is therefore healthy for the publishing industry because writers can put out second editions of their books at a faster pace.  However, being a self-publisher has its hardships. 

Blogger Nana Fredua-Agyeman says, “A self-published author who falls into the problem of poorly-edited book will see a significantly reduced patronage of his or her next book to the extent that he or she might completely fall out of the scene, entirely.”

The writer needs some financial outlay to self-publish a professional looking book and if the book fails to sell, there is no one to blame but the author of the work.  However, for the adventurous, sales-minded writer, self-publishing may be the best of all possible worlds.

November 2013
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