Thursday, 28 January 2016

Dear debutante author

I thought, after speaking to a former colleague and a friend about my experiences while publishing my first book, that I should write this piece and maybe you will find it helpful.

First, I wish to put things in context… I have been a reader for leisure from my early teens. I never even thought about becoming an author. Some books I would find tedious or annoying because of the way the author would focus on describing the scenery and after all that, there would be nothing about the narration that makes this loquacious elocution significant in the events that unfold after it. I would often say to myself that, if I became a writer, I would avoid this altogether or reduce it to the bare minimum.

My journey as a writer started long ago, but in those days I did not believe that I could actually write something that would be published. I would use my exercise books to write my stories and give them to my friend to read them. Sometimes I would start something, but then abandon it and end up losing it. It remains my biggest regret in this regard, that I have lost those treasures because I now know that it is possible to get published.

To break into the world of published authors in South Africa is a mammoth task. Largely due to the fact that we have a poor culture of reading, but also because unless you are famous no established publishing house wants to touch you. Sometimes, it seems even being of a particular skin tone and/or even gender makes you stink like soiled hosiery. Penguin Random House Publishing rejected 2 of my manuscripts without so much as a thought. They did not even take time to read them as they rejected them almost immediately. I encourage all of you to inundate them with submission and see what their response will be. We might just gather enough evidence to prove that they exercise prejudice when it comes to submissions coming from writers who do not already have acclaim as a result of fame.

But, be that as it may, you can still get your manuscript published. You just have to be prepared to reach deep into your pocket and make that initial investment in yourself. You have to be willing to invest in your own craft. Do not believe in the potential success of your writing skills only if you are expecting someone else to foot the bill, in other words, put your money where your mouth is...
So, what to expect when you go the self-publishing route?

Well, I shall tell you that which was in store for me when I embarked on this journey. With this blog, I hope to make the journey for you a little easier and a lot less disappointing than it was for me.
As a debutante author who is not dedicated full time to this craft, self-publishing can be risky. The risk can be minimized if you have the funds to purchase all services required to make your book a success, i.e. the publishing services and then marketing and promotion after the fact. If the marketing and promotion is sorely dependent on you, you may find it frustrating and discouraging. It can even be depressing if you have little or no sales skills.

Choose a local service provider, which will save you the cost of fluctuating currency. Understand the terms of the contract; make sure you know what services are included and those that are not. Get your manuscript in order and ensure that whatever story you are telling, unfolds events in a manner that can be followed chronologically. Having a manuscript that requires a great deal of editing can be a costly affair. Word has spell check and grammar check, use them. Research what other people out there are sharing, in terms of skills on how to write such that you produce a manuscript that requires little editing. If you can, get two independent people to review it so you can have feedback from two sources that will have no influence on one another. Presentation is very important but so are the first 3 chapters of your manuscript. If these do not get the reader wanting to read more, it will be difficult to get the book off the shelves, unless you are writing academic books. Know too the elements that make a good novel, i.e. narration, theme, plot (conflict, climax, denouement, and conclusion), character development and point of view. You can read more about these elements on this article


Most publishers will ask for a synopsis, character development and who your target market is. Think carefully about these as you write your book and ensure that your writing is geared towards your intended audience or market. Before submitting your manuscript for review, make sure that there are no gaps in your story-line and that the climax is there.  Reviewers want to see conflict in your story and a resolution that is consistent and aligned to the plot.

One of the ways you can test that your story is compelling or gripping is to have someone read it while you are writing it or when you are done and they can give you feedback on how they found it.

One of the things you will need to do is get a website. This will help you somewhat with the marketing effort and it will be place where you can create hype about your book and get the people in your circles to spread the word about it. You will also need to know something about events planning to organize that all-important book launch.

PS: Some feedback on the article is more than welcome, it is desperately craved!

Thanks for reading.

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