Why self-publishing trumps the traditional route

Writers share why they are opting to promote their own work.

Library. Picture: freeimages.com

JOHANNESBURG - The need for more local and diverse content books, showcasing and increasing indigenous language materials remains a recurring theme when mentioning some of the barriers faced in South Africa's efforts to encourage reading and literacy.

However, writers say finding the proper platform to promote their books is an even greater challenge.

Erika Bester is the co-owner of the first female-owned publisher Fire Quill Publishing, and is one of many authors who for varying reasons have chosen an alternative route to traditional publishing.

Having struggled to get one of her novels off the ground, she says: "Our publishing companies focus more on non-fiction and memoirs, they are not very supportive of fantasy genres and non-adult science fiction. That is why I opened my publishing company where we focus solely on those genres."

Her books are mostly sold off Amazon.

She says this has proven to be successful and that distributing the material in store is still a challenge.

"I think a lot of stores make it very difficult for small publishers like Fire Quill to do the publishing companies to get our books into stores. And if they do get in the stores it's always somewhere in the corner where nobody sees it."

Simamkele Dial recently published an autobiography called My Pain Perfected.

The 25-year-old explains why she opted to self-publish.

"I didn't want to be censored. The challenge is with most publishers, they want to hear a story the way they want to hear it and how they see it appropriate. Most big publishing houses are owned and run by white people. We can't be black and be told by white people how to write our stories."

She adds, "It's also a financial thing. It's a money thing. It's hard to find black people who are penetrating that sphere. It boils down to a history that has now trickled down to the current generation and has imposed certain limits to the current generation. So rather than not telling your own story at all, you would rather go your own route and just let it unfold."


The South African Book Development Council has tried to promote more local books through its own initiatives like National Book Week.

The council CEO Elitha van der Sandt insists that the real challenge is getting people to read what is being written.

"Without people reading, we can write and publish as many books as we want to. It's not really going to get out there. The biggest challenge we face is a small reading and book buying market and the risk involved in publishing when there isn't a market buying it."

She says that to combat this, more investment is needed to support the book industry.

She concedes that new genres can be explored.

"It revolves around sharing risks and creating the necessary market to consume the products. We don't really know what people want to read so we are publishing to and writing for an existing market, so there has to be some exploring and experimenting in order to see what kinds of things will work."

Van der Sandt says the organisation is currently working on its second national reading survey to determine trends in reading - including what South African's are interested in.

Eastern Cape based writer and story-teller, Sisonkepapu, recently launched a reading and dialogue series Between Absence and Presence, a platform for unpublished works to be shared.

The SoundCloud project seeks to facilitate an interactive and engaging space for writers and the public, to read and construct meaning together through dialogue.

It will debut at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town on Sunday.

LISTEN: Between Absence and Presence: Book Reading and Dialogue Series Ep 1 PE

Speaking on the concept he says: "There are chances of creating alternative spaces if people are willing to invest in that. If you do not just see yourself as a writer but a person who exists within a society, you can do book readings and want to publish a book, you do not have to go through publishers, and you know people, get them together and read for them."

He adds: "I feel that is one of the most powerful ways a person can get their work to the people. That is one of the other things that traditional publishing lacks - you get your book published, it gets stuck on a book shelf, if you are lucky enough someone is going to pick it up. If you start at the grass roots you can read it to people, that in a way already creates a community where people are able to interact and engage in your work."