Phindile Xaba

Three self-publishing writers sat down at the Abantu Book Festival in Soweto with Thabiso Mahlape, a publisher committed to providing a platform for black writers and narratives. They shared experiences on the sweet success of self-publishing while wrestling the distribution demons that come with the territory.

Tumelo Moleleki author of His Joy: The life of Nell as Makoti, Her Heart, The Dry Tears of a Bleeding Child and a Sesotho eBook on the economy Senyethe: Ho atisa leruo la Hao ho matsohong a hao; Monde Nkasawe author of Journey of the Heart, Pieces, The Death of Nowongile, The Madness of Rodney Makhelwane, Liziwe, The Fullness of Time and Go to the Eastern Cape and Dudu Busani-Dube author of Zulu Wedding, Naledi His Love, Hlomu the Wife and Zandile The Resolute, have all walked away from commercial publishing that comes with the comfort of having a publisher, an editor, marketing advantage as well as existing distribution networks, at great cost.

The Journalist caught up with Busani-Dube at the festival to converse about her maverick approach to publishing. She said she had completed writing her first novel Hlomu the Wife and had sat with it without a plan, never even ventured into trying to solicit securing publishing rights as she was aware that it wasn’t material commercial publishers would warm up to.

“So, I started to blog a few chapters to test the waters, and people seemed to love the bit I had put out, which was very encouraging. I began to toy around with the self-publishing idea, little did I know the challenges that awaited me”.

To date her Hlomu series – Hlomu the Wife, Zandile the Resolute and Naledi His Love, has sold tens of thousands of copies, first out of her car boot and then mainstream bookstores began to notice and carried her titles which have made it to the top spot in just a few weeks of release. But the ride to the top spot was hardly a smooth one.

Challenges of self-publishing

The business side of self-publishing is a challenge on its own as it requires an author to be many things at one time – a publisher, an editor, a marketer, a distributor. Something Busani-Dube says she wouldn’t desire to do eternally let alone publish other people’s work.

“This is not a walk in the park. Once one completes the creative part of writing and has a living manuscript, that overwhelming sense of accomplishment ends there, and only then does hard work begin,” said Busani-Dube who publishes her work under Hlomu Publishing.

“You have to self-fund. I had no money, only relied on my salary as a journalist. I had no idea what publishing entailed – the book’s font size, formatting, cover design, how the ISBN worked and much more. In fact, my first print run was disastrous, and I had no way of getting my money back. I couldn’t even read my own book even if I had a magnifying glass. There were typos too,” she laughs heartily.

Then the learning process began, she researched and learnt about different types of paper and the skill required to format a publication. Her husband’s friend designed the cover, and the photography services were provided by a colleague who worked his magic on the parking lot at her work place. She insists that she learnt that the book has to look professional to attract the reader’s attention.

“Then I started to sell the first stock out of the boot of the car, to my friends and my blog followers as well as using every opportunity in pop ups available. I set up mobile distribution channels everywhere I went,” she said.

Only after testing the market did she place her books on the online bookstores such as My African Buy and they did well. They flew off the virtual shelves. The first brick and mortar bookshops to order her supply were Adams Books and Bridge Books, and only then did other stores notice.  She is now being carried in commercial book stores and doing well at that.

Busani-Dube cautions any young writer who wants to venture into self-publishing to have an Intellectual Property (IP) lawyer, it helps to protect your work.

Sweet Success

While her Hlomu series based on eight Zulu brothers from Mbuba village in Greytown, who relocated to Johannesburg when they were young after their parents were killed in a mob justice attack during political violence in their area, has been a success, it is the Zulu Wedding with a film in the works that has been a feather in her cap.

The process was completely different, the film was already in production when she met with Lineo Sekeloane , the creator and producer who had a desire to have this project turned into a novel.

She loved her mind, but also loved the place the project took her creatively. After all the hard work her efforts seem to have paid off. Her fourth Hlomu series novel is soon to come out.

All images courtesy of Mmuso Mafisa and Abantu Book Festival.