Publishing

[notice noticeType=”attention” ] publishingOn developing the literary arts in Zambia-with a focus on fiction writing It is really a great feeling to write and get published. Having one’s work recognised with an award gives every writer a sense of achievement. However, in Zambia, many manuscripts just end up on shelves gathering dust and will probably never be read. Many potential authors have asked how others have got past the ‘publishing hurdle’. Publishing a book and any book in this country is not easy. It is for this reason that most manuscripts do not reach the stage when they can be read by their intended audience. The whole process is hounded by so many complications; this worsened by the lack of a support system for authors. What does it mean to be published? A published writer is one who has written a book, a story, a play, or indeed any work of non-fiction and has had such work printed and distributed for public access. In short, it means to make your work public, making people know that you have written and that your work is ready for reading. Where does this whole process begin and what are the publishing hurdles along this journey? When a writer is satisfied that a manuscript is complete: fiction or non-fiction, they need to get it to a publisher. It is at this point that the woes of most Zambian writers begin. To begin with, there are just a few publishers in Zambia-both foreign and local. In my view, they do not have much competition in terms of obtaining work to publish because writers flock to them anyway. However, these publishers do not take up all the work that keeps piling at their door step. The reason can be attributed to a complicated cycle that has one facet linked to the other; sort of the ‘chicken and egg’ paradox; which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The readership in Zambian is very poor. Very few citizens of this country will invest in a book. This has also been compounded by low literacy levels; with less than 25% of 13 million people who can read. Therefore, it is only this 25 % target market that publishers compete for. In light of this, and the dire desire to survive, publishers have settled for works that can be easily marketed and in Zambia it is text books. Every school going child and college student needs a text book, all good schools and tertiary institutions want to make sure that they have an adequate supply of learning materials. This leaves the fiction writer, who does not usually write for schools, out in the cold. It is rare that this small group of publishers will take on individual works because marketing fiction in a country where the reading culture is very poor can be a daunting task. Such publishers tend to work with authorities such as the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) and the Ministry of Education and other education institutions to scrutinize and determine manuscripts that they feel can be easily marketed. A fiction writer has no choice but to seek other publishing routes. What are these alternatives and how accessible are they to the ordinary writer? There are few Zambians, especially those who live abroad who have worked with publishers outside the country. However, there are very few local Zambians who can afford to get their work published outside the country. The other alternative, something that has been trending in the recent past is self-publishing. Well, self-publishing is not easy at all. It too, has got its fair share of intricacies. In the first place, it is totally self-financed. Some authors have obtained bank loans in order to support the production of their work. The whole process of finally getting a book on the shelf is entirely an author’s responsibility. Before a book is printed, it needs to be edited professionally in order to produce quality work. Nevertheless, finding a professional editor in a country where their number is negligible, has forced many writers to skip this stage. This has brought to the fore many sub-standard books on the market. Also many writers skip the editing stage to reduce on the cost of production.The country also does not have a team of illustrators- an aspect that has made many writers depend on un-established graphics designers. Then there is the colossal cost of printing. Some Zambians have opted for using printing services outside the country but pay dearly for importing their own books back into the country; ‘chicken and egg’ theory. Once, the book is printed and ready for sale, it is the hard work of getting it onto a market that is composed mainly of people with a poor reading culture. Self-publishing? Well, considering the aforementioned and the fact that generally, self-published work is looked down upon by people in some circles, it is an option one would wish to take up with a lot of caution. However, we cannot completely discard it, as many self-published books have ended up saving the day, in a country where the writing industry is yet to be developed. What about online publication? The answer to the question is yet another question; how many Zambians have access to a computer? From the 25 % population of those who are able to read and write only a small number of urban based population have access to a computer (according to ZICTA); furthermore, fewer have access to the much needed internet service to obtain online books. In fact, online publication is the cheapest and the simplest as long as the work is of standard. Despite reaching a wider audience, there is also need to have more regulations of what goes online, a system that hardly exists in Zambia. According to a Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia, ‘State of the Media’ for the quarter January 1 to March 31, 2012, there is no specific regulation for online publication such as a law that must require online publishers to register with any government department the way newspapers do. The current situation allows anyone to set up an online publication and dump whatever stuff they wish to publish without anyone checking. MISA Zambia has since urged the state to come up with a way that will ensure that anyone setting up an online publication resisters before launching to publish. The absence of a perfect check system has allowed a situation where anyone, even if they are not well vest in fiction publishing, to go ahead and dilute the good works being done by professionals in this area. If we are to really have a Zambian genre, a collection of non-fiction works about Zambia, by Zambians, the publishing industry must be developed in order to accommodate authors from all classes; those who can and those who cannot afford alike. Government should also play a role in making publishing a reality for its citizens. Unless many of the issues raised are addressed, the Zambian genre has a long way to come to full maturity, but not to say that all hope is lost.[/notice]

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