book fair

Why we love the London Book Fair…

Last week, the London Book Fair 2015 took place at the Kensington Olympia. We went along to meet SA exhibitors to find out how South Africans in the UK can publish their work.

book fair

In a world where we are told that the written word is dead – and books will be a thing of the past – it was great to see thousands of people attend the  many thousands of people attend the London Book Fair 2015 at Kensington Olympia last week. Everyone from authors, celebrities, publishers and book distributors and – many, many book worms – attended the event.

Mexico was the main country promoted in the Fair this year but almost every country you could think of was well represented in one way or another, including several amazing and incredibly inspiring people from South Africa.

The most current books available from all of the South African publishers were of main interest to me. Poetry was a large focus for this year’s exhibitors but not exclusively so. Incredible new works by Jonathan Jansen were available from Bookstorm publishers as were works from Jan Braai and many others through Bookstorm. Whilst possibly lesser known authors of the Harmony High Series from cover2cover Books were also showcased as were chilling works from Modjaji Books like Reclaiming Afrikan. Pelmo books also showcased several incredibly talented South African authors with most official languages being in their display.

We met up with a few publishers who are both interested in South African stories and helping UK-based South Africans publish their work.

Black Letter Media

Duduzile Mabaso founded Black Letter Media in 2011. This self-taught powerhouse, Mabaso created the website in 2007 to be able to give a voice to the exceptional local poets and novelists work that is traditionally not given the voices they deserve. Mabaso was placed in the top ten of the South African Breweries Kickstart program and was mentored by the SAB to help take her business to the next level. Mabaso writes for television to earn the funds to be able to finance her passion which is the business she was representing at the London Book Fair 2015.

Whilst in the thick of the day to day things Mabaso says, “being able to get other voices to trust me with their work is quite gratifying, for them to be able to trust me with their manuscripts and get them out there.”

Being a small business and working through fears and doubts, has many sleepless nights but being self taught has the advantages of being able to learn from your mistakes as you make them. The disadvantage for being self taught for Mabaso is when you are learning on the job is that the learning slows you down. But Mabaso has taken that passion and made it work.

Exciting competition for South African or Zimbabwean passport holders

An exciting competition exists for people who are South African or Zimbabwean passport holders with a prize of $40,000. In order to be eligible to enter you need to have a published book by the 30th September 2015 and have submitted the final manuscript to the competition organisers by the April 30, 2015. The Financial Times have teamed up with the Oppenheimer Trusts to put together the Emerging Voices 2015 project for African and middle Eastern authors. More information can be found here. The works must be in English.

Blue Weaver

Mark Hackney from Blue Weaver is an independent book sales and distribution company based in Cape Town. Hackney represents a number of different publishers around the world and not only does he distribute the books but also facilitates the sale of the international rights to the works that have been written.

As a major player in the industry within South Africa, Hackney speaks of the complexities between self-publishing and a commercial publishing offer. The advantages of the self-publishing route are that control rests entirely with the author, whilst the already established mechanisms in place for the commercial publishing contract route means the process can be considerably less stressful. Hackney recommends that any prospective authors wishing to write a book should read this information issued by the South African Publishing Association.

Tips on self-publishing

A big topic of the fair this year was clearly the route of self-publishing. Every stand had sections on the pros and cons and the South African exhibitors were no different. A large number of the books on display from the South African delegates were self-published for numerous reasons.

Louise Grantham from Bookstorm publishers (who operates out of Northcliff, Johannesburg) gave a few tips. She says before starting out with presenting your book you need to work out your market. When you figure out what your market is, communicate with the publisher that already publishes books like the one you wish to write. Grantham recalls when she was giving an interview on talk radio recently where a poet called in to find out where to send their poetry for publishing and when Grantham asked the caller which poetry they bought and read, who published those works? The caller was not able to answer as they didn’t in fact buy poetry. The irony was pointed out by Grantham to the caller and the tale sadly does show there is a need for people to support other local authors.

Grantham went on to explain of the two routes available to publish your works. One is the traditional, commercial publishing route – if you have a book that is commercial for the publisher you are pitching your work to, and the other route is the self-publishing route where you are prepared to take the risk on, and pay the costs of , your book.

After various discussions with various publishers, the consensus was clear. These days the book being “good enough” is not as big a factor as one would think. If you pitch your book to the right publisher, at the right time that they need a book exactly like yours, you are in with a fighting chance. Some authors need to do better research on the publishers. If a prospective author has pitched the book to the wrong publisher of course it will be a rejection. Yet this can cause people to stop pitching their work.

It is also very important to listen to why the publishing house is saying no to your work. Be realistic when listening to these answers. Like it or not these are industry leaders that you are seeking advice from, so listen to it. And work on that advice from there. If you reject this advice, and don’t make the changes these experts are saying then you stand a risk of having the project fail. One publisher told the story of how a book deal was withdrawn because an author was so determined to use a book cover they deemed worthy, while the publisher said the book won’t sell with that cover. The public – like it or not – will judge a book by its cover, so take the advice you are being given and don’t throw it all away without careful consideration.

The London Book Fair 2015 had an excellent representation from South Africa. The love of the written word is as strong now as it was years ago and the talent coming out of South Africa is undeniable. There is no doubt the London Book Fair 2015 will be one of the highlights of the countries literature world. The help and advice available to budding authors is vast so if you get a chance, drop in next year to see if you can be the next big thing in literature.