In 2009 Ngatia and Tonny, who make half of the Story Zetu team; along with Michael Muraya, (who was Ngatia’s submissive “mono”) and myself were asked by Mr. Mawira, (a teacher of French and a closeted writer) to write a few poems for publication. Publication meaning he would type them out, print them, then publish them on the school noticeboard. That was the best thing that happened to me in high school, the TL (top layer) was second.
Later, Muraya would tell me that Bushman the Principal, commonly known as Mr. Nyagah had asked him to ask us to put together a number of poems that he would help us publish with Longhorn Publishers. Actual publishing this time. The mashetani of publishing intervened and that never happened. That was way back when we were in high school and that is when my publishing journey began.
It’s been 3 weeks since I finally managed to publish a book after half a decade of trying. I am here because I don’t want anyone to go through that cursed ordeal. Publishing will test your will my people, your bones will creak and age a few years before you get your first book in print. You might need an idea of what you will go through in Kenyan publishing. Haaya twende!
Well, obviously you need to write. I wrote most of my poems in 2011. Back then, I was earning 4,000 bob per month at my former high school and my official title was “mentor.” Basically, all I did was sit in the school library and wait for students to come with questions and teenage worries at break time. The rest of the time, which was mammoth idling time, I wrote poetry and inhaled the must of old books. So write, sawa?
Okay, once you think your work is ready, pass it around. Start with your mother, for one, she will read it and give you an unconditional boost of confidence, she will make you believe your book is the best thing since the Bible and secondly, she will put you in her prayers. You will need them badly. Now give your work to a few friends for their comments. Share with the ones you know will be brutally honest. The ones who will tell you, “Hii ni upuzi! Nonsense!” Then go ahead and ignore them, you are here to get published not discouragement, we need a few more authors in Kenya and your friends shouldn’t get in the way of that. Imagine if all scriptwriters in Nigeria had listened to their friends, they wouldn’t have Nollywood, so ignore your pals proper. After your friends are done, (you should know some won’t even read your work, don’t take it personally, not many “friends” read even your Facebook post anyway) pass your work to some authority. Personally, that was 2 of my lecturers, Dr. Ugangu and Ms. Onsare. These, listen to and effect the changes they recommend. Now that the easy work is done, get those steel balls affixed to your loins.
You now need a book cover designed. Recently, I saw someone use a white girl on their digital book cover. I’m no racist but-no I won’t let the issue slide Nathan I must tell them what you did, not unless I see a black girl on that cover, umeskia?! We don’t have enough black girls on book covers Nathan. Anyway, get a great cover. A cover that defines your book and your purpose. The most impractical and ignored axiom in the English textbooks is the one that says. “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Case in point, when you’re walking along Tom Mboya Street searching for a book in the sea of books, how else do you choose a novel you’ve never read, by judging the cover of course. We all have bought pathetic books because their covers looked amazing,I’m talking about 50 Shades of Grey.
So get a good designer, pay a good price and get a good cover, you wont regret. I know Kelvin Kaesa made sure I won’t. So fight with that designer if you have to until you get that design that says, “Look inside, I’m better there.”
Now that we have words/text and their garments, we need a publisher.
There are 2 kinds of publishing: Self-publishing and well, not-self publishing.
Self-publishing is like shaving your own head or making your own tea. While the other publishing is like going to a cafe and ordering tea. That’s grossly simplifying it. In both ways, you can publish digitally or physically.
Do you know Wattpad? It’s an app I discovered 3 years ago. Anybody with a smart phone can get published on Wattpad. You just follow a few steps and then a few hours later you become an author. Don’t publish on Wattpad. It’s a venue for testing your work and boosting your ego. But if you’re a serious writer, go to Amazon or CreateSpace. They basically work for each other. You publish on CreateSpace and sell on Amazon Kindle or Amazon stores. CreateSpace will print your book and ship it anywhere in the world. Go international amigo.
If you want to publish with kina Macmillan, Longhorn, Phoenix, Oxford, Moran etc you are in for potential disappointment. Normally, these publishers will ask writers they know to send work to them for them to publish. I am assuming you do not know anyone in these publishing houses and they don’t know you, that is who I was, still am.
So you submit your manuscript to them, if it’s via email, thank God and say 12 Novenas if they reply. If you go there physically, you might need to pay some thousands for your manuscript to get reviewed, about 6,000 bob. I have been broke most of my life, so I never went past that step. But I know this, once your manuscript is approved, the contracts will be flashed out. You will give the publisher exclusive rights to your work. You will be expected to share profits. They will do marketing and sales for you. At the end of the day, you could get anything between 40-60% of the proceeds of your book. This is the better option for most people, so once you’re past the reviewing stage, you can reclaim your original balls, then go sit at home with a cup of uji and wait for a cheque every month or so.
Personally, I did self-publishing. Here you are the publisher and the author. Which also makes you the marketer, the distributor, the salesperson, the printer, the advertiser and ultimately the guy who needs tonnes of glucose to run around. It’s a universe of work for introverts, but it’s not all so bad; especially since you watch your book grow from a seedling of scribbles to an oak of thoughts. There are 3 steps in the production stage of self-publishing: Typesetting, binding and trimming. If you don’t know what you’re doing please do yourself a favor and ask the experts to crack their fingers on your behalf. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a 1000 copies of a book that can’t sell. Once you’re book is ready you now try to convince people that your scribbles are worth their money. There’s a reason so many writers commit suicide.
I noticed everybody has an opinion of how much your book should cost, some even want it for free, because writing is not a job. The bottom line is, make sure you make a profit. And those book vendors you see around Nairobi, they’re priceless. But again you should know this, Kenya is a price-sensitive market. And unfortunately, a majority of Kenyan readers are addicted to buying books for as little as 50 bob, so 200 or anything higher, to them feels like a steal. That is what piracy is doing to us. Let me give you free advice, the best people for your book are the literary institutions we have. The likes of Kwani? PAWA 254, bookshops, Storymoja, schools and places like Alliance Francaise. The next best thing is family and friends.
Now you’re ready, happy publishing!
My Afrocentricity insisted I call myself Njagi M’Mwenda, that’s what you will see on the book which you can get here