I get a lot of people contacting me asking questions about publishing and writing. I try to address many of the issues through my columns, but some folks want a one-stop-shop so I thought a Frequently Asked Questions column might be the answer.
1. How much does it cost to get a book published?
It cost nothing. A publisher publishes your book for free, that is if they think your book is up to their standard and they can find a market for it. The publisher’s job is to edit, design, market, and sell your book. They pay for all of that from the money they get from sales. The writer of the book gets a percentage of sales, normally 10%, this is called royalties. Anyone calling themselves a publisher but then asking the writer for money to get the book out is purposefully trying to confuse things. If you are paying anything you are self-publishing your book. Full stop. You have not been published in the universally understood way, meaning your manuscript has not been assessed and deemed good enough for the publisher to take a risk on it. You are paying to get your book published. In most of these cases, no assessment has been done.
2. I see that you are a writer; can you get my book published for me?
No. Just as the word says- a writer writes. I do not publish books. I have no sway over any publisher to force them to accept someone’s book manuscript. If you want to be a writer, you must learn to do the work of a writer and that includes researching, finding, and submitting to publishers.
3. A publisher has said they want to publish my book, but now they say they will only give me 10% of the money they get from the sale of my book. Are they cheating me?
No, they are not cheating you. With a minimal amount of research you can tally up the costs a traditional professional publisher will spend on your book before a single copy is sold. They will pay for an editor, usually about P20,000. A designer and layout person, maybe another P20,000. A cover designer, for a good one it could be another P10-20,0000. And then there is the printing. Depending on the print run (short print runs are more expensive per book) it can be between P40,000-P60,000. This is all money the publisher has spent on your book without making a single thebe on it. They will then market the book, distribute and sell the book. Ten percent is standard royalty rate for writers, I have signed contracts for as low as 5% and as high as 15%. You can negotiate, but the publisher knows their margins so they can only go so high, especially in the difficult book trade in Botswana, or even Africa for that matter.
4. I’ve put my poems together in a book, who will publish them?
Very few publishers will publish a collection of poetry. My advice for poets and short story writers is to spend some time sending your work out to literary magazines, both print and online. Try big exclusive magazines as well as easily accessed ones. Read the lit mags, understand the kind of work they want. Send your work for anthology call outs. Build up a track record of publication. Get your name out there. Go to literary festivals, even if you must pay for yourself, and read your work out loud. Enter your work into contests. After you have your name out there, you can try to send your collection out to the few poetry book publishers around the world. If you fail to find a publisher, you have a following, and you regularly read at events, you might want to self-publish your collection and sell it at the places where you read your work. But know from the beginning, getting a collection of your poems or even your short stories published as a one author book is tough.
5. All the publishers in Botswana only publish for the school market and my book is not for schools. What can I do?
The world is a big, big place and with the internet that world lives in your office. Do your research. There are publishers all over the world and you can submit to any of them. No one needs to be tied anymore to the publishers in their respective countries. Check what the publisher publishes, read their submission guidelines— and send your work out! Rejection is part of the game, don’t take it to heart. I once read that every book manuscript gets on average sixteen rejections, so you need to think of every rejection as one more to whittle down that number until you get to your acceptance.
(this appeared in the 11 September, 2015 issue of Mmegi in my column It's All Write)