Monday, May 30, 2011

Pre-order Signed, Hopelessly in Love

My book, Signed, Hopelessly in Love (Tafelberg) will be out mid-July but you can pre-order at Amazon. Click here at UK Amazon or here at Amazon Japan or here at Loot where you can be notified when the book is ready. Loot has a lovely little write-up about the book too- "A wonderfully original and humorous story".

If you pre-order, let me know so I can set up a little shrine in your honour. Kidding.

Well kind of...:)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

TJ Dema Interviews Me

Botswana's well known poet TJ Dema interviewed me on her blog about my recent shortlisting for the Caine Prize, my thoughts on writing in Botswana, and a few other things. You can read the entire interview at her blog, here is a small excerpt:

TJ: The short story that has been shortlisted for the Caine prize was published in South Africa by the independent publisher Modjaji what does that say, if anything, about publishers/publishing in Botswana? In other words why aren't local publishers crawling all over each other to publish a multi-award winning writer such as yourself?

No – no one is crawling anywhere near me. When I was shortlisted I got emails of congratulations from only two of my book publishers (I currently have books published with five publishers, two are in Botswana) both are South African trade publishers. I don’t think publishers here give a hoot about any literary prizes because most of them are not book and writer lovers. It may sound bitter, but that’s how it appears.

What does it take for a (an African) writer to be noticed by a panel of international judges?

I really don’t know. To be honest contests are subjective. I think you need to get the basics down and then it is really up to what that group of judges likes. I can give a perfect example. My story The Christmas Wedding which won the two prizes in the AngloPlatinum Short Story Contest was recently seriously bashed by a quite prominent South African editor. It’s just the parameters of this game. It’s subjective and you’ll never please everyone.

Thanks again TJ!

Monday, May 23, 2011

We're Here at the Right Time

There is a lot of doom and gloom in the publishing world now a days. The book is dead. "Real" writers can't make money, people are only buying books by celebrities. People don't read anymore. Bookstores are coming to an end. Writers are becoming obsolete.

I don't buy it. I also wonder who's spreading these rumours.

If anything, people are reading more than ever. In my house at any given moment you will find at least two out of the four people reading. Often it's online but it is still reading. Words that must be written by someone, a writer. Books are not dead, they may be changing form but they are certainly not dead. And as for writers, as far as I'm concerned this may be the best time in history to be a writer.

I spent Saturday doing research about ebooks and I became more and more hopeful. Unless you are a rock star writer, the traditional model of publishing has eroded to such an extent that it really does not look good for most of us. If you want your book to have any sort of success you need to know how to market , you need to know the business. Your publisher will require you to be an active part of the marketing team. On top of that, if the book doesn't sell to their expectations you'll be dropped. The traditional model is harsh and getting harsher. But the upside is that the traditional model of publishing is on it's way out. The power is shifting away from agents and big publishing houses and towards writers and smaller independent publishers. People are changing roles. Writers need to be marketers. Agents are becoming publishers. Booksellers are becoming publishers. Writers are also becoming publishers.

On Saturday, I read this article at Kristine Kathryn Rusch blog. Things are changing and they're changing fast. One thing I found hopeful is that you don't have to choose either or. You don't have to run from your traditional publishers and only self publish. Although I'm in the process of self publishing a collection of my short stories, I won't stop doing business with traditional publishers. It will depend on the book. I'm currently working on a book I hope to sell to a publisher that only publishes and distribute ebooks. I could self publish but in this instance, with this book I think this is a better way to go. The choices available to writers are myriad and the power is in our hands. It really is a great time to be a writer. We have all sorts of control over our careers, and we have endless choices of how we want to do things.

I'm going to embrace the change. I'm not fighting it any more. What about you?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Defining Ourselves

Being a full time writer, plodding away in my office in Mahalapye, I have no colleagues unless you consider Sgt Catman and Senor Ramon, my two cats, as people; I don't, they do. So when I need a break and want a bit of conversation, I go to Facebook where most of my friends are fellow writers. The last few weeks I've been having various discussions about the definitions we have for ourselves. It's easy for agents and publishers if we writers come to them in tidy boxes labelled accordingly but unfortunately many of us don't want to be confined within those four walls.

One contentious issue is the box called "African Writer". Because it often comes with a lot of accompanying baggage that includes said writer being able to discuss and have solutions for the continent's ills, many African writers prefer to climb out of that box. It also comes with the nasty business of your books being thrown into that dreaded African section. The stories you're "allowed" to write are often prescribed, as well. It's not a nice box to be in so people sometimes tread carefully around it. I don't mind the "African Writer" box but that could be because I have the leisure of choosing it rather than it being imposed on me.

Other confining boxes are "romance writer" or "sci-fi writer". And perhaps the most difficult to dodge "woman writer".

The problem with boxes is that they reduce a three dimensional writer to a one sentence tag line. The tag line sets down the rules before you walk into the room. It can even operate without you in many case since the box is often pre-furnished, you just step in and play the role.

These boxes are what sometimes cause writers to write under pseudonyms. I was asked when I had my first romance novella published if I'd like to have a pseudonym since the publisher knew I wrote a lot of other things too. I said no. I've likely made decisions which if I had an agent I might have been advised not to do, but part of why I said no to the romance pseudonym was that I hate boxes, I always have.

Why must I be this OR that? Why can't I be both? Why can't I write literary short stories, romance novellas and funny kids books? Why once I have a published romance I can't be taken seriously as a literary writer? I even dodge the description "author" as I find it is decorated with thin pretentious fringes I don't want rubbing on me.

I stick to "writer". It is my description of me. If push comes to shove I might say "Motswana writer" because my passport proclaims that as a fact. But after that most boxes I try my best to walk past. I think we all should be given the liberty to define ourselves.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sad Days in Botswana

As I write this the civil service strike continues in the country. This means there is little to no education taking place. Hospitals are barely staffed and most clinics are closed. Government offices are nonfunctional. It has now become an indefinite strike.

Sadly our president has failed completely as a leader. Instead of leading his people according to Setswana culture, a culture based on consultation and compromise, on negotiation and respect he has chosen to dig in his heels. He is doing his best to create dangerous divisions between Batswana in the hope that he will find support among the poor and the unemployed, the very ones most affected by this strike. It is a path that could backfire on all of us.

Our national television station (BTV) has become a complete sham. In the initial days of the strike they produced propaganda reports posing as news stories saying all was fine. For them students were in the classrooms being taught and clinics and hospitals were fully operational. On the ground we could all see with our own eyes that this was a lie.

Since then President Khama has been shown on the BTV news/propaganda report speaking at the kgotla telling the gathering that he will not talk with the Unions and he doesn't care if the strike goes on for months or years. He went on to insult the strikers in Setswana, an insult that enraged many people and has pushed many people sitting on the fence regarding this issue firmly on the Unions' side.

Last night on BTV Minister of Education and Skills Development Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi went on the BTV news/propaganda report and told the nation that a letter had been found on the ground at one of the secondary schools (Lobsec) urging students to revolt against the government. She blamed this letter on the Unions. To me it sounded like a lame justification for the government to take sterner action against the strikers. I fear for the worse.

So far we've had no violence. Still, everyone is sitting on the edge of their chairs. We snatch up private papers in an attempt to find out what is really happening. We discuss each development on Facebook. All of us are upset. All of us are nervous for what might happen next.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Thoughts on My Caine Short Listing

Last Thursday I received the news that my story "In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata" from The Bed Book of Short Stories published by Modjaji Books has been short listed for this year's Caine Prize. See the list HERE and read the stories.

When I first started writing seriously about seven years ago I remember not knowing anything about The Caine Prize. I suppose that's the case for most people who are not writers. I remember my friend and fellow writer, Wame Molefhe, explaining it all to me. She knew the importance of the Prize and I soon did as well. From then on we followed the Caine like others follow The Bold and the Beautiful. Each year we'd pour over the short list, reading the stories, discussing our favourites to win, and then be either happy or disappointed when the winner was finally announced. I'd meet Caine winners like Brian Chikwava and Henrietta Rose-Innes and be in awe of their talent. The Caine Prize was the goal held out there faraway in the distance and always at the back of my mind at least and I suspect Wame's as well was - "Some day I want to be there.".

And so last Thursday after a slightly disappointing day, having first been told two of my books had gone into second printing and I would be getting some royalties and then being told it was a computer mistake and feeling very down, I checked my email one last time before going into the house to cook lunch. And there it was. An email telling me I'd been short listed for the prize I'd always dreamed about.

So how do I feel? I'm writing this Monday afternoon after a frantic morning of congratulations from all sides after the official announcement. I feel a bit like a rock star. I know it will fade but for now I'm trying to just sit right in the middle of a big pile of happiness. I'm trying to remind myself how much I yearned for this very moment. I don't want to do what I usually do, tick it off as done and move on to number two. I don't want to think about the 11th of July (the awards day) and worry myself sick. I want to sit right here. Let time stop in my mind. Let me say for once without any reservation, without a single look behind my shoulder- I did this. I did this and it is an important thing.

This writing thing is such a crap shoot, keeping you always wondering if you're ever going to make it. Today you're fantastic, tomorrow you're a reject. But today, today I know I am a writer. I am a writer and I've done good.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Cover of my New Book- Signed, Hopelessly in Love

Here is the cover of my soon to be published young adult book, Signed, Hopelessly in Love to be published by Tafelberg in South Africa. What do you think?

The book was initially called Aunt Lulu, the name it had when it was shortlisted for the last Sanlam Prize, and it had a different cover but the sales people found that it wasn't very popular so we changed the title and the cover. I like this cover MUCH better.

Below is the blurb I wrote, though it will still be edited a bit by Tafelberg, just to give you an idea what the book is about.

For Amo her future couldn’t have looked brighter. She’s on track to becoming a famous journalist for CNN, is best friends with the (future) first Motswana woman to go into space and , if everything goes according to plan, she’ll marry the fabulously handsome head boy, John Gababonwe… though he doesn’t know about it just yet.

Everything was right on track, that is, until she’s asked to run the agony aunt column, Aunt Lulu, for her school newspaper. Amo takes it as an insult. She’s a serious journalist! She’s written hard hitting pieces like-“Do Prefects get More Meat?” and “Is Writing Notes Harmful?”. One day she’ll be known all over the world for uncovering dangerous stories with her finely tuned investigative skills. She can’t be Aunt Lulu! It’s not journalism, it’s fluff -and Amo is definitely not about fluff.

But then an anonymous letter arrives from “Hopelessly in Love” and Amo is sure she knows who the fabulously handsome writer is and she is even more certain he is writing about HER! Suddenly everything looks different and, on second thought, Amo decides that this Aunt Lulu gig might not turn out so bad after all.

Never was she more wrong.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I'm Starting an Ebook

Lately I've felt a lot of frustration and vulnerability regarding some of my published books. Readers want them but they're not in stores and are unavailable online. When royalties are owed, the publisher can't take my phone calls. I have no control over anything. I'm at the mercy of the publisher. This is fine if the publisher is on your side, as many of my publishers are, but this is a nightmare when they are not. I can assure you it is not a situation anyone wants to be in.

Because of this I've decided to take a chance and self-publish an ebook of some of my short stories set in Botswana. Initially I was going to make a mixed collection of stories set here as well as elsewhere or even include some creative non-fiction, but a friend of mine who knows more about marketing ebooks than I do said I need to target my market more tightly so I'm sticking to my Botswana stories.

I'm doing it a slightly more expensive way. I'm hiring an ebook publisher in South Africa to put the book together in a few different formats. I know I could do this myself but I'm not sure it would be done as professionally as I would like. I'm also using the same person to design the book cover as they have professional book cover designers. I've also hired a professional editor to go through the manuscript.

But I will be doing all of the marketing myself, and that I'm sure will be a big, steep learning curve.

I'm not giving up publishing with traditional publishers, I just feel I want somewhere where I have more control over things, even if it is with only one book. Besides it really is time all writers get more active in the transformation of the industry or else we'll get left behind. This is my first step into the new publishing world. Let's hope it goes well!