Friday, 24 July 2015
Writing and publishing that Shona-language Best Seller
Getting Shavi Rechikadzi has been an exercise in adaptation and innovation. For one thing, there are very few publishers taking on literature in ChiShona. It is the most widely spoken language in Zimbabwe and among Zimbabwean communities abroad, yes, but not when it comes to buying books to read. Your average ChiShona speaker takes exceptional pride in not being able to read anything longer than a mobile text message in the language. This is on top of the fact that has become a broken record: Zimbabweans do not buy books. Yet, having considered all this, I still had the feeling that I was going to publish this novel and it was going to be a bestseller, albeit by Zimbabwean standards. Ambitious baby steps.
When I started writing the novel, back in 2007, Word would exasperatingly auto-correct everything I wrote. My way around that did not come until fairly recently, when freeware alternatives to Word began to appear. To all those geeks around the world, thank you; you have no idea how you have given literature in ChiShona in this century a major boost. When I began Shavi Rechikadzi, I was worried about finding a publisher. As it turns out, technology was transforming around me such that by the time I was ready, it would be possible for me to create my own publishing house, Belontos Books. As I discovered with MunaHacha Maive Nei? in 2011, just about every ebook distributor on the face of the planet does not work with ChiShona. So, while I still claim credit for publishing the first novel in ChiShona as an ebook first before it went to print, and I did get royalties for it, MunaHacha Maive Nei? is no longer available anywhere in digital format. A glimmer of hope came through when a new e-book distributor based in Zimbabwe emerged. I eagerly passed on three of my English-language titles. But, I regret, the said distributor is fraught with the sort of teething problems that someone more serious would have already tackled. Not least among these is the ability to give an accurate account of sales. As it turns out, I do have a brother and a cousin who are both web-designers, one based in Zimbabwe and the latter in South Africa, so it may happen yet that a Musodza-owned ebook distribution enterprise will be launched that will cater for more African languages. We would have to sit down about that. Or someone will read this article, get inspired, and set it up at once. Either way, we- Zimbabweans, Africans, users of languages other than English, French, German etc- need to have someone supplying our literature in digital format.
So far, I have managed to get a distributor in the shape of Scribd.
And also Payhip. Payhip's DRM management is suspect. However, they do allow me to recruit affiliates. What this means is anyone who posts a widget on their own site will get a share of the revenue generated from sales made via said widget.
Thanks to POD, having print copies is easy. Through social media, I can reach potential readers. That is quite handy, as it will be hard to get any of the media houses, even the Zimbabwean ones, to take notice. (Hard is not the same as impossible, which is why I still have the press kits sent out anyway) The book went live on amazon and other online stores last week. Some people started to make their purchases over the weekend, and it can be assumed that they will begin to receive their copies today. This is now taking us to the next stage: readers' reactions. Might even see the book's popularity spread by word of mouth.
Publicity is hard to get. There is no PR company that caters for Zimbabwean literature in general, let alone works in ChiShona. So, even if I could afford to procure the services of a professional Book PR firm, there isn't one for me yet. (all those Zimbas with marketing degrees, something to think about.) Zimbabwean journalists generally tend to prefer a writer to be acclaimed by non-Zimbabwean (read British, American, Australian, Canadian, New Zealander or South African) media first before they decide that they merit any attention. Or, the writer actually knows anyone. Or, does something really embarrassing. I have been getting a fair bit of attention from the non-Zimbabwean media, but that is in the horror, fantasy and science-fiction niche.
This just leaves me free social media. One uses what one has, so I have been employing it to its fullest potential. With all these challenges, I am pleased to announce that Shavi Rechikadzi has taken off.
So far so good, as one of my teachers would say. How far remains to be seen.