In 1997 my mother had a collection of poetry written in isiXhosa that she had submitted to Shuter & Shooter Educational Publishers. At the time they could not accept her contribution to African authorship. With the passing of time, raising children single-handedly, keeping a 9-5+ job what would have been a book, became a dream deferred.
A decade later and the ache to author had ma and her beloved friend Mandie visiting the Mother City to meet publishers, authors, translators, and government writing institutions such as The National Library.
At the start of May we spent time with renowned African authors, the likes of mam’Sindiwe Magona, Lidudmalingani Mqombothi the 2016 winner of the Caine Prize, Phillipa Namutebi Kabali-kagwa a stellar Ugandan-born poet and author of ‘a flame and song” and SABC correspondent to parliament Vuyani Green, the author of a deeply moving book titled “The Road to Thornhill.”
In this post I will review 1) their writing tips 2) editing tips and 3) publishing pointers.
Practical Tips on writing
- Discipline was a recurring theme mentioned by the writers, to which Vuyani Green said, “if you’re not willing to be disciplined, then forget about finishing your book.”
- Set aside time to write. Lidudumalingani shared with us that in his early years of writing he woke up at 4 am daily and would spend the first 3 hours of each morning writing, a routine he maintained for 2-3 years. Similarly, Mam’Sindiwe shared of a time where she set 4-5 months aside and in this time she did nothing else but write. To which she said, “that was my best of work.”
- Regard your writing as important. Without a high regard for the work that you’re putting together you’ll constantly shift your writing time aside to engage in activities which seem more important at the time.
- Decide what it is you want your readers to know or learn from your work?
- Make writing a daily practice, whilst the authors had differing opinions on this theme with one saying not writing at times is also part of the process. Mam’Sindiwe insisted that “what you write today, will never be the same as what you write tomorrow. You’ll never string the same words with the same brilliance because you’re a different person.” Thus it seems each day has new writing mercies, unused benefits are not cumulative.
- Read! Read! Read! You can not be a writer without being a reader. The primary benefits of reading include: sharpening your ability to develop content, finding your writing style & voice, increasing your vocabulary etc.
- Seek out an audience to critically review your work. This can be a friend as you go, at the end however a credible editor can not be underestimated.
- Create writing motivators for yourself. Phillipa mentioned that a friend of hers completes the cover of the book, sketches the contents page and uses this as a motivator. On the other hand, Mam’Sindiwe mentioned that she creates continuity in her writing by outlining her writing plan for the following day before going to bed so that upon waking up to write, she can envision the details she wants to add to the work.
At the end of our meeting, mom and Mandie sat down with June Pym (my dear friend and mentor) who tenderly listened to their vision.
She tied the session with key questions for them to use when they are at the stage of sending their manuscripts for critical reviewing and commentary, whether to a publisher or peer. These pointers include Practical Tips on editing
- The WRITING STYLE – particularly whether one has successfully merged the academic and story-telling styles.
- Whether the book is INTERESTING or not?
- Whether the book adds to your (and the final readers’) KNOWLEDGE on the theme. community practice – and therefore whether it will be a useful book?
- If the STRUCTURE of the book works?
- If there are any sections of the book that you (friend/publisher) think I should DELETE or minimize?
- If there are any sections of the book that need MORE DEPTH and length. And … anything else. Besides sharing your (critical reader) comments, if there are any broad suggestions for ways in which I (writer) could improve the book, I would really appreciate hearing about your proposals.
Finally with regards to publishing. We met with the heartwarming Nelisa from the National Library of South Africa and the lovely Palesa Morodu who works at Cover to Cover. Here we learned of publishing opportunities. These are the key points learned on publishing:
- You can self-publish or work through a publishing house.
- Self-publishing requires capital i.e. for editing, printing, marketing etc. Working through a publishing house means these costs are covered but the percentage earned per book is significantly lower.
- Self-publishing often means taking primary responsibility for book sales, including selling your book door to door, the back of your boot, with difficulties connecting to book shops like Exclusive Books etc which primarily work with publishing houses instead of independents.
- When selecting a publishing house, begin by looking through their past published work to see whether their themed interests are aligned with yours.
- To start, one can begin by publishing stories in anthologies etc. as there are more publishing opportunities and competitions in this area.
- The National Library of South Africa has publishing opportunities from time to time, do check out their site. This the agency of the government of South Africa which maintains a national library of all published materials relating to the country
I hope you found these writing, editing & publishing tips useful. If you’re in the process of writing, do share, let’s create a network of writers, because “Asinakuthula umhlaba ubolile…” (we cannot keep quiet…-Nontsizi Mgqwetho)
P.S: I would like to sincerely thank Litha Mpondwana and Xolisa Guzula for assisting me with the planning of these sessions. Xolisa thank you for your time and energy. Your passion and hard work left a positive impression on Ma & Mandie. Finally, thank you to Simon Hurry who enriched their time through strengths coaching. Your work and talent Simon is impeccable. Apple Crunchers, If you have not yet taken the Gallups strengths finder I highly recommend this self-development tool.