Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Guest Author: Fiona Leonard - African Authors and Self Publishing (Part 1): The Top Three Reasons Why Self Publishing Is Perfect For African Authors

Check out Fiona Leonard's blog: A Fork in the Road and read more about her here and here 

Fiona Leonard*
Blog Series: African Authors and Self Publishing (Part 1)

The top 3 reasons why self-publishing is perfect for African authors

Mid 2009 I sat in the audience of a writers’ festival in Canada listening to a panel of writers rail against digital publishing. Each described a doomsday scenario in which authors would become even more impoverished and badly off than they already were. I desperately wanted to raise my hand and ask a whole lot of ‘but what about…?’ questions, but I didn’t. They were published, I was not, so hey, what did I know? Two years later and a continent away with an e-book to my name, I’m prepared to stand up and say that I disagree with their bleak assessment. I can’t speak for authors in North America, but for authors in Africa, the current era of publishing offers incredible opportunities.

1. Write what you want, how you want:

North American and European publishing houses have traditionally acted as the gatekeepers for the publishing world. They dictated not only who was published, but also indirectly determined what authors wrote about, leading more cynical commentators to suggest that if you weren’t writing along the lines of Binyavanga Wainaina’s article on How to Write About Africa, your chances of getting published were slim. All that has changed. Authors no longer have to struggle against the filter of foreign agents and publishing houses. 

One rejection letter I received from a New York agent said that a book set in Africa would be a very hard sell as American readers were reticent to read anything not set in the US. While I would guess that at least some of the millions of readers who made The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series a best seller live in America, this attitude leads directly to benefit number two.

2. Write for an African Market

African authors no longer have to write purely for an international audience. Over the last year, iPads and Kindles have become far more commonplace in major Africa cities, opening up new markets for local authors. E-readers are all around us and can put your book in the hands of a Nigerian, Kenyan or South African or Ghanaian reader (to name but a few) in seconds.

Stepping outside traditional publishing channels, also means that authors can publish in local languages. It is easy and cheap to offer English language versions alongside local language editions.

With outlets like’s subsidiary Create Space now offering print-on-demand services, authors can have books printed and delivered worldwide at competitive prices. For the first time, authors are in control of their writing and can put high quality publications directly into the hands of a local audience.

3. Control your overheads

As well as creative control, authors can develop their writing and publishing like any other small business.  Authors can choose to spend nothing on producing their book or enlist the services of others as required, for example to create a compelling cover design. 

With print-on-demand, authors can also control the size of their inventory. Orders can be placed for as little as one book or for a 1000 or more. You can therefore test the local market without needing to spend a large amount of money on stock. While short shipping times push up costs, it is possible for shipments to arrive within a week, providing the flexibility to respond to demand or unexpected opportunities.


As with any small business some things remain the same: self-publishing requires commitment, research and an investment of time and energy if you are going to succeed.  For the African writer, however, what has changed is that the tools needed to achieve publishing success are now at your fingertips. Publishing opportunities are no longer controlled by far off publishing houses and agents. You get to choose what you write, when you publish, where you sell and in what language.

As Seth Godin so eloquently puts it: “No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.”

*google images