The much-awaited “meet the editor’ event arranged by the Gauteng chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators was informative, exciting and challenging and I’m glad I made the time to attend.
Representatives from Jacana Media, Lapa and Pan Macmillan made it clear that the SA's writing/publishing is a competitive, maybe even cutthroat business. The market is small and revenues generated unlikely to make a writer rich.
The publishers said they are more likely to give a writer a break, maybe work with him/her to polish the manuscript, if they can see that he/she put in a lot of research into the work. One of the publishers showed a manuscript which she says she saw sixteen times before she accepted it. The author was persistent and put in the work required to make it publishable, she said.
THE SA PUBLISING MARKET
* Only five percent of the SA population buy or read books (estimated total population is 46 million). I knew the market was small, but I didn’t reckon on tiny.
* Indigenous language books do not sell well. Lapa, which used to publish primarily in Afrikaans and recently entered the English market, no longer publishes indigenous language books to sell. The company publishes four indigenous language titles per year and donates all copies to Biblionef South Africa.
* Non-fiction is a big seller.
* Online book buying has not taken off in SA. Part of the challenge is Internet access, the publishers say. (Read some of my articles on ITWeb) Also, South Africans still prefer to physically touch a book before making a buying decision, one of the publishers said.
a) Jacana Media
Unfortunately missed a portion of the presentation by Russell Clarke, Jacana Media’s representative, as I was late (work deadline.) What I did hear is that:
* The company has keen focus is on creating a love for our own land through books(SA), so books should not be Eurocentric.
* Writer/Illustrator partnerships are encouraged. “Hook up with someone so you can both do the pitch,” he says.
* Books that are a cross between fictions and non-fiction welcome.
* Jacana is looking for well-developed non-fiction proposals
b) Lapa Publishers
Former librarian Miemie du Plessis, now head of Lapa’s children’s publishing division, is very passionate about getting kids to read again.
Her primary focus is providing FUN and ENTERTAINING reading for the kids. She says she always keeps in mind that she’s working for the kids, and interacts extensively with them through school tours to make sure her content is relevant and meets their needs.
She insists on quality writing from her writers which meets this criteria and will not settle for less. “If I don’t find what I’m looking for, I will translate,” she says.
du Plessis also uses kids as primary readers who provide official reports on a book before she decided whether to publish it or not.
* 70 titles per year, primarily in Afrikaans
* About 50% of titles co-editions with international partners
* Recently began publishing in English. “Only publish in English if content is local.”
* Looking for non-white writers, with view of translating from indigenous language to Afrikaans (Opportunity smacking me in the face?)
* Writing should be lyrical, humourous
* Dialogue should make characters sound like real kids
* For picture books, submit text only as she prefers to identify own illustrators for projects
* Publishes a lot of series books
* Writer should be willing to do book promotion, including school tours. Parents, teachers and kids out there in small towns don’t know what’s available in the market, she says.
* 70% of Lapa’s books go to trade (bookshops etc)
* Sell by mail order quite a bit. Free local postage.
c) Pan Macmillan
* In SA, Pan Macmillan focuses on trade books, while sister company Macmillan SA does educational publishing.
* 80% of books are international source(for distribution). Only 20% locally produced.
* For children’s books in SA, submitting text and illustrations together helps push approval process faster.
* Has three main lines:
* Giraffe Books – 32 pages, illustrated, African/South African, 4-10 age group, open to submissions, 8 titles so far, books translated into other South African languages, as well as Lesotho’s Sesotho and Portuguese. Also does co-editions.
* Takalane Sesame series (linked to Sesame Street, curriculum based stories, commissioned writers and illustrators only, looking for seasoned professionals) and
* General, where they publish what they like.