Once bitten, now wise: finding the right publisher

In my recent article, I discussed the naivety of new writers when launching into publishing. Even though I have handled a number of self-published manuscripts, my advice to a budding author is to always seek a traditional publisher. Many self-published books are normally of poor editorial quality if there is any, and paper quality. However, that does not mean there are none that are of amazing quality that would leave a traditional publisher green with envy. In this article, I look at two major challenges facing writers in general: winning the attention of a traditional publisher and balancing on the ropes of self-publishing.

How to win attention of the right publisher

If you are starting out as a writer, do your research well about traditional publishers. The right place to start is the Kenya Publishers Association website, which lists all accredited publishers.

Read about the listed publishers and research on their areas of specialization. Every publisher has a policy on the type of manuscripts they seek. Heck, go to the bookshop and check out their catalogues and books to see if your script fits their policy. Now, this is where problems arise. Most writers submit manuscripts to every other publisher without bothering to ascertain mutual relevancy of needs.

ALSO READ: Understanding the Publishing Industry: An Advice for Young Writers

Then there is that equally unnerving issue of rejection. Rejection does not necessarily mean your script is crap. Also, mainstream publishers are normally adamant to publish poetry and drama. You will need a very determined publisher to explore these two genres, and it makes sense to send an inquiry email first.

Follow up with the publisher to ensure they received your script. The publisher should actually send you a receipt mail. The challenge with the Kenyan publishing industry is that it has relegated the role of a very important person in the chain: the agent. That means the publisher has to do all the evaluation processes of the hundreds of manuscripts flowing in the inboxes while the writer has to do all the research towards finding the right publisher. It can be draining on both ends.

About self-publishing

There are many, especially motivational books, that are of high quality from self-publishers. Nowadays, you can even self-publish online with fewer resources although you will be diving into a muddy pool of millions of epubs. But I know of some authors who have succeeded there. Check Amazon, Smashwords, etc.

To self-publish in print, it is wise to talk to those who have been in the industry for a while. They would be more than willing to give an advice or two. Do your research, weigh your options, before deciding: no one is holding a knife on your throat. For ownership purposes, send the manuscript to yourself on email, and maybe to two other trusted friends. It is an industry based on trust, but at least have leverage just in case.

Now, self-publishing is not like traditional publishing where you are likely to sign a contract in the later stages. Whatever happens, my friend, create a contract and let yourself and whoever is publishing your script countersign it. If they refuse, take a walk even if they are your nephew. At the end of the day, you are paying for the service and need some commitment. Make it clear what each one of you is offering and getting out of the business deal. Reject any cajoling; do not send a script before signing a contract.

As I noted in my earlier article, self-publishing entrepreneurs have different business models. Some may want to cover your costs and you split the profits while helping with marketing, others may want nothing to do with the book once it is out. It all depends on your contract! Reputation is king. Avoid photocopy shops. I would recommend The Writers Guild if you are thinking of treading this path.


Hillary M Namunyu is an experienced editor, publishing consultant and author. To reach him, write to hillary @ wasomi . org