Understanding the Publishing Industry: Some Advice for Young Writers

In the last one week, I have read with dismay narrations of how young eager writers were conned by someone they label a ‘rogue publisher.’ This development points to various problems in the publishing industry. One, young or new writers are too eager to cling onto any promise of a ‘deal’ to get published even when all indications show that they are treading a dark tunnel. Secondly, it is evident there are people who long discovered an opportunity to pounce on the victims and defraud them.

Being conned in the larger publishing industry is not a new thing. Even I, who is experienced and always apprehensive with whom I deal with, have written articles which were never paid for by a church led imprint. My efforts to involve the church’s overseer bore no fruit and I had to eat the humble pie and let go. I have seen my article appear under a different byline in the leading newspaper. I know of popular writers who were never paid by reputable firms, not necessarily in the publishing industry. We treat those as bad debts. And they are here to stay, simply because they are not going away.

However, the concerned parties, who have named a publisher I had never heard of, have narrated how they were either conned of money or manuscripts, or both. There are many rogues out there. As an experienced person in the publishing industry, this is my advice to you all who are ever dreaming of holding a book with your name on the cover. Understand how publishing works.

Self-publishing vs traditional publishing

When I met writers who were submitting manuscripts in a firm where I worked, most of them always asked this question: So, how much do you charge to publish the script? Nothing, I would answer. And they would look at me with those bewildered eyes as if my ears just flapped like a bird’s wings.

In traditional publishing, you as the author presents a script for evaluation. Once the publisher is satisfied that it makes economic sense to publish your script, you sign a contract with them. The publisher covers all costs of editing, designing, printing, warehousing, marketing and distribution. This process can take quite a long time, so hopefully as you wait you should be churning out a new script in your crib. Most contracts in Kenya stipulate that you will be paid a royalty of ten percent on net sales in a given timeline, typically within a year.

ALSO READ: Should I Sell My Manuscript?

Self-publishing on the other hand is where you approach a publishing entrepreneur to produce a book from your script. There are many reputable publishing entrepreneurs around, if you inquire from the right people. They also have different ways of doing their business. But generally, every cost that arises from the production process will be the author’s. So you pay for the editing, designing, printing, and when the book is ready you go carry the copies from the printer to your own ‘warehouse’ and embark on marketing and distribution. Now, that is a tall order.

Disadvantages of self-publishing

Apart from being conned by cunning ‘publishers’ as has happened to our young and ambitious writers, the cost of producing a book from your own pocket is enormous. The cost of marketing and distribution, and doing actual sales is even gargantuan. Unless you are a big name, or unless you have five hundred friends who will buy the five hundred copies you have produced yet may never read them, avoid this route.

Secondly, affording a reputable editor might be way above your ability. Therefore, the quality of your book will end up denting your image and you will be embarrassed among your peers.

I will be talking about how to successfully identify a possible traditional publisher and a reputable self-publishing entrepreneur in my next post.


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