Current Affairs

nadia goetham, publisher,writer, rip

A CALLING AND A CURSE, BUT I LOVE IT!

A reminder that selling 3000 copies of a novel in South Africa is considered a bestseller. And yet we struggle to sell 1000 copies of one title over 2 to 3 years.

Please support local writers and their attempts to publish our local stories.”

That’s the tweet.

I must have typed and retyped it ten times, saved it in my drafts all ten times and then thought “screw it” before I tweeted it with hopes of engagement, no drama and plenty of retweets to keep the conversation going. By the time my carefully constructed tweet flew into the blue bird app’s ether it was 8.36am on 28 January 2021, and I had been awake for a good four hours already.

I’d woken up at 4.30am. For the past five weeks deep, uninterrupted sleep had been as elusive as a fiction bestseller in South Africa. Instead my sleep had been punctured with Covid-19-induced anxiety, loss, sadness, one too many memorial services and funerals online … more loss, double the anxiety of loved ones testing positive for the dreaded virus and what lies in wait for them as they recover at home or, heaven forbid, have to do so at a hospital, probably one not of their choosing. All this while trying to muster some courage to start the new year with verve and optimism to publish new authors and their books. This second wave of this bastard pandemic had us firmly in its grips, and I was suffering mentally and emotionally.

After a three-week break in December, I was back at my job, at my home desk in my little cottage in Greenside. My to-do list looked endless, but my focus was on my main priority which was to complete the final proofreading checks of the next novel that we will be publishing at Jacana Media. I am a publisher there and have been tasked to take care of a handful of authors, unearth new writers, and search for ground-breaking new content to publish and help increase revenue and profit.

Nadia Goetham

My first author to publish in 2021 is the award-winning novelist Ashraf Kagee, who had penned his second novel titled By the Fading Light. The novel came to us via our submissions portal and was then included in Pitch to Publication, where authors are given an opportunity to pitch their book idea live to a panel of judges, which would usually consist of a combination of publishers, book publicists, literary journalists and other publishing industry specialists. A way to set Jacana Media apart from other publishing houses in South Africa, Pitch to Publication has also given our publishers an opportunity to meet prospective authors in person at a very early stage of the submissions process, interrogate the thinking that informs their writing, while creating marketing mileage for our small independent publishing house.

By the Fading Light is a gorgeous novel that delves into the themes of “lost innocence, the uncertainty of kindship ties, and the unbending nature of fate”. The manuscript had to go through a few iterations before we settled on the final touches to the manuscript before it swanned its way to one of the best fiction editors in South Africa to help spit and polish it into the best possible shape for the readers here and abroad.

Ashraf Kagee, author of ‘By The Fading Light’

I was excited to work with the author and looking forward to conceptualising a punchy marketing campaign, drive publicity for the book to book-loving fiction readers, and hopefully (fingers crossed) garner many sales and new readers in the process. The content was exemplary. The author was well-established as an award winner, albeit he is not in the public eye that much, but we had a pretty good foundation, through our learnings from the pre-order marketing campaign we did for debut author Terry-Ann Adams’s Those Who Live in Cages, to help us push this latest novel from Jacana Media into the consciousness of readers and the media alike.

Terry-Ann Adams, author of “Those who live in cages’

As I try to settle down and get going with conceptualising the new pre-order marketing campaign, the facts related to that tweet kept pushing front of mind. Facts that every publisher have uppermost in their minds as they choose who and what to publish; how best to package new content; how to sell it in what sometimes feels like a saturated market overflowing with amazing books and authors, but also too little disposable income in the pockets of the citizens of the most unequal country in the world.

“A reminder that selling 3000 copies of a novel in South Africa is considered a bestseller. And yet we struggle to sell 1000 copies of one title over 2 to 3 years.

Please support local writers and their attempts to publish our local stories.”

I’m distracted (another issue that this pandemic has cemented in the last few months) wondering how different my life would have been if I had put my Journalism degree to full use and remained working in media for a large multinational company or if I’d transitioned to corporate communications. I’d be earning a bundle more, that’s for sure. I’d probably have greater job security and many perks that would come with a top-tier salary and years of experience. It all looked so amazing in my mind’s eye. And it seemed as if it would feel great too.

But then I think about not being a book publisher … Would I be as passionate as I am about books and all that goes with publishing them? Would I get the same goosebumps when I read a highly anticipated second draft of a manuscript? Or would I have a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth while I copy and paste a beautifully reworked chapter to a fellow publisher, so I can have a humble brag about my author who has delivered over and above what I had expected them to do. Would I be able to use my journalism skill of hunting down the best new political analyst on the block to bring her into the fold of authors that I so love and admire? Probably not.

And so that’s why I stay. That’s why I take the okay salary (that has been cut by 25% since the first lockdown at the beginning of 2020) and I make do. That’s why I look for the gifted black and brown writers who need the recognition and the nurturing, so they can see themselves published in their fields of expertise with pride. That’s why I take the time to answer all the publishing queries in my DM’s, help where I can and point people in the right direction where I can’t. That’s why I support and root for all the writers who come across my path – the self-published, the established, the award winners, the newly published, and the aspiring ones.

Earning a living as a book publisher in South Africa is a tough act. It’ll come at you with all its might threatening to take you out as you try to cajole authors into finally writing their second book, edit manuscripts into publishable artworks without losing the voice of the new author, test your very limited Excel skills, dash your hopes with budgets that just won’t budge, compete with bigger and better marketing campaigns that could render your attempts stillborn, and generally just exhaust you right down to the bone.

Those in the know will tell you, if you have less passion than conviction, you’ll probably leave the publishing industry within a year of starting to work in it. We find ourselves in an industry that is struggling to keep head above water. Cost increases for skilled professionals, printing, distribution and bookselling see most publishers struggling and trying their very best to publish new titles that will be profitable, so those profits can support the writing, production, printing and distribution of new titles that are important, but not necessarily wildly popular or bestsellers in waiting. The balance is delicate and requires a firm business mind but also one that understands the South African book-reading and buying public and the mandate that every publisher in a developing country such as ours should have.

As I push the facts of my tweet to the back of my mind and turn my attention to the blank Excel spreadsheet in front of me, I realise it should have had at least half of my marketing campaign for By the Fading Light mapped out by now. I shake off the worries that I cannot control and focus my attention on what a beautiful book Ashraf Kagee has written and how everyone who loves fiction, reading or just the telling of a good story should have a copy on their bookshelves by the end of April. And if that were to come to fruition, we’d have a 10-time over fiction bestseller, a positive tick to add to our publishing success and some profit to support all the new writers who are waiting with their beautiful manuscripts to be published.

Book cover of ‘By The Fading Light’

In bookstores in April, By the Fading Light by Ashraf Kagee is an astonishing evocation of Salt River, Cape Town, in 1960, and follows the lives of three friends who play a prank that places their lives at risk. Set in the shadow of the Sharpeville massacre, the lives of four young boys is weaved together in a beautiful story of lost innocence, the uncertainty of kinship ties, and the unbending nature of fate. Kagee’s first novel Khalil’s Journey won the 2012 European Union Literary Award and the 2013 South African Literature Award.

Book cover of ‘Those Who Live In Cages’

Those Who Live in Cages, Terry-Ann Adams’s first novel was published in October 2020 and  captures an astonishingly intimate view of life in Eldorado Park, a Coloured township south of Johannesburg, through five women – Bertha, Kaylynn, Laverne, Janice and Raquel. These unforgettable characters’ lives intersect as they attempt to do the most important thing: survive another day in “The Park”.

With a nod to Marian Keyes, a curtsy to Shirley, Goodness & Mercy and a wave to Bernardine Evaristo, Those Who Live in Cages will move you, lift you, and yes, change you.

*****

Nadia Goetham passed away on Sunday the 25th of April 2021 due to Covid-19 complications. The bio provided below is what Nadia wrote about herself when she contributed this guest post. Nothing has been changed. She also added a list of independent bookstores and publishers in South Africa which she supported.

Nadia Goetham hails from Paarl in the Western Cape, and has been living and working in Johannesburg for the past 21 years. She is a qualified journalist with close to 25 years’ experience in media, communications and publishing. The last 5 years she’s been working in the book publishing industry as a production manager and more recently as a publisher. Her goal is to encourage and facilitate the publication of works of fiction and non-fiction by black and brown authors, with a view of making them household names in South Africa and across the continent.

A quote that sums up Nadia’s love for books and the art of publishing: “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” – from Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

TOP 8 BOOK WEBSITES IN SA TO VISIT AND SUPPORT

With a focus on small independent publishers and bookshops, I’d like to promote the following websites that are all e-commerce complaint, people in SA can shop online for home delivery.

  1. https://jacana.co.za/
  2. https://blackbirdbooks.africa/
  3. https://cheekynatives.co.za/
  4. https://www.bookcapital.co.za/
  5. https://lovebooks.co.za/
  6. https://bridgebooks.co.za/
  7. https://booklounge.co.za/
  8. https://clarkesbooks.co.za/

George Floyd, justice

BLACK DON’T CRACK

They say black don’t crack
but his neck did crack
when a knee was bent
on a strong black neck.

In an unofficial act,
a figure of authority,
hand on the holster,
bolstering on a minority,
in an act of superiority.

The man lying on the street,
accepting his feat,
saying, ‘I can’t breathe’
Because black don’t crack
but my will did when a mother’s son was killed
by a man called to serve.
Now the only thing he will serve
is time in a cell unreserved.

Black still don’t crack,
even when the whip does.
Those lives will continue to matter
through wounds and bruises
as the sirens try to drown out,
Black Lives Matter!

People always fear what they don’t understand
but you are brave enough to take a stand.
Marching through the streets,
chanting , ‘Black Lives Matter!’

I don’t know who gets madder,
the man holding the gun in his hand
or the one on the other end.

And when they cracked the whip on your father’s dark skin,
remember yesterday your kin was lying in the street,
unable to breathe
Now today you’re here,
breathing for him.