1. Size does not matter. It doesn’t matter how big or small your publisher is, what matters is their vision and courage. Modjaji Books has been a joy and inspiration to work with. Colleen Higgs has been running this little powerful publishing house for 10 years. And it is a courageous press that publishes what it believes in.
I love the fact that she was open to publishing my mix of prose and poetry without question. Many people have asked how I convinced her – I didn’t. It was never discussed.
It was through Colleen and Beverly Nambozo of the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation that I met my East African publisher, Nyana Kakoma of Sooo Many Stories. They are a new outfit – Flame and Song – is only their second book. But they have put her out there in style. I have learnt to use Instagram and Twitter, and more recently Facebook Live because of them.
Both are relatively small outfits, run by amazing women. Both have open doors for my book to travel. It was great to have them hold my hand on my journey.
2. A good editor makes a big difference. What I learnt was the editor shapes the book; helps the author tighten the story. It’s a collaborative process, and the editor helps the writer stand outside of their writing and see new possibilities.
I worked with Andie Miller. We deleted chunks, and brought some of it back in at a different place. There places in the text where she asked for more and others where she asked questions that helped me sharpen my work. And we sometimes disagreed. There were times we had robust conversations.
Most times her questions, comments and suggestions helped become clearer about what I wanted to say. A good editor is not an option.
3. Proof-reading is critical. I learnt that the proof reader doesn’t just check grammar and spelling mistakes. They also check facts, and copy right issues too. They read with a new eye and point you to things you can’t see because you are so immersed in the text.
We often call the proof reader an editor. Their tasks are very different.
4. Titles are important – and they can change. For years, as I was writing, my book was called ‘She of the Ashes and Flames’. It grew on me – and with one friend we referred to it as SOTAF. It was perfect – or so I thought. I loved it. When I started working with Modjaji I was gently asked to change it. So we decided that ‘Ashes and Flames’ would be the working title. It grew on me. I loved it. As we neared the publication date I was told we needed a new title. There was another book that had a similar title. It was Lauren Smith (I think) who finally came up with Flame and Song. It has grown on me. I LOVE it!
5. And then there is design. Did you know that after you finish writing decisions have to be made about design: the font; the font size; the book size; the headings; the book cover and many more? All these things impact on the look and feel of your book. And book covers can change. Did you know that? Flame and Song has two covers.
The book is then laid out and sent to the printers.
The printers and publishers decide on the colour and quality of the paper of the pages; and of the cover.
After this the book is printed.