25 April 2006

Uganda: Publishing On Demand

Nairobi — AFTER THE MANUSCRIPT had gathered dust for two years, Glaydah Namukasa, then on the British Council Crossing Borders writing programme, managed to get a publisher for her novel, The Deadly Ambition.

Together with By the African Fire, The Price of Memory and A Leopard in My Bed by Mildred Kiconco Barya, Patrick Mangeni and Julius Caesar Sseremba respectively, The Deadly Ambition is the product of a software programme that publishes copies of a book on demand - that is, it enables very small print runs.

Publish-on-Demand (PoD) thus gives the opportunity to try the book out in the market without incurring too much cost. The print run can be as small as 300 copies, which means that no dead stock will remain if the book does not sell well.

The British Council and Mallory, a UK publisher, published the four titles in Uganda, as part of a new series, New African Writing.

They were released at the end of the Crossing Borders programme, which was launched in Africa by the British Council five years ago.

It is difficult to get published in Africa. Publishers complain that few of the manuscripts they get from budding authors are worth publishing. They also blame a poor reading culture, which makes it difficult for publishing ventures to make profits due to low sales.

PoD is an ideal solution to these challenges. By reducing the cost of producing books, publishers in Africa will be able to bring out more books from new writers and have the courage to experiment.

The chief executive officer of Mallory International Julian Hardinge said: "If you know of or have written an important book now out of print - or if you are a new author without a publisher, please get in touch."

Uganda has experienced an upsurge in writing in the recent past, with writers from that country either winning writing competitions or publishing their first book. They include Doreen Baingana who was shortlisted for the 2004 and 2005 Caine Prize for African Writing. She has now published a novel, Tropical Fish.

FOR NAMUKASA, 2006 IS A lucky year. Winning the 2006 McMillan Writers Prize, getting her novel published by Mallory and having another one lined up for publication in September of the same year is no mean achievement.

"When you have a book in print, there are advantages," said Namukasa. "The first book determines whether you will succeed or not."

The question is whether a writer, once launched on the PoD, will want to stick with that publisher.

Some literary scholars have expressed misgivings about PoD, saying it could lead to substandard editing, high cover prices and the danger of authors losing their copyright.

For Africa, which is still in need of new literary voices, the advantages of PoD overshadow the possible problems. In a foreword to the new series, Richard Weyers, the director of the British Council in Kampala, says: "It is a special kind of privilege to be able to help others realise their dreams... New African Writing is an attempt to bring the vibrant writing coming out of Africa to a wider public."

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