By Tebogo Ditshego

I’m convinced. Publishing a book is an act of bravery. Not just regarding publishing content that will push the envelope, but also putting yourself in a position where thousands of readers will enjoy, critique, judge and maybe even chastise your work. Particularly, at a time when the audience is just one click away from getting your attention on social media.

I’ve learnt this through the experience of publishing my first book, Kasi Nerd under Marketing and Public Relations agency Ditshego Media.

The purpose of Kasi Nerd is to provide an alternative narrative of the townships, and challenge existing myths about people with an appetite for knowledge, such as that they’re boring, socially awkward and weird. When one gets into the corporate world, it becomes quite clear that those who are well-read, focused and driven are often the ones people aspire to be like.

The market is currently lacking a variety of famous township tales. Those that get exposure are often riddled with gangsterism and stereotypes, which is usually a result of not having many black-owned publishing companies, with the resources available to develop, market and distribute a healthy variety of homegrown stories. So I decided to take up the challenge of telling a township story which is fictional, but based on personal experiences and observations.

Technically, I’m self-published, which is stigmatised because some readers are bound to read with added sensitivity. Similar to how self-conscious individuals view a photograph of themselves, with the expectation that it might exaggerate the bulge of their belly.

Luckily, I’ve written several articles for mainstream media platforms, and received added training as an Honours graduate in Communications, so before writing the book I was pretty confident that I could manage this project seamlessly.

So I took up the challenge to write a book from a previous client of mine Unathi Batyashe-Fillis, and the SABC Info Library on Sunday, 7 February 2016. At first, I thought to myself, okay, I can’t write a book this year due to time constraints, so I’ll write a book about entrepreneurship and marketing which will come out in 2018/19.

But a few minutes later, I tested the Kasi Nerd concept on Twitter and Facebook, and the response was compelling enough for me to write a few chapters which I shared online. After getting a positive response, I committed the rest of my afternoon and evening to writing the book, which took me another six weeks until it was ready to be printed.

It seems simple doesn’t it? Well, it was far from easy. Here are some tips I’d like to share if you’re looking to publish a book.

Write the book

This may seem obvious, but it’s easier said than done. People plan to write a book, but when it’s time to do the actual writing, they come up with excuses why they can’t do it immediately. Similar to my excuse, that I don’t have time. Others include having writer’s block and needing more experience before one can write the book. While there may be credence to these claims, often than not, one does have time to put the book together. The real reason the book is not being written is because it is not a priority.

As soon as writing the book becomes a priority, I beleive the author will find time to put pen to paper.

Put together a production team

Get a hold of books which you enjoyed and check the credits section to see who you can use in your team. Also ask around from people you know who have published books. Being a first-time publisher, you may not know the going price for some of the services. Make sure you shop around to get reasonable prices.

Some authors use the services of a project manager who you pay to manage the book publishing process, so they can focus on what they do best. I disagree with this approach because the one person who cares the most about your story is you. Why would you allow someone else to manage the process of developing what you care about the most? Of course, you’ll need advice and mentorship, but at the end of the day this is your story, own it.

You’re going to need the following expertise to develop the book to a point that it is print ready;

  • An editor who will provide input to your overall manuscript. The editor will check if your manuscript makes sense, highlight contradictions, provide advice on what to omit and where the story requires further development. Although the editor won’t be the last line of defense when it comes to grammar, the usage of tenses, and spelling, she/he will flag most of these errors.
  • The cover designer who will provide a front and back cover of the book. For Kasi Nerd, I used the services of two designers who I felt would compliment each other. The cover was illustrated from scratch and edited many times through my input. Then coloured in and laid out until I was satisfied with the end product. The question here is how do you brief the designers? There are many ways. I asked the illustrator to read the first chapter and to decide for herself how the cover should look. I was provided with three covers, which I didn’t like. But after a few days, I started warming up to one of them. This design ended up being the cover of Kasi Nerd.
  • A proofreader who will focus on ensuring that the content is print ready. The proofreader will correct grammar, spelling and tenses. My proofreader went as far as pointing out a contradiction in the draft manuscript, which we were able to rectify timeously. Before I sent the manuscript to the proofreader, I read the book about three times, then put it through a programme that I purchased called Grammarly. After the manuscript had come back, I gave it to Ditshego Media staff and read it another +10 times. On the tenth time, I still found errors. I then listened to the story using the dictation feature in Microsoft Word a few times, and came across more errors. The reason it’s good to listen to the story is because our brains know how to make something seem correct when in actual fact it’s incorrect. So this could be one of the more challenging elements in the process, which will require patience.
  • Two typographers will be needed to layout the content of your book professionally for the paperback book and the eBook. I didn’t manage to find a typographer who does both equally well, which is why I’d recommend two specialists. In seeking a typographer, I used someone who was recommended by the printing company I used. Publishing an eBook is much more challenging than it seems, do not try to do this yourself. Find an expert who can format it in a way that it will be suitable for laptops, mobile phones, and kindle devices.
  • A printing company. To find the best one for you, you can check the credits section of a book with aesthetics you like.

Learn about paper

I had no clue what type of paper, cover or spine bonding I could use because these are very technical aspects of the process. I went online and learned a bit about it, but it wasn’t enough for me to brief the printing company. So I took a book, which was visually appealing to me, and couriered it to the printing company, so they could provide a quote that will get my book to look exactly like the one I sent. This approach is highly recommended.

Marketing and distribution 

You may have noticed that Kasi Nerd gained a significant amount of traction in a short period, through marketing activities like product testing, competitions, countdowns and daily interaction with our audience. We could do this efficiently and quite rapidly because we have had a four-year head start since we have been running the biggest book club in Africa ReadaBookSA, for four years now. Nevertheless, you can get traction by speaking to friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances to support you on social media and spread the word about your book.

You’ll also need to organise interviews on various media platforms to expand your reach and host events where you can talk about your book and sell it.

We’re using the early Netflix model to sell our books manually through registered post. The website will soon be launched to make the ordering process much quicker. From 16 April 2016, Kasi Nerd will be available on Amazon and on 22 April 2016 we will be launching the book at the University of Johannesburg (APB campus), Con Cowan Theatre. We’re also considering placing Kasi Nerd in bookstores.

The price for the paperback book is R99 including delivery and the eBook will be R49. We’re still making a profit with these prices, but we’re not maximising on short-term gain, we’re focusing on the long-term, which benefits the consumer because now they can purchase a quality and relevant book at an affordable price.

It’s not a must, but it’s advisable that your pricing forms part of your marketing strategy. Low prices are disruptive because sometimes it forces your competition to lower their prices. If they don’t they might struggle to compete. This is what Walmart has done effectively in their retail business.

You’ll need resources to execute this plan, but if you see this as an investment as opposed to an expense, you’ll find a way to raise the funds. Publishing a quality book is an investment in your community because you’ll be contributing to the available literature and providing them with relevant reading material.

Therefore, you’ll be playing a role in spreading a culture of reading and even writing. It’s an investment to your brand; a book is one of the best business cards you can produce. It can potentially place you ahead of your competition because it can give you added credibility.

Get an ISBN

An International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is the identity number of the book. To get it, all you have to do is contact the National Library of South Africa and send them an email with the title of the book, the name of the author, the publisher’s contact information, and you should have it within a week. You won’t need to send them your book, however once it’s ready, you should hand in a copy of your book and they’ll provide you with an ISBN for your eBook. I wish you all the best in writing your book.

About the author

Tebogo Ditshego is the CEO of Ditshego Media, the founder of ReadabookSA and author of African fiction book, Kasi Nerd. In 2014, he was listed as one of Forbes Magazine’s top 30 African entrepreneurs under 30.