How to publish a book in South Africa

On planning my big adventure for next year I have started researching on how to get my book published, either through traditional or self-publishing options. Below is my correspondence with someone who preferes to remain anonymous for various reasons.

SF: Should I self-publish or go with a traditional publisher?

RT: Regarding the choice to self-publish, it is a difficult one. Therefore (and I’m sure you would in any case) please treat this advice as a recommendation or personal opinion only.Traditional publishers have a lot to offer in terms of assisting you in the publishing process, and bring a professionalism to book publishing that is lacking in many self-publishing projects. Even in spite of much lower royalties on offer, you are still likely to get more exposure and the resulting sales are likely to outweigh financially the larger royalties through self-publishing.

Typically, a publisher in South Africa is not likely to give you an advance on royalties to keep you going while writing. Furthermore, they are unlikely to assist you in the writing process from the word go unless you have a very detailed proposal and can get buy in from the publisher.It is difficult to go this route as you would essentially need to convince a publisher of your ability to put together a book without having a manuscript to show. I would therefore suggest that you plan your work carefully and get it down.

There are editors that can help you to structure your work, if you have have budget to spend on this aspect of manuscript development before completion.Once you have your manuscript in shape, I would suggest submitting it to a traditional publisher, before considering self-publishing. A few that might be interested are Jonathan Ball Publishers, Pan Macmillan South Africa, Jacana Media, Random House (Umuzi imprint) or perhaps Bookstorm Publishers.

If accepted to be published, publishers will get your book into local bookstores and handle the distribution of your book. They have sales reps that go into stores on a regular basis, and of course marketing and publicity departments that will help you to get publicity in papers, radio, magazines, etc. Visit to see publishers in SA and link to their sites where you can read more about their publishing programmes and find a potential match.

Be aware that the submission process to each publisher could take anywhere from a month to a few months.Of course, you could try and arrange to see the Publisher or Commissioning Editor at any of the publishers in person, but it can be tricky getting time with them.

Failing traditional publishing, consider self-publishing as an option with much work, particularly on publicity. And of course expect to take a risk on the book selling out its print run or recouping costs, if you are going to spend some money on its development. Distribution into Exclusive Books and others is very tricky as store managers who procure titles are very hard to convince if self-publishing. There are companies such as Blue Weaver and PSD Promotions (check them out online) who will be able to represent you in the trade and also handle your distribution but be aware that they require a fairly large cut in order to do so.

SF : What steps do I need to take and how much I need to spend to get my book self-published to the best level possible?

RT: Getting your book ready for publication and taking a publisher-standard approach to developing it (i.e. if you are looking at producing something that matches publisher-quality materials, using all relevant professionals and including all steps in the process) involves the following:

Editing: guidance during the process of writing your manuscript and more fine-grained copy editing, implementing stylistic consistency and tidying up language, querying factual and other errors – usually at R220 per hour and for an average-size (+-60 000 to 90 000 words) book you are looking at about 60 to 80 hours of work, which works out to about R13 200-R17 600

Layout/design: the going rate for publishers is around R33 per page (conservative). Taking a more or less average-size book 296 pp (including a picture section, or pictures set in throughout) comes to +-R9768. Note that typesetters usually charge extra to implement corrections, with their hourly rates ranging from R300 to R400+ per hour. Typically implementing corrections on a clean manuscript would take around 12 hours, which comes to R3600 at R300 an hour. (Note: if you’re using Createspace, an Amazon affiliate, you might look at using their built-in, automated layout service, however you won’t be able to produce files that you can use to send to local litho printers for your local print run, as far as I am aware but you could check with the Printer.)

Proofreading: after laying out of pages, thorough checks for errors and to implement consistency, raise any author queries, check layout issues, etc. R24 per page * 296 pp =R7104.- Cover design: +-R3500 to R5000 depending on the designer used. (Highly recommended to use an experienced BOOK COVER designer.)- Ebook: using a local ebook designer to create ebook formats using InDesign files, +-R7 per page * 296 pp = R2072 (Note: you can always choose to do this yourself, but including this results in professionally produced files.)Through my company I will be offering a service to publish ebooks to Kalahari, Exclusive Books, Kobo and MyBooks through a local ebook digital fulfilment agent On the Dot (currently it isn’t possible for self-publishers to reach these South African ebook retailers directly – and Kalahari particularly is a good ebook sales platform for publishers and authors). This will involve a commission to be determined. If at any stage you’re interested, please do let me know.

You can choose to go without some of the services in your self-publishing. For example – proofreading – do the layout of the book yourself – create the ebook yourself, with more ‘non-negotiables’ being cover design and good editing. Your work will undoubtedly not be on a par with publishers’ books, but they might be good enough to suit self-pub’s needs and you might sacrifice a bit of quality for speed to market, control over your work and higher royalty rates. A lot of SA publishers also don’t know how to get your ebooks onto the iBookstore or Barnes & Noble, for example, which you can do yourself. A route to also consider, if the publisher is willing to do so, is to sign up with a publisher for print rights and retain your ebook rights.The publisher will definitely cover all these aspects relating to producing the book (not to mention printing which also needs to be factored in and is a large cost).

SF: How many books could I expect to sell in SA?

RT: In terms of sales, it is difficult to guess, however, if you get your marketing and publicity right, and also have your distribution set up into stores in South Africa, with the print book you may be looking at anywhere from 1 500 copies sold to 4 000 copies sold. You might look at 10% to 25% (optimistic) ebook sales vs print, which would amount to 225 to 375 copies or 600 to 1000 copies respectively on the print numbers above.


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