I’ve sat in numerous gatherings of writers in this country, most recently with the group that gathered at UB.
The discussion always goes a certain way, the order might differ, but the content remains the same.
First complaint- the publishers in Botswana don’t want to publish our work.
This is a common complaint that is untrue.
The fact is the publishers in Botswana, like everywhere in the world, love to publish books- it is actually their business.
If they don’t publish books, then they’ll close shop. But the key word is – business.
In Botswana, like everywhere in the world, publishing is a business.
Businesses have overheads that must be paid. Businesses want to make a profit.
The way publishers make a profit is they sell books.
If the books do not sell they make a loss.
Writers in the country are often quite naïve about the publishing business.
They think because they’ve written a book (no matter the quality, which is often astoundingly bad) the publisher must publish it.
But that’s not reality. The publisher is going to only publish books they think can sell.
And as we all know, Batswana do not buy books.
They do not go to the shop to buy books for themselves or for their family members.
Batswana don’t even buy books for their kids! So who buys books?
Who keeps the publishers in this country in business?
The government- who buys books for the schools.
That is the reality. Moaning and groaning about that every time writers get together is not going to change the situation. It is what it is.
The second thing that always comes up in these discussions is the fact that Batswana don’t read and buy our books. Boo-hoo, moan, moan.
Yes, that is the case. But the question Batswana writers need to ask themselves is- when last did you purchase and read a book by a writer from Botswana?
I know a group of South African writers who have made a commitment to buy local books, some exclusively, only reading foreign titles borrowed from the library.
How about you? You, Mr Writer, when asked by a publisher -who will buy your book (because at the very least you should know the target market of your book) you say – “everyone”, but – do you buy books written by Batswana and locally based authors?
So who are those “everyones” if not you?
Imagine what a difference it could make if every writer in this country would commit to buying a book written by a local author every month. Just one.
Every month. See that’s putting your money where your mouth is.
That’s actually stepping into the problem and trying to make a difference.
You cry about no one buying your book. You cry about publishers not publishing your book, and yet you are part of the problem.
If you want a thriving trade market for books, a market that can support the publishing of all sorts of books, then why not start creating that market? Why not start today?
The last thing that invariably comes up in these writer discussions is the fact that government doesn’t support writers.
I always wonder what support do writers need.
Do you want the government to pay for publishing your book that is not up to the standard required and has no viable market?
That makes no sense and makes no progress in improving the situation.
Already the government sponsors organisations that run workshops for writers, such as Poetavango.
If you’re serious about writing, get yourself there. Take responsibility for improving your craft.
That is how the government can help writers.
Writers in this country need to get realistic and stop complaining.
There are no publishers or a book market in Botswana?
Then find a publisher somewhere else by doing your research on the internet.
You need help improving your writing? Read. Hook up with other writers and share your work.
Support needn’t be only from government. You want your book to be bought- then start supporting local literature and encourage others to do the same!
We’re stuck in one place because we refuse to get serious and get moving to change the problem.