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Experience of Getting Published and How We Can Sell Our Books in Tanzania and Africa. Culture and Development East Africa. Dar es Salaam.



Good afternoon everybody. I’d like to begin this session by introducing myself. My name is Enock Maregesi. I wrote Kolonia Santita, which is about narcoterrorism. Narcoterrorism is terrorism associated with trade in illegal drugs. It’s done by the narcos. And the narcos are illegal drugs business tycoons. This novel was published by one of the biggest independent publishing companies in the world, called AuthorHouse, now Author Solutions, which is based in the UK, USA, and the Philippines. My novel, in December 2015, won its first award: the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature in Nairobi, Kenya. I thought it was impossible. But as Dan Brown puts it, “Everything is possible. The impossible just takes longer.” It is possible to be a published author, and it is possible to win awards as well.

My topic today is Experience of Getting Published and How We Can Sell Our Books in Tanzania and Africa. In other words; Experience of getting published and how we can sell our own books in our own country and continent, and how African writers can influence world literature from Africa.

26 years ago, I started writing by developing a passion. A passion for writing. Whenever I had anything that I thought was worth jotting down I would do so without delay or hesitation. I started writing essays, songs and poems! I started solving puzzles, writing jokes, letters to my friends and family and so on and so forth. That’s what got me into the writing business.

In this business, if you need to be a good writer you need passion and conviction as well. This is because if there isn’t passion, it’s very hard to not give up. It’s impossible, nearly, to be a good writer if you don’t have passion and conviction. But passion and conviction alone aren’t enough. You need practice (lots of it), courage, perseverance and faith. You need to take a course in Creative Writing or Journalism. You need to read a lot, especially non-fiction and non-interesting books – books written by reliable experts. You need to learn how to accept criticism and disappointments. You need to write a lot, anything. You need to be observant, there’re stories everywhere in our everyday lives that you can write about. You can write about people, animals, environment, things that happen in your dreams et cetera, before deciding on your first story. Passion is like hope; it will keep you going, no matter what.

My first story ever to write was Magaidi wa Namba One (Number One Terrorists, Namba One being a place), a crime fiction short story about a local gang in Dodoma. This was a 15-page story that I wrote when I was 15 or 16 years old, at Bihawana Secondary School in Dodoma Region.

Magaidi wa Namba One was about a group of terrorists who had headquarters in the outskirts of Dodoma. They operated in and out of the city, until one day one of their top bosses was apprehended. He later was sentenced to life imprisonment, and hard labor, in a maximum security prison. Consequently, other bosses of the group followed suit. All were given sentences according to the crimes they had committed.

Another thing in this business that you need is inspiration. You need to be inspired to be able to write a story, and inspirations come from everywhere around our lives. People get inspired by people. They get inspired by environment, the universe, animals, birds, art, insects, movies, music and so on and so forth. In my case, I was inspired by so many people and so many situations as a writer: Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ben Mtobwa, Euphrase Kezilahabi, Penina Mlama, Shafi Adam Shafi, action movies like Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss and Chuck Norris’s Missing in Action, story-telling from my grandparents and other elders just to name a few.

The most inspiration of all however was Shaaban Robert – a true patriot of Tanzania and a legend of the Kiswahili language – whose books gave me strength (and hope) to write my first novel Kolonia Santita; which was initially titled Salina Cruz, a town in southern Mexico, where the Kolonia Santita cartel was founded!

My career started 23 years ago in Dar es Salaam. As soon as I finished my O-Level studies in 1992, I started writing Kolonia Santita during the gap year. Before I started writing officially so to speak, I had a beautiful dream in the garden of my father’s house in Dar es Salaam. A war of ideas battled endlessly within my head for a long time about a certain idea. This idea was a novel idea; that was going to be set in more than five cities across the globe; with heroes from Denmark, Tunisia, Israel, and Tanzania, a hero from Tanzania being the main character.

The audacity of having a go or rather of having an attempt and overconfidence and hope; gave me the foundation to think and write on pieces of papers, mountains of ideas and imaginations. I had the potential I supposed, to becoming one of the best writers and entertainers in Tanzania.


My first experience in publishing a book was in 1999 in Dar es Salaam. I had written Kolonia Santita for seven years! This was with a traditional company called Popular Publications Ltd (PPL). PPL rejected my manuscript. It rejected it due to an invaluable report, prepared by the late Saifu D. Kiango; who was editor at BAKITA – which is the National Swahili Council of Tanzania. Kiango suggested in his report that I rewrite the entire manuscript, before taking it back to publishers. But I failed to take it back to PPL. PPL had lost some of the chapters in the Kolonia Santita manuscript (chapter 7, 8 and 9) and I wasn’t happy with the answers that were given to me by its chief editor that, he/the office didn’t know where those chapters were, and that he/the office had taken the manuscript to BAKITA in its complete form. That wasn’t good.

Because of that, I withdrew my incomplete manuscript from PPL and vowed to correct each and every error that Mr Kiango had suggested, and vowed to publish it independently overseas, whenever I had a chance.

Between 1992 and 1999 I had written other five manuscripts, two of them complete and three incomplete, crime fictions and love stories. In 2004 I relocated to London where I had a good chance to research all my six manuscripts to the standard that I always desired.

In the UK, I was a student at The Writers Bureau in Manchester for a course in Creative Writing. The Writers Bureau gave me confidence! I was living in a burrow, in darkness. However, skimming across a few books of the course, I saw light at the end of the tunnel. I knew from that moment on, that if I studied hard enough, I would’ve got the experience and expertise and guidance that I really wanted.

I wanted to be a good writer and entertain people, as well as educate them. My wish was to become one of the best writers and sellers of the entire writing community in Tanzania, and beyond.

My second experience in publishing was in 2012 with AuthorHouse in the UK. Now, contrary to the first experience, this one was a lot easier. First and foremost, PPL was a traditional publishing company; whereas Author Solutions is an independent publishing company. This means, the writer has to do almost everything by themselves – and there isn’t money for advance payments or anything like that, before the book is published. The only obstacle that I found was money, in that, you have to fund everything from editing to actually printing the book itself.

Independent publishing companies are good for a start off. The success of E. L. James and her Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is such an inspiring story. E. L. James started off as a self-published author with her first novel Fifty Shades of Grey; as an e-book and print-on-demand, before selling publishing rights to Vintage Books. Vintage Books is a traditional publishing house, which is a subdivision of Random House. E. L. James has sold over 100 million copies of her Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, and Fifty Shades of Grey has been translated into 52 languages worldwide! If things prove almost impossible in traditional publishing, you can still turn to independent and still get your voice heard. One advantage about independent publishing is that, as long as you pay for everything, except distribution, you retain all the rights to your book. What that means is, you can republish your book anytime, anywhere, without asking permission from anyone. That’s what I did! I independently published Kolonia Santita with AuthorHouse, which is an independent publishing house; and now, this August, it’s going to be republished by East African Educational Publishers (EAEP) in Nairobi, Kenya. EAEP is a traditional publishing house.

Publishing books through traditional publishing houses is very hard indeed! Your manuscript needs to be one of the best, before it is even considered for acceptance. I know so many writers who have had many rejections and disappointments from traditional publishers – but later opted for independent publishers instead, and saw their dreams come to pass, as published authors. There are no independent publishing companies in Tanzania. Theren’t many in Africa. But as the world continues to merge into a single village, you can get published anywhere in the world from wherever you are; with your PC, tablet, or phone, and internet connection! So, my call to upcoming writers out there is that; don’t get discouraged, that a traditional publishing company has rejected your manuscript. You can independently publish it and come back to the traditional company later, when you actually have enough experience in the craft. That way, your voices will be heard!

Let’s talk about a journey to bookstores here in Tanzania and Africa for a moment. Writing a book is a challenge. Publishing it is another challenge. But selling it is the hardest of the challenges. In my opinion, apart from marketing and promotion of the book that takes a lot of money and time to prepare, we can only sell books by writing good interesting stories; which have been invested-in a lot of research, time and energy. You cannot write a book and publish it in three months’ time, and expect to earn a considerable amount of earnings from it. Dan Brown is one of the most successful writers in the world. He’s one of the richest as well. But Mr Brown takes an average of three years to write and complete a book. Chimamanda Adichie, our own African writer, takes an average of four. She wrote and completed Americanah in four years!

To be able to influence Tanzanian literature and African literature, and sell our books in our country as well as in our continent, we need to be committed to what we do. And what we do is writing. Write as much as you can. Read as much as you can. Use the library and the internet carefully for research and talk to people, about things that matter. To make a living from writing, and make people read again in Tanzania and Africa; we must write very well, very good stories. Thank you so much for listening to me.

Enock Maregesi – March 11, 2016, Eco Sanaa Terrace, Mikocheni B, Dar es Salaam


From → Mengineyo

  1. sebastian permalink

    How long it takes to publish a novel?

  2. You really inspired me Sir. I have a dream of becoming a great writer in the future but i think I really need an inspiration like this one. May God bless your work. But how much money can it cost to edit and publish a book?

    • Hi Jane, Thank you! It really depends on weather you aim to go traditional or independent. Traditional publishing is harder, than indie, but it’s worth it. Normally you don’t have to pay any money when publishing traditionally, but independently you have to pay for everything. The cost for editing and publishing depends on the indie publishing company you need to have a contract with. However, you can have someone to edit your manuscript before taking it to a publishing company for a book contract. But again, everyone has their own price tags. I normally do TZS 8,000 per page.

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