SA author’s descent into publisher hell

Books that did get the nod. (Shutterstock)

Books that did get the nod. (Shutterstock)

FIFTH COLUMN

Scene: A book publisher’s office.

Publisher: Ah, come in. Sit, sit. Listen, I loved the book proposal that you emailed the other day. Fantastic!

Author (white): Oh, good.

Publisher: There are just one or two changes that we should look at.

Author: Okay …

  Publisher: The title, for example. I’m wondering if we shouldn’t go for something with pizzazz. You know, something with more sex appeal. How about, Run for the Hills!!!”.

Author: Ah. See? That’s precisely what I was expecting from you. The whole point of writing this book is to communicate a sober message. Too many books examining the state of our economy rely on paranoia and a false sense of panic to get people to buy it. Don’t you think it’s time we actually had a level-headed analysis?

Publisher: Tell me something. Why is it that political books are the ones that sell the best in this country? Aside from self-help books and the Bible, obviously.

Author: Because you whip readers up into hysteria by presenting an unbalanced and sometimes blatantly false view of the country! And, yes, don’t even get me started on who you think is the book buyer in this country! I’m sorry, but it’s not true that it’s just your great-aunt and her book club tut-tutting about ‘Zooma’ and ‘Joolius’. When are we going to write books for other people?

Publisher: They don’t sell. Who wants to read about the fact that the size of the economy has doubled since 1994, and that our debt-to-GDP ratio has stabilised to a much more manageable sub-45% level? That black people in the middle class not only doubled to 5.4-million, but the state’s social safety net is keeping more than 16-million people from literally starving? Boring!

Author: So you’d rather I focus on what this black government has done wrong? Pretend like the only thing that matters are trust funds? That the only story to tell is, “Boo hoo, poor me! Why can’t we go back to the state that allocated 85% of resources to me and my kin?”

  Publisher: Yes! I’m glad you get it. We can call title it, Zumaaaaaa, we’re all gonna die!!!

Author: Have you not heard a damn word I’ve said?

Publisher: Okay, fine. What about, We have begun our descent into the eighth circle of hell! We’ll put an image of Zuma on the front page drinking champagne because, you know, black people enjoying themselves is suspicious.

Author: You know what, forget it.

Publisher: No, don’t go! Oh, he’s left. Didn’t even get to see the pictures of the dead children we’d put in the middle of the book …

  Sipho Hlongwane is a Cape Town-based writer

 
Sipho Hlongwane

Sipho Hlongwane

Sipho Hlongwane is the Mail & Guardian's special projects editor. A published author, columnist and reporter by training (School of Hard Knocks), he has covered some of South Africa's most vivid protest marches, wildcat strikes and press conferences. His most challenging assignments were for women's glossy magazines. He obsesses over football and popular music for fun. Read more from Sipho Hlongwane

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