The fight against the extinction of fiction

What is the model of Storied?

The initiative itself is a crowdfunding campaign. The idea behind it is to raise R3-million, which will eventually fund the imprint, which will fall under Jacana. Right now the company itself has been set up and registered but is not yet in operation. The crowdfunding model will help the market essentially buy shares within Storied.

Why does it have to be a stand-alone imprint?

It is the idea of publishing fiction, and only fiction. If you look at other publishers — your multinationals like the Penguins, the Jonathan Balls — they publish a lot more non-fiction than they do fiction and even Penguin, which has an imprint that publishes only fiction, isn’t so much a fiction publishing house. A lot of others as well. Pan Macmillan, similarly, does a lot more non-fiction than fiction but they still do fiction. Right now there is no sole publisher that publishes only fiction. That is what will distinguish Storied from everybody else.

In addition to that, we are excited about looking at the entire publication process across the entire value chain. One of the things we have put forward is that with the funding raised we will fund our operations in terms of publishing writers and training editors.

Although there might be a lot of black writers, there are not enough black editors. So you get this beautiful piece of work written by this wonderful writer and by the time it gets to the editing process, some of the nuances of language get lost along the way. So what might have been an original product which had the nuanced language and the original voice of the owner, by the time that it is done with that process it is a different piece of work.

So it will be a lot about development and looking at different distribution models, speaking to the whole idea that black people don’t read; maybe that misconception comes down to people not finding the kind of fiction we want to read. The access is not there to get to these books.

How far will R3-million take you?

If you establish a publishing house and imagine the infrastructure that would be required for that, it’s an enormous undertaking.

We are coming into this already having the infrastructure, the distribution channels and marketing and the operational capabilities that Jacana already has. So what Storied will do is focus solely on finding those works that are worth publishing and developing those editors and getting those books to market.

So as much as it is start-up capital, that R3-million will go straight into the idea of publishing immediately. It’s not going to be rental space. It will also fund an editor’s bursary. We will also be doing writers’ coaching.

Why are scales tipped in favour of non-fiction in South Africa?

As much as English language publishing has fallen over the years to about a 15% market share, that is not the case for Afrikaans publishing because, historically, it has always been supported. Its fiction publishing has always done tremendously well. In our case, historically, non-fiction has always been a way of communicating what was going on with our political issues to such an extent that fiction seemed indulgent.

How different is this in other Anglophone parts of the continent?

The big difference with West African countries such as Nigeria and Ghana is that these countries are actually publishing in their own indigenous languages. Here that is almost non-existent.

What about scepticism that an established entity is crowdfunding and promising equity?

If you look at Jacana’s history, we didn’t start off as a trade publisher. We started off as an educational publisher, producing publications for companies and educational material for multinational organisations. We only became trade publishers in the past 15 years. We are not like your Penguin, for instance. But we have established a model that has seen us become one of the most successful independent publishers in South Africa, with more of a leaning towards fiction publishing.

Is Jacana crowdfunding for Storied to publish fiction? Yes, because we have a formula that works but we have limited capacity in terms of how much we can take on. We’d love to publish more fiction but we can’t afford it. We did approach institutional funders and we already have a facility with a particular bank, so it would be hard to justify taking on more.

How are your competitors doing in terms of publishing fiction?

Comparing Jacana with other non-fiction publishers like Tafelberg, Jonathan Ball, Pan Macmillan and Penguin; we looked at their fiction numbers and looked at ours and across the board fiction has been on the decline.

Looking at people more focused on fiction — like Umuzi publishing, Hlomu Publishing, Picador, Modjaji, Blackbird — their sales have also been falling over the last five years. Kwela books was up and down. Jacana’s sales have actually been on an upward trend in the past five years even though the numbers have been falling elsewhere.

How has the rise of self-publishing affected the business?

Dudu Busani-Dube of Hlomu Publishing, she publishes the Naledi series, a love story of three books. She has actually been one to watch because, as a self-published author, she has done absolutely well. She posted something about walking into Exclusive Books and there being an entire shelf dedicated to her book, when a year before she was selling out of the boot of her car.

So the numbers of self-published authors out there are adding to the numbers of fiction books sold. I’ve seen authors sell out and reprint and that is amazing because it shows that there is room for fiction, but publishers are not putting as much time and effort into fiction.There is a whole movement interested in making sure our fiction sells and maybe it’s a good time to address those right now.

Why should readers give you money?

We are equity crowdfunding. Your R1 200 buys you shares in Storied. The returns you will get on Storied shares are not going to be enormous but we are playing to people’s social investment ideals. So it’s like you are giving back by supporting these writers and editors and by building fiction in South Africa.

Yes, you will get returns down the line but it’s not like, “I wanna buy my Storied shares now and I want my dividends next year.” No. Obviously, when we make enough money we will give back to our investors but now you will see your dividends in the books we are putting out.

For more information on Storied, visit

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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