This is post #6 in my blog series looking at self-publishing from a South African perspective. Check out the full list of posts on the Self-Publishing in South Africa page 🙂
The digital revolution has made it easy for self-publishers to get ebooks into the hands of readers. Where we’re still struggling, though, is with print copies. Large publishing houses have the money to print thousands of copies up front, and they have deals with distributors that make it easy to get copies into bookstores.
So what are your options as a self-publisher? If you can afford to print 50 to 100 ish copies of your book (I use MegaDigital, but there are other printing options in South Africa if you just Google them), here are some ways you can reach your readers.
Independent bookstores don’t have to work exclusively with distributors, and the managers of these stores are often open to negotiating with independent authors. All you need to do is contact them and ask. They may pay you up front for several copies, or they make take your books on consignment, meaning they’ll pay you after the books (or some of the books) have been sold. Examples of independent bookstores in South Africa are The Book Lounge in Cape Town, Books & Books in Durban, and Skoobs Theatre of Books in Johannesburg.
You could approach your local library and ask if they are interested in purchasing a copy of your book. What would be better though, is if you gave a free copy to the library. Or perhaps, if you have a series of books, you could give the first book to the library and contact them sometime later to find out if they might be interested in purchasing the remaining books in the series. The point with this option is not to make a huge amount of money, but to reach a potentially large number of readers. Readers who could go on to become fans of yours and buy future books directly from you.
If you haven’t written a child- or teen-appropriate book, ignore this one! Otherwise, read on …
There are several options here. You could send out an information pack to schools all over the country telling the librarians about your book(s) and asking if they would be interested in purchasing any from you. Or, if you have several books, you could send one for free along with information detailing the rest of your books. If you have a larger marketing budget, you could send a pack of several of your books to various schools. I’ve done this in the past and I’ve ended up with new fans who engage regularly with me on social media, parents contacting me to buy future books in the series for their children who are now fans, as well as school librarians who are ready to purchase each new release in a series for all the young readers at their schools who are anxious to know what happens next.
Another option is to contact schools and offer to do talks. You could tie this in with career days (a local author is probably a unique and interesting option not often seen!), or World Book Day, or book clubs if the school happens to have one, or it could be a talk specifically related to the content of your book. Let the librarian or contact person know that you’ll bring copies of your books along with you so that if any students are interested in getting a signed copy (and their parents are the awesome type who are happy to buy books for their kids 😉 ) they can bring money with them.
Sell on Your Website
In the digital age with so many people becoming more accustomed to buying online, it might be a great idea to make your books available to purchase through your website. The very simplest option would be to have a form that customers fill in detailing the books they would like to order and their contact details so you can reply to them with by email EFT details (this is the system I currently have set up on my website). If you want to take this a step further and set up an actual online store so customers can use their credit cards, thereby making the process more streamlined, there are great e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, PayU, BigCommerce, Woocommerce (WordPress plugin) and others (Wix and Weebly, if you use those for your website, have e-commerce options).
Remember that this is a more time-consuming method of getting books to readers because it requires you (or your assistant or bribed family member) to package parcels and take them to the post office, or organise for a courier to pick them up.
Other Local Online Retailers
Try contacting Takealot, Readers Warehouse, Loot and other local online stores to see if any are interested in stocking and listing your books. Takealot told me they weren’t looking for sellers of books back when I contacted them last year, but you may have better luck! I haven’t approached anyone else yet, since I’ve been happy so far selling through my own website.
Get a Distributor
Just like the big publishers, you have the option to work with certain distribution companies such as Blue Weaver, On The Dot, and Porcupine Press. This has the advantage of getting your books into major bookstores like Exclusive Books and CNA, and if you only have one book, it might be worth checking this out. However, if you have a catalogue of several books (I now have eight novels), and you factor in the fees you’re required to pay for warehousing and listing each book in the distributor’s catalogue, the cut the distributor will take, as well as the 40 – 50% markup* the bookstores will add to the price of your book, this could very well work out being more expensive than it’s worth for both you and your customers at the other end of the line (who will probably be paying at least double for your book from a bookstore than if they bought it directly from you).
*I’m not certain of the exact percentages, as it’s been at least two years since I looked into distribution options. You’d need to contact these distributors and find out exactly how it all works.
MegaBooks (Unfortunately MegaBooks has closed since this blog post was published)
I now use Digital Action to print books locally for me. They don’t have an online store for customers, but I have books delivered to me, and readers can then purchase copies through my online Shopify bookstore.
And finally, if you don’t want to print and store copies of your books, you can always go the local print-on-demand route. MegaBooks (mentioned previously in Which Platforms to Publish Your Books On) allows you to set up your title on their website and provide them with the interior and cover files so that if a customer orders a copy through the MegaBooks website, that single copy will be printed and delivered. No hassle for you (but obviously a lower royalty).
If you have other ideas, feel free to share them in the comments!