The South African Book Fair 2017

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I attended this year’s South African Book Fair at the Newtown Precinct in Johannesburg – so allow me share this exciting experience with you!

A dying language: Did you know one of the San languages has only three fluent speakers left in the world? This is the N!uu language which is spoken by three sister. When they no longer speak the language, it will die.

Research ethics: Sometimes academics arrive out of the blue from other countries on a Sunday afternoon at a San village and insist on asking questions and taking photographs – how rude and invasive is that? With this in mind, the San community have prepared a Code of Ethics for Researchers – they ask for respect, honesty, justice, fairness and decency. In return for allowing the researchers insight into their lives and their community, they ask researchers to give the community training. A photographer could, for example, train kids in the community on how to take good photographs. This means an exchange of skills for knowledge and insight …

Publishing in South Africa: It now is easy for anyone to write a book and to self-publish it – yes, it is relatively easy! But, have you thought about marketing, sales and distribution? Commercial publishers and booksellers at the conference debated this issue. If you were to submit a manuscript to a publisher, how many drafts would you work on before you thought it was ready? The MD of a big fiction publisher suggested that you only send the tenth draft! That means a lot of work needs to be done first, rereading, reviewing, rewriting …

Here are some interesting facts and trends on publishing in South Africa and the rest of Africa:

  • Book clubs are growing, everywhere! Do you belong to one? Or two?
  • Books should be accessible to everyone everywhere. In Nigeria hair salons have become hubs for promoting, selling and discussing books! Think taxi ranks, spaza shops, supermarkets, restaurants, cafes …
  • Crime fiction – everyone is interested in crime!
  • Book prices in Nigeria – their philosophy is clever: the less you charge, the more copies you will sell!
  • Exclusive Books (EB) don’t usually stock self-published works, but when customers started asking for Dudu Busani-Dube self-published Hlomo trilogy, EB ended up selling 6000 copies!
  • The growth in local, especially African fiction has been phenomenal!
  • Parents have started reading to their children again, and they demand good quality, well-illustrated books in accessible language.
  • The biggest book in South Africa in 2017 is Born a crime by Trevor Noah (source: Melvin Kaabwe, from Van Schaik). The audio version in Trevor Noah’s own voice was number 1 on Amazon!
  • Hennie van Vuuren’s Apartheid Guns and Money, published by Jacana has sold an estimated 14 000 copies. That is a LOT for a local book!
  • Local fiction publishers use copy editors to fix the language, but they also use “cultural” or “context” editors to ensure the language remains authentic. What would happen if the copy editor doesn’t know Soweto slang and changes the language too much? Then the content will lose its authenticity and readers won’t take it seriously.

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