Want to publish? You can but here’s the truth behind the scenes

Francis Nii – talented writer, wise publisher and a patriot strongly committed to Papua New Guinea and its literature

By FRANCIS NII – 25 March 2019, Keith Jackson & Friends PNG Attitude

KUNDIAWA – I feel that it is important for me to share my experience of book publishing with authors and would-be authors to give them insights into book publication so they can make informed decisions to find the best and cheapest online or other publisher of their choice.

My first publication was my maiden novel ‘Paradise in Peril’ in 2005 with CBS Publishers and Distributors of New Delhi, the same publisher that produced books by Sir Paulias Matane and other Papua New Guinean writers.

I wrote the story on scrap paper and later Lutheran Pastor Daryl Boyd assisted me type it on a rugged old typewriter. When I felt the story was complete, I sent a hard copy by airmail to Governor General Sir Paulias Matane at Government House for his assessment and comment. There was no internet service in Kundiawa at the time.

Some weeks later, I received a letter from CBS in India through the post office. The letter said CBS had received my manuscript and was happy with the narrative and was ready to publish it. Thanks to Sir Paulias.

For a literary work of a first-timer to be accepted for publication by a renowned foreign publisher was quite a feat. I was very happy.

To make a long story short, after a number of letters going to and fro, I got the first lot of hard copies printed and ocean freighted to Lae in 2005 where some boxes had to be traded for customs and storage fees. That was the first and last shipment of ‘Paradise in Peril’ from India.

I never went back to CBS and I never received a soft copy of my published book, even though I asked the publisher for it.

I later learnt that 30 copies of ‘Paradise in Peril’ had gone to the humanity studies department of the Divine Word University in Madang and one stationery store in Port Moresby was selling the book. In both cases I had no knowledge of how they had got there. Someone benefited from my hard work thanks to the PNG government’s indifference to copyright law.

After that I kept an eye out for a cheaper way of republishing ‘Paradise in Peril’. I started making enquiries with internal and external publishers and all of them wanted upfront deposits that I couldn’t afford.

Then in 2011 the national literature competition, the Crocodile Prize, started. It was initiated by Australians Keith Jackson and Philip Fitzpatrick as a means of reviving and promoting PNG literature.

I didn’t know about it until poet and founding president of Simbu Children Foundation, Jimmy Drekore, introduced me to the competition. Thank you, Jimmy.

Through my association with the two Australians and the competition, an opportunity opened up for republishing ‘Paradise in Peril’. I hired a typist to retype the entire book on a computer. It took her almost 10 nights to complete the job.

With the help of Philip Fitzpatrick, I got the revised version published by Amazon under the Pukpuk Publications imprint in 2013. It was a trial and error effort as we were new to the CreateSpace publishing tool. The book has now been republished with improved layout and cover design.

I next edited and published the ‘Ku High School Anthology 2014’ and the ‘Simbu High and Secondary Anthology 2015’ under the Simbu Writers Association banner and using the Pukpuk Publications’ account. I also published other books of my own through Pukpuk.

On several occasions, Philip had told me he was planning on retiring Pukpuk Publications and letting Papua New Guineans take charge of their own publications.

The bomb was dropped in November 2016 when he announced his decision in an article titled; ‘Pukpuk Publications winds down: PNG writers must take charge’ on PNG Attitude.

I didn’t know how other Papua New Guineans felt at that time but for me it was the end of a very cheap and workable publishing platform for PNG writers. I took the news with mixed feelings but Philip said something in his concluding remarks that brought me both tears and inspiration.

He said: “Francis is an excellent editor and cover designer and has been providing me with print-ready books for some time. If anyone can do it, Francis can.

“And then I can truly say my work here is done and I can ride into the sunset in the best Hollywood tradition.”

After some tears, I promised myself I would do it, and decided to take up the challenge head on and let Phil enjoy a well-deserved rest.

It had been voluntary and a hell lot of work for Philip. My heart went out to him. He really needed the rest but I felt strongly that the publishing work had to go on to help other aspiring authors.

I knew Philip would assist me so I gave it my best shot and after numerous emails to and fro, I got the first book published. I followed with several other books under the Simbu Writers Association banner, all the time gaining confidence.

But finding a publisher and getting books published is not the end of the exercise. Printing copies and selling printed copies are other hurdles.

And there have also been misconceptions and false theories and accusations about my publications with Amazon. They need to be clarified.

Headquartered in the United States, Amazon is the world leader in online publishing and marketing with branches in all major countries. It started an online self-publishing program around 2007 called CreateSpace where writers could publish their own books.

However, at the beginning of this year, Amazon made CreateSpace obsolete and replaced it with Kindle Direct Publishing, an improved version of CreateSpace.

Kindle Direct Publishing service is like the obsolete CreateSpace platform in that it is free. All that it will cost you is internet data. You can publish your work and when you have money or secured a market, you can order your book and sell them with a mark up to make some money for yourself. It is known as print on demand.

When a writer sends a manuscript to me, the first thing I check for is the genre. Is it fiction, non-fiction, poetry or an anthology or a collection? The second thing is the size.

For example, when a writer comes up with a 50-page story and calls it novel, I tell the writer that it’s a short story and to develop the plot further to 150 or more pages to reach novel length.

When I am satisfied a work has met the required volume I browse through it examining the content and layout. It is at this stage that I have a rough idea of the amount of work involved to get the manuscript to a publishable standard. I then advise the writer that I will work on the book.

My work involves checking for typing errors, grammar, sentences and paragraph structure, sequence and flow of storyline, the title of the work and chapter titles, content numbering, header and footer captions and formatting the whole manuscript to Amazon’s prescribed format.

Once satisfied with the content, I work on the cover design. This includes making it conform to the book size, using conspicuous and attractive fonts, appropriate pictures, colours and a blurb.

The blurb is the brief summary of the book that you see on the back cover and it is important because before a reader buys a book they read the blurb first to see if they will like it. I normally design three different covers for the writer to choose from.

The final thing I do before publishing is give the edited version of the book with the final cover design back to the writer for final proofreading.

I emphasise that it is important for the author to check the edited version word by word. It is only then that any oversights can be picked up and alterations or amendments done.

At that point we’re good to go and I publish the book with Amazon under the Simbu Writers Association imprint.

Simbu Writers Association does not have a board of editors. As I have mentioned earlier, I voluntarily took up the challenge and have kept it going because I see there is a need.

The only benefit I get is a small fee that I call an editing and publishing fee and the amount depends very much on the amount of work involved.

I do not charge the market rate as no ordinary Papua New Guinean is able to afford that much. What I charge ranges from K1,000 to K2,000. The difficult and time-consuming part is when you have many images and tables included with the text. If this is the case you can expect a higher fee – but not over K2,000. Very cheap isn’t it?

Once the book is published, it goes online for sale immediately. Amazon’s publishing policy is that they get 60% of every book sold online and the author gets 40%. The 40% royalty is accumulated until it reaches US$100 (K260). Then Amazon raises a cheque in the author’s name for US$100 and forwards it to my post office address by registered mail. I then pick up the cheque and give it to the author.

There is no room for stealing the royalty because the cheque is written in the author’s name. No reputable human being would put his or her credibility on the line for a lousy K260 anyway.

If someone’s book is of extraordinary quality and becomes a bestseller he or she will become an instant millionaire. For us Papua New Guineans, that’s only a dream – at least until now.

With the Amazon system the author retains the copyright to their work. If a conventional publisher sees the book they can approach the author and do a deal.

What the authors who have published their books with me do to make money for themselves is find a market, order copies through me and sell them with a mark-up.

The advantage to authors ordering their books through me is that they benefit from my online purchase account, which is highly efficient and secure and takes less than five minutes for the transaction instead of spending hours queuing at the bank.

Second, the author benefits from the author/publisher discount facility offered by Amazon meaning that they pay less than the threshold retail price which was automatically determined by Amazon.

This is the service that I provide free of charge. What the author is charged is the bank’s international transaction fee and I allow K100 in the author’s expense for that. Some understandable authors pay me some money for this service as a gesture of goodwill.

Third, they benefit from Nowek Kofi Limited’s benevolent import duty support scheme. Nowek has been paying import duty ever since SWA started publishing with Amazon.

Gratitude for this must go to the late Terry Shelley and his children, particularly Sarah and Ben Shelley. They’ve made it very easy for us and we shouldn’t take that for granted.

The cargo is airfreighted from Colombia to Hawaii to Sydney to Port Moresby and up to Goroka through the DHL courier service and is kept at the Nowek Kofi premises at Kamaliki. The author picks it up from Nowek.

If your order for some reason gets lost, Amazon will replace the order at their cost, which you will rarely get another publisher doing.

Since I started publishing, I have not once ordered a book authored by another author and sold it to make money for myself. This is stealing and it would be morally wrong for me to do that. The trust I have built up with the writers over the years is an asset and I am not going to mess it up.

If a problem arises with a book, I am able to contact Amazon through my account to seek a resolution. This can range from a missing consignment of books to books that arrive with some sort of fault.

This is an efficient secure contact avenue for communications. To me, overall Amazon’s client service is five star.

Lately I have decided to go private. I have also opened up a Facebook page under Lodestar Publications. This is mainly because of the false accusations and conspiracy theories mentioned above that have been circulating about what I do.

When I reflect back to where and how it all started, my heart cries for Keith Jackson and Philip Fitzpatrick, my helpers and mentors.

Their intention was never about making money. It was all volunteerism and that was how I acquired the knowledge about writing and publishing that I now have.

I feel I must stand strong and carry on with what I am doing for the struggling authors and potential authors in Simbu and outside under the SWA banner which I co-fathered.


Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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