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HOW UGANDAN BOOK WRITERS ARE MAKING A KILLING

By Mulengera Reporters

Ugandans are now making money from writing and selling books, contrary to the widely held belief that one cannot earn a living from writing books in Uganda because Ugandans do not buy books.

There are Ugandan writers who have minted money from writing and selling books to the very Ugandans who are said to be disinterested in local literature.  Walabyeki Magoba, a novelist, playwright, and prolific author of Luganda books mostly for children says he has survived on writing since 1993. He is an author of over 90 books written in over 50 years starting in 1967 when he was in secondary school.

These include Zonna Mpayippayi, Wakoze Susu Ku Bulili, Kintu Ne Nambi, and Tarantina which is both in Luganda and English. He also has three books on the secondary syllabus which are Mbayiwa, Nnamulanda, and Ssemitego Omuyizzi Kkungwa. He narrates how he is able to survive by writing books.

According to Magoba, the reason he has earned a living from writing because of writing what his audience enjoys and being a good marketer delivering books to the readers where they can easily access them from.

To him, the urge to start writing commercially came in 1984 when he translated the play The Government Inspector by Russian dramatist and novelist, Nikolai Gogol into Luganda. After the translation, he submitted a copy to an international publisher Heinemann then with a branch in East Africa to publish his book. What he says he got as a response is that books written in Luganda have no market and that Heinemann thus could not publish his book.

Magoba was intrigued by this and he said to himself that If there is no market for Luganda books then he had to look for his own market by vending his books and in doing so he started to earn from his writing. He says in doing so he started getting many buyers.

Magoba says knowing the poor reading culture of the majority of Ugandans, he chose to write for children to pull their interest to love reading through stories about the daily lives of children while teaching them moral lessons. He thus established literacy and literature festivals in 2014 to encourage kids and schools to enjoy reading in Luganda.

During these festivals, schools bring children to compete in reading. The children are asked questions based on the stories in the books. Magoba says through this he has created a permanent market for books and a future market for children’s books.

Peter Kagayi Ngobi is a poet and writer with Kitara Nation. He says there is a lot of money from writing books. Kagayi boasts of having sold more than a thousand copies of his first poetry anthology The Headline that Morning.

Kagayi says that by producing high-quality work plus marketing, he has been able to make millions from books though not in just one lump sum but through royalties and adaptation rights.

According to Kagayi first creating an audience through performing poetry and merging performance with publishing is what has enabled him to penetrate the book market. He has been performing poetry for 10 years earning a following that came to attend his shows. It is this audience that he later transformed into a market for his books as they wanted to have copies of the many poems they had watched him perform on stage.

He says many Ugandan authors complain that books don’t sell after dumping their books in bookshops after launching and waiting for paychecks. He says before venturing into writing he did research that revealed to him reasons why many Ugandans were not buying Ugandan books.

The reasons include low quality and the fact that books by many Ugandan authors hardly reflect Ugandan literature and therefore are not relatable to the audience. After finding out these he embarked on writing books in the local Ugandan context and printing them with high-quality pages and attractive covers and he has thus been able to mint money from them. To market and sell Books they must be well-edited, with attractive cover designs, good paper quality, and good fonts which are quite costly but necessary.

Nassur Tab’an El Tablaz is another satisfied author. He has published books like Secondary School English Language Grammar Simplified, English Language Grammar Synthesized and Analyzing Literature (Guide Notes On Set Books for O’Level Plays 2011-2016 With Revision Questions and Sample Essays) the Spirit Whisperer, Sexual Perceptions and many others.

He says in entering the writing business he first authored academic books first to penetrate the school market and create a readership then later on after 12 years ventured into writing for the non-school going audience so that those who have already come across his books in school will have more to read from him.

He says he uses intensive marketing which involves the use of audio-visual adverts about his books. This he says creates visibility and allows more readers to be aware of his works and read them. Advertisements tell where they can find them all over the country, so he is able to earn from writing as his books sell and he has no regrets venturing into writing as a job.

Another way he makes money from books is by talking about his works whenever he is addressing a gathering, donating some copies to people, and giving books to influencers in the literary field to make an endorsement to their followers. He says he gives discounts on his books during public holidays that align with the themes in his books which he says brings in very many sales.

However, publishing is very costly and one needs to invest millions. He advises authors that before they go into publishing they should invest in understanding the process of publishing to have good books that are marketable before getting money and investing it wrongly. He urges them to consult before deciding to publish.

He says self-publishing is the way to go to market oneself so that distributors feel the author is marketable. Peter Kagayi and Walabyeki Magoba both say that in making money from books, book shops are the last place an author is to put their books if they expect sales. They say that books shops only store books but do not advertise them to attract desired sales. Magoba adds that the book \shops sell books expensively which reduces the number of buyers-URN. (For comments on this story, get back to us on 0705579994 [whatsapp line], 0779411734 & 0200900416 or email us at mulengeranews@gmail.com).

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