Monday, July 15, 2013

Making writing make money in Zim: Stephen Chifunyise

Full time career in writing is an aspiration shared by many Zimbabwean writers. Except for a few  whose works become prescribed textbooks, most writers in Zimbabwe have  been disappointed by the  unprofitability of their writing. Fiction writers who choose self- publishing have found it even harder to generate income from sales of their books. Those  who distribute their books through bookshops have been as disappointed as those who published through reputable  local or foreign book publishers when they have to accept the reasons  given for not receiving any royalties from the sale of their books. This reality has forced some writers to remain in the writing -as- a -hobby frame of mind which is in itself a major stumbling block to creative writing. It is therefore necessary to look for ways of ensuring that talented writers make their writing careers viable. The following are some of the ways  worth considering.
First, all published writers, especial fiction writers, must turn themselves into mobile bookshops for their own books. This entails negotiating with publishers  for an arrangement where the writers  are issued with copies of their books at the authors  discount  and  in which  they proceed to sell their books and get the type of commission booksellers would  have required. Alternatively, the author buys his or her books at authors discount  and proceeds to  sell the books  with a  mark up which  book sellers would have allowed. This arrangement ensures that the writer uses  all occasions to sell his or her books. This is an approach of taking books to the people. I have personally sold many of my own books and of fellow writers at international cultural events at home and abroad.
Second, during the Zimbabwe International Book Fair and other book fairs such as in Bulawayo and Mutare  and industry and trade fairs and agricultural shows,  writers could mount exhibition  stands   and sell  their books. The experience of the Writers Collective  which in the  last  two  years has mounted a stand  at the  Zimbabwe  International  Book Fair   to exhibit and sell  books mainly by  self-published writers  has been good.  The presence of authors  at the stand who autograph  copies bought  is a major marketing tool. Some writers had to take people looking for their books to their publishers stands.
Third, writers must take advantage of the multiplicity of newspapers and magazines  in the country- a phenomenon that has been followed by the birth of two commercial radio channels,  to  write for these publications and  radio channel. Writers must take up the challenge to become columnist or regular correspondents. They must approach editors of the newspapers and magazine to indicate subjects they would like to write about as well as research they would like to undertake in order to produce features that could be considered for publication. Radio and the television channels need to be approached by writers who indicate what they can  write  for them  especially drama.
Fourth, a number of theatre groups are beginning to look for scripts which they can present to corporations, development organisations and agencies for  promotional  and developmental campaigns. Writers with interest in scripting drama for radio, stage and television should seek partnership or collaborations with theatre groups so as to secure writing assignment. Writers should also approach actors whom they have see in   stage and television productions and offer to write plays which they can present to producers for commercial theatre. Writers could also approach theatre producers with their scripts  and indicate  the actors they had in mind  when writing the plays.. Writers of such plays are paid once off fee and a percentage of gate -takings whenever  their  plays are performed. There is strong feeling that  among actors, directors and producers  in Zimbabwean theatre that the shortage of scripts is one of the major challenges being faced.
Fifth, writers should approach corporations, development organisations, governments departments  and institutions with offers to write articles, dramas or documentaries  about them, their campaigns and  concerns. The area of environment and sustainable development  is  as potent for engagement of writers as areas and issues to do with health issues. Coming up with scripts for plays about International days that are celebrated in Zimbabwe is one strategy  that   writers  should consider. The writers would be expected to go  international organisations concerned  with the commemoration of such days. Writers could give theatre groups their scripts so that the theatre groups themselves would approach agencies and organizations concerned with the celebrations of the international days.
Sixth, the recent developments  in  the production of  computer generated animations has  brought about the need for collaborations between writers and film makers( animators) Writers with good stories for animation are essential and being sought after. Writers associations can help bring about this collaboration by inviting film makers especially those   involved in production of animations to dialogue and establish the requisite collaboration..
Lastly, many visitors to the Writers Collective stand  at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, this year asked for children’s story books  in indigenous languages. One pre-school owner indicated that writers of such books would be expected  to visit pre-school centers with their books  as well as finding out  what children’s books such centres require..
I sincerely hope that these ideas are worth considering.    
+ Paper presented at the Zimbabwe Writers Association (ZWA) meeting: Harare, September 1, 2012

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