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Publishing in Kenya

Updated on July 25, 2019
The Salem Mystery - a novel for young adults
The Salem Mystery - a novel for young adults | Source

The Local Publishing Scene

Kenya has Fourty Publisher who are registered as members of the Kenya Publishers' Association. Of these, a few are "one man shows" with their share holding restricted to family members. A few others were foreign owned but have over the years open their doors to Kenyan investors and even changed their names to reflect their Kenyanness. Finally their are faith-based publishers who restrict their titles to religious books and periodicals. Most of these publishers pay the authors a 10% royalty based on the cover price. I have heard that some authors are able to negotiate for a royalty of 12 - 15% but I have yet to deal with such a generous author. In this article I will restrict myself to the publishers with whom I have dealt directly. Below is a list of Kenyan Publishers, courtesy of the Kenya Publishers' Association.

  1. Ariba Book Centre
  2. Biblica Kenya
  3. Big books Ltd
  4. Bookmark Africa
  5. Bookpoint Limited
  6. Cambridge University Press
  7. Catholic University
  8. Daystar University Research and Publication Centre
  9. East African Educational Publishers
  10. eKitabu
  11. Evangel Publishing House
  12. Focus Publishers Ltd
  13. Geoperi Publications
  14. Kenya Literature Bureau
  15. Kenya National Library
  16. Kwani Trust
  17. LawAfrica Publishing Ltd
  18. Longhorn Kenya Ltd.
  19. Marimba Publishers
  20. Mentor Publishing Company Ltd
  21. Moi University
  22. Moran Publishers
  23. Mountain Top Publishers
  24. Njigua Books
  25. Nsemia Inc Publishers
  26. One Planet Publishers
  27. Oxford University Press
  28. Phoenix Publishers
  29. Queenex Publishers
  30. Simpemar Publishers
  31. Single Education & Publishers
  32. Spotlight Publishers
  33. Story Moja Publishers
  34. Text Book Centre
  35. The Flip Experts
  36. The Jomo Kenyatta Foundation
  37. Top Performers
  38. University of Nairobi Press
  39. Videmuwa
  40. WordAlive Publishers

Authors and Publishers need each other

Since writing this article in 2012, nothing really has changed in the Publishing Industry in Kenya. A few things have happened and will be mentioned under the relevant heading, but quite frankly nothing very positive has happened as far as authors are concerned.

Publishers and authors all over the world have a lukewarm relationship, yet one cannot do without the other. It is for this reason that I will not mention any publisher by name, though the details may leave no doubt, as to which publisher I am alluding to. This post should benefit the reader without ruining the relationships that I have with specific publishers. I will not mention the book titles either, to protect the guilty and innocent alike.

I have four publishers whom I will refer to as Moon, Sun, Star and Jupiter. If you are published already, you might identify with the characteristics of some of these four.

Moon pays well, and on time every year. I can say that the salesmen at Moon know their market, because they make good sales compared to publishers with similar books, even in a bad year. Moon is small and specializes in Children's books. However, for the first time since I can remember, Mon has been unable to pay the 2019 royalties as of July. Usually payments are paid in April.

Sun is one of the biggest publishers in Kenya. They have a policy to pay once a year, but will only pay after some arm-twisting. This pressure could go on for the better part of a year but eventually Sun will pay. Sun will never admit to a good year. Things have changed for the worse in the last six years. In 2018 I was paid part of my royalties in a five year period. The rest was to come in a month's time. In mid 2019 I was paid part of the part that had remained unpaid. I have no idea when the entire amount will be paid. I consider this to be a form of borrowing from authors without paying interest. In another territory this would be criminal but this is Kenya. Anything goes.

Star also has an annual paying schedule but will not pay even with arm-twisting until they are sure bankruptcy had only been imagined – this could be two years later. When they pay, you wonder why they have salesmen on the payroll. A new CEO would sack the entire sales team due to the tear jerking sales that they register, even in a good year.

Having not paid royalties for 2017 and 2018 there are no signs that Sun will pay royalties for 2019. Some Illustrators who worked for Sun in 2017 were paid their dues in 2019. Perhaps, considering that Moon is having trouble, this could be a sign that the industry in Kenya is in trouble.

Jupiter does not even pretend to have a paying schedule. Payment is adhoc, and only when Jupiter stashed what they think is enough money to stave off all the future bad years - this could be in the fifth year.

The update is that Jupiter has either gone under or pretended to go under with all the unpaid royalties. They have no known address and interestingly, they had withdrawn all contracts on the pretext that there were errors that needed correcting. Now i doubt there is any author with evidence that they had published with them. They are probably selling our books across the boarders in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and South Sudan.

I made the mistake of giving a manuscript to a Ugandan Publishers who had moved into Kenya through introduction by a local editor. After the book was published about four years ago, I have never received a cent. The Ugandan Publishers claims that I was published by a Kenyan Subsidiary who recorded no sales, made loses and that the stock was impounded by the landlord for non-payment of rent. THe mother company in Uganda will bear no responsibility. Again, and I am kicking myself as I write this, I had not signed a contract. Every time I asked for it, I was told that it is being prepared.

Sales in Kenya

For a book that has not been selected by the Ministry of Education as a set-book, selling 2000 copies in any year is cause for celebration. But at 10% royalties to the writer, one cannot make a modest living from writing books. People who live off writing books are those lucky enough to have their titles selected as set-books. For a set-book, sales are guaranteed to push the author into millionaire status, even with only a 10% in royalties. There are over 19,000 primary schools in Kenya and each school would have to buy several copies with governmet funding. Secondary schools are about half that figure. This translates to millions of shillings for the publisher and author.

Publishers claim that in the days when primary school education was not free, they recorded very good sales. In these days of Free Primary Education, the Kenya Institute of Education, a government agency, writes the syllabus, and selects book to cover the curriculum. This includes supplementary readers which are storybooks. Selected books are listed in ‘the Orange Book’ and Head teachers are expected to make a selection from that Orange book only. Since parents have shifted the burden of buying schoolbooks to the government, Publishers claim that if a book is not in the Orange book it is doomed to poor sales.

40 Years of Waiting!

Even when a publisher takes two or more years to pay you, after you have bared all your problems, expect no interest. The lesson here is that a writer has to be a very thick-skinned mammal. But if you think you carry the record of waiting for a publication, think again. L.S.B. Leakey had his books on The Southern Kikuyu published 40 years after the manuscript was first offered for publication. He was dead by then, and some of the trees he mentioned in Kikuyu cannot be identified because even his Kikuyu agemates who would have helped had all died with the knowledge.


Self-publishing is not a bed of roses.

One has to put in some marketing to get the book to the place where it is needed and to let the potential buyers know. Established publishers have salesmen and vans to scour the country, but when you have self-published only one book, you might as well do it yourself. Note also that the sales from a single book will not sustain you so you still need another job. The solution is to keep on self-publishing so that one day you can have salesmen and hopefully a van.

Promotion should be much more than attending bookfares

I believe that publishers have not taken promotion of published work seriously. If they did only half what Cocacola or the mobile phone companies do to remain visible, they would sell better. I have noticed that they do not even attempt to ride on the publicity of an award-winning book. Usually the winner of a literary award is announced in a room where only a lone pressman has been invited. After that, the book continues to record poor sales as it has always done, because the only people who know of the award are the author and the publisher.

To target teens, they should go where teens go, or plan activities for teens. Imagine if a big musical event was organized for young adults and the entry ticket was of the ten or more titles that the publishers wants to promote. Since books cost much less than tickets to such events, I have a strong feeling that good sales would be recorded, and once the book gets home, someone will read it.

Authors could also organize "meet the readers" tours for their authors across the country or even across the East African region. Even planning for a tour across Africa is not far fetched. This could also include residencies for for foreign authors, so that local authors can be invited for residencies abroad. But Kenyan publishers have been spoiled by the government with a ready market on a silver platter. So when government withholds funds (which are for set books only), the industry goes burst.

So remember that this may be true all over the world: One year is one day in publishing.

Lessons learned

In spite of all the above expose, I have learnt some useful lessons about Publishing. These must ring true in any territory in the world. Below is a list in order of importance:

  • If you can publish online before publishing locally in hard copy, do it.
  • Do not allow publication before signing a contract. Publishers usually hold on to your manuscript for a long time before they make the decision to publish, or as they edit and polish the text. There have been situations when they decide to publish and only inform you after the book has been issued in print. You can mitigate this by including a statement on the first page that "the Author must sign a contract before publication." They are likely to respect that.
  • Do not give your publishers rights to all territories and definitely not digital formats. Restrict them to your country and give yourself the leverage to have a different publisher for every other territory


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Emmanuel Kariuki

Comments

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  • Emmanuel Kariuki profile imageAUTHOR

    Emmanuel Kariuki 

    7 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

    Thanks DDE. I need to learn about e-publishing from you.

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 

    7 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    Interesting about publishing I have all my work self-published on Amazon.com thanks for this Hub

  • Emmanuel Kariuki profile imageAUTHOR

    Emmanuel Kariuki 

    7 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

    Gikumba,

    I will let you know in a special hub on e-publishing.

  • profile image

    Gikumba 

    7 years ago

    Thanks Emmanuel for responding. Keep us or rather me posted on how it goes when you go online publishing.

    All the best,

  • Emmanuel Kariuki profile imageAUTHOR

    Emmanuel Kariuki 

    7 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

    Thanks Gikumba

    Online publishing is one thing I have not tried yet in spite of a lot of prompting. One of my publisher tells me they are making more money from e-books than traditional print copies so it is something worth trying and I will soon.

    The issue of agents has not caught on in Kenya, and I do not know of any.

    Do not give up on writing as a result of this hub. I just wanted people to know that it is not a bed of roses, unless you hit on a set book very early on.

  • profile image

    Gikumba 

    7 years ago

    Great hub you got here Emmanuel.... I have just started writing a blog and after only two posts, some people suggest I publish the story. I get all fired up and imagine myself a self made millionaire soon until I bump into your hub. Any way, a few questions for you though (and upcoming/aspiring authors like me)

    1. Why can't you try this online 'thing' called Print on Demand? Do you think it would make sense in Kenya?

    2. Do you have agents/editors who can review and market my manuscript here in Kenya?

  • Emmanuel Kariuki profile imageAUTHOR

    Emmanuel Kariuki 

    7 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

    Thanks for supporting me with that copy of Ngiri Mganga, Ngureco.

    When I signed contracts with my publishers, I gave them rights to negotiate for publishing in other territories. Now I am wiser and should not give local publishers a blanket right for the whole world. That way I can negotiate with other publishers in the region. To make 50 such titles, at the rate of Kenyan publishing means it is my great grandchildren who will get the royalties - which is still okay. That is why it is better to explore publishing on the net. But some prolific writers have over 40 titles in Kenya, so it is not impossible.

  • ngureco profile image

    ngureco 

    7 years ago

    My young boy needed a story book and I paid 150 shillings for Ngiri Mganga, and I am surprised that you will only get to keep 15 shillings after having to wait for 1 year. But I imagined that if you can make 50 such titles and you sell 1000 copies of each book in each of the eight provinces during the entire lifetime of the book, then you can end up making a few millions of shilling.

    Why can't you also publish the same titles in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi?

  • Emmanuel Kariuki profile imageAUTHOR

    Emmanuel Kariuki 

    7 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

    Hi Patkay,

    3 years is 3 days, so you need to be writing something for another two or three publishers in the meantime so that you can retain your wits. I hope you hear from them soon, and depending on which one it is, they need to be reminded from time to time that you are waiting - with a friendly tone of course.

  • Patkay profile image

    Patrick Kamau 

    7 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

    Thanks Emmanuel Kariuki for coming up with this hub. They say that forewarned is forearmed. I have sent my manuscript for a novel to a publisher, I have been waiting for 3 months and I feel that I have waited for long. So to them now is like 3 days LOL. I then don't have to quit my day job. Anyway I will wait and see.

    Thanks for writing.

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