Moran Publishers

Crystal Rutangye has an MLitt in Publishing Studies from the University of Stirling in Scotland, UK. A freelance editor, she has also worked with Moran Publishers (former Macmillan-Uganda) as costumer and administrative officer. She is based in Uganda and working towards setting up her own publishing/book production company. Crystal comments on the general state of publishing in Uganda.

 READ: On Publishing Business in Africa: Mamadou Diallo

She explains how book marketing works in Uganda…

In summary, the book publishing industry in Uganda is still dominated by the academic book sector, and since little marketing is required for academic books – and the biggest publishing houses focus on academic books – there is generally not much energy put in book marketing here as compared to book marketing in other countries. Uganda’s non-academic/trade book marketing is mostly limited to the internet and social media, which reaches out to a smaller population of the country, mostly centred on the capital city.

It is unfortunate that most of the established, big publishing companies focus on academic books because of the ready market. But a few others that publish non-academic books are more aggressive with their marketing because their market is not as easy to access. They are more visible on social media and also use the forums provided by literary events to market and sell books. Bookshops in Uganda hardly market their books, and for the few that do, the frequency of their marketing events is so irregular.


Self-published authors appear to be the most aggressive book marketers, particularly on social media; most do not have the funds to use other marketing strategies. Most of them also sell and market books at literary events and other events where they are individually invited as keynote speakers and such.

Crystal speaks further on the production of literary fiction in Uganda…

There are a few firms registered as publishing companies that focus solely on literature; Femwrite could be the leading publisher of literary fiction in Uganda. World of Inspiration publishes a little fiction, and more of literary non-fiction. Khamel Publishing is an upcoming firm that majorly publishes literary books in e-format.

Femwrite hardly produces e-books. They do, however, produce great books as far as content is concerned; books on themes that matter to their target readership. Their prices are ‘fair’ considering the average cost of production here for varying book sizes and types. Ugandan non-academic publishers, however, still have a long way to go in ensuring proper typesetting, more creative book cover design and overall presentation of the books, before we even start investigating the editorial quality.

 READ: So, Now That We Have Killed Her by Obinna Udenwe

On poor book quality and editorial capacity…

The notion is quite true in my opinion, and I confirmed it when I conducted research for my thesis entitled Factors Affecting the Distribution of Ugandan Trade Books, where I interviewed five Ugandan publishing companies, five bookshops, five self-published authors, and three literary organisations. They all cited the difficulty in producing and procuring quality Ugandan books. Surprisingly, almost ALL my respondents mentioned that they could not find skilled editors; the kind who really pay attention to detail. The bookshops said their customers often pick Ugandan books and put them back on the shelf when they come across glaring errors in editing. The typesetting is often skewed and book cover designs are often quite cliché. A lot needs to be done to improve the quality of African books, beginning with professionalizing certain sectors of the book publishing chain.

 READ: Jalada leads African Languages Revolution

In Africa, South Africa is considered the leading producer of quality African books. This is the same country that has active editors’ associations. In Uganda, editing is hardly a recognised profession; there are no editorial bodies yet that advocate for the professionalization of Ugandan editors, although recent editorial workshops and events give promise for this to change. In most publishing companies here, an editor is often required to be skilled at things like typesetting and designing as well. To load the full book production process on one or two individuals is a direct means to compromising book quality; humans are not computers. It is hard for Ugandans to understand this because ‘this is the way things have always been done,’ and one or two books may have been produced well with this method; but we don’t realise that every other book apart from the one or two good ones have NOT been produced well with this ‘way things are always done’. Compare this to countries like Britain where there is more specialisation and professionalization at each point in the book production chain; there is a clear difference in the quality of books produced. Publishers (and self-published authors) need to be ready to pay for excellent-quality editing; including paying for more and specialised editors to work on one book, and more umbrella bodies need to train editors and advocate for the professionalization of the field.

The publisher’s role in promoting works of the young (new) writer…

Very few publishers I know are doing anything to keep the public updated about new writers. These ‘few’ publishers are using social media and literary events to ‘remind’ the public about the new writers’ books, but are often selective over which books they front to the public; they usually front books that initially had landslide sales. I would say it is the authors themselves (especially self-published authors), who put much effort in keeping the public updated with their work, especially via social media and events.

 READ: The Domestic Beast

Tackling the distribution problem…

The biggest challenge Ugandan distributors have is the costs involved in distributing print books beyond Uganda (it is a challenge to distribute them even within the whole of Uganda, considering the bad roads, high fuel and packaging costs, and expensive, unreliable courier service). It would be great if umbrella bodies all over Africa could jointly advocate for reduced taxes on book shipments and the like. (Again, these were suggestions from respondents in my thesis research).

We also need investors in the book distribution industry; firms that focus solely on transporting books within and across borders. Scotland for example, has BookSource, a company that deals in storage, procurement and delivery to customers on behalf of publishers.

 READ: #Writivism2015: Letters to Jennifer III (What would you have Written?)

Common challenges with distributing e-books include the expensive internet bundles in the country, poor technology-based infrastructure nation-wide and general lack of understanding of the dynamics involved in selling, buying and reading e-books. Less than ten percent of Uganda’s major book publishers and distributors deal in e-books.

Using the internet as distribution platform…

The Internet is mostly used as an advertising tool. I am not yet aware of any Ugandan firm that actually sells books online; as in using electronic systems to carry out the financial transactions online. Most authors and publishers of e-books use non-Ugandan forums like Amazon to sell their books. The internet here is usually just used to amass orders or advertise books and then interested customers buy the books from other distribution points.

Crystal agrees that online platforms catering specifically to African literature can be a solution to distribution…

I definitely think such online forums will be more beneficial for our writers and readers.

 READ: Femi Ogunleye: Linking African artists and international collectors

We talk about writing in indigenous languages and the language barrier…

I honestly cannot think of a way this barrier can be broken across Africa. It is a struggle even in Uganda where there are over 50 ethnic languages. The National Curriculum Development Centre came up with a thematic curriculum where children spend the first three years of primary school learning in their own language; and this created a demand for both academic and trade books written in local languages. However, there have been many flaws with this system and there is a limit to the number of books in local languages that can be sold to particular communities; they cannot sell in other communities. The local language authors are essentially writing for a smaller group of people. Local language books are good for primary education, but for the whole publishing industry, it is currently more profitable to write in languages that a larger group of people can identify with (in Uganda, that would include the official languages: English and Kiswahili).

Crystal shares what she thinks might be the reason for the seeming decline in the publishing of new plays in Africa…

I think it’s because more people seem to identify with poetry these days, especially with the boom in ‘Spoken Word’ performances. There is less ‘work’ involved in coming up with a good poem I would think, while coming up with a good play requires more discipline, relevant education since plays are guided by more literary ‘rules’ and ‘conventions’, and sometimes even more preparation to be transferred onto stage. Also, most themes of plays have become cliché; they will most likely be about corruption, forbidden love, child abuse or religion. Poetry captures a wider scope of emotions and themes in more unconventional ways. Readers have realised this and it may take a lot to convince them that new plays can still be as exciting and adventurous as new poems.

 READ: WRITIVISM2015: Ikhide Ikheloa Speaks

Lastly, Crystal hints at the problems peculiar to publishing in Uganda…

Generally speaking, it is difficult to convince the Ugandan and international public that Ugandan books are as good as foreign literature because people don’t believe we can produce well- edited, attractive books with useful content. It is rare that a non-African would identify with the content of a book published in Uganda, especially because of received prejudice. This limits the market to the African audience (and particularly the East African market). The low literacy levels and poor reading culture across Africa limits the number of book sales, and encourages the domineering production levels of academic books, which is a challenge for editors and publishers of trade books.

 READ: On Publishing Business in Africa: Richard Ali

Whew! These issues appear to be the same everywhere. How can they be solved? Hang in right there! Emma Shercliff, publishing consultant and director, Cassava Republic Press (UK) ends this conversation with promising words :)))

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