Are South Africans drowning out local authors?

by - February 12, 2018

In 2016 BooksLive published an article "How many books get sold in SA every year?",
that took an in depth look at the sales of books in South Africa. As an aspiring author, it's safe to say that the information honestly slowly crushed any dreams I have harboured of one day becoming a full-time local writer.

The article revealed that in a country of 60 million people, more or less, authors who published their books in English only manage to sell 600-1000 copies of their books while international titles such as "Gone Girl" and "Harry Potter and The Cursed Child", for example, were thriving. The number of sold copies decrease tremendously when one looks at books that don't make it onto the Local Bestsellers List. Now, we would all like to argue that it shouldn't be about the money, we write because it's what we all love to do, and I won't fight anyone on that sentiment. I would love to have my stories out in the world one day, even if I don't sell as much as I would like to, but I would also want this to be my career.

That alone is an incredibly ambitious dream, but we've all been exposed to authors who have managed to do just that. These authors, however, aren't from South Africa which makes me wonder why this is? The feedback received from the original article does provide somewhat of an answer. South Africans mostly read non-fiction titles like bibliographies, self-help books, textbooks, cookbooks etc., but they also prefer books in local languages when it comes to fiction specifically.

The article notes that of the 550 000 local fiction sales, a whopping 450 000 of those are Afrikaans. That should be a clear reflection of our publishing market, right? What happens to the authors who choose not to write in Afrikaans, those who feel like they express themselves better in other languages.

Personally, I think that the numbers reflect the way South Africans look at Fiction books in general. We're still too busy working on improving ourselves financially, academically and spiritually to bother with books where stories are told. This is not a bad thing, we're growing as a country but it is heartbreaking to think that as a whole, most people don't see the benefits of reading for pleasure as well as putting one's self into another's shoes because that's exactly what fiction does. It allows us to see the world differently, to see our dreams differently and to aspire to more than what has already been done. Fiction promotes innovation which is something that we can all benefit from.

Whether authors should or should not write in the language that they feel most comfortable in should not be up for debate, it's a given, but whether more people should embrace the world of storytelling in South Africa becomes the question that more people could think about.

This all starts with promotion and marketing. I'm guilty in the sense that I don't consume as much local literature as I should and I'm only feeding the problem by creating a platform that provides exposure to books that maybe don't need my help or the help of other South African writers or book-bloggers as much as our publishing industry does.

If local authors want their platforms to grow and if they want their dreams to become future realities then more should be done in relation to exposing our stories to the public, our children, our teachers and our education system. As much as some try to deny it, the medium of storytelling won't die out. It might continue to change its shape or the ways in which that it is consumed, but it will remain. The only problem might be that our stories aren't the ones being consumed because they are outweighed by the marketing giants of international titles, with bigger budgets and bigger audiences.

I for one will continue to devour the stories spread across the world because they are still important stories that need to be told. What I can't do, however, is ignore the stories that come from local authors fighting to get their voices across and to build a bigger platform for themselves.

As the saying goes, "local is lekker" and if we don't do our best to support it while people are still paying attention, it might just disappear along with the dreams of writers and potential authors who doubt themselves and believe that their stories don't matter to the people who they are writing them for.

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