Self-publishing compromises quality

The writing and publishing landscape has been traditionally renowned for its integrity, with the production of high quality literary works with established publishing houses functioning as gate-keepers to ensure the release of exceptional books.

By Beniah Munengwa

Writing was revered as an art mastered by a few — at least at the publishing level — with many pretenders only having rejection slips from publishers to show for their efforts.

Over the past few years, as traditional publishing opportunities in Zimbabwe shrunk against the backdrop of a deteriorating economic environment, the number of writers has increased.

This has seen many young writers turning to self-publishing, which in turn, has led to compromised quality of literary products.

The serious gate keeping exercise of the past — which spawned great writers like Charles Mungoshi, Chenjerai Hove, Shimmer Chinodya, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Yvonne Vera — has all but collapsed.

With self-publishing, the writer is now largely in control of the production process of their book and chances of rejection are now virtually non-existent.

This has consequently seen a rise in lukewarm and pedestrian storylines finding their way on to book shelves.

Potentially good stories have been marred with alarming grammatical and semantic errors. No one holds anyone accountable anymore.

I have seen published books, some with colourful launches, which only reflect a job half-done.

Writers have been shy to admit their flaws or have been victims of inflated self-egos.

When critics interrogate such books, they are often told to write their own. These writers have been unwilling to learn, oh well, maybe unwilling to stop repeating common errors that are sending Zimbabwean literature into a pit of shame.

They have not realised that they, like musicians, have become too many as products of popular culture and have also been allowed to publish at the same height as musicians because of the affordability and accessibility of often pedestrian publishing services.

Some reviewers and ordinary readers have also contributed to the plague. They feed into the ego of the writer, pampering them with destructive praise.

Rarely have comments like, “The beginning is weak”, “the characters are one-dimensional” and “the author needed to be more familiar with the subject that he was dealing with” been seen.

Charles Mungoshi

Another contributing factor to this disease has been endorsements of such works by friends and others eager to please than being honest in their sentiments about the published works.

Wordsmiths have, therefore, treated and interpreted these endorsements as worthy. And like doctors giving endorsed but harmful medicine, the reader has caught a new disease or rather wisely, abstained from interacting with harmful substances.

Writers have also stopped reading and researching and so have reduced their writings into mere recollections of their personal and at times mundane and irrelevant experiences and memory that cannot excite the reader one bit!

And so, writers have lost their value of being able to interpret, comprehend and digest. The result is they have also missed and still miss a golden opportunity to learn from other writers.

This has destroyed the integrity of the art of using the pen, it has also emerged that even the choice of font, paperback paper, cover texture and design has been for the most part of literature’s life, for the bad.

It is of great value that whoever shall be voted into power through the 2018 elections must recognise the need for the government to oil the book industry. If not for the writers, then at least let it be for the young souls that will need to see their past captured in literature.

After all, what is a country without literature, without its griots? Remember, even the colonial government structure funded the Rhodesia Literature Bureau.

A few years ago, a book that carried with it many errors received a gong at the National Arts Merit Awards. Last year, although there were nominations for the Outstanding First Published Creative Work, there was no winner. How does this reflect on your writing career?

Are these assertions fair? What about those who do their craft well? Some may ask. That is when you say: it is time for them to guide a revolution that sieves all the debris and leave only gold in its emerging library shelves.

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