Local writers thrive online

Miriam Mangwaya
FOR two to three days, Tatenda Zvenyika (25), who is popularly known as Dr TM in the writing industry, types a chapter for his novel.

When he is done, he goes online, where more than 30 000 fans are waiting, and posts the chapter on his Facebook page — Dr TM Stories.

He also sends the chapter to the 45 Dr TM Stories WhatsApp group.

Everyday, his fans check his WhatsApp status and Facebook timeline to find out the latest progress on stories. After posting about 10 chapters of his plot for free on social media, he stops. Those fans willing to continue reading have to subscribe for $2 to get the full story.

“Within a month, for one full story, about 200 readers subscribe, giving me about $400,” said Zvenyika.

“I sell my stories across borders. Payments are also done online, via Ecocash in most cases.”

This is how a fast growing number of upcoming novel writers like Zvenyika are utilising social medial platforms to publish their articles and earn some money.

Believe Ndoro, a 23-year-old online publisher said due to lack of employment opportunities, some young writers have resorted to self-publishing, posting and marketing their work on social media at an almost zero cost. They produce their stories in vernacular languages, which they mix with English and slang.

“We’re living in the digital era where most people are spending their time online and I decided to follow the market,” Ndoro said.

“I graduated with a sociology degree from the University of Zimbabwe, but couldn’t get any form of employment. I need to earn a living and I cannot sit idle when I can do something that gives me money.”

Ndoro started writing in 2016 but she has already published three stories online.

Another author, Stephen Mutsago (25), whose pseudonym is HOD on social media is passionate about writing and is therefore using social media to market his work and increase his monthly earnings. He started writing in 2010, filing his articles, until he realised in 2016 that he could gain publicity through posting his work online.

Most budding writers said they started publishing their work online after failing to cope with the “cumbersome obstacles” they encountered when they attempted to publish through traditional publishing companies.

“Besides being unaffordable to a starter, it takes long, sometimes about a year, to publish through traditional publishing companies,” said Zvenyika.

“As a writer, I would be uncertain whether my story would be published or not. I can’t wait for that long to make money.”

Zvenyika started writing in 2015 and has published six titles, which include Ndiko Here Kuda Kwenyu Mwari, My Return and My Betrayer, among others, on social media. He is currently working on his seventh book, My Brother’s Secret.

Munashe Soka, a designer at Pearl Press Media, a small Harare publishing house, said he was receiving an increased volume of manuscripts from authors due to the growth of online publishing. He said young novel writers were editing their own work to avoid the costs involved in professional editing.

“These young writers skip the editing process because they regard it as very expensive,” said Soka.

“They edit their own work. However, they produce work that is way below standard.”

Readers also said although it was cheaper to purchase a book on social media, online self-publishing had compromised quality as they encountered some editorial errors that made some storylines vague.

“With my monthly Facebook or WhatsApp data bundles, I can browse through as many novels as I can from various authors, and I cannot do that with traditional book stores,” said Shylet Mudzara, a South African-based Zimbabwean who reads stories on social media.

“I can then buy a book for $2, which is also cheaper as compared to traditional book sellers. However, social media books contain vast errors that sometimes I fail to understand the whole plot.”

According to Brian Jones, the director of amaBooks, a traditional publishing house based in Bulawayo, readers may find it difficult to obtain good quality and differentiate narratives online.

“With the millions of titles now available online, it is also difficult for self-publishers to get their book noticed, whatever the quality, ahead of those published by the major international publishers with their extensive advertising,” Jones said.

Officials in the publishing industry also said the challenging economic environment in the country did not promote a vibrant publishing industry.

“Many people don’t have disposable income to buy books that are not on school syllabi,” said Jones.

“Many outlets that sold books have closed down, limiting the places where producers can market their titles.”

He, however, cited lack of support from the Government and other agencies as a hindrance to creative writing in Zimbabwe.

“Many countries help creative writing through direct support to publishers through the purchase of books for libraries. This doesn’t happen in Zimbabwe.

Libraries, including university and college libraries, only purchase books when they receive specific funding from donors for local book acquisition, and this happens very rarely.”

Soka encouraged up-and-coming authors to seek sponsorship so that they could publish their work through the standardised professional processes.

Miriam Mangwaya is a journalism student at the National University of Science and Technology

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