Episode 53

Published on:

25th Jun 2021

Selling Books

Wesley Pepper sits down with Jane Morris and Brian Jones from amaBooks publishing. They take a look at the world of publishing through the lens of Covid.


Wesley: [00:00:00] Everybody this is Wesley Pepper here. And your tuning in to my podcasts wesley peppers art lexica. And remember we are brought to you by spot Costa and Bible, and thanks to all my new and returning listeners. Uh uh, thanks for coming for coming in to check on my platform. Uh, it's much appreciated. I know the local, the listeners are growing and there's some shout outs I've been getting and thanks to everybody, uh, much appreciated.

[00:00:38] Uh, yeah, yeah. Um, yeah. Anyway, I'm not very good at that type of thing. So it's just like, thank you. And, uh, yeah, let me continue making sound really dope ass arts based content, which I'm really passionate about man and I really, really enjoy doing. And, um, let's just touch base on last week's episode. Uh, Lerato Sibanda thanks alot my sister for coming through the poetry really gave the episode a lot of.

[00:01:04] But very limited, really layered, really textured. I really, I really loved it. I thought it was, uh, it was, uh, it was really beautiful. And, um, and what I loved about it was, um, yeah, I don't know, organic, everything was so big up to that, uh, today's episode. Um, we are talking to some really interesting for, uh, really interesting people talking to, um, Jane Morris and Brian Jones they from amaBooks, publisher publishing.

[00:01:31] Um, they're based in Zimbabwe but currently are in Wales, in cardigan. Um, we spoke with earlier in the week and I say, uh, book Saturday, uh, event in cardigan over the weekend. So promoting Bryony Rheam’s book, and we'll be talking a little bit about that. So when we're focusing on the, you know, pretty much the A to Zed about them?

[00:01:51] So in talking about, uh, how they came out, how they came to being, um, just to give it some perspective, um, they, uh, how they, uh, curate or, um, How they curate their, um, uh, authors they're their writers. I know that they publishing work is based mostly on, um, you know, stories, you know, short stories, a lot, a lot of poetry, uh, or rather some poetry or some history book.

[00:02:14] So that's really interesting, man. So when we are going to be talking a little bit about why they choose to sell that specific genre books, their author’s are top selling authors, how they will, um, adapting to the COVID pandemic as we always do on this platform and getting to know them just personally, really, you know, um, and giving my listeners or you listeners just a face to the, to the brand, which is amaBooks publishing.

[00:02:38] So. Yeah, man. Um, look forward to that. That's coming really soon. Um, with regards to the, uh, art giveaway, it is still going on. Um, remember to, um, you can catch me on all my social media platforms. So that's, uh, um, Facebook that’s twitter, that’s @wesleypepper, and, uh, Instagram is with the underscore pepper. So you can catch me on there.

[00:03:01] Um, but remember to like subscribe and comment to this channel, um, and we'll select somebody for now a disclaimer that is only available to, uh, South African based listeners. And that's just a money thing. Because it’s all coming out of my pocket. For now. Um, so yeah, man. And, um, so that's something that's, that's going to be ongoing, but like, but I'll explain a little bit more too about that at the end of the episode.

[00:03:27] Um, and in the outro, but for now, um, yeah, I look forward to listen to Brian, to Jane and Brian. Um, from amaBooks and we'll chat after that. And I hope you enjoy today's episode. 

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[00:03:55] Wesley: [00:03:55] I'm just gonna hit record already. Um, and I'm gonna click the video. So, uh, okay. Uh, Jane Morris, Brian Jones. Thank you so much for coming. Um, thank you so much for coming. Um, they are from amaBooks and, uh, good morning. 

[00:04:15] Jane: [00:04:15] How are you? Hello? Yeah, we’re very quiet people. 

[00:04:20] Wesley: [00:04:20] Oh, all of a sudden it was so quiet.

[00:04:26] Good morning. Good morning, Brian. Uh, yeah, so you guys are based in Wales for now, but we'll get to that. Um, so just briefly, because we there's about, there's a bunch of things I want to unpack, um, in today's episode. So just briefly, like, uh, where’s amaBooks based, you know, uh, what do you guys sell? I mean, I think I sell books, but what genre of books do you sell?

[00:04:50] Um, yeah. So just give us like a brief, a little bit about amaBooks. 

[00:04:54] Brian: [00:04:54] Um, well, we now living in Wales, but, um, the publishing company is still based in, in Zimbabwe where we started 20 years ago. Um, and we've been publishing a couple of books every year. At that time we started off doing mainly fiction, but we did a few nonfiction titles.

[00:05:19] Um, the culture of Matabeleland in Zimbabwe. Um, but since then we've moved, we really concentrated on, on fictional novels. Collections of short stories and I suppose we're most famous. We are famous. Jane: No imfamous.

[00:05:43] Brian: for the collections of short stories that we did, um,

[00:05:50] If we did, as we just spoke informally now to try and encourage an interest in a wider population. I think you know so we’d get sort of 20 writers in each edition. And if they came in a few of their families for the launch, we'd have lots of people,

[00:06:09] lots of interest and enthusiasm. 

[00:06:13] Jane: [00:06:13] The, the idea behind that also was to have writers from different backgrounds. So, um, Rural urban black, white coloured, and people who were already here known as writers, people who were new writers. So we wanted to mix because we thought by having some established writers in the, um, the compilations, it would bring on the new writers too.

[00:06:42] So we thought that was a good model to take. Um, we've done quite a few of those collections and they have been, they have been popular and they've. It's been wonderful because there'd been the platform for some writers to go on, to develop their own thing and to write their, their own novels or poetry books.

[00:07:00] Christopher Miller last year has gone on Bryony Rheam has, um, there have been others, but my mind just got blank. Um, wonderful. As a publisher to just see the writers develop in that way and go on to greater things.

[00:07:15] Wesley: [00:07:15] Interesting. Interesting. Like, I think that as a, as a, as, as a, as a concept is, is really cool.

[00:07:22] So you have the short stories. So, um, I guess like, um, so you guys started 20 years ago, right? One thing I'm very interested in exploring on this, on this platform. And we spoke quite kind of informally earlier on, and I just want to get into I to explain to you is firstly, why. Um, um, is that, you know, this on this platform, I like to, I like to talk about, um, um, artists process and I call artists as a loose either blanket term pardon for like basically every creative, you know, fine art, music, et cetera, uh, poets and all of that writers.

[00:07:51] Um, so I know that like, The creatives in, in, in, in, in Africa, you don’t.. to be an artist it's a calling it's it's, it's, it's something that, that you either have it, or you don't. And I understand the complexity is behind publishing too. Um, So 20 years ago was a long time ago, that was before the tech boom and the social media.

[00:08:15] Boom. So I'm sure your personal strategy, uh, was, was different than you just made mention of, of, of, of, of, of the short stories, which is brilliant. I think that's the concept was brilliant. So, I mean like, so like just explain to me, how did amaBooks come to being and, um, you know, what was your, um, Original strategy and I'm 20 years on is a long time.

[00:08:34] So, um, how have you guys changed over, um, over the past 20 years?

[00:08:50] Jane: [00:08:50] we’re alot greyer! Okay. Brian's pointed at me. So I think it's over to me to answer this one. So I, in, in Zimbabwe, we have, I was a clinical social worker and I was involved in setting up Childline in Bulawayo. It was already established in Harare. And I was part of the training team training, the volunteers, and we needed to raise money for Childline.

[00:09:12] So, um, there was a writer in, um, quite, quite a well known writer called John Eppel who was both.

[00:09:19] Wesley: [00:09:19] Yes, yes, yes. I'm familiar with John

[00:09:23] Jane: [00:09:23] Okay so John came along and said, look, I'll give you a collection of poetry, um, for free. Um, so he said, um, would we take, you know, did we want to, so we said, yeah, that would be great. So the task of publishing fell to Brian and myself for some reason.

[00:09:39] So total novices. Although my background is in literature, I did literature at university. Um, so we put it on and we really enjoyed the process. We had a very, um, helpful printer who guided us through it. Um, so we did this poetry book. And all proceeds were for charity for Childline. Um, we did a print run of a thousand.

[00:10:01] Um, you might know the poetry generally doesn't sell a lot that well, unless you’re in some place like the Czech Republic. They sell a lot of poetry in the Czech Republic, but this was Zimbabwe and we sold out the print run, um, in six months. So we were really, really pleased by that. And following that John Eppel actually approached us and said, You know, why not?

[00:10:24] Why don't we form a publishing company? So we a formed amaBooks, which, uh, you know, as I said, we could have been called accidental publishers because we fell into it. It was accidental. We have no business plan. So you're talking about, our strategy was just to hopefully sell some books and enjoy the process.

[00:10:49] And give a platform for writers. And, um, of course when we started, we didn't really know many writers in Zimbabwe in particularly Matabeleland at that time, but it's amazing. We put out an ad, we published a few of John's novellas to start John Eppel. And then we put saying, submit, uh, you know, and that the first.

[00:11:12] Um, short writings we did, as we call them, are hard fiction pieces, nonfiction, and poetry. Um, whereas, um, luckily it became just fiction pieces and we were really heartened by the response from different, um, different communities submitted and, um, and amaBooks were off.

[00:11:33] Wesley: [00:11:33] Fantastic. Fantastic. Yeah, it's actually quite a beautiful story.

[00:11:41] And like, it's like, um, I like that with like, like in the us, like, like when, when the energy is right, they just come together and things just happen, you know, it’s just an organic process and like definitely can relate to that. Um, I'm actually quite familiar with, uh, with Johnny Eppel’s work.

[00:12:03] Jane: [00:12:03] He’s won a couple of south African prices he’s won The Ingrid Jonker

[00:12:10] He is a well-known writer.

[00:12:15] Wesley: [00:12:15] Yes he is. Right, right. Um, is, um, I know there's a writer Philani Nyoni. He is a good buddy of mine. Um, yeah, 

[00:12:24] Jane: [00:12:24] I know Philani very well. 

[00:12:28] Wesley: [00:12:28] Yeah. No, no, no. That's a, that's a fellow collaborator of mine and like he's worked extensively and like, um, yeah. Yeah. So, and also I'm also familiar that, that John has got a real status. Um, as, as I writer in Zim like basically every writer I know some how reference or was influenced by him, which is outstanding.

[00:12:46] Um, um, yeah. Um, do you guys still publish his more recent work? Just for interest sake. 

[00:12:53] Jane: [00:12:53] Well, um the last one we published of John's would have been a collection called textures, which was, um, a book of poetry by John Eppel and to God [indistinct]. Um, Which, um, well, obviously which is a beautiful poetry book.

[00:13:12] Um, prior to that, I think the one before that was, um, called together, which was again, poetry, poetry, and short stories that time by John Eppel and Julius Chingono. Um, And we, we actually enjoyed that having the two poets as they were speaking to one another in the book. And for instance, the one with Julius and John, they from very different backgrounds and John's a teacher Julius worked in the mines, um, From from different areas of Zimbabwe, we, and, um, but they really respected each other's writing.

[00:13:50] Um, it really worked and it was quite an exciting venture. And when we did together, we were living, um, out to town in a peri-urban area. So I was sort of, um, technology wasn't too advanced. What we had was we had, um, cause Julius lived outside. Harare. So we have one writer actually, um, type the poems up for us.

[00:14:17] Another one went to collect them from, from, um, uh, Julius. So it was very much a co-op cooperative? 

[00:14:25] Brian: [00:14:25] Julius was very good at writing sort of rough poems on bits of paper. So we have to get someone to go and, um, Understand what he written. 

[00:14:40] Jane: [00:14:40] Yeah, no computer, no computer. And they have not accessed any technology.

[00:14:46] So, uh, it was just, it was just lovely. The way that, um, writers in that area really came together and help get the book out and we really, really appreciated that. 

[00:14:56] Wesley: [00:14:56] Interesting. That's, that's, that's a fascinating story. So just like a few questions on that, like, uh, do you think like, um, I love the fact, like, like it's, like, it was almost an ecosystem of writers and, and, and like they sort of work together.

[00:15:10] Do you think that adds to the, uh, because, because, um, my understanding is that the one writer would have to interpret what the other wrote. do you think that type of thing takes away or adds to the writing? Um, or does it make it, um, unique? You know, 

[00:15:25] Brian: [00:15:25] I think it does add. I mean, the writers get together, talk to each other and discuss what poems they're going to put in so that it makes it sort of complete package.

[00:15:38] And so they, they learn to appreciate each other's work. Learn from each other. I think that's important 

[00:15:47] Jane: [00:15:47] and it makes launches fun. I mean,

[00:15:53] You’ve gotta have fun in this business. There's no point doing it, but texture’s one of the poems I mean, we just acted out. So, um, there were two Gara. We had a couple of other friends in this poem. Took part in it as well. And it's just really nice involving in other people to make it feel more of a, um, a community thing really.

[00:16:18] And there's nothing nicer than walking around Bulawayo and people saying morning amaBooks. Hi, it was just really, really nice.

[00:16:26] Wesley: [00:16:26] Um, that's actually quite a, I love that story. Uh, I love that, that, that those ecosystems grown and now it’s got a face it’s got a personality and has got brand, which is, which is, which is we just, which is quite interesting because, um, Yeah, that's Africa.

[00:16:44] I w when I worked, um, because I used to publish poetry books and poetry anthologies, and I used to illustrate them. So I worked with a group of people and we'd, you know, we, we, we did this like real cheap or cheap printed books and you could sell them pretty quickly. So before, um, Social media, the social media, boom.

[00:17:05] It's just go to fist sessions, vocalisation, et cetera, and sell them there. So what, I'm, what I'm really interested to know because, uh, last year, um, just to give you some context, um, Last year with the SA book week, uh, when the, so it was in September. Um, so the pandemic was already long in it's I think, well, we were on level three, or we came down and dah, dah, dah, all those Covid things.

[00:17:29] But point was like when we had this workshop, uh, many. Uh, businesses was effected directly. Uh, so what I picked up a note as was like, uh, businesses that, and publishers in particular that, uh, was founded, let's say in the late nineties, early two thousands, when they, um, Though those boundaries and their business model in particular, uh, that didn't adapt to the, uh, because now since the pandemic, you know, movement has been restricted, uh, you know, shipping and all that, I'm sure you guys all familiar with, um, with all of that and, you know, gathering of people and like our industry people, that's really a very important aspect of, uh, uh, the, the industry ecosystem.

[00:18:11] And since that was not a move, um, I was I'm, I'm, I'm really interested to know man because, um, like, like explain there that, that, that, that ecosystem is beautiful, man. That has a face that's personal. And, and, and now that the politics of movement is becoming a thing, how has that affected amaBooks and, um, how are you guys dealing or how is adapting to it?

[00:18:33] Jane: [00:18:33] Okay. I'm not sure if I picked up the question, are you saying, how will we innovated to still be? I think what's interesting. I'm using the example of, of somebody else. There there's a writer, um, in, in Bulawayo called [indistinct] and he self published his work. But what was, was lovely. I think about the example of his work was, um, I was involved in it.

[00:18:57] I, I did the final edits. And other people edited it as well. And proof-read, um, was it, it was very much a community project also. And he sold out very quickly because of social media. He was on Facebook a lot and he just got out there and did it himself. And I know there's quite a lot of, um, Writers in South Africa, selling books from the boot of their car.

[00:19:22] And I think we have to be, um, into that much more. We, at one point we tried to sell our books on the street. You know, you get the, the guys on the street, you know, with the books in front of them, trying to, trying to sell it. But then we found, when we went round to these guys, they already had our books. They pirated them.

[00:19:40] So that, that wasn’t exactly a great success.

[00:19:46] Brian: [00:19:46] One of the guys I went back to talk to him too see if he could get our books, and I talked to him about them. And he said, yeah, he was interested. And then we heard a week or so later that he was indeed selling books. He was actually stealing them from the national gallery in Bulawayo, just down the road, selling it. And then one of the people who worked in the national gallery noticed

[00:20:14] Jane: [00:20:14] yeah. I mean there's a lot of piracy. Yeah. Okay. At the moment, the latest book we've done, I know you interviewed, um, Bryony Rheam

[00:20:29] Her latest book um, cause maybe that where we can hinge the question on. And the later book, all come to dust, um, I mean, we, we brought that out in Zimbabwe and Brian has taken, I would say much more of a proactive stance than maybe some writers would, because we're not actually there on, on the scene. So she's done a tour of Zimbabwe getting a book out there.

[00:20:54] She's been selling her book, um, you know, by advertising on Facebook, um, getting the name of that. We've been doing it from the UK and from the UK standpoint, we've, we've, we've come published it in the UK with, um, a Welsh press. Called Patheon books that were very...

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Wesley Pepper's Art Lexica
This is a show where we talk art and art processes. It's typically an interview format, where we talk to different artists about their journey.

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I'm an indie podcast producer from Johannesburg, South Africa