Ever wondered how do writers and publishers make money from publishing a book? Well, I have decided to seek an answer with the right person to help us with the question. In this Q&A, author and respected publisher, Melinda Ferguson talks about the business of publishing, what entails to be a publisher, why she has decided to start her imprint company, Melinda Ferguson Books. Melinda also reflects on her most favourite book published by her imprint and she has some valuable advice for writers looking to publish their work.
Question: Firstly, congratulations on your move to NB-Uitgewers/Publishers. I think for the benefit of our EW Blog readers, let’s start with who is Melinda Ferguson?
I studied at UCT to be an actress, along the way I became a serious drug addict. When I got clean and sober I began working as a journo and features editor at True Love Magazine. I also wrote my first book Smacked in 2005 about my harrowing journey into addiction and my miraculous road to recovery. I followed Smacked with Hooked in 2010 and Crashed in 2015. While I was employed there I went back to university part time and got an Honours degree in Publishing at Wits and opened my own imprint MF Books Joburg with Jacana and have been publishing for the last 8 years with much success. I began a new imprint with NB Publishers at the beginner of this year called Melinda Ferguson Books.
Question: You are the head and owner of MF Books, what inspired you to start MF Books?
As I mentioned I went back to study and I just loved it. I really felt like I had found my niche in life after many detours and false starts. I love writers as I am one myself and I love people’s stories. Publishing amazing and transformative books brings me great joy.
Question: As one of the most respected publishers in the country, talk to us about what being a publisher entail?
Publishing is a lot like gambling. You don’t really know if a book will succeed and sell. I often just rely on intuition … if I get an excited feeling deep inside I usually trust my instincts. But it’s tough out there. It’s very expensive to put a book on the shelf and so unfortunately one has to be business-minded when backing a book.
Question: As a publisher, what are the things that you look for, before you can accept to publish a book for an author?
See above. People often ask me what I am looking for and I usually say “brilliance”.
Question: Let’s talk about the business side of publishing. As I stated that you moved your imprint to NB-Uitgewers/Publishers from Jacana Media. How did that move come about?
I have signed a non disclosure and so can’t discuss this.
Question: What are the financial benefits of being an imprint of a major publishing stable?
So I am in a 50/50 joint venture with NB. I take 50% of the costs and 50% of the profits. If a book tanks I lose. If a book succeeds I benefit. In the end it’s a lot to do with numbers … sadly. So as I said it’s like gambling.
Question: The book publishing business is not the most lucrative business. How does the publisher and the author share the financial returns from a book sale?
Because the publisher has to lay out all the money up front and pay for: editing, cover design , page design, proof reading, marketing, distribution and printing – the business model can only work on a royalty percentage basis. Stores get a big discount when they carry a book … up to 50% … so authors are usually offered a royalty of between 12-15%. Some publishers charge their authors to publish them. It’s a very tough business to make money for all parties. It’s all about numbers. The more a book sells the more money the book shop, the publisher and the author makes.
Question: With all the books which MF Books has published, which one was your most favourite published book and why?
This is a very hard question as I have published close to 60 books in the last 8 years and they are all like my children. But I have to say publishing Prof Pumla Dineo Gqola’s three books: A Renegade called Simphiwe, Rape: A South African Nightmare and Reflecting Rogue has been an absolute highlight. I will be publishing Pumla’s fourth book in my imprint – Female Fear Factory in early 2021. I can’t wait.
Question: If you were to invite three local authors to a book reading session, who will that be and why them?
Jeez that’s hard. There are so many I would like to invite, but a great session would be Sisonke Msimang, Pumla Dineo Gqola and Richard Pithouse. They are all incredibly clever, enlightened human beings and have many insights around the psyche of South Africa that would be like getting a brain food injection.
Question: What is your advice to young and upcoming writers, who would like to publish their books with established and big publishing stables like yours?
Writers must write, writers must read, they must read and read and read and hone their craft. Writing is about discipline and hard work. Writing a book is hard, and it often needs to be edited and rewritten before it’s ready for submission. I would say the best advice is to be brutally disciplined and don’t let rejection deter you
Which book are you currently reading?
I read books all the time for work. I have very little time to read for pleasure. But I am currently reading Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit and Always Another Country by Sisonke Msimang.