Africa: A Guide for Teachers and Families

Africa and a Journey in Self-Publishing

June 3, 2022

In contrast to the intense emphasis on individualism familiar in the West, Africa offers the concept of Ubuntu — community building based on essential human virtues of compassion and humanity. In the Nguni language of the Zulu and Xosa people, “ubuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” meant a person is a person through other people.

On May 18, 2022, I invited a group of friends and supporters to a book lunch launch of my third edition of Africa: A Guide for Teachers and Families. Connecting with the book theme, we gathered in an Ethiopian Restaurant (Abyssinia) in Santa Rosa, to celebrate the release of the book. It had been a year-long process, and I was thrilled with the result, especially because I had chosen to self-publish.

Entering the world of self-publishing is like being a mechanic who opens the hood of the car, checking that each part will work until the engine hums. In the past, I had no idea of all that goes on behind the scenes until a printed book entices the reader to enter the world of imagination or knowledge.

Although eight of my books have been published during the past twenty-five years, my involvement was minimal. A publishing company would agree to publish my manuscript, and the editing process would begin. When that was done, the only other aspect I was involved in was to comment on the cover design. After that, when the book was complete, my involvement was passive, and then I received a royalty which basically was $1.00 per book. 

I was used to that way of doing things, so why did I decide to put energy and time into self-publishing? It’s a question that my family and friends have asked me repeatedly. Some people in retirement choose to garden or volunteer in a non-profit, but I chose another path. For an author, each book is like a child, nurtured through the process of conception and birth, until it is out in the world. I wanted to become familiar with the process and be involved in the day-to-day decisions until the book would manifest in my hands.

Encouraged by Pam Fenner, publisher of Michaelmas Press, I took the plunge and enrolled in an online Self-Publishing course taught by Ruth Schwartz. Six of us new to this world of self-publishing formed a cohort, and guided by Ruth, we met weekly for three months, asking very naïve questions as we slowly began to gain an understanding of the complexity involved. New terms such as ISBNs, copyright, and barcodes began to come into our conversations. We realized that publishing is a tedious process, filled with detail and requiring patience.

When the course was over, some people decided to go forward doing every detail of the self-publishing process themselves. When I ordered the ISBNs, I felt empowered, but I still didn’t feel ready to take it all on. I hired Ruth Schwartz to be my coach standing beside me every step of the way. If there was something I felt I didn’t want to take on, Ruth was there to do it. My plan was to do this third edition of my book with new formatting and a new cover. Ruth suggested hiring Lorna Johnson as a book designer, which turned out to be a great choice. 

Writing a new edition of a book is a very different process from starting with a manuscript. I was basically happy with the earlier editions, and teachers using it confirmed that it was a very valuable contribution to their teaching. However, I saw possibilities to make the book even better. After conversations with Lorna and Ruth, I decided to take on the challenge of including QR codes in the text. This was a new idea, and it set me on the path of learning about videos on Youtube, deciding which to include, and also making some of my own videos, and setting up a video channel. 

Although I had gained permission for the stories included in the earlier editions, I now had to make sure that those were still valid. This was very time-consuming as some publishing companies were short-staffed due to Covid, and took a long time to respond. This was frustrating and involved my leaving out a few stories.

The cover design was a lengthy process, but it was also the most exciting. What to keep, what to eliminate, how to include the necessary information on the back cover, and how to choose the colors that would entice the reader to open the book. I tested samples with friends and family until I arrived at my final choice.

Along the way, I decided to create my own publishing company, and after many attempts at choosing a name, I decided on Wise Oak Press. I was grateful to Irina Staley for working with me to create the logo.

I had already decided to work with Amazon, using their company KDP, as the publisher. There were several reasons. KDP takes on the work of listing the books on their Amazon addresses, prints on-demand, sells the books, and gives a monthly report along with depositing the royalties in the author’s bank account. I took special joy in seeing how the book would sell in different countries around the world. I became very excited when I saw the royalties from Japan during the first month after the launch. However, my excitement dimmed when I realized the royalty payment was in yen, rather than in dollars.

The next stage is marketing which is time-consuming and frustrating. I’ll write more about it after some months, sharing what I have learned and what needs to be done differently.

Stay tuned!