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Books and Indie Publishing: A Conversation with Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure

Ever wondered what it takes to get your writing published? In this first interview of the year I get to chat with Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure who is the founder and editor of an indie publishing press, Carnelian Heart Publishing. I've been fortunate enough to read some of the works by the press (Painting A Mirage, 3:15 am and Other Stories, The Men I've Hated, Turquoise Dreams, Starfish Blossoms and Brilliance of Hope) and I can say with confidence that the press has been a game changer especially for Zimbabwean writers. Publishing can be a long and hard road for many writers and some may not even know what to consider as they take that next step in their writing journey. Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure gives us an insight into indie publishing from her experience. Grab your cuppa (the weather permits!) and let's get into the conversation.

[Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure: Author, Founder of Carnelian Heart Publishing, Advocate for equality, mental health, native languages and welfare of immigrants. (Image provided by S. R. V)

*Sam, please tell us about Carnelian Heart Publishing.

SRV: Carnelian Heart is an independent press that I established initially to publish my own works, then decided to use the company to drive my advocacy initiatives through publications of anthologies. Having established some systems and controls to ensure the smooth running of the organisation, I have now opened my doors to Zimbabweans and other African writers.

Carnelian Heart is a hybrid publisher, offering traditional publishing agreements to writers, minus advance payments typically offered by the large traditional publishing houses. For well-written works, Carnelian Heart pays for the editorial, book production, distribution, marketing and wholesale costs, and the author decides whether they want to share the financial risk with the publisher (by opting for higher royalties following the sale of an agreed number of books) or not (by opting for lower immediate royalty payments).

“Carnelian” is the name of a brownish-red semi-precious gemstone believed to be a stabilising stone which restores vitality and stimulates creativity. It is said to have energy that promotes courage and positive life choices, ousts apathy and motivates for success. It helps in trusting yourself and your perceptions and is useful for overcoming abuse of any kind. The properties of carnelian are aligned with the original/early intention of my creative writing – advocacy. “Heart” denotes doing this work out of love – it’s a passion project.

*From a publishing point of view, what is/ makes a great quality book?

SRV: Excellent content that is well edited, clothed in a sexy cover with a blurb that entices readers to buy/read the book and typesetting that enhances the reader’s experience, are the rudiments for a great quality book.

*I know you are also a writer with four publications under your name. When the two worlds of writing and publishing meet, what is the impact of one on the other?

SRV: The impact has been mostly positive, for me. The combo drives my growth as an author. I believe editing other people’s works has improved my own writing and self-editing skills.

I use my indie press as a networking platform – for instance, I have edited fantastic authors who subsequently edited books published by Carnelian Heart. Lazarus Panashe Nyagwambo (author of short stories in ‘A hole in the air) has edited Rudo Manyere’s ‘3:15am and other stories’, Pauline Magosvongwe’s ‘The Crocodile River’, David Chasumba’s ‘The Mad Man on First Street and other Short Stories’, CM Elliot’s ‘Sibanda and the Night Adder’, amongst others. Dzikamayi Chando (author of poems in ‘Cremation of the Scarecrow’) has edited Marial Awendit’s ‘Whispers over a Brewing Dawn’, Joseph Matose’s ‘Grave Park Poesy’ and my latest collection of poems, ‘Starfish Blossoms’. Tariro Ndoro (author of 3 short stories in the anthology, ‘Brilliance of Hope’) also edited ‘Starfish Blossoms’. I have also made great connections through introductions by literary professionals I’ve worked with.

Publishing does consume a great deal of my writing time, which can be frustrating, but I view it as a necessary break that allows my own WIPs to breathe.

Running a small indie press is an altruistic labour of love - I am empathetic and accommodating to the needs of the writers I publish despite the challenges I face, because I share their frustrations and celebrations. The work gives me a huge sense of purpose and I believe it is my calling. Ultimately, the two worlds complement each other beautifully.

*Let's talk about book distribution, how has that been going for Carnelian Heart, especially when publishing books by authors from Zimbabwe who want to feed their work into the Zimbabwean literary scene?

SRV: Distribution in the West is relatively straightforward. Anyone with access to the internet and a debit or credit card can access our books available on most global book retailer websites that supply on a ‘print on demand’ basis. On the other hand, distribution to Africa is slow and expensive, but we print and ship our books to Zimbabwe where they are sold by Book Fantastics in Harare and The Orange Elephant in Bulawayo. Our books are also available at Xarra Bookstore in South Africa and Nuria Bookstore in Kenya.

*Printed books, electronic books and audio books. What are the main considerations for the publisher?

SRV: From the perspective of a small indie press, the main considerations are costs and accessibility. Carnelian Heart currently produces printed and electronic books only, because they are the most popular amongst readers and they are cheaper (to produce) than audio books.

(A collection of books distributed by Carnelian Heart Publishing - image extracted from Instagram @carnelian_heart_publishing)

*The impact of social media cannot be understated, I've seen some authors publish large portions of their work on social media in the blogging format and then later on moving to print adding the final chapters of their work. When I look at it from another perspective this is self-publishing. What is the future of traditional publishing?

SRV: This is a complex question. It is widely known that most authors are self-published because it’s very difficult to get a traditional publishing deal in the highly competitive traditional publishing world. For authors who value status, validation and quick money, traditional publishing is the way to go. And for those who value freedom, creativity and making an impact, self-publishing is the way to go. Hybrid publishing gives you the best of both worlds, because authors may negotiate tailored deals to meet their needs and objectives.

* I believe that events and literary initiatives are crucial in the continued development of literature, be it for Zimbabwe, Africa or the world. Where does Carnelian Heart place itself/ see itself contributing in that area?

SRV: Carnelian Heart shares your view. I attended the Black British Book Festival in Birmingham in June 2022, and Chepstow Festival of Arts in Wales in July 2022 - I exhibited the Carnelian Heart Portfolio of books at both events. In October 2022 I attended the Harare Open Book Festival, organised by Book Fantastics, where I represented Carnelian Heart on two panel discussions. In November 2022 I attended Litfest Harare, organised by Chirikure Chirikure, and participated in a panel discussion unpacking migration in literature. I look forward to participating at more literary events in 2023 and beyond.

In terms of literary initiatives, Carnelian Heart runs literary advocacy projects in the form of themed anthologies, to pave the way for upcoming Zimbabwean writers. Examples of such projects are Turquoise Dreams – an anthology of 29 short stories by 10 Zimbabwean women writers who had never been published (a women empowerment project); and Brilliance of Hope – an anthology of 41 short stories by 15 Zimbabwean writers, about the Zimbabwean dispersion (migration literature project). I’m proud to share that some of the anthology contributors went on to publish their own titles. For example, Tinatswe Mhaka who contributed 3 short stories in ‘Turquoise Dreams’ went on to publish her own novel, ‘The Men I’ve Hated’. Nyasha Chiyanike who also contributed 3 short stories in the same anthology will soon release her own collection of short stories. Panashe Nyagwambo and Rudo Manyere contributed 3 short stories each to ‘Brilliance of Hope’ and subsequently published ‘A hole in the air’ and ‘3:15am and other stories’ respectively. Carnelian Heart is running more advocacy projects in 2023.

* How does marketing work in publishing?

SRV: The publisher usually has a marketing strategy detailed in the publishing agreement. Small indie presses like Carnelian Heart, with much smaller marketing budgets than the large traditional publishers rely on the collective energy between author and publisher to market and sell books. Social media marketing, press releases and collaborations with book reviewers and retailers have helped a great deal to expose Carnelian Heart authors to the international market.

*You have so many books at your disposal and you're spoiled for choice and I envy you! What do you enjoy reading?

I enjoy reading poetry, because a poem tells a composite story in just a few lines, thereby giving me more freedom to interpret the story my own way, than prose would.

*One book that you'll never forget and highly recommend to all book lovers?

SRV: I read widely and never forget what I read. However, I don’t think I can recommend one book to all book lovers, because readers have different tastes in books.

* What are you currently reading?

SRV: I’m currently reading Sue Nyathi’s latest offering, ‘An Angel’s Demise’, alongside poetry by Diane Suess, Nandi Comer and Tariro Ndoro.

I am excited to see what Carnilian Heart Publishing does next and I cannot wait to read all the upcoming books this year. For more information about the press, to keep up with the new writing voices and to support the press's work please visit their website on this link.


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