Our 2022 book year has started with celebrations. Receiving our Notable Book Award, being invited on the forthcoming Storylines National Story Tour in Canterbury and confirming 7 book projects for the year, so far … because last year we had scheduled 7 and ended up taking part in 11 by the end of the year #IaGale
Another highlight was meeting and chatting with Dame Joy Cowley #Legend. She spoke to me about the difficulties she experienced and observed across the book industry around the acceptance of more diverse authors and stories, and we both agreed that more needed to be done in this space. Then after giving me a big hug, congratulating me for all the work we have done with Mila’s Books, she said something that I will never forget and has officially become the theme for us this year – “Your stories bring your people back home.” #NotCrying #You’reCrying
But when we thought nothing could get better than all of this, we found out that our YA book, Tama Sāmoa, sold 2000 copies within 6 months, which we have recently learnt is huge in the book industry. Supposedly it is considered really good if you sell 500 copies of your book within 6 months, which seems to be the norm for us considering our other YA book, Teine Sāmoa, sold over 1000 copies and our Mila’s My Aganu’u Series (Fale Sāmoa and Siva Afi Teine Toa) each sold 500 copies all across 6 months.
You might be thinking, but who cares? Why is this important for me to know? Especially since our Mila’s Books are predominantly sold either direct to consumer or through our own amazing Pasifika retailers with no real attention from major mainstream book shops or the trade publishing industry, none of this matters right?
Tulou lava, but WRONG – This actually means EVERYTHING for us as Pasifika, as Pasifika indie authors and indie publishers and here’s why:
- The mirror mirror on the wall myth: We as Pasifika are used to not being featured in most of the stories we read and there have been many reasons that I have heard over the years for this #TheseBooksDon’tSell. But our Mila’s Books stories prove that we are more than capable of being the main characters in stories that SELL, dispelling the myth that Pasifika belong in the background of stories or should be the sacrificial brown lambs alongside other minority groups in storylines. There is a place for us and we ALL belong in the stories that we read … we also need way more across all genres ASAP!
- Pasifika don’t read or buy books myth: Our Mila’s Books stories have continued to prove that there is a need and a real hunger for our stories. Pasifika people do read and guess what – we have buying power too! And it is definitely not a matter of having an author of Pacific Island descent, write a story and then assume that it will sell. What people forget is that for so long there has been a huge disconnect for our Pasifika people who have not been included in stories, or have not had their own language and culture included in books. So when we don’t address this and a one-off book written by a Pasifika author is released, you really cannot blame our people for not running to and selling out mainstream book stores whose shelves have continually rejected us, our stories and who we are.
Publishers have a huge responsibility of healing and mending this broken vā, with an extra duty of care as the ultimate fulltime culturally responsive connector between our people, the outside world and our stories.
- I need a publisher myth: As grateful as I am for the publishers who took a chance on our stories and have supported us on our journey, it’s important for you all to know that like Mila’s Books, you can learn to do it all yourself and publish your own stories. Obviously this all depends on how much work you are willing to put in and it is more than just write and put it out in the world. But if you don’t want to face all the rejections (because remember over the past 40 years there was like 1% of Pasifika authors traditionally published) then like most things these days you can learn all the steps to take to ensure you produce a high qualtiy version of the book or ebook you envisioned. #YouTubeTutorials #StepByStep
There is also funding available nearly everywhere – even crowdfunding is becoming very popular. You can even create your own website or online book store. In terms of marketing and promotion, social media now has a greater reach than traditional methods of marketing which are now waning. Don’t forget there are Pasifika radio stations and a huge range of Pasifika platforms that are eager and willing to share and promote our stories too.
Ultimately, all of this proves we don’t need to hope and pray on a chance from a mainstream publisher or a space on a mainstream bookshelf to get our stories out into the world to be sold. And in our experience, based on the need and demand for our stories at Mila’s Books, we must no longer wait for these people and places to learn to value us as writers and our stories. We as Pasifika are now in a position to take a chance and back ourselves, by creating our own spaces for our stories on a Pasifika bookshelf that is made, promoted and marketed by us, for all of us.
If you have always done what you did before, you will always get the same results. Thankfully Mila’s Books are not doing what has been done before and have found some success in doing so. This is why we are spreading the word because as Pasifika, when one wins, we all win. Our Mila’s Books achievements belong to the village of supporters across the world who have shown huge alofa and support for our stories. So as we prepare for the launch of our first tusi for 2022, we want to say fa’afetai lava for all your support and for helping us show the world that our stories are worth telling, worthy of writing, creating and buying. We did that.
Looking forward to our 2022 Mila’s Books journey with you all this year and continuing to help us come home to ourselves – right at the top of our very own Pasifika made bookshelf where we can all be seen, heard and valued as who we are.