An exciting new publishing company has launched in South Africa, one that concentrates on the mass teenage fiction market and whose innovative business model combines social media, reading and social entrepreneurship.
Four Cape Town-based women – Ros Haden, Mignon Hardie, Dorothy Dyer and Palesa Morudu – whose common passion is reading, own Cover2Cover. The company is “dedicated to building a community of readers to increase literacy levels and enhance personal development and empowerment in those communities that lack disposable income and often live under severe stress”.
Broken Promises is the first of a series of books that centre on a group of teens who attend Harmony High, a fictional township high school. It was written by Ros Haden and is a thriller that also deals with the many issues teens have to face today – but not, says the author, in a ‘preachy’ way.
The heroine is a young woman called Ntombi. Cover2Cover says the Harmony High books “read like soap-opera paperbacks, dealing with teenage angst in a very readable and accessible way”.
Because few South African publishers deal with the mass youth market, believing that is not financially viable, Cover2Cover has founded the FunDza Literacy Trust as an equal shareholder. It will use social media to promote literacy among teenagers. Readers of Cover2Cover’s Harmony High books are invited to join FunDza’s mobile reading club.
TheMediaOnline caught up with Mignon Hardie, managing director, to find out how it will work.
“The FunDza Literacy Trust will be running the social media strategy, through the FunDza mobile network. The over-arching aim of the trust is to build a community of teen readers using social media,” said Hardie.
“Readers of Cover2Cover’s books will be invited to join FunDza via a please-call-me SMS. An auto response then lets them find out how to connect with FunDza to give feedback on books, enter regular competitions and give us their story ideas.
“The intention is that the FunDza network will operate via MXit and MYMsta, Facebook, Twitter and other existing channels that teens currently use. Currently, the FB Page is up and running. The MXit and MYMsta channels will become operational within the next two months,” she explained.
Hardie added that the intention is to “use these channels to deliver more content electronically to readers and to widen the scope of that content, for instance to news, current affairs and opinion pieces as well as other fiction”.
Interestingly, Cover2Cover is planning to release one of its forthcoming titles as an m-book before taking it to print. “And, the likelihood is that as more readers adopt these channels we will aim to deliver content according to demand,” Hardie said.
And she added: “The FunDza Literacy Trust – whilst being a shareholder of Cover2Cover Books – is an independent entity. It will be wanting other publishers and content providers to partner with it in delivering content to its readership with the aim of getting teens excited about books and reading and by encouraging critical thinking.”
The mobile reading club functions through the different channels. “FunDza will communicate with its members via SMS as well as through the social media channels mentioned above. Members are encouraged to give feedback on these books and become involved in story development. We hope to give readers a sense of ownership over the stories so that these do really reflect their lives,” said Hardie.
The aim of FunDza is to develop literacy and encourage reading for fun – something that readers want to do, rather than what they have to do. Members will be also encouraged to recommend books and content that others may enjoy.
Cover2Cover has already received positive feedback from readers and educators. “Broken Promises has been tested with a number of students from Langa who attend LEAP Maths and Science School in Pinelands. In its own small way the book has gone viral – been taken home by students and read by aunties, uncles, friends, who have all been very positive and can’t wait for the next book!” Hardie said.
Some early responses on Facebook say:
“more more books needed, it’s like am addicted to fundza books”
“tjo the book is so amazing, am looking forward to volume 2 if there is a volume 2… this book is the exect mirror for us because everything there is happening to us…”
And, from interviews with teens who’ve read the book, the following comments were made:
“I loved the book … It was written in South Africa… It wasn’t something about the suburbs. It was local … it was about black people in the townships.”
“I didn’t want to do anything. I just wanted to read [Broken Promises].”
“It was about us teenagers in high school, about the choices we make, about how the decisions we make change our lives.”
“There isn’t a bit that is boring about the book.”
“Reading [Broken Promises] made me want to read more of these books.”
Hardie said: “The responses we’ve had show what a need there is for good and exciting books for teens, specifically those growing up townships, that reflect their hopes, fears and triumphs.”
At this stage, Cover2Cover is self-funded. “We are approaching businesses and funding organisations to get involved in the project to get as many books into schools, libraries and homes as we can. Given the lack of disposable income in our target market, we are seeking to subsidise the costs of the books as far as possible through advertising and sponsorships,” said Hardie.
The Western Cape Education Department has read Broken Promises and recommended that it be made available to teens. It said: “Different readers from different age groups will be able to identify with different characters in the story. The book does create a desire in the reader to see what will happen next as the story unfolds. The story is relevant to the lives of many young people growing up in a township. Young people can learn from this story that there are always consequences attached to the good and bad choices we make. Other young people who do not live in a township will be able to learn and appreciate what young people in a township are faced with on a daily basis.
“The language used in the book is accessible to young people who are First Additional Language speakers. The language also serves as a model, which young people can follow when they speak and write. The use of so much direct speech helps to enhance the realism of the story. Teachers may even use this book as a teaching tool when they have to teach language and narrative writing.
“This book is recommended for young readers who are in Grades 7 to 10. It is recommended that copies of this book be put in school libraries and that learners are made aware of it and are encouraged to read it.”
In addition, the book has been reviewed by Elizabeth Anderson, who has been involved in literacy development for many years, through the Centre for the Book and other organisations. She said: “A truly gripping South African novel which will appeal to all teenagers. Broken Promises is written by acclaimed author Ros Haden and, besides dealing with the fears, fun and anxieties of teens, is a roller coaster, modern thriller. The book is short and pacy. The characters are well realised and every reader will connect with the heroine, Ntombi. Excitingly this is the first of a series based on the kids who attend Harmony High; the good the bad and the oddities. What a pleasure to know that there will be more to come. I can’t wait.”
Hardie said Cover2Cover has a further four books in production. “The next book – Jealous in Jozi, also by Ros Haden – should be available by June. This is a sequel to Broken Promises and tells the story of what happens to Ntombi next.
“Dianne Case and Sivuyile Mazantsi are currently writing the next print version books. And, Dorothy Dyer is writing the first planned m-book.
“All these books form part of the Harmony High series, about a group of teens attending a fictional township high school. Common characters interlink the books across the series. Characters develop and change over the series.”
Hardie said the books are being promoted in the Western Cape but that they plan to take the campaign national. “We plan to launch them in schools by dramatising some scenes from the books and getting students involved in the books. We are well aware that many books sit unopened in classrooms and libraries. We don’t want that for Cover2Cover’s books and are keen to create a buzz around the series and FunDza’s reading club.”