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Hard gig: Life & times of Pukpuk publishing


TUMBY BAY - Pukpuk Publications came into being in 2013 when I was looking for a cheaper alternative to the Port Moresby-based publisher we'd used for the 2011 and 2012 editions of what had become the annual Crocodile Prize Anthology.

Birdwing Books had done a good job on the first two anthologies but their prices were too high for our very limited budget.

Birdwing used a traditional publishing model where they designed the books in Papua New Guinea but sent them to China for printing.

This resulted in both high costs and time delays that didn’t fit our tight scheduling, there being only a couple of months between the close of the Crocodile Prize contest and the launch of the anthology as close to Independence Day as we could manage.

In fact the 2012 anthology made it to the awards ceremony at the Australian High Commission halfway through .

After several false starts we finally fixed on Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand and e-book service.

CreateSpace gave us enough control over process and was cost effective.

This was until Amazon dropped its orientation to supporting the little guys and became the ruthless leviathan it is now.

But there being no one else to match their service, we had to swallow our misgivings and stick with the Bezos Behemoth.

From that initial foray into publishing, Pukpuk rapidly expanded its reach and began producing books by Papua New Guinean writers and then books by Australian writers who had lived and worked in PNG.

As a not-for-profit publisher we often found ourselves financing these publications with no discernible returns.

The anthologies were a case in point.

We would sieve through hundreds of Crocodile Prize entries to find those worthy of publication, provide editing and design services, drum up sponsorships and grants to fund cash prizes for the winners and pay for printing hundreds of books, and then arrange for the anthologies to be distributed by volunteers to schools, libraries and writers around the country.

Quite a task.

By 2015, the fourth year of the Crocodile Prize, the annual anthologies seemed well-established, manuscripts had started to roll in from more Papua New Guinean authors and we were pleased with what was being achieved.

But the Croc was running on a wing and a prayer. And it really needed to be transferred to the rich literary soil of PNG. With the production of the 2016 anthology, the prize was staggering.

It staggered until 2020, when it propagated a new, home grown literary movement.

Michael Dom and a small, enthusiastic team valiantly decided to keep the spirit of Papua New Guinean literature alive.

Link here to visit the Ples Singsing website and you’ll see that this spirit is still very much alive and kicking.

Meanwhile, with the help of a few others, I was able to continue Pukpuk Publications and do what I could to get PNG’s growing pool of emergent authors into print.

The original idea had been to churn back any profits from the books into getting authors published. This worked to some extent but mostly it was a case of digging into our own pockets.

My policy was to price the books at the absolute minimum possible.

As the owner of the Amazon account, I order books on behalf of the writers at the wholesale price so they can take care of the sales themselves and add whatever profit margin they choose to the retail cost.

No royalties came to me, it was a true labour of love. My compensation was the satisfaction of seeing writers – people of great talent who deserved to see their manuscripts turned into books - get published.

Along the way, we’ve assisted several writers to set up their own Amazon accounts and operate as publishers themselves. The late Francis Nii was a good example of this.

We also found ourselves editing many writers’ works at no cost. This has been crucial especially for those Papua New Guinean writers whose great talent was obscured by their struggles with literary English.

Over the years, several Australian volunteers were corralled to take on some of this editing.

From my point of view the Amazon service has been useful.

When stocks of my own books, which had been published by traditional publishers became exhausted, I was able to assert my copyright and republish them myself.

And as we print on demand, not in multi thousand runs, I don’t have to maintain cumbersome stocks.

Boutique publishing, which is essentially what Pukpuk evolved into, is hard work and with increasing age I have had to discontinue my publishing activities except for very special cases and my own personal work.

Nevertheless, there are some 66 books that bear the Pukpuk Publications imprint which are still in circulation and available for sale.

It’s interesting to see the monthly sales figures that Amazon provides.

Apart from my Inspector Metau books, a perennial favourite, the top sellers are Rashmii Bell’s My Walk to Equality, Graham Taylor’s A Kiap’s Story, Leonard Fong Roka’s Brokenville and Chips Mackellar’s Sivarai.

Many of these books are reviewed in PNG Attitude and anecdotal evidence suggests that readers go on to buy copies from Amazon.

It is also very interesting to see where the books are sold.

The top destination is the United States, followed closely by the United Kingdom.

Australian sales have never been great but are now picking up since Amazon established itself in this country.

Papua New Guinea sales are virtually non-existent but this has a lot to do with Amazon’s decision to cease shipping books there because so many consignments went missing. (Their literary contents subsequently being seen in markets around the country.)

Why Papua New Guinean readers do not order e-books is a mystery and a disappointment, because that would be a good, economical way to get books by Papua New Guinean writers into the circulation.

Elsewhere, the split between e-book and paperback sales is about 25% - 75%.

I find it gratifying that readers still prefer the look and feel of books made from paper.

People interested in Pukpuk titles can refer to the following list. Each of the books can be ordered from Amazon Australia as either paperbacks or e-books which, as noted earlier, are very cheap.

Pukpuk Books Available from Amazon Australia

The Crocodile Prize Anthology 2011

The Crocodile Prize Anthology 2012

The Crocodile Prize Anthology 2013

The Crocodile Prize Anthology 2014

The Crocodile Prize Anthology 2015

The Crocodile Prize Anthology 2016

Top Crocs: The First Five Years

Small Steps Along the Way (PNG memoir) by Paul Oates

Life on A Coral Atoll (Cocos Island memoir) by Paul Oates

Phascogales and Other Tales (Qld memoir) by Paul Oates

Around the World Before Covid (Travel memoir) by Paul Oates

The Pomong U’tau of Dreams (poetry) by Leonard Fong Roka

Moments in Bougainville (short stories) by Leonard Fong Roka

Brokenville (memoir) by Leonard Fong Roka

Bougainville Manifesto (long essay) by Leonard Fong Roka

A Contemporary Voice (poetry) by Jimmy Awagl

My Journey (poetry, short stories & essays) by Jimmy Awagl

My Struggle (poetry, short stories & essays) by Jimmy Awagl

Dee’s Long and Shorts (short stories) by Marlene Dee Gray Potoura

Emotionally Famished (short stories) by Marlene Dee Gray Potoura

My Brother Warrollu (juvenile literature) by Marlene Dee Gray Potoura

Paradise in Peril (novel) by Francis Nii

The Resonance of My Thoughts (essays) by Francis Nii

Walk My Song (poetry) by Francis Nii

Ku High School Anthology (student writing) by Francis Nii

Reading Comprehension Textbook by Francis Nii

Remember Me and Other Stories (essays) by Daniel Kumbon

Can’t Sleep (poetry & essays) by Daniel Kumbon

I Can See My Country Clearly Now (memoir) by Daniel Kumbon

Survivor (memoirs of Two Engan women) by Daniel Kumbon

Victory Song of Pingeta’s Daughter (history/biography) by Daniel Kumbon

Legend of the Miok Egg (biography) by Daniel Kumbon

The Old Man’s Dilemma (novel) by Daniel Kumbon

Dogger (novel) by Philip Fitzpatrick

Haven: Harry Flynn’s Final Odyssey (novel) by Philip Fitzpatrick

Inspector Metau: The Case of the Angry Councillor (novel) by Philip Fitzpatrick

Inspector Metau: The Case of the Missing Professor (novel) by Philip Fitzpatrick

Inspector Metau: The Case of the Good Politician (novel) by Philip Fitzpatrick

The Unusual and Unexpected Case of the Rise and Rise of Inspector Hari Metau as told by his good friend Sergeant Kasari Aru (novel) by Philip Fitzpatrick

Inspector Metau: The Case of the Great Pumpkin Heist (novel) by Philip Fitzpatrick

The Floating Island (novel) by Philip Fitzpatrick

White River Road (novel) by Philip Fitzpatrick

Black Huntress: Seven Spears (novel) by Philip Fitzpatrick

Just Another Stray (novel) by Philip Fitzpatrick

Bamahuta: Leaving Papua (memoir) by Philip Fitzpatrick

Fighting For a Voice: The Inside Story of PNG Attitude and the Crocodile Prize by Philip Fitzpatrick

Midnight Blue: Growing Up in Elizabeth in the 1950-60s (memoir) by Philip Fitzpatrick

Two Sides to Every Story: A Short Guide to Cross Cultural Awareness in Papua New Guinea by Philip Fitzpatrick

Man Bilong Buk: The Francis Nii Collection by Philip Fitzpatrick (with Keith Jackson)

Full Circle: A Personal History of the South Australian Aboriginal Heritage Branch 1974-1994 by Philip Fitzpatrick

Sivarai Short (stories/memoir) by Chips Mackellar

A Kiap’s Story (memoir) by Graham Taylor

My Walk to Equality (women’s essays & poetry) by Rashmii Bell

Sibona (novel) by Emmanuel Peni

Saidor Story (memoir) by Norma Griffin

ABCDreams (poetry) WD Barry Igivisa

Drugs & Their dangers in Papua New Guinea (textbook) by Philip Kai Morre

A Bush Poet’s Political Blossom (poetry) by Jimmy Drekore

In Search of Heritage in the Midst of Change (stories & essays) by Bomai Witne

Where the River Destroys (novel) by Samantha Kusari

The Master Marksman (novel) by James Smith

An Uncertain Future (novel) by James Thomas

Daddy Two Shoes (poetry) by Diddie Kinamun Jackson

Tingting Bilong Mi (student essays) by Michael Dom

Lost in His Land (novel) by Winterford Toreas

Beauty of Enga Culture (anthropology) by Tony Sulupin

Good reading!


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Daniel Kumbon

In the 2021 national written expression exams for Grade 12, an extract from one of my books was used, The questions were worth 10 marks.

I have wondered how well Enga students did.

The provincial government is very popular in the country for having a successful education policy but the schools have empty libraries or none at all, let alone PNG authored books.

But here I am working on two more books.

My motto is to write more stuff when Phil and KJ are still around. How about?

Phil and I are certainly piling on the years - and in my case my health is somewhat precarious - but we hope to grace the planet with our presence for sometime yet.

It remains a major issue that authors have limited publishing,marketing and distribution opportunities and that there's nobody in government or private sectors who give a damn about this.

In the years following 2011, Phil and I showed how comparatively straightforward and economical it was to establish a system to get people writing and to get that writing into the hands of readers.

I hope that you and other writers will continue to write. At the same time I hope that you and others will continue to press for greater support for literature in PNG - KJ

Simon Davidson

Hi Keith - When I read the more than 50 titles of the published books, it was a jaw dropping experience. It really is amazing to see the change that has taken place in the literary landscape of PNG writers.

This is a grand achievement for PNG writers. I salute Keith Jackson and Phil Fitzpatrick for the work they have done to promote a writing culture in PNG.

Truly you have been a game changer. You have made the world better than you found it. My own creative writing career has transformed by the influence of PNG Attitude. I would say thanks a zillion to Keith and Phil.

Thanks Simon. All Phil and I did was open a door - and the literary riches came storming through. Our hope is that the day will come when PNG's leaders understand, and support, the tremendous nation-building force that is home-grown literature - KJ

Philip Fitzpatrick

Self-publishing is the second best option for Papua New Guinean writers.

It is also the only current option available.

The best option is a government funded publishing entity.

A third best option would be some sort of scheme that assists the establishment of local publishing businesses.

This option has one major drawback and that is the fact that publishing doesn't pay in countries like Papua New Guinea with a small reading public. The same applies to Australia but not to the same extent.

Why the Papua New Guinean government won't invest in its writers is a mystery. It's either fear of what they might write or plain stupidity.

Baka Bina

Phew, klostu namba bai sot. Pukpuk Publishers em holim planti 'titles' (nem blo buk) na mi gat bikpla hamamas.

Put together, with all the others that have been published by others (e.g. Jordan Dean's JDP Publishers or David Gonol's Marapa Publications) and by self publishers like me, we really have taken PNG publishing ahead in leaps.

It would seem we've averaged five books every year since 2011. We could and can do more.

Go, PNG. we should be aiming at 860 stories every month, one story from each and every language.

We have a potential to tell our stories and to publish more (the maths is there for more to be published). We also will call out like Phil did to those having time on their hands to be involved with us.

Phil, I think your making a lot of good e-friends is good and I vouch that my own relationship with my Apo and Apo Meri has grown.

I thank you for your article here on self publishing with CreateSpace that started me out to self publish.

My three shorts, three anthologies (with 33 short stories in all) and three novels plus a soon to be published epic novel are testament that Papua New Guineans can write and publish.

One thing I should have sought out before and what I am now realising is that my written English is continuously improving.

I am becoming more conscious of the messaging in sentencing and paragraphing. I am trying to do that with more short sentences. I am again being conscious and am taking care with the long sentences with compound ideas.

Thank you to both Phil and Keith na wantaim PNG Attitude.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I wasn't really looking for accolades when I wrote this article but the comments are nice anyway.

In reality I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and learnt a tremendous amount about publishing and editing and also about Papua New Guinea, especially its writers. Made a lot of good friends too.

Getting involved in similar projects is highly recommended for anyone with time on their hands.

Garrett Roche

Phil, well done. You must have put in countless hours into all this work. Your work will survive and be appreciated by many more people in the years to come. A sincere thank you.

Paul Oates

I echo Chips' statement. Without your help and guiding hand, many of us would never know what it is like to publish a book.

Well done Phil and thank you again.

Chips Mackellar

We know it has been a struggle for you Phil, and we appreciate the good work you have done in getting budding PNG authors published.

Also there are kiaps and other expats whom you have helped along the way.

It has been a superb endeavour of yours, a monumental effort and we whom you have helped want you to know that you have our sincere thanks.

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