Kulawai Press is a name adopted from a rare lorikeet bird last sighted in 1965 in Fiji.
Paulini Turagabeci, who owns the publishing company and is a softly-spoken, self-made author, entrepreneur, and now publisher, talks books, indigenous writers, publishing, and being a mother with Fiji Traveller’s Sera Tikotikovatu-Sefeti.
“I think the publishing industry in Fiji exists, but it’s very rare, so there are still a lot of areas that we can tap into,” Turagabeci says.
“So under my business license, I’m a publisher; I sell stationery and newspapers.”
The i-Taukei entrepreneur has been writing for about three years but just recently registered her business. The bookworm, who is passionate about her heritage and reading, said she tried her hand at writing and never looked back.
Her book ‘The River,’ a story about love, loss, and reconciliation, is a depiction of a grandfather raising his grandson under very difficult circumstances, with references to life in Fiji, a familiar setting to those of us that grew up playing “He” or attending “soqos” with all the food and drama.
According to Turagabeci, her vision is to centre indigenous characters and amplify Pacific voices because, “we are the least represented in children’s books and in literature in general.
“I think there’s a push globally for more people of colour to be represented in books, but they have been struggling with that in the western world, so it hasn’t trickled down to Fiji,” she said.
“So I hope that Kulawai Press will be able to help print more indigenous stories.”
In an effort to spotlight indigenous stories and writers from the Pacific, Turagabeci is teaming up with the Asia Foundation’s ‘Let’s Read’ programme to feature local authors and their books at a children’s book fair.
“It’s exciting to team up with the Asia Foundation, and we are expecting the fair to exhibit Pacific authors, showcasing the different forms of storytelling and arts for the children to enjoy,” she says.
“Plans are still in progress, but the date will coincide with library week [in September], and we want to invite schools to bring their students out in numbers,” she says. “I have also sent out an open call for Pacific authors who wish to exhibit their books for anyone that’s interested.”
The idea was inspired by Scholastic book fairs, she said. “In elementary school, they have this book with different titles; they sell posters; and they have cut-outs, characters that the kids can go take pictures, with stationery.
“So it’s just a fun place that promotes reading in children, and I want to mimic it for the book fair in Fiji,” she said.
Turagabeci has wanted to write since she was seven years old. “It is almost like a curse because I’ve done various things, but this one dream is the one that haunts me all the time.
“But I do want to see it grow bigger than myself, so instead of me just writing and publishing under the publishing house, I decided to open it up to other people, especially children, because I think we don’t have a strong reading society,” she said.
“Particularly now, at the rapid rate technology is advancing, we are losing more time on reading.” She adds, “There are more opportunities to read on digital gadgets, but there’s nothing like reading a good old physical book.”
Once challenge Turagabeci says is printing her books locally, as it is expensive. As an alternative, she opted to publish on Amazon.
“I self-publish on Amazon KDP, so it’s a print-on-demand process,” she said.
This arrangement is attractive to authors, as they only print the books that are being bought instead of printing 1000 copies and keeping them in storage without knowing whether they are being bought or not.
“Amazon prints the book and then sends it to the customer,” she says.
Turagabeci acknowledges that while some people tend to shy away from being called self-publishers, opting for traditional publishing because of perceptions of ‘legitimacy,’ even established authors are now self-publishing, and are known as “hybrid authors.”
“Self-publishing means you are truly your own boss,” she continues, “so you get a chunk of the proceeds from your sales, whereas in traditional publishing, the publisher gets a cut, and if your sales are higher than the average, you take a very small percentage of it.”
However, with Amazon, they give you 70% of your sale, and you can also diversify into physical books and paperbacks, and also branch out to podcasting.
“The only downside to it is that in Fiji they have a withholding tax of 30%, because we don’t have an agreement with the U.S.,” she continues.
The self-made entrepreneurs’ advice to anyone wanting to partner up with Amazon?
“It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme; anyone considering it must view it as a long-term investment; you must be willing to put in the hours, work hard, and stick with it long term because I believe you’ll see results if you do.”