Be as keen as mustard

Monday February 4 2013



By PAULINE KAIRU [email protected]

It was his insatiable hunger for knowledge that got him where he is; that and the fact that Mr Musyoki Muli has a way with words.

Mr Muli is a publisher, working as the managing director of Longhorn Publishers Kenya.

He says he was drawn to the world of book publishing by his interest in critiquing literature, a trait he developed when marking compositions and manuscripts as a school teacher at Alliance High School and Starehe Boys’ Centre, and later as a lecturer at Catholic University of Eastern Africa.

“I found students’ writing wanting. It really bothered me. I thought to myself; ‘what can I do to help improve their writing skills?’,” he recalls.

His dream came true in the book publishing industry in a career that started in 1994 as an editor at Longhorn. He had previously engaged in critical reviews of international journals. He saw his new role as enabling him to teach through editing of school books.

Mr Muli has risen through the ranks to become country manager for Tanzania, and now to his current position.

Even though he is the general head of the publishing firm, meaning he does not have to do copy editing as he tries to keep a hands-off policy, he admits that once in a while he revises books that he considers to be sensitive.

“We have a few customers who insist that I must go through their books before they go out. Maybe it is because of their belief in my art of dictionary-making as a seasoned books editor. So, I am compelled to edit.”

You must have the sceptical eye of a critic to make a good editor.

“Publishing is a unique industry. I think it would be very hard to get someone who has not been in the industry to run a publishing firm. The way you judge investment here is different from the way you would do for any other company. There’s a sense in which you have to be a researcher and be well socialised because you must have fresh ideas every so often,” he says.

Sometimes there will be plenty of foul-ups as you navigate the road to publishing a book. Hence, advises Mr Muli, the need to develop a thick skin.

Mr Muli begins each day with tracking the previous day’s sales to confirm if they are on course. He has the complex role of ensuring that all the departments in the publishing house work in harmony.

He will also plan the day according to the support areas required by the system, so that he can offer necessary interventions and empower whichever team is faced with challenges.

He will also be caught up in interlinking with the regional branches, different business pockets of the listed company, as well as business partners in places as far as Malawi and Rwanda.

He oversees all the tasks involved in the business of publishing. At this level, he will give direction on the action to be taken by the publishing team. “Publishing is an intellectual job,” he says, adding that you must pour all your creativity and energy into it to succeed in building a reputation in the market.

Mr Muli was part of the team that pioneered the diversification of the firm from its core business of publishing academic text books to including literary works like novels, and the re-launch of the Sasa Sema brand imprint to provide reference books, creative works, biographies, and general knowledge books.

He emphasises that on the list of attributes to possess, agility and innovativeness stand out.

The overriding call, however, is enthusiasm. He speaks with undaunted fervour about completed projects, even spreading an array of the firm’s latest publications on the table.

There is also the need to have the ability to predict trends in the industry, Muli advises as he discusses the expanding e-books market and his plans to advance digital books.

From Mr Muli’s perspective, success in the industry comes through dedication and faith in your authors, the team, and the product. It is the eagerness to find the next big thing.