My business: Carving out a niche in publishing

  • 03 Aug 2021

A chance encounter took Sasha Fenton and her husband from writing astrology columns to a publisher of mind, body and spirit books

When and why did you first set up the business?

I had been a successful author and my husband, Jan, had worked in banking in South Africa, which is where we met. In 1996, we settled in London and found work writing astrology columns for newspapers, when an Israeli publishing house wrote to me asking for the rights to a book I had written for a publisher that had since gone out of business. 

 

The letter implied that we needed a limited company so we formed Zambezi Publishing Ltd. It propelled us into a new career as publishers in the mind, body and spirit (MB&S) genre.

How has it developed since then?

We produced annual horoscope books for WHSmith and MB&S books for shops in the UK and overseas, but then made an interesting discovery: large international publishers don’t employ specialist personnel for their non-fiction subjects, they farm out the work to small publishers. Zambezi has become the go-to place for publishers that want books on tarot, Reiki, astrology, palmistry, crystal healing, shamanism, feng shui and so on. We also branched out into offering self-publishing services for books in any genre.

Who do your main customers tend to be?

We produce MB&S books for large publishers in the US and the UK, we publish our own books and sell them into UK shops, we sell printed and e-books through Amazon, and we sometimes sell direct to the public at MB&S fairs.

Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Not really. We might be hunting up illustrations, trying to decipher a manuscript on Chinese therapies, or checking back cover blurbs.

What is the most unusual situation or request you’ve had?

Finding a knowledgeable witch, shamanic healer or oracle card expert are all part of a day’s work. Last year a publisher asked us to create and produce 14 books on subjects of their choice in the space of eight weeks. Finding authors for their cockamamie ideas took some doing, but our authors did an amazing job.

What are you most proud of from a business perspective?

During the past couple of years we have produced a batch of books for a large publisher in the US, which it sells all over the world. The volume of sales has taken both the Americans and us by surprise. We think it has been driven by two factors: one being the high standard of our work, but the second being that MB&S subjects are filling a desperate need for those who require spiritual and therapeutic help in uncertain times.

 

How does your FSB membership help?

We have consulted the legal team a few times when we had to fight for payment for goods and services. We have nothing to hide from the tax man, but if he decided to investigate us, it is comforting to know that the FSB would help. 

How would you like the business to evolve over the next few years?

Our horoscope for five years hence shows we’ll still be here, and busier than ever. There will be an even greater overseas connection, and a new office in a distant country. We are developing a Zambezi online school for those who want to study subjects such as astrology, tarot and Reiki. We already have an organisation called MBS Professionals Ltd that helps professional workers in our field.

And the longer-term plan?

There is a growing market for professionally researched, well produced information in our genre, whether as books or online. There is also a market for people who need help publishing their own book on any subject, and we help them achieve their dream. 

 

What do you do to relax?

Jan plays the guitar and goes fly-fishing. Gardening saves my sanity, and I grow much of the salad and veg that we eat. I also love falling asleep on the sofa!

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