With its weight and solidity, a book signals to the world that there are ideas worth preserving in a form that carries heft, and takes up space; by its touchability, a book signals the importance of our engagement in an arena external to and larger than ourselves.~ Steven L. Carter
Our last session was a cruise. We enjoyed over an hour with Bolaji Olatunde who touched on just about every chapter of his experience in the publishing world. Fortunately, Scribbl transcribed the meeting, and regardless of the errors you will still get the gist here. But let me summarise my takeaways below.
1. It won’t be easy: Bolaji recalled 120 rejections between 2008 and 2011. That’s about 30 rejections annually. But don’t be deterred because if it was easy then every other person will have a title. It is tough because you have chosen to belong to that fraction of less than 1% of the world’s population. It’s an elite group and this is not boasting. Fortunately, the internet is making it easier as we witness ground-breaking tech innovations on a daily.
2. Your choice: You can choose any route from traditional, self-publishing, or hybrid publishing. It should go without saying that the traditional option backed by resources and decades of history has an edge. Nevertheless, smaller self-publishing units continue gaining ground and more Nigerian authors opt for this route because of the frustrating attitude of our traditional publishing sector.
3. Spread your wings: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Explore beyond our local publishers and you may be surprised. But be ready for multiple rejections. Stephen King pinned every rejection letter he received to his wall with a nail. In his book On Writing, he wrote “By the time I was fourteen, the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on WRITING!” So accept the rejections as they come, they will form part of your testimony.
4. The Query Letter: We were introduced to the concept of Querying. It is a term that is vaguely familiar and may have been reduced in importance by the rise of self-publishing. Jane Freidman wrote; “the query letter has one purpose, and one purpose only: to seduce the agent or editor into reading or requesting your work”. Your query should include a synopsis of your manuscript, your bio, and an extract from your work. Bolaji recalled that previously, a writer had to send this by courier and wait for months to get a reply that may never come. Fortunately, electronic media has reduced this burden. So we are lucky!
5. Copyright Protection: Piracy is a common problem in Nigeria. You can see hard copies of your intellectual property being sold for a fraction of its worth by the roadside or the PDF version being distributed freely on the internet. You can do your bit to combat piracy by getting your ISBN (International Standard Book Number) which can ONLY be issued by the National Library of Nigeria. It is IMPORTANT to follow the procedure of depositing the required copies with them as this is the only acceptable legal proof in the event of a copyright breach.
6. Marketing: The job isn’t done after you get published. You need to work harder at marketing and distribution. Resources abound online on how to go about this, but it is important to start building an audience before you have your book ready. I previously wrote about the ease of having an author’s platform in this internet era and this story offers some tips too.
On Writing, Bolaji advised us to read, read and read especially those who have done it before you and the authors you admire. Make the dictionary your best friend. It is for a reason we all know. He closed by commending our effort and exhorted us to keep on doing what we are doing because writing is a rewarding process that can take you to places you could have only dreamt of.
Now if you have been following our writing community you will recall that our aim is to improve a waning literary culture through regular writing, reading, and thinking. Our current project A Book In A Year is in line with this and a webinar on getting published may appear like jumping the gun but it is not. As a group, we would love to take pride in rejoicing with unpublished writers who eventually excel in their literary careers and I can tell you that our host for the session Oluwaseun Osanyinro @Dee_Jemima recently published her book. So Getting Published is actually a fitting conclusion to our brainstorming session.
Our speaker Bolaji Olatunde is a writer and publisher with 5 titles in his kitty. His latest work, A Person Of Heft was shortlisted for the 2021 Association Of Nigerian Authors Prose Prize. You can always reach him via Twitter @BOLMOJOLA