Last night, we attended the African Literary Evening. This was an excellent, informative event organised by Accomplish Press and Black and Outspoken which brought together African writers, readers, bloggers, publishers, journalists and poets for a night of conversation, reading and inspiration.
The evening began with an introduction by co-hosts, Tundun Adeyemo from Black and Outspoken, and Tolulope Popoola, the founder of Accomplish press and then we moved on to the panel discussions which covered topics such as an author’s target audience, genres and the future of publishing.
The panellists tackling these topics were:
Communications Management Consultant and Copywriter
African Horror Writer and creator of the genre African Horror
Writer, Author and Freelance Arts Project Manager
Award-winning, best-selling author and founding member of Romance Writers of West Africa
Writer, Author and short-listed for the 2010 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize
Christian fiction writer
Writer and winner of the Commonwealth Prize
Writer and winner of the National Word of Colour and Wasafiri New Writing prizes
From our panellists we learnt that it can be hard for African writers to reach a wide audience because publishers narrow the reach of African writers by categorising their work, regardless of their subject area, under “black”, “African” or “multicultural”. This makes it hard for those who have an interest in their genre to find them. It was felt that the best way to overcome this is to self-publish, but this has challenges too such as the perceived lower quality of the work of self-publishers which can make marketing and promotion difficult, but the reputation of self-publishers is improving as many writers turn to self-publishing for the freedom it allows.
Another challenge of self-publishing is the amount of work and expertise that is required with respect to the business side of writing. This business support comes with the backing of a publisher and without it, as a self-publisher, you have to be very business savvy, extremely strategic, very creative and find people with the right expertise (publishers, great editors, etc.) who will enable you to reach your audience. To overcome these challenges it was suggested that writers explore other publishing options such as hybrid publishing or collaborative publishing.
The advice given by the panellists for reaching your audience, as a writer, is to go back to the basics; focus on your story, which is the most important thing and develop an excellent piece of work. Then, once you have perfected your story, forget about sales, be proactive and just get your “brand” out there, connect with other writers and continue to learn and develop.
The discussion then moved on to blogging and generally speaking it was felt that writers should choose a communication platform that works for them, whether that is blogging, Tweeting or using Facebook, and do that well. Those on the panel who have blogs stated they found blogging to be an excellent way of reaching their audience and other writers, promoting their books and finding their voice.
Panellist explored whether it is possible to make a living from writing and it was felt that it is possible, but it takes time. Many of the panellists stated that they are juggling a full-time job and writing because the income from their book sales doesn’t yet cover their cost of living. Others are able to write full-time because they have diversified and are running businesses based around their writing.
Finally the discussion touched on going beyond print and the opportunities that exist for bringing books and content to life. Sade Adeniran talked about Sade’s World Short Story Podcast that allows people to listen to stories by African writers showing that there are now interesting ways for writers to present their stories.