In 2017, I published a blog called Legends of the African Sun. It was a working title for a children’s book I hoped to publish in the future. In 2020, I completed the book and published it in 2021. Writing has been a longstanding passion and the joy of receiving the first prints from a publisher is indescribable. Its almost like the birth of a child… ok, I said almost, calm down 🙂 Over the last few months, some friends have mentioned to me that they want to be authors. So, I want to share in this blog, some important tips that I’ve learned in my writing journey. Before I do that, let me tell you a little bit about my book and my genre.
Its a non-fiction book for kids. Its a book about 30 inspirational Africans who have shown tremendous courage and determination. There are similar books on the market for example, Little Legends, Black men in Science and 50 fearless women who made American history… In fact, I have come across books about Asian legends, Latinos, African Americans etc. I realised that there were no similar books focusing on just Africans and so I wrote one. I wanted my young son to learn about these incredible Africans not only to inspire him but to cultivate a strong sense of pride in being African. So, I came up with a list of 30 Africans (15 women, 15 men) from East, West, North and Southern Africa. They are artists, innovators, doctors, athletes, freedom fighters, environmentalists and more. They range from well-known legends like Nelson Mandela and Queen Cleopatra to lesser known ones like Wangari Mathaai and Cristina Duarte. I worked with Nigerian and Ivorian illustrators to bring the book to life. The hardest part was getting the “tone” right. This is a book for kids and it had to be fun, simple but informative and interesting for 6-10 years old. Once the book was drafted, publishing it was another hurdle and a steep learning curve. Then, I had to learn about marketing – the hardest part of all. The Legends book is self-published and currently available on most online bookstores such as amazon, Barnes and Noble, Booktopia, Takealot, etc. I am now currently in discussions with a literary agent who believes in the book and is convinced that my book will secure a traditional publishing deal very soon which will result in my book being stocked in physical bookstores globally. I get chills when I think about this. OK, lets get into the 5 tips.
Write a book that you are really passionate about
This reads like an obvious statement but not only does the passion help you to complete the book but its crucial in the marketing of the book. Is this a book you can talk about for hours and talk about it over and over and over again? Do you believe that your work is a masterpiece? If you don’t believe your book is the greatest thing since sliced bread, that book will not sell. I was told that publishers want to work with authors who value their work like its a masterpiece. You have to be able to articulate with ease why your book is unique, special and why it is different from other books in your genre. Let me tell a little story here. I didn’t realise how passionate I was about my book until I got one less than positive professional review. The reviewer was unimpressed that I had included Gaddafi in a book about legends. The reviewer called him a human rights abuser and concluded that my work was a “promising collection of biographies marred by one questionable entry”. I felt my blood boiling and wondered if this American reviewer would also call the slave-owning founding fathers of America, human rights abusers. This comment reminded me of why its so important for Africans to tell African stories. Most Africans I know, don’t feel this strongly about Gaddafi. Was he strange? Sure! Did he contribute a heck of a lot to Libyan and African development? Yes! Is his contribution ever reported in Western media? No! This brings me to my next point.
Have a unique voice and don’t shy away from controversy
I knew that the inclusion of Gaddafi could be controversial and I could have easily replaced him with a safer choice. A book that triggers some debate and discussion is not entirely bad. If it gets people talking, that’s great! There is a legend in my book that my own 6 year old, refused to accept as a legend. I explained my reasons to him and his response was: “I get that she’s famous but it doesn’t make her a legend”. This is a very profound statement from a kid and I respect that a lot. I certainly welcome debates on the choices of legends. I myself struggled with some choices and debated internally if I should also discuss their character flaws in the book. In a few cases, like Shaka Zulu and believe it or not, Gaddafi, I did. But for the most part, the contributions and sacrifices of the legends are so substantial (e.g Winnie Mandela) that I didn’t feel a need to discuss their flaws and some of those flaws are just too complex to explain to children. In the preface, I stress that parents should use the opportunity to discuss topics such as gender identity, colorism, racism, oppression etc, with their kids because many of the legends confront these issues.
Have a realistic budget for independent publishing
Most new authors, like myself, are independently published. Publishing a book is expensive. I had to commission 30 illustrations. Illustrations can cost anywhere from $30 to $200 per image. Your book then has to go through different stages, each with its own cost e.g. copy or line editing, cover design, etc. If you are among the fortunate few that have a traditional publisher (a book deal) from the beginning, you have little to worry about when it comes to the production and some marketing of the book. There are two two ways to publish independently. You can do most of the work on your own. Hire your own editors etc and learn how to format a book that you can list directly on Amazon. Google “Amazon KDP” to learn more about that. Its an inexpensive way to do it but has a steep learning curve. The other way to do this is to used a self-publishing company like Archway Publishing and Ingram Spark. I felt this was the better option for me so I published with Archway and I must say, they did a thorough job. First, they do the editorial assessment to make sure the book is not offensive and they give you an honest review of the book and recommendations on what to fix. Then it goes for editing, cover page design, copyrighting, etc. Then they put your book up for sale on their website and on amazon and other places. Self publishing can cost from $2,000 to $10,000 and this does not include marketing which can cost about the same or more as book production.
Build an author platform
Many first time authors, understandably, underestimate marketing. Books don’t sell themselves no matter how amazing the content is. In fact, the time and financial resource demands are quite substantial, if done right. Marketing is where I struggle the most. I’ve paid for an ad on amazon, then periodically pay for small ads on instagram and Facebook to run for a week or two. I mainly use FB and IG for marketing although I’m present on twitter, goodreads and tiktok. If you are a creator on social media, you probably know by now that you need to post every day or consistently. I don’t do this (yikes). And you need to employ all the tactics like giveaways to grow your base – again, something I feel uncomfortable doing… but I’m working on myself:) You need to engage! It’s all about the likes, shares and saves. The most important advice I want to convey here is that you should build the platform as soon as you start writing and not after the book is published. Fortunately, I have had this blog going since 2015 and I also have a reasonably good following on IG and therefore, I didn’t need to build a base from scratch. That said, I still have a lot of work to do expand my target audience and connect with them. The author platform (the degree of your social network) is a huge criteria in getting a book deal. A traditional publisher will not work with you if nobody knows you. It’s just how it is.
Manage your expectations of success
There are so many amazing milestones in a writer’s journey. When you finally click “send” and off goes the final manuscript to editor – this is a huge moment. When you approve the cover design or receive a mock copy, its incredible. When your book copies arrive fresh from the press…OMG! These are special moments then reality kicks in… not all your friends will buy a copy or post a review; not all members of your family will read the book… people are busy and you need get over this really quickly and quit putting the burden of success on your close circle. Sales go up and down. Weeks can go by with no sales. Your book is competing with hundreds of thousands of other books. I’ve had moments when my book was in Amazon’s top 10 bestsellers in children’s books on Africa and then it plunges into the hundreds a few days later. Try not to focus on the money in the initial stages… I am FAR from breaking even. The most important thing is build your community and engage… the rest will follow.
I hope you found these tips useful. If you are an author or planning to write a book, please comment and share some your experiences.
Peace and love
Photo credit: All photos are mine