10 Things I Learned from #WritingBizNG

On Saturday 25th October, the New Lagos Book Club called a writers’ assembly to discuss “The Business of Writing”, the conception of which I find commendable. Incidentally, I have a book of that same titled, purchased in 2004 and which I have read over and over with other books on [freelance] writing and journalism, so I knew I would have lots to share.

It is the first time in recent years that Nigeria-based writers will come together to discuss the Naira and Kobo aspect of their craft—and what fun and learning we all had! Though I was invited to talk about how I have made money from writing over the years, I also picked up bits and pieces of useful gist from the other panelists as well as from the knowledgeable audience. There were so many take-home lessons (search #WritingBizNG on twitter to read all the tweets from that conversation), but here are a few I noted:

The Second Panel at 'The Business of Writing' hosted by the New Lagos Book Club.

A book is a book—and so much more

Anyone who knows Joy Isi Bewaji (themagazineclub.com) will have heard about “Eko Dialogue” a novella she published some years ago. Earlier this year, that same book was revived as a stage adaptation, in collaboration with the Crown troupe of Africa. And it’s been performed a couple of times since. Also this year, she produced “Tina’s Shoes and Love Issues” as an audio book in two parts; she’s (Ghost) written a book that I know and published so many other stories over the years and very recently, she scripted a radio play for ifooafrica.com. This is an individual exploring every possible option open to the writer beyond just the almighty book and squeezing every drop of Naira possible from such experiments. So if you are an aspiring writer or already published, take a cue.

The Angel of Writing: Joy Isi Bewaji

Writers must define what they want to do and be

During the second panel, Chude Jideonwo got everyone literally hanging on his every word when he revealed the decisions he took years ago when he realized that writing was what he really wanted to do. “I told myself that I didn’t want to be poor and I didn’t want to be irrelevant as a writer,” the publisher of the youth-focused Ynaija.com said. He took that decision after witching a group of established writers critique a piece of writing, particularly arguing almost endlessly over the style of the author. He thought that was a waste of valuable time, one that could lead to penury (and don’t we all know brainy writers who are struggling to make ends meet nowadays?). Jideonwo followed through with his thoughts and he is now one very rich (?)—and influential—dude.

Writers must define their audience

At the opening session, Debola Omololu (@DebolaOmololu) who owned the now defunct Debonair Bookshop in the Sabo area of Lagos encouraged aspiring writers to know what demography they wish to target their writing at. Not to do so will be to misdirect their efforts, and this could result in them being irrelevant. He would also reveal that he closed down Debonair because it was costing him so much money (millions of it) in rent but contributing little (3%) to the bottom line. Now, he is partnering with another outfit to launch an e-commerce site soon, which will retail stuff, including downloadable books.

Bura-Bari Nwilo reading from 'Diary of Stupid Boyfried'

A writer must write—nothing more, nothing less

Famous romance writer and role model for many upcoming and now established writers Toni Kan focused in part on the industry a writer must imbibe if they wish to be successful. “A writer must sit down and discipline himself to write,” the founder of the wave making sabinews.com says. He shared about how he had written 5,000 words of journalism that week alone, including a 1000+ word review of MI’s newly released album, Chairman. “How many of you have written anything close to that this week? So don’t aspire to be a writer—just write!”

Guerilla [self] Marketing pays

Port Harcourt (and Nsukka) based Bura-Bari Nwilo (@BuraBariNwilo) has just published a cute little book titled “Diary of a Stupid Boyfriend”, a humorous account of one of his many romantic liaisons (the book is dedicated to his mom “and the many ladies I have loved”. Published with the financial support of a friend, he’s devoted almost every day since the book rolled off the press pushing it in peoples’ faces on social media in a most creative and fun way. That’s how he came to the attention of the New Lagos Book Club, which then invited him over to read from the book and share his marketing story. “What I did was tell everyone who had bought a copy to snap with it and then send the picture to me,” Bura-Bari said, when he was handed the mic to share his experience with marketing the book on his own steam. By the day’s end, nearly every one of the 50 writers present was intrigued enough to buy a copy.

Writer, journalist, blogger and author--pelu awofeso

Writers need managers

One of the points I made was about the challenges writers often face with combining the creative and the business sides of writing. I made reference to the parlous state of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), which continues to struggle financially decades after its founding. A writer-friend who has been shortlisted in the current year told me that often-time awards are given to authors without the associated cash rewards, because the money is just not there. If anything, I said, the ANA secretariat needs administrators to manage its affairs and writers will do well to have managers—just like the artistes do. These administrators and managers will handle the negotiations and whatnot, while the writers focus on creating their stories in peace. One writer I know who has done that is the enterprising Onyeka Nwelue (author of “The Abyssinian Boy”) and the young man is currently on a tour of Europe with his second book, “Burnt”.

There are better writers out there than the ones you know

Ayo Sogunro, whom I’d never heard about until that day at WritingBizNG, was my revelation of the day. A lawyer and social critic, he has built quite a reputation and following on social media; his blog posts, I learned, are a magnet for thousands of readers (Jeez!). And his writing is so good that poet and author Charles Ayo Dada (“The Ghost of Zina”) singled him out for praise. He had visited a bookshop recently and stumbled on a book while browsing the shelves, titled: “The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales”. Dada was overwhelmed by the quality of the narrative, without ever having met the writer behind it. “For me, that is the best book of the year,” he said.

A room full of writers at #WritingBizNG

Writers need to grow their audience [before thinking of writing a book]

This is connected to points 3 and 7 above. Debola Omololu drove this point home when he said that an executive of an overseas publishing house told him that they would not consider publishing any writer wo didn’t have at least 100,000 followers on social media. Writers need to test the waters, so to speak, by cultivating a loyal readership online upon which they can leverage their book projects.

Not every writer will make money from writing

Cheta Nwaze (@Chxta) said it as it is: “I don’t make money from writing”. Well, considering that #WritingBizNG was about making money from writing, I can imagine the room wondering what he was doing on the panel. But then, come to think of it: all the writers in the world cannot make money from writing; some, like Cheta perhaps, do it either for the fun of it or as a social service; most writers don’t make enough to sustain themselves solely from writing and according to a statistic someone shared, only 2% of the writers in the world get rich from just writing.

You will write for free at some point [but you will also have to charge for same at some point]

I started out as a freelance writer and I was paid a token for my column piece in a newspaper. Over the years, I have written stories that publishers didn’t pay for and I still do (by choice). But I know where to draw the line and charge for my writing. Many writers have had to write for free too, a sacrifice they endure as they grow their skill. It is nothing to be ashamed of; just to know when enough is enough and when your toil must be rewarded in monetary terms.

The first Panel of discussants at "The Business of Writing'--Isabella Akinseye, Cheta Nwanze, Debola Omololu (photo by New Lagos Book Club)

I started my contribution at the “Business of Writing” with a quote (“Don’t ask yourself if your book will make interesting reading, ask yourself if it would make money.”) by Gary Provost, whose book on freelance writing I have had for many years. I also shared his point of view that to succeed in the world of writing, a writer must be a pirate and a mule (whatever that means) and business-minded to succeed as a writer.

So now that you know, go out there and make those millions–good luck!