Stories are a universal language told and preserved in books, but for many aspiring writers, getting a book published can be a daunting process wrapped in mystery. To demystify publishing, the Africa No Filter Academy hosted a fireside chat with Nancy Adimora, the founding editor of AFREADA and the Talent and Audience Development Manager at HarperCollins Publishers.
The chat was aimed at empowering new, emerging and even experienced writers with insider knowledge to help navigate the publishing industry, from writing a compelling manuscript, to finding an agent and understanding the business side of books. It was moderated by ANF’s Grants Manager, Victor-Mark Onyegbu.
Here is what you can do to get your book published.
1. Write a masterpiece: A book starts life as a manuscript. Many people dream of their books on shelves but often fail to do the one thing it takes to make it happen: writing. Before you think of strategy and who you want to be published by, have a manuscript that you are proud of. This involves writing it completion, self-editing and getting feedback from friends.
2. Find a good agent: An agent is a talent scout, a nurturer, and a negotiator. They're on the pulse of the business of publishing, and usually have the relationships and reputation it takes to open doors in the publishing industry. They work with the author to make a manuscript shine as much as possible before pitching it to editors. Not everyone needs an agent. African publishers have open calls to look for new manuscripts from authors, while global publishers do not work with unsolicited submissions.
3. Pitch to an editor: Now that you have an agent, your agent moves forward to pitch to an editor. The editor is the champion of the project in-house. They have read the manuscript and they believe in it. If the editor is happy, they will sell the project to the rest of the editorial team. The team will read and provide feedback on the strength of the manuscript from an editorial lens. If your manuscript passes this stage, the editorial team comes on board.
4. Work with an editorial team: Nancy warned that developing a book takes time. It is a detailed process that can only be started by the writer. However, a manuscript needs successful partnerships to thrive. The editorial team uses their experience to elevate the manuscript. There will be notes, rewriting, cutting some parts, and adding others – it is all part of the process. Keep parts of the book that are important to you, like infusing English with your language, but it is wise to have an open mind, trust the team and always keep in mind that it takes a village to produce a book.
5. Attend publishing meetings: These are acquisition meetings where the commercial potential of your title is discussed. At these meetings, deliberations are made about rights, the type of marketing campaign the book will need, kinds of retail channels, publicity weighing, production and production forecasts. This chain reaction started with you and you do not want to be hands-off just yet.
6. Accept your offer: At this stage, your agent represents you. Your agent will receive an offer from your publisher and will negotiate on your behalf. Once an offer is made and accepted, your book is almost here and you can pop some champagne.
7. Boost Your profile: Be seen and heard by the industry and audiences. Submit work for prizes, publish essays in journals and constantly engage audiences and industry players. This is where social media and literary magazines come in. Follow people who work in publishing and platforms AFREADA, Lolwe, Doek!, Brittle Paper, James Murua Blog, Bakwa Magazine, Isele Magazine, the Caine Prize for African Writing etc.