The decision to self-publish my first book, A Heart to Mend, arose naturally from sharing excerpts of it on my blog. Subscribers loved the story, connected with the characters, and offered genuine feedback. They wanted more, and so I gave them the complete book. Some critics of self-publishing for profit have said that I could have provided a freely downloadable document, but by then, I had so many ideas that went beyond writing, and since I am a big believer in sustainability, I wanted these plans to pay their own way.
The blog itself was an idea mooted at the writer’s group I belonged to at the time, and though I wasn’t new to websites and online forums, I had never considered a blog as a means of sharing my writing. At the beginning, the blog had the subtitle of “my journey to print”, and I did not know then that I would self-publish. I was editing the manuscript, which though complete was still in drafts, according the guidelines of the publishers I hoped would publish it. I pursued traditional publication of that manuscript, A Heart to Mend, for about six months before choosing to self-publish.
I had gotten some rejections along the way that made it clear my writing did not fit the mould of any particular genre. From some editors, there were more details of the kind of changes I might have to make to get traditionally published, but I couldn’t see myself making some of those changes. So I did the necessary research into self-publishing and decided to go ahead. By choosing self-publishing instead of tailoring my writings to fit a pattern specified by traditional publishers, I knew I was making a choice to go beyond my personal goals.
True, I wanted my writing to remain undiluted – and this is in no way a dig at other Nigerian authors traditionally published in the West – but I also saw an opportunity to realise other dreams, like being a sort of mentor to like-minded writers. However, this was not totally altruistic. As a publisher, I had to acknowledge the poor reading and book-buying culture among those who identified with my stories – mostly Nigerians – and I knew that if my book was to be read as widely as I wanted, I would personally have to be part of building up such readers and book buyers.
A Heart to Mend was published in December 2009 in the United States, and released to good reviews in Nigeria in March 2010. When I won the Nigerian Blog Awards, my visibility increased exponentially among online Nigerians. Followership of my blog, Facebook and Twitter platform climbed to over 3,000 people, and I guessed it was time to put some of my earlier ideas into action. From my experience of blogging, publishing and promoting AHTM, I knew that it was essential to have an online space where the community I planned would feel comfortable.
This idea of an online space was validated by a collaborative fiction web-series I had successfully hosted on my blog. There were also the myriad of emails and Facebook messages I received in the wake of releasing AHTM. A lot of such emails were from aspiring Nigerian writers who wanted me to critique their writings, or act as their agents to traditional publishers in the United States. Some wanted me to publish them or help them find agents and/or publishers. I realized that a lot of them were quite talented, but unaware of the required processes in getting published.
That was how NaijaStories.com; launched in April 2010 as the premier community for those who read, write, or love Nigerian writing. I had found there were no social networks that promoted Nigerian books even as more and more Nigerians were using social media. NaijaStories.com showcases Nigerian writing, and combines elements of a writing critique website as well as a social networking site. This makes it versatile, allowing the writers to offer criticism of each other’s work as well as attracting those who are interested in reading our kind of stories.
Through the website, now with over 2000 members, we hope to build an army of people who will read and buy Nigerian books. It is also act as a central point where a global audience can read in one place, authentic stories written by Nigerians and about Nigerians. Recently, we have begun to attract traditional publishers and agents seeking writing talent or wanting to promote their books, and we also support writers who wish to self-publish. Having achieved one of our goals to establish a publishing company, the next steps involve continuing to release select works as anthologies and then begin to edit and put up short stories for sale as well as commission full-length novels.