#Resources4Writers. “Dear Unpublished Writer” by Richard Ali
I stumbled upon the following article titled: Dear unpublished writer by Richard Ali, on someone’s Facebook page and I simply had to share!!! Why? It got me taking some SERIOUS action steps towards my writing craft.
I finally re-registered to finish off my creative writing course at University of Toronto. I’ve started spending each day reading(or listening) to at least THREE poems by accomplished and gifted poets, including some unknown poets whose work I love. So, I guess it averages to me reading a poem with each meal, sort of, like my dessert 🙂 and writing at least ONE poem, (no matter how great or crappy)!
Furthermore, it has taught me to view Facebook as exactly what it is: a platform for social interaction and NOT as a space to get much needed critical reviews or feedback about my work (unless I’m sharing it with those who will give their unbiased opinions, professional or not.
This means taking all the ‘Oohhs’ and ‘Aahhs’, and ‘Likes’ in good stride and know that they may or may not count diddly squat in the real world. Who knows? At this pace, I may finally publish my chapbook, complete poetry and short stories collection. Ha! I’ve been putting those off for so long. 🙂
P.S: One other reason why I’m sharing this article is because it’s served straight and hot; so blunt and real (kinda like something I would write, lol). Sometimes, all the political correctness and polite posturing get old and serve no purpose if we seek to truly grow/evolve in our craft (and as human beings). And I must say that I now have a better appreciation of the fact that 2 of my poems were selected in the 2014 ANA Annual Review Journal. YEAH!!! #HappyAzontoDance
And to the ‘coconut head’ Face-cap-dude (referenced in the article), yes sire, I did not know a single person at ANA, simply sent in my work as per their instructions. Arrrgggghh, I’m often described as patient but people like the ‘Face-cap-dude’ drive me absolutely nuts!
Anyway, I guess all my ramblings lead to this single plea: Read and digest this article. Then write some more. Improve your craft. Find a community of fellow writers and teachers. Learn from them. Then, write some more. Better and more confident, with each single word. After all, writers, simply write!
Juliet ‘Kego Ume-Onyido
Co-Founder & Executive Director, Whole WoMan Network
[The following article was culled from the website: http://kut.oduorjagero.com and accessed on 10/15/2015]
Dear Unpublished Writer,
I am a publisher. I co-own a small publishing firm in Nigeria called Parresia Publishers Ltd. Please note I have emphasized the adjective “small”, more on that later. I am writing this letter because my Kenyan friend has asked me to tell you why you will never be published.
Clearly, apart from what I have declared myself to be, I am also the Man-Who-Does-Not-Publish-Writers, thus, I am an expert at this Not-Publishing matter. A great guy that he is, has asked me to share this expertise with you. A possible effect of this foolishness I am about to indulge in might be that at the end of it, you, dear unpublished writer, will be more concrete about the reasons you resent me.
Yes, yes, I have heard of this resentment. The walls have ears, the market whispers. That said, can I call you John? I will anyway. John. I will give you two unimportant reasons, and then I will give you an important one, why you will never be published.
Johnny dear, the first reason why you will not be published is Facebook. Yes, that formidable cyberdom enclosed behind a cool blue graphic user interface fueled by like buttons. It is your biggest enemy. Let me tell you why. Facebook is based on algorithms that aggregate patterns in data, able to adjust these aggregations as even more data is fed into it.
In far simpler English, Facebook is a basket sorting operation where apples wind up in the apple basket and oranges in an orange basket. Some oranges end up in the apple basket, sure, but that’s not the point. By its very nature, your friend’s list is never very diverse. I have friends, for example, with whom I share over 1000 “friends” in common. Writers. School mates. Similar.
Therefore, when you post that powerful poem of yours about Rwandan nyama choma, or that story about the prostitute you saved, Johnny, it’s the same set of people liking it and gving you a nod. But here’s the thing, as a book publisher, I do not have the ability to meet those same 1000 people. I try though.
When 1000 copies of your book are printed and distributed, they are distributed to bookstores across the country and continent where they will be bought and read by people not within your algorithm created nirvana. They do not belong to your league of likers who, often than not, use the thumbs up button as a support, and not an appraisal, mechanism. Now, these real people to whom I sell a book, if they like it, they will recommend it.
And I sell more and make money. If they don’t, they won’t talk about it, I will have piles of unsold books on my hands. My job as a publisher is to try to publish a book that is likely to sell. Your Facebook profile, impressive at it seems, Johnny, does not mean squat in this analysis. So, when you come to me with the hubris of that profile, you will not get published.
The second unimportant reason why you will never get published is a tricky one—your lack of confidence in your own writing. I am a bit of a fox, Johnny boy, and I have a nose for this. And when I smell it, I turn aside. Why? Because a writer who lacks confidence in their work cannot help me sell his book if I published it, ergo, I do not publish it. You’re wondering what a “lack of confidence” is exactly? I told you it is tricky.
It comes in many guises, I’ve seen a lot of its guises. For example, I edited the ANA Review last year, a journal of the Association of Nigerian Authors. Solely. A few months ago, I put up the call for submissions for this year’s ANA Review. The comments, on that evil Facebook that is stopping you from getting published, were appreciative, most sought clarification or were of people tagging writer friends who might appreciate the opportunity.
Then out comes this chap, let’s call him Face-cap Dude–“All these things,” declares he, “it is only if you know somebody there. This is man-know-man. Will we be published just like that?” I came to all this late. Now, a writer I had published, Ndi, said he was published in the Review last year and was not even a member of the Association. Merely sent in his short story. Yet, Face-cap Dude still insisted on there being some influence-peddling ring that decided who gets published, regardless of evidence to the contrary.
After controlling my irritation, and irritating a publisher or an editor is a very bad thing, I refused to respond to his comment and instead went to his Facebook page. Expectedly, his writing was very poorly executed and immaturely imagined and definitely would not have been published last year, or any year. Now, here’s the interesting bi: To this chap, all that was a gambit to get noticed.
To gain some notoriety. But what an editor or a publisher sees from this thread is a telling lack of confidence. Another variation of this is asking a publisher or an editor stupid questions. Stupid? Yes, John, stupid because if you had bothered to read the call for submissions or similar document you would not be asking me if you can send it in in Comic Sans 15 pt when it is clearly stated entries be sent in in Times New Roman 12 pt double spaced.
Another variation is those who, rejected by me, the evil publisher, then goes on to form a bukake ring association of similar rejectees in order to publish themselves instead of working on their bloody craft. These, Johnny boy, irritate me to no end and when my sensitive nose picks this up, you will never get published.
Now, the real reason why you will never get published. It’s simple. You do not send in your best work. Enthusiasm is a great thing, an important thing for anyone to possess. But for such a calling as writing, enthusiasm can only take you so far, talent can only put the clay on the wheel and get the wheel turning.
But to get the elegant vase out of all this, craftsmanship is called for, and with this skill. And you have to put in a lot of hours of hard work into your writing, to bring out the best of what was in your mind in a way so well achieved that a reader easily enters this world you have created, and so compellingly that a publisher wishes only to facilitate this meeting between with the reader by publishing your work.
When I receive submissions, I know by the simplicity of the writing who has spent time working on his story. These I keep in a pile for serious consideration. There are, however, John, manuscripts that frankly cannot be read beyond the first page. I call these first drafts. A half cut stone is easier to work on than a diamond in the rough. Where a publisher, on the average, receives 100 submissions each season, he will not bother reading further if he cannot see why he should, if you’ve given him nothing to work with. I told you mine is a small publisher, right? Most are.
Understaffed, running on coffee and a love for books. They have no time to explain your own story to you. Get someone who is objective to read your work, give you invaluable feedback. Hold a vase you have made and ask, is it perfect, what is wrong with it? It is from this intercourse of honest opinion and criticism that your best work begins to emerge. It is as true for a poem as for a story or a novel. When this work is done, this hard work, then send it in. I assure you, it will decrease your chances of NOT being published drastically.
So, dear John, never, ever, send a publisher a first draft. Avoid Facebook as a guide to literary value. Have confidence in your writing. Keep writing and seeking out honest criticism. Eventually, you will get an email from me starting with “It is my pleasure to inform you that your manuscript. . .”
Your brother in letters,
[Read the original article here: http://kut.oduorjagero.com/design/richard-ali]
About the Writer:
Richard Ali, a lawyer, was born in Kano, Nigeria and grew up in the resort town of Jos. He holds an LL.B in Civil Law from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2010. He was the youngest magazine Editor in Nigeria at the Kaduna-based Sardauna Magazine [2004—2006].
Author of the warmly received 2012 novel, City of Memories, Richard is also Editor-in-Chief of the Sentinel Nigeria Magazine and was a runner-up at the 2008 John la Rose Short Story Competition. In March 2008, he was selected amongst 50 other emerging Nigerian writers to participate in the British Council’s Radiophonics Workshop.
He joined the Sentinel Literary Movement of Nigeria in 2011 and has undertaken the editing of its quarterly Sentinel Nigeria Magazine [www.sentinelnigeria.org] since then. He is also on the Board of the pan-African Transcultural Academy chaired by Beverly Nambozo Nsengiyunva at the forefront of redefining African literature and its study.