The international literary scene is hard to crack. Africa has a sort of laissez-faire approach to publishing. There are hardly any literary agents on the continent. Day two of the workshop helped us understand how the international literary world works.
Glaydah Namukasa, author of Deadly Ambition and Voice of a Dream, and Goretti Kyomuhendo, talked to the participants about their own journeys to getting published by an international publisher.
Glaydah Namukasa spoke about her start at the Uganda Women Writers Association (FEMRITE) and how being in that space made her a better writer. At FEMRITE, she had a group that edited her work, held her accountable, and supported her in her writing journey. She stressed the need for writers to have these communities so they have accountability partners, and people to read and critique their work, which creates better writers.
The publishing sector is a business and this is something writers fail to understand. A literary agent will look for a book that he/she knows will be a commercial success. The publishers know and understand their audiences. So they will publish books that are bound to sell.
The journey towards getting a literary agent is long and hard. Before you submit to a literary agent, you have to research on them, know the kind of books and authors they would represent, write a query letter, and if the agent likes the synopsis of the work, he/she will ask for the first three chapters, or the first 50-100 pages of your manuscript. This is how it happened for Glaydah.
Both ladies spoke about how, at the urging of their agents and editors, they had to rewrite or rework their manuscripts to give the stories a more international feel. Glaydah had to rewrite the language, which was more Ugandan, to be at par with international audiences. They stressed the need to read and reread a manuscript before submitting it for publishing consideration.
A question that came up during the Q&A part of this session was if a writer could write and publish on their own. Self publishing, the ladies agreed, is hard and a book may not achieve commercial success.
Another concern was the number of times the ladies had rework their stories. Both Glaydah and Goretti stressed that it was important to rework and rewrite certain parts as suggested by the editor because these editors know and understand their audiences.
One has to read. When reading, a person absorbs the way a writer expresses him/herself. Goretti Kyomuhendo, without any formal training, wrote The First Daughter (1996), gleaning knowledge derived from the books she read.
Prof Okey reiterated the need to reread one’s work. To edit and proofread. He spoke at length about how he had to rewrite his manuscript more than a dozen times, changing the story into what we read in Arrows of Rain today. He decried the lack of substantial readership in Africa.
The Editing Process
The second session was about the need to edit, rewrite and proofread one’s work. When writing, avoid commonplace phrases, make the reader feel. Seduce the reader, as Prof Ndibe likes to say. Show the reader a scene, don’t tell them what it is.
He stressed the need to not focus on the negative but to take criticism well. There is a tendency to be more hurt by the negativity.
The final words before the closure of the workshop were: Band together. Be each other’s readers. Be each other’s editors. Buy each other’s books. Support one another.
Sr. Jennifer Dushime, on behalf of the participants expressed her gratitude for the workshop, saying without the workshop, she would not have known all that she learnt during the workshop. Catherine Ruhweza, popularly known as Mama Tendo was also grateful for the workshop and for the opportunity to learn about fiction
Photo courtesy: Adnan Ssenkumba