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Selling novels are a difficult business, regardless of where it is in the world that you’re in. The fast paced, clogged-up lifestyle of the age demands that we attend to numerous, pressing needs. Reading for the sake of obtaining vital information is a regular thing, but sitting down to consume literature for the fun of it is not easy to do. In Nigeria, the challenge of finding a large-enough market of literature enthusiasts is even more daunting. Even the most educated seem to have a load of excuses for not settling down to the business of enriching their minds with words in print. The poor reading culture of Nigerians partly accounts for a characteristically dull conception of culture and life beyond a few fixed stereotypes which have been disseminated via hearsay and handed-down tradition. But it is also true that there have been a few books written in recent times which have captured the attention of people who are usually not big fans of the novel. And there are reasons for the success the authors of those books have achieved with them.

A good writer is one who writes good books. And you can’t write a good book if you haven’t read good ones yourself. Developing a habit of reading broadens one’s creative horizons and opens the mind to a wide range of perspectives. And it is not just about reading novels. A wider reading scope makes possible a better understanding of the world’s items and phenomena, and how they are interconnected. If you are able to see the details and much of the entirety of the complex web that is existent, you will be able to present ideas from different, perhaps not very well known angles. And a new, interesting perspective is a vital ingredient of good writing. Creativity and descriptive power are also enhanced by reading. If your story’s descriptions are interesting, you’ll have an interesting and sellable story.

Knowing what the market for books is like will help. What themes are popular? What trends can be deciphered? Your work should not be so unlike what the regular reader is used to, but it should not be a mere caricature of a perceived popular trend. Finding new ways of telling old stories is a skill that a writer intent on success should possess. But a more important skill to possess is the ability to detect themes which are crying out for a story– that is, things which would obviously capture the public’s attention, but which have not been written about that much (or at all). Admittedly, this takes more than just eyes to see. It’s the stuff of exceptional perception.

If you’re a writer, you will want to write about certain things, for yourself. The task of combining the need to write for yourself and for the market may appear to be challenging, but it can, and has been done. Having a personal motivation to write is indispensable. The more a personal drive is involved in the writing of a story, the more likely you are to write in a way that will engage the reader.

And finally, you should critically review your work before submitting it to the publisher. Check for spelling and grammatical errors, storyline coherence, characterization issues and others. Don’t be afraid to rework it if there are observed inadequacies, no matter how large-scale and complex they appear to be. Work with a publisher that has a  good track record and suits the kind of work you intend to turn out. They are closer to the market than you are- in terms of sales, so they’re an incredibly important part of the equation.

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This article was first published on 15th May 2016


Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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