Friday, 3 January 2014
Meet Nigerian Writer And Publisher, Tolulope Popoola
After working for as an accountant for a couple of years, Nigerian writer, Tolulope Popoola quits her 9 to 5 job to follow her passion as a writer. When she finished her first novel, “Nothing Comes This Close”, she decided to become a publisher in order to publish her own novel.
Today, she has risen from being a regular sharing her fictional stories to an accomplished writer and publisher. Her book “Nothing Comes Close” has achieved tremendous success both at home and abroad and her readers can’t help but ask for more.
I had a chat with Tolulope and she shared her entrepreneurship journey, her leap of faith in leaving her comfort zone of being an accountant to harness her life-long hobby and dream of being a writer.
What was growing up like?
I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria in a household where I was surrounded by books from an early age. I’m the first of three children. As a child, I was a real bookworm; the introvert who preferred staying at home reading to going out and partying. My parents made sure they paid attention to us academically; we were always encouraged to achieve great results at school.
You are a writer, publisher and a mother; how do you juggle these together?
Since I work from home it means I can be quite flexible. I can choose my own working hours, fit tasks around my family and other commitments. My day usually consists of juggling work around an active toddler, so that’s when I do the simple administrative tasks like sending emails, social networking and catching up on industry news. I do my serious writing and editing during the night and early hours of the morning when my household is asleep, and everywhere is quiet.
What was it like changing career from being an accountant to becoming a full time writer? What influenced that decision and what was the transitory process like?
Writing was always something that interested me since I was six years old. I grew up around books and I enjoyed reading a lot. I remember writing my own versions of the stories I’d read, sometimes with my own alternative endings. When I became a teenager, I wrote pages and pages in my diaries regularly. However, it was never something I had considered as a career at the time, and I didn’t know any full-time writers. When I graduated from university, I was mainly focused on getting a ‘professional’ job – you know the one where you have to wear a suit, work in a 9 to 5 office job, and get paid every month. However, it soon became clear to me that Accounting was not the right career path for me. I was bored, frustrated and unhappy with my job even though it paid well and the company was a great place to work.
In 2006, I came across a few Nigerian blogs when I was searching for some information online. I was immediately attracted to the idea of writing an online journal, so I started my own blog. I enjoyed writing, commenting, meeting people and joining a wonderful community of supportive bloggers. Before long, I started looking forward to coming home after a long day at work and unwinding by writing on my blog.
One day, I wrote a short story and published it on my blog and it attracted positive comments from readers. I was surprised and pleased that people thought I could write fiction and they enjoyed my stories. So, I started writing some more. The more I wrote, the more I realised I enjoyed it and I wanted to continue doing it. So I signed up for a few writing classes, and started writing short stories. With time, I knew that I should give up accounting to become a writer.
Apart from writing, you are also a publisher; what are the challenges you encountered as a self-published writer?
As a writer, I was tired of getting rejections from mainstream publishers, not because my writing was bad, but because they felt that there was no market for it. I had met a few publishers who found my work interesting, but they always said that it wasn’t commercially viable because it was regarded as ‘ethnic fiction’. But, I believe that I have to tell my stories and there are readers who want to read about people like them in books. So, I did a lot of research and decided to take the chance and become a publisher myself. The main challenge I’ve faced as an independent author is the fact that I don’t have a huge marketing department and budget to promote my work to a large audience. I have to do all the work to write, publish and promote my work myself. But I see it as a trade-off, because this way I have total control over my career.
How do you get an objective view in critically analysing your own work before going to press?
Before I published my novel, “Nothing Comes Close”, I went through several drafts and re-writes before I was confident I could let other people see it. Then I sent it to a group of beta readers that read and critiqued several drafts of the novel. Their feedback was really helpful for me because I got to see weaknesses in the story and I could improve it. Finally, I have an external editor who reads and edits my work, and I have two proof-readers as well.
How many books have you been able to publish under “Accomplish Press”?
I’ve published two books; a novel and a collection of flash fiction.
Do you publish only your own work? If yes, do you plan to publish other writers’ work in the nearest future?
At the moment I’ve only published my own work, but I have two other projects in the pipeline that were written by other people. So I have plans to publish other writers in the near future.
You are an African writer based in the diaspora with your own publishing firm; how do you get to market your book at the home front and then get tremendous acceptance at the home base?
I’ve been very fortunate that most people who have read the book, both in Nigeria and abroad have enjoyed it. That’s the most important thing for me as a writer. If readers like the book, they will help you spread the word about it. I’ve mostly used social media and some published interview and reviews to get the attention of my target audience.
You sometimes write short stories/flash stories; how long, approximately, does it take you to complete a story/book? For example, how long did it take you to achieve the final draft for your book: “Nothing Come this Close”?
I find it easier to write short fiction. I can write a flash fiction story in an hour or two. A short story can take me two days to a week. It took me about ten months to finish writing “Nothing Comes Close” and that’s not including the time spent on the original series. Writing the novel was a huge learning curve and a lesson in endurance.
What is writing to you and then describe your style of writing?
Writing for me is the ability to create something that didn’t exist before, and make it come alive in another person’s mind. My writing style is quite varied, but I like having some kind of outline in my mind for the characters and the plot of a story before I begin. I sometimes brainstorm for days and weeks before I actually sit down to put an idea down in written form. I find that having a structure helps me so that I don’t get stuck or run out of steam halfway into a story. Having said that, sometimes I ignore the structure and I let the story flow freestyle, which can also yield surprising results.
How has your online presence helped your writing career?
An online presence has been very important. Being a full-time writer can be quite isolating but, thanks to the internet, I have made many friends who are also writers, and we help each other. I first started as a blogger, and I belonged to a great community of fellow bloggers. When I started writing fiction, I went online to look for forums and groups of other writers that I could join and learn from. I’ve since met many people – editors, bloggers, journalists, aspiring authors, published authors and so on – that have been a tremendous supportive network. I’ve collaborated with people on different writing projects, received free books, been interviewed, had my stories published in magazines, received feedback and so on, all from people that I’ve met online. My blogs and social media pages have also been an excellent way of connecting with readers, getting their feedback, and promoting my work.
What motivated you to create your first prose writing online: “In My Dreams, It Was Simpler”?
It all started when I came across a wedding album on Facebook one day and I thought the groom looked like a cousin of mine who was already married to someone else. The potential drama of that situation gave me an idea and a few days later, I wrote a short story titled My Dilemma. I put it on one of my blogs and as a note on Facebook. I got good feedback from people who read it, and lots of people asked for a Part 2 to the story. I didn’t think much about it until someone left a comment saying that the story could be turned into a series. That caught my attention and it sounded like a neat idea, so I decided to expand the plot and the characters. Then I invited some bloggers and asked if they were interested in writing a group story. Thankfully I got positive responses and a few weeks later, the series was born.
Any chance of co-writing with any of the co-writers of “In My Dreams, It was Simpler”?
I don’t have any plans to work on another collaboration at the moment, but anything is possible. If a great idea comes up, I might be interested.
Have you written or published any other work aside your first book “Nothing Comes Close”?
Yes, I have published a flash fiction collection. It’s available as an ebook.
Your book “Nothing Comes Close” has achieved remarkable success; is there any other book up your sleeve that is due to be released soon?
I’m working on an idea for my next book, but I won’t say it’s due to be released soon.
Any scoop on the book you are about to publish: is it a sequel/relative to your first novel 'Nothing Comes Close'?
I'm planning to do a story on two of the secondary characters from "Nothing Comes Close". So, it won't be a sequel as such, but it will feature some familiar people.
So you are now into writing, any chance of going back to accounting or doing something with your degree?
I’m always going to be a writer, but my degree is useful when I’m dealing with the business side of publishing.
What are the best three books you have read in recent times/ the ones that have made a lasting impression on you over time?
Let me name three books that have made a big impression on me recently:
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka
What’s your favourite quote?
“Don’t you think it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?”― Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife
Which book club do you belong to?
I’m in one book club for working mums and another for Nigerian writers.
Can you tell us the names of these book clubs?
Yes, one of them is called "Super Working Mum Book Club" and the other is "Nigerian Readers and Writers". The SWM book club is on Facebook.
Where do you see your career at the end of this decade?
Hopefully, I would have written and published several other books, and Accomplish Press would be a world-recognised publisher that promotes African literature.
Where do you see African romance fiction in the near future?
I see more writers coming into the genre and not being afraid to explore and experiment with it. There are so many things we can do to make the genre more interesting and less predictable.
What would you say are the most important factor young writers must hold on to keep them going?
Keep improving, learn from criticism and never give up.
What advise will you give potential writers?
If you feel like you’re drawn to write, believe in yourself and don’t let fear hold you back. Don’t be afraid to make some mistakes; nobody writes a masterpiece on their first attempt. Read, read and then read some more. Read the sort of things you want to write, and read things that are totally different from what you normally read. Then start writing! You can only improve if you’re dedicated to your craft and you work on it consistently.