Friday, 1 February 2013

Letter To A Nigerian Writer Aspiring To Publish Abroad

By Tchidi Jacobs

Dear Nigerian writer,

I decided to write this letter to you after our meeting last night. You are wise my son. You heard me Lecture at that writer's workshop. You've also read my books, and you knew that those things I taught them wouldn't bring their dollar dreams to pass. You knew. That's why you came by night, like that ancient roman ruler, to inquire of me, as did he the Jewish Rabbi, what you must do to attain salvation in this world of writing. You have kept all the rules of grammar, you have written and re-written that manuscript, you have obeyed all the commandments. But you lack salvation.

Salvation is what you seek - that moment when a white document sits before you, offering a space to sign your signature and dispose that burden of a book for the long-dreamed-of precious dollars. That moment when you hear a knock on your door, and it’s the courier bearing five copies of your book in foreign print! That moment when all your friends stop seeing you as the perpetual geek who has nothing to show for his knowledge. That moment when the whole world learns that another Nigerian writer has been published abroad and our darling Nigerian media carries you shoulder-high, home, with trumpets and clanging cymbals, bragging about how you are one of our own, even though none of them would even look at your short story before now, talk less of publishing it in a space that would have been used for adverts or political entrepreneurship!

That is your salvation! You are wise to have come.

Before I continue with this letter, I want you to know that those things I taught them at that seminar are not wrong. In fact, the brilliant ones among them will find them useful in their writing journey. But as you know, I have become a public figure, my hands are tied like that of our beloved president and as such, there are things I cannot say in public lest I be stoned for blasphemy. So I have to say what they want to hear and leave it at that. I know you will think I am wicked, but before you judge me, listen to what I have to say.

It is more complicated than you think. We often say that corruption is endemic in Nigeria, but what you don't realise is just how deep it really is. Corruption has now become a lucrative trade. Corruption is a commodity, one that we exchange in gory details for dollars. Are you beginning to get the gist? You probably think that the Yahoo boys and corrupt politicians and Boko Haram are the only ones destroying the Image of Nigeria, but that is not true, dear Nigerian writer. For these lack the power, they lack the subtlety, to smear or deface the image of our dear nation as we writers have done. How then do you expect me to stand before a group of young aspiring Nigerian writers who look up to me and declare myself worse that Dimeji Bankole and that Police pension-funds thief? How do you expect me to stand before them, bones and flesh and tummy, to declare myself an accomplice of Boko haram? How can I even begin to live with myself when I share these things with them so that they all continue the business or trading corruption and poverty for salvation? Is it not better that there are only few of us in the trade, and only few are brought in occasionally for the sake of posterity? So you see, my dear Nigerian writer, that my hands are tied. However you have come and you are wise to have come!

To be published abroad, you have to first determine where exactly. You see, when I say abroad, I'm not talking about Ghana or Burkina Faso, although these too are "Abroad", but you know what I mean. When you have determined where, you have to research into their history. All western nations have their secret obsessions. Now I must warn you. Do not think that just because Martin Luther King said "I have a dream" and Obama is the American president, a magic wand has been waved over the country and they've all been purged of racial propensities. See you have to understand human nature. We like the feeling of power we get when we treat other people with disdain and make them feel sorry for themselves. 

Do not think that racism has gone extinct because there are apparently no "Whites only" signs on the buses and restaurants in America. The "Whites only" sign still exists in their minds and even though they hardly show it these days, they've found a way to keep blacks in poverty and servitude. That is where you come in, my dear Nigerian writer; you have to show them what they want to keep seeing. Do not think that this means betraying your own people, they'll celebrate you when you are finally published. For us, the saying "Bad publicity is better than no publicity at all" holds true. We do not care as long as one of our own is showing them that we can do it too. Its probably one of those aches you'd learn to live with as a Nigerian writer.

The key, like I said is to identify a secret obsession, one that still breathes in the consciousness of the country where you want to be published and exploit it. Let me give you a tip. Germany is to Communism as America is to racism. Iraq is to Terrorism as Britain is to neo-colonialism. Your task is to look around you and trust me; you don't need to look hard in Nigeria to find events that you can match to these ideas. Build stories around them, exaggerate a lot and make it real sad. These things do not happen there anymore. Haven't you ever wondered why they make those movies about cannibals? Do you like watching your fore fathers eat human flesh? You see why I don't teach these at seminars.

The task of the Nigerian writer is to feed the western imagination with pictures of human suffering and bestiality. Its a pity we have to be the characters but never mind. Its not your fault. Just remember your mother in the village. The west has a picture of Africa, that is both disgusting and untrue but you do not have a choice. The principles of marketing apply in writing too. You have to find out what your customers want and give it to them. Please do not blame our brother Rick Ross for making that video that portrays our poverty-stricken people and refuse-embellished streets, he was being innovative!

This business of writing is tough business and the foreign publishers are going to publish you only when they are convinced that you have enough gory stories of Nigeria in your book to feed the western fantasy of Africa. Fortunately, you don't have to look far for the raw materials you need to write your book.

You must paint Nigeria not in green white green, but in black alone. Black. Do you understand? You must highlight all the issues of corruption you can recall. Remember, that is the commodity that sells to foreign audiences. No one will tell you this in a writing workshop, but I am telling you now.

 Now to the title of your book, look for something catchy; a statement that conveys at a glance, the content of your book. Remember, you are selling corruption. Do not title your book "Green is beautiful". No foreign agent or publisher will talk to you. Look for titles like "The Broken Green" or "Fire in the North”. I know they sound depressing. Do not worry. You will forget all about it when your first cheque comes in.

Foreign publishers don't like dealing directly with writers, so you have to find an agent. If you were living abroad, it would have been easier for you. Unfortunately your father isn't a corrupt senator, so he didn't make enough money to send you abroad. But you are lucky, you have the internet. Look for them online. Wait. Before you rush off, there are a few more things you need to know.

You will need to write a query letter to accompany your manuscript before you send it out to any agent. The query letter is just a simple letter that tells the agent what your book is about, and why you are qualified to write about the subject. I advice that you begin your query letter with phrases like "over 3 trillion Naira has been looted and carted away by corrupt Nigerian politicians in the past three years", that is,  if your theme revolves around the poli-thiefry going on in our government. Consolidate on this by showing how your story explores and reveals all the details of this trend. Don't worry about convincing the agent that you are qualified to write about the issue. They already know that 98% of Nigerians are living below the poverty line as a result of the activities of corrupt politicians. You are one of them, how can you not be qualified!

Lastly, you need a photograph to go with your manuscript. Do not shave your beard or comb your hair. I only started combing mine recently. You have to look really sad and reflective. Fast for one week so that you'll look very thin in the photograph. Wear a shirt that reveals your jutting neck bone. This will give you an air of genuineness. You are a Nigerian writer, the voice of the people. You are weighed down by the burden of your nation on your shoulders. You have to look it. Ask the photographer to print it in Sepia. There are no color films in Nigeria!
Before you send out the package, take it to your pastor. Let him pray for you. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. You never can tell who is sending the traffic that will delay your manuscript. Let your pastor pray real hard. Send out your manuscript after that and be patient. It won't be long before you get a call or an email. Do not forget the one who helped you find salvation when the dollars finally arrive. Come and pay your tithe!
Yours in the struggle.

 We'd love to read your comments. Also feel free to ask questions if you have any. Inquiries should be directed to the editor at or simply call +234 7033 436 212.
Thanks for stopping by!


  1. After reading this piece from Peace, I think I should have another meeting with Peace! I was right when I gave you that "responsibility" on Wednesday. Lucky Ihanza

  2. Thanks for stopping by Lucky! Looking forward to the meeting!

  3. Peace sabi book! And he sabi write....Satire is the medium to humourise ugly truth. Nice one boss.

  4. Wow,excellent piece! I wld luv 2 publish ds on my blog. Good work!

  5. James focus on the piece!

    "Satire is the medium to humourise ugly truth", I totally agree. Thanks for taking time to read!

    @Thespian, Thanks! Copyright laws still exist in Nigeria, so about publishing on your blog, I'll give my consent as soon as a six figure cheque hits my doorstep!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Though am not aspiring to be a writer but I like dis. Gud 1 my bro, really love dis piece.

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  9. ThaPallasAthena, thank you for that incisive comment.

    "A writer has a real responsibility, not only
    to write, but to write as truly and
    realistically as possible; and not to bloat or
    misrepresent facts. For literature is a
    veritable aspect of a people's heritage and
    identity. African writers must begin to
    stand up for themselves, for truth, and for

    This is loudly underscores the urgent need to expand the book market in Africa. The challenge of Literature in Africa is that Africans are yet to develop the level of literary appreciation that will drive growth in the industry. And as such, African writers are driven, by economic constraints to seek for greener pastures abroad where there is a higher level of literary appreciation.

    It is again a matter of sacrificing originality and truth on the altar of commerce.

    While watching Christine Amampour's Interview of Nigerians regarding the state of power in the country, it became obvious that behind that cloak of journalistic objectivity was a sneering, mocking picture of Nigeria being broadcasted to a foreign audience whose sadistic appetite for mire from Africa fuel would not let them see anything good in Africa.

    So the African writer is subjected to a form of subjugation that deludes him into thinking that he is a hero. In a way, we are all guilty of this prostitution as you referred to it, and we must begin to take our stand and redeem the image of Africa.

    Thanks for stopping by and demystifying the identity of ThaPallasAthena!

  10. Nnamdi, I'm glad you enjoyed the reading, while there are some issues raised, it also an artistic piece to be enjoyed. Thanks for stopping over!

  11. Dude, your stuff is awesome, it was your writing and not necessarily the blog layout that made me a believer in your magazine. Peace...literarily (lafs)

  12. Hello Chidi, you actually read my mind. I had had this thought for over months now how mostly sad non-fiction African stories are getting book awards from the western countries. Also, what bother me a lot is the norm, that Africans should only write about Africa stories. Writers that write outside of this expectation never seem to get book award.

    I want to see more Nigerians write more fiction stories such as Science fiction, comics, horrors, happy- romances (although I rarely read romance but most young Nigerians would appreciate this) I am a fiction writer myself and write mainly Supernatural and Psychological thrillers. I got my inspiration for writing from reading The Concubine and Things Fall Apart when I was a child. I always find writers that are able to create imaginary stories to be incredibly intelligent. It takes a great brain to create a captivating story from scratch. I am not against Non-fiction writers but just saying we should write more books that does not portray us in bad light.

    I will definitely have to purchase your magazine. Where can I purchase or access your magazine online?