Sunday, April 23, 2017

Oduor Oduku on the perfect African novel

"It seems like the perfect novel, by an African, should be inert, nonpolitical, it should not be too much, it should be balanced, because readers of African novels are always looking how the sunny-side of Africa is presented. Is poverty in there? How much crime, drugs, war, prostitution, misogyny, patriarchy, feminism, name them. Are you pandering to Western audience interests? Who was your agent, your publisher? White people, right? Who are your friends? Have they influenced how you are presenting Africa to the world? Why is your imagination decadent? Your book should be banned. It is spreading immorality in Africa. Why is your language Christian? Your book must anthropological. Don't caricature us. We are good. It is a perfect world here. Africa is growing. Why are you dealing with old boring themes of poverty and strife? Poverty pornwe all agreed that novels from our 54+ countries should have none of that shit. Why are you only talking about middle class and wealthy people sensibilities? You are not capturing the ordinary lives of Africans. Do that in your next novel. That is why your current book is not selling. The proseah, make it short and clean. I'll send you the UN Convention against long sentences (PDF). Why are your stories experimental? The African novelist is a continental spokesperson. Never forget that."

Poet and critic Richard Oduor Oduku is a founding member of Jalada Africa, a contributor to Wawa Book Review, and Nonfiction Editor at Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel. He blogs at and can be found on Twitter. This post originally appeared on the author's Facebook page, and is republished here with his permission.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Translation is always more problematic..."

"Translation is always more problematic and more simple than it seems. It is problematic because translation clearly cannot do what many people believe it proposes to do: it cannot move a linguistic something from one language and culture to another. It is not even a matter of losing something in the moving process — a 'noise' problem as information science would have it — it is a matter of losing everything in the process and they trying to reconstruct another language's and culture's impression of what the lost thing might have been. What is simple is that the translation is really a reading of a poem, a poem about a poem. 
"For this reason, an endless number of different translations are possible for any given poem—depending, of course, on what one wants to say about the original."
-- from Walter G. Andrews' Introductory Essay to Ottoman Lyric Poetry: An Anthology.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

9 Things 2017 Graduates Need to Get a Job in Publishing

Guest post by Cassandra Jones. Cross-posted from the Bonfire Lit mailing list.

The end of the spring semester is approaching, and with it comes Commencement at campuses all across the country. So many college seniors (myself included) are thinking about how to get from here to there, from recent humanities graduate to entry-level employee in the publishing cosmos.

If you’ve always been fascinated with book culture but now need to capitalize on your obsessive knowledge of writers and writing in order to pay the rent and afford the upkeep on your coffee habit, here are nine tips to ready yourself for the literary job market.

  1. Experience in collegiate literary magazines will give you the editing, formatting, and marketing skills you can point to proudly in an interview. You should understand how to take a project from nebulous idea to printed product. This process takes dedication, organization, and creativity—all qualities any future employer will be interested in, especially employers in the media and publishing industry.
  2. If you don’t have experience with lit mags, don’t panic. Use the summer to build up your CV. Submit to your school’s alumni publication or to any magazine of your choice—Duotrope, The Review Review, and NewPages are all places to find markets ready to ready your submissions. (Consider submitting to Clarion; even if they don’t take your work, they’ll give you good, actionable feedback, and recommendations for other venues.) If that’s not your style, begin a blog on WordPress or Tumblr. All this work will show employers that you are involved as an active participant in the publishing realm; so make your resume current!
  3. You don’t have to be a marketing master, but you should be informed about basic mechanics. Familiarize yourself with the concepts of inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is customer-centric marketing methodology which aims to provide content that will attract viewers. Outbound marketing, on the other hand, focuses on ‘interruptive’ methods (mass e-mails and TV ads, for example). Practice writing blog posts, tweets, LinkedIn, and Facebook blurbs that revolve around educating the customer—if you provide useful information, they will see you as “part of the conversation” instead of an isolated salesman. Use your marketing knowledge to generate content in newsletters or gain more followers on social media platforms—you’ll transform into an employer’s magic millennial dream. This kind of business-oriented knowledge is highly valued in all aspects of the cultural industry, including publishing.
  4. Be aware of social trends and cultural phenomena. Working at Aevitas Literary Agency in Boston has taught me to keep my ear to the ground. What have I seen in the news or in my friend group’s interests that would make a good book? What YouTuber or Twitter user could write that book, and what kind of content would their followers form a readership for? Introducing new ideas or book proposals based on your personal outlook keeps you passionate, and, more importantly, innovative. Parse out a few ideas of your own, and have them in your back pocket for an interview. (Here’s a freebie: “Donald Trump’s tweets turned into a children’s book à la Go the F*ck to Sleep.) Illustrate that you know how not only to conceive an idea, but how to work that idea up into book-form.
  5. Find a mentor. If there is a professor or administrator who facilitates the literary magazine at your college, contact them. Ask how they got involved in litbiz, what the greatest challenges of their publications are, and what advice they have regarding the publishing market. If you’re interning, don’t be afraid to ask your advisor many, many, questions. You work there for free (or not for free, if you’re lucky), and knowledge is the currency you should feel entitled to claim as compensation for your efforts. Ask about the roles of the professionals around you, about the process of book-making start to finish, of your supervisors’ own journey from student to their current role—really, just ask intelligent questions until you run out and then get back to work. Then, ask more the next day.
  6. Have a handle on the tech and relevant programs. No one will expect you, right out of the gate, to be the next Mr. Robot, but it will help you to have an understanding of the primary nuts-and-bolts of systems like InDesign, Photoshop, and HTML. Every hour of familiarity you have with these programs puts you one step higher on the learning curve.
  7. Keep tabs on the industry. If you have the cash, or are looking for a grad present to suggest to mom and dad, buy a membership to Publisher’s Marketplace. Here you can find books by ISBN codes, authors, subjects and other forms of sales data. You’ll be able see how they are selling, or not selling, what their price points are, and which house they were published through. You can also see titles scheduled for upcoming publication, members, and agents—all in all, it’s the ideal database for all things book-related, and a good place to familiarize yourself with (as the name of the site suggestions) the publisher’s marketplace. I also suggest Manuscript Wish List. This one is a bit less serious but still fun. Agents, Editors, Publishers, Literary Assistants, Editorial Assistants, and Interns gather here to throw out ideas for books they wish existed, and share requests for manuscripts. A visit here is good for a quick fix on trends.
  8. Diversify your search. There are many ways to be involved in publishing other than being an editor or author. Look into Design, Sales, Marketing, Production, Public Relations, and E-books. There’s also more employers than just “The Big 5”—Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster. Each of these huge houses has many small imprints, many of which operate with a degree of independence from the parent company; any could be a place where your resume would find a way in. Dig in, do some research, and look for the less obvious opportunities.
  9. Don’t give up. You’ve got your degree—likely a humanities degree—and you’ve got your passion and your ambition; but you’re not getting called in for interviews, and you’re getting tired of sending in applications. Don’t let yourself be weighed down with a chip on your shoulder. There are numerous ways to get into publishing, but not if you limit your choices lacking patience or perseverance. To get from here to there, just do what always works: capitalize on your assets, think outside the box, and stay resilient.
Cassandra Jones helps to manage the Bonfire Collegiate Literary Network, a joint project of Pen & Anvil and the BU BookLab.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Risks of graphomania; the truth about publishing

For your information and entertainment, we present a scene from the British comedy Peep Show, Season 8, Episode 2: "Business Secrets of the Pharaohs." In the following exchange, roommates Jeremy and Mark are discussing Mark's manic, up-all-night habits as a first-time author. Jeremy is concerned in a minimally-invested sort of way, whereas Mark is delusionally confident that his book is going very well indeed.
Mark: I've done 6,000 words since 6 PM.
Jeremy: Yeah, I know. You type like you're trying to massacre imaginary ants swarming your keyboard. 
Mark: I've had seven black coffees and I feel like I'm really nailing it. 
Jeremy: Mark, you're in caps. It looks like you've been in caps for a few hours. 
Mark: Caps still count! I've just drawn an irresistible comparison between Mentuhotep V and Branson. I'm thinking of drawing Branson as a hieroglyph. What do you think?  
Jeremy: I think maybe you should get quite a lot of sleep. 
Mark: I just need to hit a thousand more words, then a spell-check, then I'm done. 
Jeremy: Ah, don't worry about the spell-check, dude. 
Mark: You don't think?  
Jeremy: No. They'll have a big spellchecker with all the latest words. That's what publishers are these days: spellcheckers who take you out for lunch.  
Jeremy: (thinking to himself) "Yeah, keep killing those ants, Charles Dickens."
There is much which is inarguably true in this comic back-and-forth. For one thing, we all know a Dickens. (Don't be a Dickens.) For another, publishers themselves would generally agree that they are really nothing more than elaborate spell-check services with a penchant for expensed lunch-hour indulgence in martinis and club sandwiches. Truth in art.