I am delighted to welcome J.S. Emuakpor of Afrocentric Books to the blog today to talk about all things publishing. And as Afrocentric Books are currently open to submissions for short stories for AfroMyth Volume 2, I hope it inspires some writers to check out Afrocentric Books and get subbing! Huge thanks to J.S. for taking the time to answer my questions.
1. Why publishing? Or, to put it another way – if, a decade ago, you were asked the question: ‘What do you see yourself doing in ten years’ time?’ would you have answered ‘managing an independent press’?
No. I would not have answered ‘managing an independent press.’ I would have answered ‘working on my fourth novel.’ In my quest for Science Fiction and Fantasy featuring characters of African descent, I realized that there were no publishers (or imprints) dedicated to that sub-genre. In fact, it seemed as though that subgenre wasn’t even a ‘thing.’ So I set out to make it a thing. There was an empty space in traditional publishing. Frankly, I fell into it. And it is so very hard. Yet, I am optimistic that in the next ten years, Afrocentric Books will have a large catalogue of bestselling SFF.
2. On your website the guiding principles of the press are very clear:
“People of African descent live and thrive all over the world. Yet, when it comes to the most popular literature, the settings and characters are decidedly Eurocentric.
Afrocentric Books is here to change that. We are here to broaden your perception and restructure your paradigms.”
What kind of response to this statement have you had so far?
I’ve had some wonderful responses. People want to see more SFF from authors of color and featuring characters of color. So Afrocentric Books has been a breath of fresh air to many readers with diverse cultural and societal backgrounds. I have also come across authors who are very skeptical about a small press that caters to the ‘Black Experience.’ There are even some authors of color who think that writing for Afrocentric Books will somehow ‘pigeon-hole’ them. I don’t quite understand their sentiment and it certainly doesn’t stop me from moving forward or stop other authors and writers from giving me their support.
3. You’re based in the US and relatively new to the publishing scene. What do you think of the indie publishing scene (in the US and UK) so far?
It is a very difficult scene to navigate (I think in the US and the UK). The biggest obstacle I’m facing right now is getting the right submissions. I certainly get a lot of submissions, but so far they have not been a good fit for Afrocentric Books. The second obstacle that I will continue to face is funding. Unlike the Big Houses, Afrocentric Books does not have deep pockets. Our budget is relatively limited, as is the case with most small presses. There are tasks that I would love to contract out to others, but without the funding, I have to do them myself. It often feels very daunting, but I have access to many wonderful small press and indie author support networks that let me learn from others in the business. It’s still a tough road to traverse.
4. Your first published title, AfroMyth: Volume One has been met with highly positive reviews. Was this a relatively straightforward book to edit, or did it come with its own particular challenges?
It certainly had its challenges. Selecting the stories was, in itself, a challenge. We got some very good submissions, but ensuring that the stories embodied Afrocentricism/Afrocentricity added another level of difficulty. Simply having a black character was not enough. As our submission guidelines state, ‘If the characters can easily be replaced with talking turnips, we are not the publisher for you.’ Likewise, if the characters of African descent could easily be replaced with characters of any other culture, AfroMyth was probably not the right anthology for that story. We turned down many good reads because the characters were interchangeable. On top of that, we wanted each story to feel culturally authentic, so my editor put a great deal of research into her edits. For instance, the prevailing culture behind a story about a leprechaun in the modern-day rural U.S. South is very different from the culture behind a story about W. African gods in an African spirit world.
5. Which brings me nicely on to my next question: you’re currently open to submissions for AfroMyth: Volume Two. Can you give us any insights into what kind of a story would really excite you, and what would really bore you?
I would be really bored by anything that can be directly compared to ‘Game of Thrones.’ I would also be bored by anything that that is predominantly Euro or Anglo in nature. Of late, I have been having a tough time reading some of my favorite old authors because of this lack of diversity. I need lots of flavor, not just vanilla with a few chocolate chips.
What would excite me? A classic tale with a solidly Afrocentric twist.
6. Do you read all the submissions yourself? Or do you have a team of readers who sift through the stories?
I read them ALL myself. For AfroMyth 2, N.D. Jones (the featured author) will also be reading. And I wouldn’t mind some volunteers for my ever-growing slush pile. Any takers?
7. And… are all writers, regardless of their colour, ethnicity, experience, age, welcome to submit?
Yes. All writers are welcome. While I would like to showcase authors of color, Afrocentric Books is not limited in that way. We believe that anyone can and should write characters of color. Of course, in order to write them, you must get to know them. So, authors, please get out of your social comfort zone and make new acquaintances.
8. What has been one of your greatest challenges while running the press? And greatest successes?
My greatest challenge so far has been getting the right submissions. I really think that everything else will fall into place once I get the right stories. The next biggest challenge is marketing. Just putting the word out about the press and its novels has been a tall order. A third challenge is that time spent running the press eats into the time that I could spend writing.
That said, however, my own novel, Queen of Zazzau, has been my biggest success. I put very little money into its release because there was no third-party author to disappoint. Yet, the release was very successful. The novel was chosen for review by Publisher’s Weekly, and it received a starred review. A television producer has even contacted me regarding the television rights! All things considered, the novel has done extremely well on ¼ of the marketing budget that I’ve reserved for my other authors (when I get them). It gives me faith in my new-release marketing strategy and in the future of Afrocentric Books.
9. Do you solely work on managing the press, or do you have other employment?
I am burning the candle at both ends! On top of Afrocentric Books, I have a full time job as a Veterinarian, a side-hustle managing 2 rental properties, and a volunteer position coaching youth track and field (High Jump). The summer Track season ends in two weeks. Then I’ll be able to take a deep breath.
10. Any hard-won wisdom (about life or publishing!) that you’d like to pass on?
I don’t really have much wisdom (else I wouldn’t be a publisher); I’m still learning. But I would like to tell people to be patient. Don’t rush to production or to put out novels, because you don’t want to produce an inferior product simply because you’re in a hurry to build a catalogue. And you certainly don’t want to burn yourself out. Do the things that give you pleasure as often as you can and don’t worry about your bad reviews. You can’t please everyone.
11. Where is it best for readers to buy your books from, and how can interested would-be supporters help out?
You can get our novels virtually everywhere that novels are sold. The paperback of AfroMyth Volume 1 is only at Amazon, but the e-book is everywhere. Queen of Zazzau is pretty much everywhere in ebook; the paperback is at all the big places (including Walmart) and can be ordered through your local indie bookstore.
Interested supporters can support me via Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/afro_books. Or, if you are interested in volunteering to help with copyediting, web development, cover art/design, social media, or to read my slush pile, you can contact me at [email protected].
12. Lastly… tea or coffee; track or field?
Tea. ALWAYS tea. And seeing as how I coach the High Jump (and this guy is my kid), my Field preference has to be clear!