You will know how much I enjoyed Sade Adeniran's debut novel Imagine This and how impressed I was by the quality of this self-published work. I felt compelled to ask her more about the book.
SP: Could you tell us a little bit about the publishing history behind Imagine This? Presumably you tried to place it with a traditional publisher, but what made you decide to self-publish?
SA: Like many writers out there, I went down the traditional route first. I bought a copy of the Red and Yellow Bible and combed it for Agents and Publishers whom I thought would be interested in Lola’s story. I did my research and picked 10 of each, I’d read all about slush piles, so I made a point of calling people up before sending out the ms. I sent a teabag with the cover letter, hoping it would make it stand out. I knew Imagine This was a great story, I just needed someone from one of the big houses to read it and believe. Some of them made an effort, and although on the whole the responses were negative, I did get more than the standard rejection letter. One fiction editor was kind enough to tell me “I enjoyed reading your story and I certainly think that you have a gift for writing and creating believable characters. However I do not think that your story really works as a novel.” Another wrote “I enjoyed reading these chapters and found the writing very engaging.” They did all enjoy their flavoured teabags. I’m sure you can imagine my disappointment, I was so crushed I put it under my bed and tried to forget that it existed. Dreams however don’t die, in fact I kept on dreaming about standing on a podium and giving an acceptance speech. In case you’re interested, I was wearing a sparkly orange dress and looked fabulous. I digress, anyway, last year I was really hating my job, I was everywhere but at home, living out of a suitcase had ceased to be glamorous. One day I’d had enough so I resigned. I told everyone I was going off to become a writer, they all thought I was brave; my brother thought I was stupid and I thought I was crazy. I went to a writer’s retreat in Spain wondering if I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. The retreat was in the middle of nowhere, with no TV or phone. All I had was quiet and my laptop, I did a lot of thinking and reading but hardly any writing. During my time there I read an article on self-publishing, suddenly I thought to myself, why not. After all, all success is a shot in the dark. Thus began my labour of love.
SP: And now that it is published have you been able to persuade many bookshops to stock it?
SA: Bookshops stock it, hmmm. I thought writing was hard, trying to convince someone at the other end of a phone to stock your book is YIKES. No one is interested, mainly for two reasons. A. I’m unknown so they don’t want to take a risk and B. the book is self-published, which to them means it can’t possibly be any good. I didn’t realise there was such a stigma attached to self-publishing. I’m trying very hard to dispel this notion. Once they see the book reason B goes out the window leaving me with reason A. This has proved harder to overcome because it’s all about economics and if they don’t think Joe Bloggs is going to buy my book off the shelf, then I don’t stand a chance. There is some good news, I timidly called Crockatt & Powell after reading their scathing blog on why you shouldn’t self-publish if you’re writing fiction. I told them I have a self-published book for sale and I’d like to send them a copy. They sold it within a day of it hitting the shop floor. They were so impressed they ordered more copies and blogged a retraction that had me walking on air for days. So if anyone is techno phobic and doesn’t like Amazon or my website, they can get a copy from Crockatt & Powell.
SP: How have the big high street chains responded to your approaches?
SA: Reason A, rears it’s ugly head again. It’s been really difficult trying to get it into the stores. Borders are very interested, I’ve been pestering their Head of Fiction. She couldn’t resist my charm and finally agreed to place an order through Gardners only to find out they’ve only got it on ‘special order.’ Borders want SOR terms so won’t place an order because Gardners won’t stock Imagine This. Gardners won’t stock Imagine This because I’m unknown, which makes me a risk. You’re wondering where that leaves me. I’m left sitting in a canoe in the middle of the ocean without an oar. I’ve also approached Waterstones, their route to shelf is even more complicated. I have to approach each store separately and it’s a long list.
SP: Let's get on to the story, I have to ask how much of Imagine This is autobiographical?
SA: I keep getting asked the same question. ‘Is the story auto-biographical?’ The honest answer is, not really. However, like many British Nigerians, I was sent back to Nigeria to live. Idogun does exist, it’s were I spent my formative years. I’m told it’s changed, but back then it was a village with no electricity, running water or the basic necessities I was used to. Add to that the fact that I couldn’t speak the language and you have the recipe for Imagine This. But like any good chef, to make a signature dish stand out from the crowd, you add your own secret ingredient. So although Imagine This is based on my experience of growing up in Nigeria, it is truly Lola’s story.
SP: I was particularly struck by the sexual politics of the teenagers in the book, pretty much a universal theme I guess but do you think these issues change from continent to continent?
SA: I think teenagers are teenagers whatever continent you’re on. I guess what differs in Nigeria is that parents tend to be extremely strict, so if you’re a girl your freedom of movement can sometimes be severely curtailed. I had a friend who always had to meet her boyfriend at my house because she didn’t want her parents to find out she was dating, so she told them she was visiting me; she was twenty-one at the time and at university. Now if you were a guy it was just as bad, you couldn’t visit your girlfriend at her house. If you dared to knock on their door her parents would shout abuse at you. One of my very good friends had me do his dirty work, his girlfriend lived down the road from me. He’d come to my house, then we’d walk down the road, he’d hide behind the nearest tree while I went in to say hello. I’d emerge 30mins later with her in tow. If I was feeling particularly mean I’d sit there for an hour, while she plied me with Coke and Fanta. On the guise of seeing me off, she’d leave the house and the couple would then get an opportunity to hang out. My dad was hardly ever home, so our house became the place to meet. You know what they say, where there’s a will there’s a way.
SP: Have any of your family back in Nigeria read the book, and if so what did they think?
SA: No one’s read it back in Nigeria, my nine-year-old niece is currently reading it but neither of my brothers have and they live here. I would’ve liked my dad to have read it, but sadly he passed away before it was published. We had this relationship where most of our communication was done through letters. When I still lived at home and we had a disagreement I’d send him a letter, I’d stick it on his bedroom door where he couldn’t miss it. It was the only way I could get him to listen to my point of view. He always calmed down after reading one of my missives. I guess that’s when I realised the power the written word.
SP: Lola is a wonderful narrator, will we be seeing her again?
SA: Oh most definitely, her story hasn’t ended yet. On the backburner is the sequel, which is aptly titled Imagine That. I’m most likely to change the title, but it’s a start for now.
SP: And what other writing plans do you have?
SA: I’m currently working on another book, I wrote the outline a year ago, I’ve mapped out my characters and now I’ve just got to actually put the hours in, it’s all 10% inspiration and 90% hard work. It’s set in three continents, so I think I need to go on holiday to do some more research.
SA: That’s really hard, so like a typical Aries chick I’m going to change the rules and recommend three. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I love all three, there’s not an inch between them.
The best place to buy Sade's novel, Imagine This, is from the book's very own website. She will sign every copy she sends out, so buy two and keep one as an investment.