‘I Need To Change the Conversation’
Nyana Kakoma, blogger and new mother, is also Uganda’s newest publisher. Her company is Sooo Many Stories, and it has plans to publish books of literary fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, with the eventual addition of “pulp fiction.”
The company’s first book, The Headline That Morning and Other Poems by Peter Kagayi, was recently published. And as Kakoma tells Douglas D. Sebalama of the Daily Monitor, “I want to be a writers’ publisher, a publisher who understands the strengths of the writer.
“For instance, Kagayi is a performer. He is different when he is performing and when he is talking to you. I wanted to play on that strength, know him as a performer to understand him as a poet.
Kakoma elaborates on her plans in her interview with Sebalama. Some highlights:
Douglas Sebalama: At what point did you choose to be a publisher?
Nyana Kakoma: Right after my internship at a publishing house, Modjaji Books, in Cape Town, South Africa. Modjaji is a small press, without all the resources big publishers have but about 70 authors have been published there in about nine years. I was with them for six weeks and it changed me; I couldn’t just do a blog any more, it wasn’t enough.
I was thinking maybe when I get back, I could work for a publisher, but in Uganda, people are publishing mostly text books which are what sells. But I had a blog already and had been trained as an editor, so I thought maybe it was time to grow beyond a blog and become a publisher…
By the mere fact that I wanted a certain kind of publishing house and didn’t find it, I had to create a job for myself. Otherwise, everything has been challenging because it is new. But I persevered because I know with all my heart that I’m supposed to be doing this.
DS: What works are you looking to publish?
NK: I have thought about what I’m doing now 10, 15 years from now. Incidentally, at first I didn’t think of children’s writings but now I have a child and I cannot find her stuff to read that does not have ponies and long blonde hair. So now I’m thinking, aren’t there children’s writers? Of course, I have seen books done by other publishers but can we make more attractive books! And I think I can…
I am also passionate about poetry, novels, short stories, novellas and creative non-fiction. I will do recipe books that have a story beyond how to cook or coffee books.
DS: What steps are you taking to make sure books get to the readers?
NK: A lot of people say we have a bad reading culture but how well are we marketing our books? People don’t know how many Ugandan writers, or what books, there are. [Ugandan women writers’ organization] FEMRITE once did a survey and told the story of a writer whose publisher had only sold 80 copies since the 1990s to date.
Now, how do you tell that person to write again? This shows you don’t believe in your product or you would make an effort to market it better. I hired a marketing person who loves books. I want to worry about authors while another person worries about selling the story. I need to change the conversation. I need to stop being part of the crowd that says people don’t read. What am I doing to solve that if I believe in books?
DS: Aren’t you scared? This kind of business is not popular here.
NK: Gosh, yeah. When word came out that we were launching, I realized I couldn’t take it back. But now that everyone knows, I have to make it happen.
DS: Where will Sooo Many Stories be in 10 years?
NK: Hmm, my daughter will be 10 years old (silence as tears begin to form in her eyes). She will have books with characters that look like her that she can relate with. That fiction out there is not bad, but the truth is I grew up wanting a pony, because that is what I knew. It is what I read. And at some point, they will be disillusioned because they are not a certain way.
I hope to have given hope to writers, for my daughter to say I want to be a writer and it is not weird.