Reading Progress:

The Self-Publishing Trials and Triumphs of Chinedu Achebe

My writing routine started around 11 PM after relaxing and shrugging off a long day at work to the music of Fela Kuti, John Coltrane, and Jay-Z. I started as a very reluctant writer, spending hours anxiously surfing Amazon for authors who might have already written a story like the one I had in mind. Soon enough, literary agents got back to me saying that my book did not fit neatly into any genre recognized by mainstream publishing, making it hard to market. It was neither purely a Nigerian immigrant story nor an African American romance, not even an urban tale. There was, according to them, no clear audience it might cater to. Reader, I decided to self-publish.

To be honest, up until 2008, I never thought about writing at all. I had always assumed that only famous or important people became authors. In 2008, I was a 26-year-old working my first post-college job for a state governmental agency. Everything changed when I picked up then-Senator Barack Obama’s first book, Dreams From My Father, in the lead up to the 2008 presidential election. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father—a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man—has been killed in a car accident. Dreams From My Father also offered me my first glimpse into Obama’s life beyond the grand oratorical speeches and catchy ‘Yes We Can’ slogans. His wrestling with his biracial heritage mirrored my own struggle to define myself, being both Nigerian and African American. I had never felt Nigerian enough for Nigerians or black enough for Black Americans. After finishing Dreams From My Father, for the first time in my life, I believed in myself. I realized I wanted more for myself than a dead-end job. I started to see my purpose in life and began to consider how various conversations with friends and family about everything from Nigeria to dating could make for a good story. When Obama was elected, a wave of joyous relief washed over me. To witness the first black president was, in short, awe-inspiring. With his being Kenyan, I imagined his influence would stretch beyond the shores of the United States. Even after his leaving office, I continue to hold an enormous reverence for him as a man. The fact of his presidency remains a deep source of pride.

Towards the end of 2010, I began the first chapter of my debut novel which I was to later title Blunted on Reality. A reference to The Fugees’ first album, I wanted the title to reflect a thought-provoking rawness. The story centers on the life of Obi Ifeanyi, a late 20s Nigerian American man who lives in Houston and is trying to figure out his career aspirations as an attorney for his Uncle Ugo’s law practice. Obi is also trying to find Mrs. Right, all the while harboring feelings for and messing with his college ex-girlfriend, Tamika. When Obama is elected in 2008, Obi decides to attend the inauguration. Blunted on Reality begins the day after Obama is elected, continuing through to the end of 2009. The book charts Obi’s life parallel to Obama’s presidency, testifying to the welling pride diasporic Africans had in Obama’s great achievement. I also wanted to show how Obi and Obama shared a hopeful idealism that they would be able to reshape life to their liking. Blunted on Reality is also indebted to movies and shows like A Different World, The Best Man, Love Jones, and others which together paint a picture of thoughtful and politically educated black folk.

“I also wanted to show how Obi and Obama shared a hopeful idealism.”

I started as a very reluctant writer, spending hours anxiously surfing Amazon for authors who might have already written a story like the one I had in mind. I had not written anything since my junior year of college, and most of my writing at the time was either technical or academic. I went as far as to buy a dubious book about writing your own life story. I quickly realized that there was to be no magic spell: I just had to do it and trust in the power of my unique voice. To begin with, I was freestyling, trying to piece a narrative together. It was not until I had written the first three chapters that I saw the pages slowly materialize into something that might almost resemble a book. My writing routine started around 11 PM after relaxing and shrugging off a long day at work to the music of Fela Kuti, John Coltrane, and Jay-Z. Soon enough, literary agents got back to me saying that my book did not fit neatly into any genre recognized by mainstream publishing, making it hard to market. It was neither purely a Nigerian immigrant story nor an African American romance, not even an urban tale. There was, according to them, no clear audience it might cater to. 

Reader, I decided to self-publish. After some research, I quickly realized how intense of an endeavor self-publishing is. One becomes responsible for not only writing, but editing, formatting, and typesetting. I reached out to self-publishing companies like Xlibris, eventually settling on a cheaper company. Blissfully happy in authoring my book, I could not imagine all the mechanics publishing would hold. Once published, I soon got my reality check. Many book reviewers said that they would have enjoyed it much more had it gone through a more stringent editing process and been rid of grammatical errors. I arrived at the conclusion that you simply must hire professionals working in the literary industries to cover the blind spots writers inevitably miss. At the time, I could not see myself writing another book but a few years later, I started my second. I continued Obi’s story through to Obama’s re-election campaign in The Miseducation of Obi Ifeanyi. While President Obama is contending with a tough reelection campaign, Obi is dealing with the day-to-day pressures of married life and raising a son. In living with his choices, Obi must learn and educate himself once again.

This time around I decided on self-publishing with CreateSpace, then the self-publishing arm of Amazon. This time around, I decided to prioritize editing as I wanted to be taken seriously as an author. I realized could live with someone not liking my writing, my characters, or my plot, but I did not want my book to fail on the basis of unprofessionalism. I also wanted to find an African editor who had experience working with African authors. My editor, Amma, checked all the boxes. CreateSpace also provided me with a high-quality cover design that has helped The Miseducation of Obi Ifeanyi stand out. For Blunted on Reality, I had settled on a futuristic and fragmented evocative image featuring mirrors against the sky. After publishing, a publicist told me the cover positioned the book as science fiction and would not help it appeal to my target audience. I wrestled with many options for The Miseducation of Obi Ifeanyi but when I came across the image of a dark-skinned black woman sporting an African headwrap, I knew I had found the one.

With all that said, the biggest obstacle was getting exposure. I would spend hours and hours emailing reviewers and blog owners, urging them to read my book. The more I struggled, the more I began to put things into perspective. I didn’t start writing to become a bestseller, I just wanted to tell my stories. I am not a trained writer: I am an accountant who writes after work. Today, as I reflect on my books and features for the likes of Bella Naija and Huffington Post, I am appreciative of the spaces my writing has allowed me to enter. Bella Naija, a Nigerian culture and lifestyle blog, took a chance on me and gave me my first writing opportunity writing opinion on a range of topics. Writing allowed me to find a voice that I always knew existed but didn’t know how to tap into and for that alone, I will always remain grateful. 

By Chinedu Achebe

CHINEDU ACHEBE is a Nigerian American who was born in Richmond, Virginia. Chinedu graduated from the University of Houston with his Bachelor’s degree in Economics. He published his first book, Blunted on Reality, in 2012. He published his second book, The Miseducation of Obi Ifeanyi, which was the sequel to his first book, in 2017. Chinedu also has written articles for the Huffington Post, Medium, and Bella Naija. Chinedu works as an accountant in the energy industry. He currently lives in Houston with his wife and son. Follow him on Twitter @ChineduAchebe.

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