By Uche Okonkwo
This is the third in a series of blogs written by the editorial staff of the minnesota review interviewing editors and folks in publishing. We hope that these will shed some light on the industry and help you learn more about how, where, and why to submit your work.
Anwuli Ojogwu is the managing director of Narrative Landscape Press, based in Lagos, Nigeria, and executive director of the Society for Book and Magazine Editors of Nigeria. Established in 2016, Narrative Landscape has already made a name for itself, acquiring the rights to the works of Chimamanda Adichie, and publishing the Booker and Women’s Prize-nominated debut novel, My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite. I talked with Anwuli about her background and experience as an editor, the challenges of running a publishing company in Nigeria, and her vision for Narrative Landscape and the Society for Book and Magazine Editors of Nigeria.
This interview has been edited for length. To read the full version of the conversation, please click here.
Uche Okonkwo (UO): How did you first get into editing and publishing?
Anwuli Ojogwu (AO): My foray into editing and publishing began at Farafina [a publishing company based in Lagos, Nigeria]. I started as a reader, reading submissions from the slush pile, doing editorial reviews, sending out letters of interest and letters of rejection. My educational background in Literature was helpful. My next job was as a proofreader, and that was when I began to grasp the mechanics of editing.
UO: You started Narrative Landscape in 2016. So far, what are some of the biggest challenges with running a publishing house in Nigeria?
AO: Lack of protection for intellectual property. Piracy. Distribution. The US has over 3000 Barnes and Noble stores; we do not have that luxury.
UO: As an editor and publisher, what is the most important thing you look for in a writer or a manuscript?
AO: I am going to sound cliché when I say good writing. But also, I am drawn to writing that is experimental with style. I am a big fan of complex literature: Gabriel Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Ben Okri, Samuel Beckett, etc. It doesn’t have to be complex, but the writing has to be imaginative. I like to see that the writer can be adventurous with their style.
UO: Narrative Landscape also runs the Prima imprint, which offers “publishing services and print-run production to small presses and self-published authors.” How does Prima function compared to the traditional publishing model, and why is this service necessary?
AO: Prima is a vanity publishing imprint. It is necessary because we offer these services to people who are creating special projects. They are usually not authors, and the books are more of a commemorative kind or a legacy project. We also offer the service to people whose books are in certain genres that we would not invest in. Sometimes, they decide they wish to produce the book themselves, so we provide expertise in editing, design, printing, etc., so that the books look professionally made and the content is appreciable to the best of our ability.
UO: At Narrative Landscape, how often does a book get published from the slush pile, as opposed to from contact with editors, agents, or writers that you reach out to?
AO: We started three years ago, and ventured into traditional publishing a year and a half ago. We are paying attention to the slush pile because it produces some interesting work—not significant enough, though. I know the slush pile has a reputation, but we are getting some intriguing work that we are looking at.
UO: What are the most important skills that editors need to have? And how does one cultivate those skills as an editor in Nigeria, with its comparatively smaller publishing infrastructure and little or no academic preparation for this specific career?
AO: The most important skills for editors starting out, even before they begin to edit, are reading and writing. The editor must read style books, grammar books, literary books, cookbooks, science books, everything. It is a career that involves the acquisition of knowledge because we use that knowledge as a reference when we work on people’s books. Without these skills, the editor will not grow. Though we have limitations in training here [in Nigeria], fortunately, these days there are online courses.
UO: Why did you start the Society for Book and Magazine Editors of Nigeria?
AO: My co-founder and I started SBMEN because we realized that we [book and magazine editors] were not represented in the publishing space though we are an important part of the ecosystem. My co-founder and I also realised that we had no local platforms to get training. So our intention was to create a community for every editor to find a voice and a home, and learn and grow in competence.
UO: What would you consider some of Narrative Landscape’s biggest accomplishments since its establishment in 2016?
AO: I would say our acquisition of titles that we are proud of and that are in line with our vision to produce diverse voices. We acquired the rights to publish Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s titles. We also acquired the Nigerian rights to Oyinkan Braithwaite’s novella, My Sister the Serial Killer, which has been nominated for prizes such the Booker and Women’s Prize. We also acquired the rights to Marlon James’ epic novel Black Leopard, Red Fox.
UO: What is the most important thing you’ve learned from running Narrative Landscape?
AO: That it is a labour of love. And that innovation doesn’t have to be big and loud things; it could just be an idea for an online imprint and creating diverse content.
UO: If you had unlimited resources, what would you do in the next five years with Narrative Landscape and SBMEN?
AO: Create an endowment to give grants to editors and writers who want to work and write full time.
Anwuli Ojogwu is the managing director of Narrative Landscape Press. She has 10 years’ experience as an Editor, Writer and Communication Specialist. A graduate in English & Literature from the University of Benin, Anwuli has built a career in the Nigerian book industry since its renaissance in the early noughties. She has served at different companies such as Kachifo Limited as an Editor; FATE Foundation as a Communications Manager; and Thinking Beyond Borders, San Francisco as Digital Media Manager. As an editor, she has worked with writers such as Chimamanda Adichie, Binyanvanga Wainana, and Uzo Iweala.
Uche Okonkwo is currently a third year MFA Fiction candidate at Virginia Tech. Her stories have been published in Ploughshares, One Story, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2019.