Vincent de Paul is an author, editor and founder of Mystery Publishers- a self-publishing platform with editors from Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
He spoke to Nation.co.ke about his journey:
What was your inspiration to become an author?
I developed an interest in writing while in high school. I was inspired by the urge to right the society and revoke vices through my writing thus I participated in national writing competitions. I wrote the article titled “Stop Child Labour, School is the Best Place to Work” for a competition that was organised by Centre for Law and Research International (CLARION) in 2003 and was among the top five winners. Ever since then, I have not looked back.
How long did it take before you published your first book and what were your biggest challenges as an aspiring writer?
From the time I finished the draft of my first book in 2004 while still in high school, I spent seven years before I published it, First Words, in 2011 which is a collection of poetry. The book had won the 13th Nairobi International Book Fair Literary Awards in 2010, which were organized by the National Book Development Council of Kenya.
The biggest challenge was to get a publisher to publish the book in Kenya.
I knocked doors of all main stream publishers in Kenya but they rejected the manuscript—they said Kenyans don’t read poetry and that they wanted a book they could sell to schools.
A year later, I gave up on looking for a publisher and a Facebook friend from the USA introduced me to self-publishing.
Let's talk about Flashes of Vice and Twisted Times. What are the books about and why should I read either of them?
Flashes of Vice series comprises collections of flash fiction stories about the vices in our society.
My aim is to expose the vices, no pontificating, just the way they are. Also, to use a genre that’s ignored by most African writers by writing stories you can read within the shortest time possible, especially now that people don’t have long attention spans to long reads because of available shorter reads on platforms like Twitter.
So far I have three volumes of Flashes of Vice, and I’m working on the fourth volume.
Twisted Times is my first novel, I wrote it while still in high school, but I didn’t publish it until 2015. It is a sociological thriller on the holy trinity of youth—crime, money, sex—corruption, family relationships, and a wide range of social evils.
The books are a must-read for anyone who wants to read for entertainment, and because I address contemporary issues of our time.
I feel that it is time we told different African stories; colonialism, starvation, tribal clashes, wars, and governance themes have been overdone.
As a book publisher, what's the most challenging aspect of book publishing?
Marketing and book promotion is the most challenging. The Kenyan book market is saturated with education text books thus to market genre/pop literature, what we call trade/mass market books, is difficult. Moreover, the Kenyan reader has given up on getting local genre/pop literature books thus they prefer Western authors and getting to them has been a challenge.
You work with many writers, what are the most common traps for aspiring writers?
It is to believe in instant success, which is never the case, especially for an aspiring writer.
When a writer comes to us they have had their fair share of disappointment from mainstream publishers, they think that just by paying us and listing their book on Amazon they will be smiling all the way to the bank.
But writing and publishing a book is easy, the difficult part is selling the book.
Do you experience readers/writers block? How do you overcome either?
Yes, I do, every now and then. I usually focus on editing side projects or just reading to overcome writer’s block, and when the reader’s block hits I watch movies and TV series, or do outdoor exercises.
What two books do you think are a must read for anyone who wants to be a professional writer? Why?
Well, for professional writing it will depend on which area you will be focusing. If it’s academic writing, Writers’ Handbook (3rd edition) by Stephen Bailey is a must-read. As a creative writer, Stephen King’s On Writing is a nice book to start with.
However, as an indie author, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Guy Kawalsaki is an invaluable resource.
Who are your three favourite author friends and how do they help better you as an author and as a person?
Elaine Kamari, aka Elly. She is a romance writer based in Nairobi. She offers me the best content editing for my books, and she critiques me objectively.
Two, Verah Omwocha, a children’s books writer. She helps me in proofreading, nothing passes her eye. The other one is not yet published, but she is a great friend and beta reader: Rujeko Moyo, a Zimbabwean based in South Africa.
At Mystery Publishers, you emphasise on self-publishing. What are the benefits of self-publishing as opposed to conventional publishing?
We emphasise on self-publishing because publishing a book is expensive, especially if the book doesn’t have great market potential.
Traditional publishers invest lots of money in a book that they think will guarantee return on investment, and that’s why they don’t take a chance on newbies preferring to publish famous names and established writers who are already known.
With that in mind, we can’t make the same investment on an upcoming writer unless we have grants for the same.
If you master the self-publishing 101 and succeed you enjoy all the profits of your book (100 per cent royalties) as opposed to conventional publishing whereby the publisher and the booksellers get the most of your book sales and leave you with 10 – 15 per cent royalties which come once in a year.
Finally, what message do you have to aspiring authors and writers struggling to benefit financially from their books?
Not to give up on their faith, to keep on writing than selling/marketing their books (they should let their books market themselves), and to distribute their books widely and give out some of them FREE. Finally, don’t worry too much about piracy.