Vitabu Books Interview | Uzoma Uponi, Author of the Critically-Acclaimed ColourBlind
Vitabu Books: Last June you wrote on ColourBlind's Facebook page that you had written the book for many reasons: Tell an inspirational, faith-building story, shine Godly light on the social ills in African society, showcase the richness and fun of African culture, and challenge readers to hope and trust in God's love. You also said it was your prayer that every one who reads ColourBlind will be inspired and strengthened in their faith as you were in writing it. In a recent interview with Eric Volmers of the Calgary Herald you said you were also interested in writing a book about Africa that didn't get overly sidelined by politics and poverty.
What has the response been to your book since its release? Were you surprised that roughly 30 agents and publishing houses suggested it was too much of a religious book for mainstream tastes?
Uzoma Uponi: Response to the book since its release has been very, very encouraging. I didn't consider myself a writer when I wrote ColourBlind. I just had a few weeks on my hand and I thought I would try my hand on a short story. I completed the manuscript within three months and showed it to a few friends to critique, not really expecting much. But they were all very ecstatic about the story and encouraged me to publish. I then wrote a synopsis and sent it out to a few agents and publishers but I was largely unsuccessful in landing any, so I decided I would self publish. We had the book launch in July 2010 and it's been nothing but very positive reviews since then. Not only from Nigerians and Africans but also from Caucasians and Asians. I haven't yet seen or heard about anyone who read it and didn't like it. Instead every one is asking me when I'm writing another one.
I wasn't surprised that the agents and publishers I sent the synopsis to thought it had too much religious content for mainstream tastes. Please note that although I sent the synopsis to all these agents and publishers, not all of them responded, so it's not quite true to assume they 'rejected' ColourBlind because of its religious viewpoint. I heard back from a few of them. One of them really liked it but the editor wanted me to rewrite the story and focus on the two main characters instead of including their families in the story. I didn't want to do this because, as I explained to them, the kind of relationships that end in marriage in Africa necessarily involves a couple's families; it's our culture [so] if I took away the families it would no longer be African. Another royalty publishing company said although they liked the story, they wouldn't be able to market it because it was an African story; they didn't have the infrastructure to go into that market and I did not have the platform to help them market it. In fact, it was this publisher that suggested to me that if I thought I could market it myself, I should try self-publishing. And I did.
Vitabu Books: You went on to self publish and send in your book to the Commonwealth Foundation. Later you received an email from the Foundation that ColourBlind had been listed as an entry from Nigeria, and was among the six books shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize in the regional category of Africa Best First Book. Tell us about your self publishing experience and the reward of international recognition in the annual Commonwealth Writers’ Prize year.
Uzoma Uponi: My self-publishing experience was not bad. I researched the topic extensively so I knew what to expect every step of the process. I researched the various self-publishing companies, compared prices, checked out the books they had published previously before I settled on the one I thought would meet my expectations for design, quality and service. I then worked with them at editing and re-editing the manuscript until I was satisfied it was good enough to be published. It was an interesting and very useful experience for me. The downside of self-publishing is that you have to market your books by yourself. If you are like me - full-time worker, wife, very busy mother, etc. you don't really have the time to go from city to city on book promotion tours. The royalty publishers have the marketing and distribution networks. This is why I am still hoping to get a publisher for the many books that I still plan to write over the next few years.
Vitabu Books: Here's how you describe the book in the Eric Volmers article:
Beyond being a love story, it's a story that showcases relationships in Africa...In between the pages, what I've tried to do is put in some of the values and traditions that have to do with African marriage. It's not just boy-meets-girl and they fall in love and get married. It's boy-meets-girl and boy has to take girl home to his parents, because parents have to approve. Girl has to take boy home to her parents because parents have to approve. In Africa, marriage is not just between you and I. It's between your family and my family. If they say no, forget it.
On Essence Bookstore dot com, Lourine Scott-Osamusali describes ColourBind as a “fast-paced journey into the turbulent lives of two families whose ideas on love, life and religion are as far apart as the north is from the south.” ColourBlind is billed as having timeless wisdom and biblical truths contrasted against a backdrop of suspicion, hurt, painful secrets and deception.
Will we get more of the Ojiefi-Zeluwa family saga in Yesterday is Forever?
Uzoma Uponi: I have completed the manuscript for Yesterday is Forever and it is undergoing some editing now. One of the things that I have been asked over and over again is why I chose that title. I'm still thinking about it. It's possible I might call it something else at the end. So, 'will we get more of the Ojiefi-Zeluwa family saga'? The answer is yes and no. Yesterday is Forever is the story of how Zola's brother, Chuma, unexpectedly finds love. The two families play a part again but the story is not centered around them.
Vitabu Books: Will you self publish your next book?
Uzoma Uponi: Not if I can get a royalty publisher. Like I said, I can't effectively market the book on my own. I need the backing and distribution chains of a royalty publisher to market my books.
Vitabu Books: What are you working on now? What's next?
Uzoma Uponi: Currently, I am finalizing the manuscript of my second book. Hopefully, I should be done with it in two or three months. This one has taken me a while. I think I became nervous after the positive reviews of ColourBlind. Everybody was saying what a great book it was and I wasn't so sure if my next one would be as successful. I decided to try again after convincing myself that all I need to do really, is to make sure that I put in my best effort and let God take care of the rest. I have an outline for a third book in the ColourBlind series which I hope to start as soon as I have written the last period on the second book. My plan was always to make it a trilogy, so it will end after Book Three. After that is done, I will likely start another fiction series.