6 things Kenyan editors look for in a story manuscript

book publishing in kenya

A few years ago, publishing a book in Kenya was such a frustrating affair, especially if you were an unknown name. Things have definitely changed and it is now easier than ever to get published. I know what you are thinking, but just visit any bookshop and see the many ‘unknown’ names lining their shelves.

So, there is hope for you!

The once closely knit exclusive literati club has been dismantled by emerging writers, thanks to new technology, emergence of publishers interested in diversity and a redefined readership market. However, many writers still face the frustration of getting noticed by these many publishers.

I have seen established writers complain about being bombarded with manuscripts by unpublished authors who need help in getting their name on a title. A few have succeeded, but many haven’t made any headway. That’s why I’m here to help you.

This post is relevant for those who want to write for children and teens.

TO GET PUBLISHED, YOU NEED TO CATCH THE EYE OF AN EDITOR. Which is a tough task.

To be honest, some scripts cause misery to the gatekeepers and bring about such sadness to the point of questioning why they chose the career. A few times, rare tears of joy swell in the eye and subdue the frustration and anger once one bumps into “the script they have been looking for all their life!”

SEE! THE FRUSTRATION WEIGHS BOTH WAYS!

You need to comprehend a few things about how the publishing industry in Kenya currently works. What THOSE GATEKEEPERS look for when assessing your manuscript. Isn’t it easier, as some wise person once said, to read a lot the writings of other people for you to avoid the troubles they went through?

So here we go, hopeful author:

  1. Thematic relevance

I will tell you blankly, if your story has all the pure niceness and does not have any relevant themes to the Kenyan context, your chances of getting published reduce by almost 90 percent.

Yes, I know you have read all those beautiful Cinderella stories and the riveting Hardy Boys series and the charming Sweet Valley Twins tales. They are all fantastic stories. Just not for Kenya.

PUBLISHING COMPANIES ARE BUSINESSES, AND THEY WANT BOOKS THAT SELL?

In Kenya, the education industry makes up the bulk of the market and educational storybooks have to be thematic! That does not mean your story has to be boring, boring, boring, to cause distress to the editor😊 and readers. Become rebellious to this aspect and you will be competing for attention with hundreds of others who submit to the less than 10 percent publishers interested in ‘just happy’ fiction!

2. Target children and teens

I remember author Peter Kimani, who is also an accomplished journalist and lecturer lamenting about not receiving any feedback from Kenyan publishers for the manuscript of his acclaimed book, Dance of the Jakaranda. It was his first novel.

It wasn’t surprising to me. It goes without saying that children and teenagers drive the market here. Once an editor looks at your script and discovers it targets adults, sorry, you may have to wait forever. Most publishers here aren’t keen on investing in publishing and marketing adult books. It is not like it used to be way back.

3. Language use

An editor is supposed to help you craft your manuscript in the best way possible for the good of the target audience. The editor will even be happier when they discover your language use is magnificent. Now, do not use jargon or complex sentences to prove you are a writer. Simplicity and free flow always sweep the editors off their feet. Editors would barely help in this, since language use is what differentiates writers.

4. ‘Refine’ your manuscript

Some accomplished writers have shared with me about budding writers who refuse to edit their work, asking what the role of the editor would be. Yes, people ask if they edit their work, what will the editor do?

Come on!

Did you ever crave to taste half-cooked meat stews! Or did someone ever drop a whole unripe tomato in your boiling pot, then served it to you like that?

If you can grab a publishing editor to do the first reading, they will save you all the trouble. ‘Refine’ your script before submitting. Do not send your second draft. Not even the third. It will end up in the trash can if you do!

5. The story

When I talk about ‘the story’, think about how your plot develops. Yes, plot is still so important this side of the world. If your story doesn’t unravel with suspense, conflict, character manifestation, in a logical way, you may forget about your dream.

You may argue that, hey, sometimes people just need to read a good story.

I’m afraid, it doesn’t yet work that way.

Your editor will be too busy to tell you all these things, and will instead send a curt rejection email if you are lucky.

6. Context

This is where you think about the cultures of your audience. I have come across manuscripts set in Kenya, talking about ‘Jenny and Mike wearing snow caps’ or ‘School children dancing like spring was just about the corner.’

Do you get the sense?

Halloween is a USA thing, not Kenyan. Not even African! 101.9 percent of your possible target have no idea what that is.

Conclusion!

Some editors may have their own prejudices, but if you are intending to send an unsolicited manuscript to a Kenyan publisher, mastering the above will save you from eternal frustration.

This is the first post in this series. There will be a post each Wednesday, keep it here!
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