The People Who Write Questionnaire: Morowa Yejide

Morowa Yejide is the author of Time of the Locust_peoplewhowrite

Morowa Yejide’s novel Time of the Locust was released June 10, 2014

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
The Alchemist.

What is the greatest story ever told?
Book of the Dead.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
Addie Bundren in As I Lay Dying.

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
Toni Morrison.

What is your favorite word right now?

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?

How many words have you written today?
One million (in my mind).

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
The tub.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
My typing fingers can’t always keep pace with my thoughts.

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
It lets me travel, explore, and discover.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
We’d rather not talk.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
That a muse comes down from somewhere to whisper words in your ear when really it’s just you, the blank screen, and the work of filling it.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
That I’m sometimes interrupted by my children and/or my husband, or the day to day of life – no cabin and crackling fire here.

Purchase Morowa Yejide‘s Time of the Locust today.

Three Arrested in Illegal Book Publishing Bust in Spain

3 arrested in Spain for illegal book scanning and publishing operation - peoplewhowriteThe Associated Press reports three people were arrested in a Spanish police sting for “illegally scanning and then unlawfully publishing books on a massive scale. More than 1,000 published books and 10 hard discs full of texts for publishing were confiscated, according to a police statement that did not elaborate on when exactly the arrests took place.

Operating on a tip from Spain’s authors and publishers association, the police launched an investigation which led them to “eight large-capacity photocopying facilities in Madrid and Seville where works by prestigious authors were being copied ‘massively.'”

James Patterson, Publishing Professionals to Debate Hachette-Amazon Live at NYPL

Publishing industry debates Amazon Hachette LivefromNYPL_peoplewhowrite

Tina Bennett, Bob Kohn, Danielle Allen, Morgan Entrekin, Tim Wu, James Patterson, live at the NYPL - Amazon: Business as Usual? - peoplewhowrite

l to r: Tina Bennett, Bob Kohn, Danielle Allen, Morgan Entrekin, Tim Wu, James Patterson

On Tuesday July 1, 2014 from 7-9pm EST, the New York Public Library will host “Amazon: Business as Usual?” in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, South Court Auditorium (42nd Street at 5th Avenue). The conversation between author James Patterson, Grove Atlantic publisher Morgan Entrekin, the founder of Bob Kohn, law professor Tim Wu, and elected chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board Danielle Allen will be moderated by William Morris literary agent Tina Bennett.

The Bookseller reports:

The discussion will focus on the Hachette-Amazon dispute, exploring what is at stake for the companies, authors and readers. It will also look at the larger issues of free-market capitalism and free speech at play, and what the dispute reveals about the future of publishing in the age of e-books.

The line-up suggests we should expect a chorus of anti-Amazon “Amens”.

Bennett represents Hachette author Malcolm Gladwell. Patterson has been outspoken about what he believes has been Amazon’s “perilous” impact on the publishing industry, particularly on independent bookstores. Kohn recently penned an Op-Ed for the New York Times entitled “How Book Publishers Can Beat Amazon“. Wu, author of the Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires has written about the dangers of any one corporate entity controlling an industry.

But the conversation will likely be nuanced considering that publishers and authors continue to work with and rely on the e-tailer for about 30% of their sales revenue. Entrekin has worked with Amazon in the past to promote an author’s work. The sold-out event will undoubtedly give rise to industry voices that feel it’s too easy to vilify Amazon for the challenges facing publishing.

We’ll post the livestream if it becomes available.

Hachette Close to Acquiring Perseus Books

Hachette Book Group close to acquiring Perseus Books - peoplewhowriteThe New York Times reports Hachette Book Group “is bulking up for a long-term battle with Amazon” with a close to finalized acquisition of non-fiction publisher Perseus Books. Arguing that the merger of Random and Penguin House “[made] it harder for Amazon not to carry their books”, the Times’ Leslie Kaufman believes a Hachette-Perseus union will strengthen the publisher’s position in negotiations between publishers and Amazon. (The e-tailer wants publishers to pay higher fees to sell their e-books on Amazon, and reduce prices.)

I think rather than focusing their fight on Amazon, publishers and writers should create their own distribution/sales channels. That way, no one retailer will be able to destabilize the business.

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi Wins 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Winner - peoplewhowrite4,000 entries. 19 shortlisted stories. One winner. Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, who won the Africa region honor for her short story “Let’s Tell This Story Properly”, has been named the overall winner of the 2014 Commonwealth Writers Prize.

Ellah Wakatama Allfrey–the Chair of the judging panel which included Doreen Baingana, (Africa), Jeet Thayil (Asia), Courttia Newland (Canada and Europe), Marlon James (Caribbean) and Michelle de Kretser (Pacific)–said Makumbi’s story “expanded our understanding of the possibilities of the short story form.” Makumbi, who is based in Manchester, UK, called the win a dream. “For Uganda, once described as a literary desert, it shows how the country’s literary landscape is changing and I am proud to be a part of it.”

Among the perks of the win is a connect with London-based literary and media agency Blake Friedmann, which has an association with Commonwealth Writers and will work with selected writers identified through the Prize. The prize has also partnered with to publish the winning story. Click over to read “Let’s Tell This Story Properly” on

Ama Karikari Yawson Self-Published Her Book, So Why Isn't She Listed as the Publisher?

I met Ama Karikari Yawson at the inaugural Book Swap last weekend where she shared in frank detail her experience self-publishing the children’s book Sunne’s Gift: How Sunne Overcame Bullying to Reclaim God’s Gift. A lawyer by trade, Yawson was moved to write the self-esteem picture book after a barber used the “n” word to describe her three year old son’s hair. But after publishing the book with funds she raised in a 45-day Kickstarter Campaign, she discovered the book’s distributor was listed as the publisher.

Below, Yawson shares the lessons she’s learned in her first foray into self-publishing, her thoughts on Amazon’s discount pricing model, and the part independents can play in the shifting publishing industry landscape.

Ama Karikari Yawson-peoplewhowrite

Ama Karikari Yawson

What inspired you to write Sunne’s Gift?
I have always been a fan of children’s literature, but I did not actually begin to write, until a very terrible incident.

I went to a barbershop with my dad to get my son Jojo’s hair cut. Jojo was three years old at the time and the two other haircuts that he had consisted of a barber shaving his hair practically bald. That is the easiest hair cut for a fidgety child.

I wanted this time to be different and I told the barber not to shave off all of Jojo’s hair and to just make it shorter. He then proceeded to, in my view, shave Jojo’s head practically bald.

“Whoa, whoa, I told you that I did not want it bald, this is way too low!” I exclaimed. “How can I tell you this? You’ve got a real n****r here. He is a native boy. He is from the tribe. This ain’t pretty hair. This is the best cut for him,” said the barber with his clippers still in the front of Jojo’s hair. I forced a giggle and then entered a state of shock. I could not believe that the black barber demeaned my son and his hair.

The next day, I was watching “The Fashion Police” with Joan Rivers and [she and her co-hosts] were discussing Solange Knowles’ outfit to the [Great] Gatsby [film] premiere. Joan Rivers made a comment that an afro is not an appropriate hairstyle for a red carpet event. My head began to spin. I was just tired of all of the natural afro-textured hair hate from black people and white people alike.

I was reading a marketing book at the time which said that the best way to get a message across is through a story. I really wanted to write a story that would honor afro-textured hair. But I did not think of myself as a creative writer. Soon afterwards, I was watching “Super Soul Sunday” on OWN and a speaker said that art is no different from prayer.

I started praying on a story and God gave me the story of “Sunne’s Gift”…[It] is not just about afro-textured hair, it is about anything that makes you unique as individual or as an ethnicity.

Sunne's Gift-How Sunne Overcame Bullying to Reclaim God's Gift by Ama Karikari Yawson - peoplewhowrite

What factors went into your decision to self-publish Sunne’s Gift versus seeking a traditional publisher?
There were several factors. The first is speed. I had a dream and I wanted to manifest it quickly. I researched it and learned that it usually takes over a year for a publisher to be able to bring a book to market. I thought that I could [publish] it in less than a year and I did.

The second [factor] is control. Traditional publishers take a great deal of control with respect to editing the manuscript, choosing illustrators and choosing graphic designers. I had a unique vision and I wanted my vision to come to fruition. So I searched for illustrators, editors and designers myself.

The last factor is money. I believe in financial independence and when a person self-publishes that person can keep more of the financial pie. It is true that publishers generally promote the book so that the financial gains become larger, but when you are an unknown author, that marketing budget is very small and yet the traditional publishers continue to take the bulk of the proceeds.

How much did it cost to self-publish your book?
I spent all of the nearly $11,000 dollars that I received (after fees) from my Kickstarter [campaign]. I have added my own funds so the project was very expensive. But that budget is not for everyone.

First, my book is hardcover and fully illustrated so it is more expensive to produce. Second, because of the environmental theme of Sunne’s Gift, I really wanted it to be printed on environmentally-friendly paper. That costs a great deal more. Third, I wanted my book printed in the U.S. by an employee-owned printer so that I could be sure that no one was abused or exploited during the process. That costs more. Finally, I’m very bullish on the book and I printed 3,000 copies. That is a huge run for a self-published book.

All of these factors led to the high cost. Others would be able to self-publish their books for a very low fraction of what I spent.

Did you encounter any surprise or hidden fees during the process of self-publishing?
I would not say that any fees were “hidden”, but the budget kept on expanding. It expanded because I needed more graphic design work. It expanded because I increased the page count to accommodate some design elements. It expanded because I needed to ship the books to multiple places for fulfillment. There are always more fees that one comes across during the process.

Yawson's son Jojo before his first haircut - peoplewhowrite

Yawson’s son Jojo before his first haircut

Though you published your children’s picture book yourself using funds you raised from your Kickstarter campaign, you learned you would need a distributor if you wanted your book easily available to teachers ordering from school lists and in the Baker and Taylor system which librarians access to add books to their shelves. Did you know you would have to do this before you opted to self-publish and how did you decide on a distributor?
I did not know and it was an incremental expense that I had not budgeted. I really could not find many distributors to choose from. There are self-publishing services like Lulu and Createspace that distribute books, but I could not use those services because I wanted control over the printing process (the choice of printer and paper). That said, there were only two companies that I found that would allow me to control the entire process and then just hand over the books to be registered with Ingram, Baker and Taylor, Follett, etc. One company, charged 15% per distributed book and an upfront fee of about $1,000 and another charged 30% with no upfront fee. I am bullish on my sales so I went for 15% on each book and the upfront fee.

After you signed with your distributor, you were surprised to find the company listed as your publisher online. Why do they have the right to do this when you and the many who funded your Kickstarter campaign are the publishers?
I was horrified and I am working diligently to get this resolved. The distributor says that because it gives the books to Baker and Taylor et al. those companies just use the distributor as the publisher. In most cases the distributor and publisher are the same company, but that is unacceptable to me. I did not get an advance. The distributor did not give me money to print the books and to pay for illustration and graphic design. The listing of the distributor as the publisher is insulting to me and the 210 people who donated to my Kickstarter campaign. I’m working on getting it changed.

Mascot Books is listed as the publisher of Ama Yawson's Sunne's Gift on Barnes and Noble_peoplewhowrite

On Barnes and Noble, Mascot Books is listed as the publisher of Sunne’s Gift

In your contract with your distributor, you stipulated that they could not sell the book on Amazon, but before the release date of your book, you were locked out of your Amazon account for more than a week and could not get in for more than a week. What reason did Amazon give you for barring your access?
I printed the books at the end of March [2014] and started selling the book on Amazon through my seller account. My distributor said that it would take a month for the distributor to register the book with Baker and Taylor, Follett, Ingram etc. and that for those purposes the release date would be May 6th. Amazon works with Baker and Taylor, Follett, Ingram and other major wholesalers and so information from those wholesalers feeds into the Amazon system. In late April, Amazon’s system was fed the information that the release date for my ISBN was May 6th and so the Amazon system saw my information on my seller’s account as being incorrect information. It as if the Amazon system saw me as someone who was pirating the book, despite the fact that I’m the author and publisher. Therefore the system suppressed my listing and blocked me from selling the book. Amazon created its own listing and started accepting pre-orders.

How did you resolve the matter?
The problem was “resolved” a few days before the May 6th distributor release date. Amazon gave itself the buy box which still said that it was available only on a preorder basis at a steep 25% discount. At the left side, my small listing was there at full price. So my listing went from being the only listing to being the small listing on the left side.

About two days later on May 6th I was shocked to see that on day one over a dozen companies, including Amazon, were selling my book at deep discounts. There were over a dozen sellers on the left side and Amazon still kept the buy box. Out of solidarity to the wonderful independent bookstores that are carrying my book and can’t afford to give deep discounts, I kept my list price at the suggested retail price. Guess what? I have not sold a single book on Amazon since late April because I don’t have the buy box and my price is high.

The price competition is insane. At one point there were 36 sellers and some where selling the book for $10.01 which is the wholesale price plus 1 cent. A day after the release date, stores were listing the book as used. That is highly unlikely. They were probably selling new books as used knowing that some people prefer to buy used books for environmental reasons. I presume that these additional sellers get the book from my distributor or from Baker and Taylor, Follett, Ingram etc.

Milestones is listed as the publisher of Sunne's Gift - peoplewhowrite

On Amazon, Yawson’s company Milestales is listed as the publisher of Sunne’s Gift

How did the vendors, outside of your distributor, get access to your book?
I stipulated that my distributor can’t sell to Amazon, but my distributor can sell to “BookSnatchers” or some other company that will then list the book and sell it on Amazon.

Do you blame Amazon or your distributor for this snafu which cost you revenue for a book you invested time and resources in, and wrote for such a personal reason?
I believe that there is room for a great deal of improvement with respect to Amazon’s systems and its relationships with small independent publishers like myself. Amazon is not perfect and neither is my distributor. But I don’t really cast blame on anyone. I’m just learning from this, as with any new experience. Additionally, it is important to note that I will still get the wholesale price minus the 15% distribution fee from those sales that Amazon and “BookSnatchers” etc. made.

There has been growing sentiment in the publishing community that Amazon is undermining the marketplace for books because of its aggressively low pricing. Do you think Amazon is harmful to the book business, particularly writers seeking to earn a living from their work?
I think that Amazon is dangerous with its low pricing in a similar way that Walmart is dangerous due to low pricing. We need independent bookstores which we can visit and relax in and listen to authors and have our children attend storytime. We need independent publishers that bring new ideas to the population. We need boutiques that we can walk into and have a relationship with a salesperson.

Insofar as companies like Amazon or Walmart shut out independent bookstores, small publishers and boutiques, it is harmful. But the power lies with us. We have to diversify the places that we go for books, clothes, etc. We have to decrease our reliance on Amazon. We have to be willing to spend more to live better and to support the small businesses that are so dear to us.

Knowing what you know now, would you recommend other writers self-publish?
I would still recommend it because it is an opportunity to control your work, control your finances, control your creativity and control your life. It is easier to do it now than it has ever been before. Yes there are going to be challenges. Marketing is a major challenge. The issues I had with Amazon and my distributor disturbed my peace of mind. But there will also be rewards.

I’m so uplifted anytime that someone comments on the gorgeous illustration, fantastic design and amazing story that is Sunne’s Gift. I served as art director and design director and that gives me great pride because no one would have been able to execute my vision like me. The amazingly talented illustrator that I chose had just graduated from college, had no prior children’s book experience and would not have been picked by traditional publishers. That is the power that one has with self-publishing. Don’t cede that power easily.


Ama Karikari Yawson earned a BA cum laude in Social Studies from Harvard University, an MBA from the Wharton School and a JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Her articles have been published in MSNBC’s The Grio, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, Madame Noire and other publications. She has also appeared on the Today Show, Al Jazeera’s The Stream, The Nate Berkus Show and Fox Business. Follow her @amakywason.

When Opportunity Strikes, It Can Be Expensive

Tim Johnston and David Sedaris - peoplewhowrite

Tim Johnston (l), and David Sedaris

Irish Girl author Tim Johnston detailed his experience taking full advantage of a surprise endorsement by bestselling author David Sedaris, and it wasn’t cheap. Basically, Johnston shadowed Sedaris’ multi-city book tour, booking readings and signings the day after a Sedaris appearance at his own expense.

Johnston says he saw immediate spikes in his Amazon ranks during the tour, but his rank returned to normal on the online retailer’s site once his tour ended. However, the experience reminded him of why he writes in the first place–for readers.

He explained:

A year later, it’s best not to reckon the Shadow Tour according to book sales nor any other economic yardstick. Sedaris and I did all we could to entice the book-buying public, yet, as of this sentence, “Irish Girl’s” Amazon ranking is almost exactly where it was before he began his tour, while, over at the University press, where “Irish Girl” is the No. 1 bestseller, my one-year royalties check will not put a dent in the thousands of dollars in gasoline, motel rooms, Subway sandwiches, credit card debt, Starbucks and lost income my book tour has cost me. Nor repair the dents I put in the Chevy when, somewhere in Kansas, deciding at the last second that I must have an Arby’s Jamocha shake, I took an off-ramp in the rain and found my truck beheading a traffic sign of some kind (Slow for ramp?) while I fought to keep it from rolling and spewing copies of “Irish Girl” all over the road.

The true numbers, the numbers that return to me every month in the form of bank statements, are empirical and ridiculous. So I think instead of the people I met in the bookstores of America — not networkers, not tweeters, not the friended, but live human beings, book lovers, honest-to-God readers, a living audience.

Read the full treatise on

Fresh Writing Prompts!

On the eve of the New Year, I posted WordPress’ 365 writing prompts. They were mostly for blog posts, but I hope they were able to inspire whatever genre or format you write in. In any event, there’s more inspiration on Beyond the Margins. Check out this list writer Nichole Bernier insists is “1000% Guaranteed to Stir Up…Something.”

Now You Can Buy E-Books From Independent Bookstores

Use  your Kobo ereader to buy books from indie bookstores - peoplewhowriteBut only if you have a Kobo / the Kobo app for iPhone or Android. Right now about 40% of readers say they e-read on a Kindle, but that could always change as the Amazon vs. Hachette beef (and potential future ones) compromises their ability to get the e-books they want.

Lydia Netzer details the short how-to-buy-from-an-indie-via-Kobo process on her blog.

Luis Negron, Chinelo Okparanta Win Lambda Awards

Christina B. Hanhardt accepts LGBT Studies Lambda for Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence - peoplewhowrite

Christina B. Hanhardt accepts LGBT Studies Lambda for Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence

The 26th Annual Lambda Literary Awards opened Gay Pride Month with a celebration of the best in LGBTQI literature, past and present. The celebration began with a screening of the video “The LGBTQI Book That Saved My Life” in which readers shared the tomes that helped them come out, whether to their worlds or themselves. Graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel was feted with the Board of Trustees Award for Excellence in Literature for her body of work which includes comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For and graphic memoirs Fun Home and Are You My Mother?

Kate Bornstein earned a standing ovation for her acceptance speech after receiving the Pioneer Award by her life partner Barbara Carrellas. Michael Thomas Ford and Radclyffe were awarded with the Dr. James Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize and Imogen Binnie and Charles Rice-Gonzalez were presented with the Dr. Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award.

Mundo Cruel: Stories by Luis Negron; translated by Suzanne Jill Levine

Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta

Descendants of Hagar by Nik Nicholson

My Education by Susan Choi

Wanting in Arabic by Trish Salah

White Girls by Hilton Als

The End of San Francisco by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

The B Word: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television by Maria San Filippo

Unpeopled Eden by Rigoberto Gonzalez

Rise in the Fall by Ana Bozicevic

Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir by Nicole J. Georges

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

A Heaven of Words: Last Journals, by Glenway Wescott, Ed. Jerry Rosco

Body Geographic by Barrie Jean Borich

The Prisoner of the Riviera: A Francis Bacon Mystery by Janice Law

High Desert by Katherine V. Forrest

Into This River I Drown by TJ Klune

Clean Slate by Andrea Bramhall

The Padisah’s Son and the Fox: an erotic novella, by Alex Jeffers

Wild Girls, Wild Nights: True Lesbian Sex Stories by Ed. Sacchi Green

Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction by Karen Martin and Makhosazana Xaba

Who’s Yer Daddy?: Gay Writers Celebrate Their Mentors and Forerunners by Eds. Jim Elledge and David Groff

Tom at the Farm by Michel Marc Bouchard

Death by Silver by Melissa Scott & Amy Griswold

Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence by Christina B. Hanhardt