Annemarie Musawale was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and she says, she’s never actually stepped one foot out of East Africa. Growing up this self-publishing author almost always had a book in her hand. Needless to say, she made up stories of her own. By the time she went to high school, Annemarie had pretty much read every book her classmates were just beginning to discover.
Annemarie went to the University of Nairobi to pursue a BSc. Degree in Botany, Zoology, and Chemistry. Two years into the course, she was accepted to Makerere University to do BPharm. Leaving work as an active Pharmaceutical Technologist, 2009 was the year Annemarie Musawale became a full-time academic writer. In her own words, ‘Being a single mom, it seemed the best option in order to be home for my son when he needed me, and still earn a living.
SLA contributor Rumbidzai had an opportunity to interview her and Annemarie had all these interesting stories to tell.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Unfortunately for me, writing my own books is not my day job. So I can only write in my spare time, which is very scarce these days. So on average, it can take me anything from six months to two years to write a book. I’m working on making time no matter what, to write daily but so far, I’m not there yet.
Looking at the books or pieces you have written what is your ultimate goal?
When I wrote “Single Motherhood Unplugged” almost eight years ago, it was a catharsis for me. A way to get my baggage off my back and let it go.
I put the book up for sale because once it was written; I could not just throw it away. There were life lessons to be learned, a way for someone else to learn from my experience. So I let it go out into the world and find its audience. It is my one non-fiction book and I call it my ‘step-child’ because of how much I do not market it. The goal therefore with that book was…help someone else who was looking for answers.
My other books are fictional in nature. They were written with a lot of love and I guess their goal has been achieved. To have someone read them, and enjoy the words; perhaps be touched by it. My ultimate goal, of course, is to make the New York Times Bestseller lists.
My role model in this business is Diana Gabaldon because our paths are remarkably similar. Background in the sciences, Diana started out writing (in her late thirties) just to ‘try it’. She ended up creating characters it is difficult to let go of. Twenty years later, Diana is where I want to be, twenty years from now.My ultimate goal, of course, is to make the New York Times Bestseller lists - Annemarie Musawale Click To Tweet
For the sake of some of our Motherland Moguls who haven’t read your book, “Single Motherhood, what can they expect from it?
They can expect it to be raw, painful to read even and completely truthful on what it is really like to have a baby on your own. I called it ‘unplugged’ because it is like those musical performances where the singer has just a stool and a guitar and whatever talent they have in their bodies. They present it to you and let you judge them on the merit of their work.
In the book, I let people into my head and lay it bare for them to do with, as they will. It was a very difficult thing to do, but from the feedback I have gotten, there are people out there who needed to read it. So have a look at it with my blessing.
Now that’s interesting! In your line of work is there anything you find particularly challenging?
Well, the business of writing has its challenges as many writers can tell you. The first is marketing. Getting enough people to hear of your books so that they want to go look for them. The market is crowded and getting noticed is hard.
Add to that the fact that my books are not the typical ‘African writers’ type of book. One of my Kenyan readers put it this way; “This book could have been written by anyone, anywhere. It is not confined by time or space.” And while I agree that that is true, I think that nobody but me could have conceived of these books the way I did.
It was my unique perspective brought about by living in the ‘global village’ but residing in Kenya. For that reason though, my books don’t have a readymade market. They have too many elements that are foreign to the African psyche, and yet if it were written by a Westerner, most Africans wouldn’t have a problem with it. But the combination of being an African, writing a global book is a new idea.
The upside of this is, my audience is not confined to those around me but is truly global. When I see that people from as far away as Japan, Ukraine, Russia, America, and Brazil…have clicked on my links and looked at my books…it makes me feel warm and happy. However, it also makes hosting book signings a bit difficult.
When I began in this business, I was traditionally published. However, my publisher was very stingy with information to do with my book. They expected me to do the lion’s share of marketing (as most authors are expected to) without giving me feedback on what was working, what sales figures were or even paying me royalties. So I took my power back, took my books back and went the self-publishing route. This way, I have complete control over my content and when I try a marketing style, I have direct feedback on whether it is working or not.
Another major challenge is getting people to leave reviews. I can get an email from a reader telling me how great one of my books was, and why. But asking them to post a review gets an ‘I’ll do it right away.’ and then crickets. All of my reviews that have been given on any of my works have been totally random and unrequested. Those are usually the best kind though so I am not complaining.Annemarie Musawale: The first challenge in the business of writing is marketing Click To Tweet
Do you read your book reviews? How do you react to both the good and the bad?
I read every single book review I get. It is like catnip for writers I think. Any writer who tells you they do not read their reviews is either lying or not invested in their work. I am yet to have a bad review though, so maybe when that happens I will be more selective. Even when I get less than four stars, the reasons given for it are not to do with the work; one three star review stated that the price of the book and the size were not commensurate. Well, at the time, my publisher controlled the price…
My one and only two-star review was one I got on my book, “Child of Destiny”. It is actually one of the most comprehensive and complimentary reviews I have ever received. But the reader had a policy that if she is unable to finish the book, she gives it an automatic two stars. I urge you to go and read the review on Amazon, and see if your curiosity to read the book is not peaked.
I am always grateful for anyone who takes the time out to read my book and then go the extra mile and write a review. It is a compliment whether the review is good or bad and I always appreciate it.
Annemarie, what’s your favorite under-appreciated book/ novel?
I think one book that probably does not get the recognition it deserves is “Children of God” by Maria Doria Russell. I cannot emphasize how much her creation of new worlds and her envisioning of the future of this one influenced my writing and my life.
Are there Annemarie Musawale stories or experiences you would love to share?
Well, recently I have had several aspiring writers ask me how I got started. It’s a difficult question to answer because I’ve been writing stories since I was six years old.
I’d write something and take it to my mother to read. She’d read it and tell me I did well. I guess she was my very first ‘fan’. When she died, I sort of lost my way or my reason for living and I channeled all that pain into writing “Single Motherhood Unplugged.” It was a conduit to get rid of the rage and the pain. It was that or go mad.
It was the beginning of getting better. After that, there were many stories I began and failed to finish. But then one night I had a dream about a teenage girl and a teenage guy. And when I woke up the story was still in my head. And it stayed in my head until I wrote it down.
Then I sent it to the Kwani Manuscript Project. And they long listed it despite the fact that it was in no way an ‘African writer’ type story. So when people ask me, “How did you do it?” I really don’t know what to say. Because it just happened.
Tell us would you rather be unable to use search engines or unable to use social media?
This is a hard one guys. Search engines are necessary for just finding things out and social media is necessary to get the word out. They’re both equally important. But if I absolutely had to choose, I guess I could do without social media for a while. There are other ways to get the word out…hopefully.
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