Writer in Residence


By Yejide Kilanko

While doing life, Nigerians use the slang “we move” to capture the dogged determination needed to plow through difficult situations. It’s a clarion call for better.

Over the years, I have come across several articles which talk about the art and craft of creative writing. I’ve found fewer articles on the business of creative writing.

By business, I mean brand identification and building, cultivating and sustaining literary industry relationships, understanding publishing contracts, marketing, promotion, and all the other little and big things writers do, whether they’re traditional or independently published. In a world of shrinking resources, writers have to write and sell. Your work needs you to be its champion.

The highlighted paragraphs below came from a blog post I wrote in February 2012. At the time, I was drawing up a marketing plan for my debut novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path.

I knew I had to promote my work. I was proud of it. However, the initial discomfort was overwhelming. Those uncomfortable feelings came from years of being told as a Yoruba child that “when your yam is sprouting, you cover it with your hand.”

In defense of my ancestors, the proverb is rooted in the desire to protect. They deemed it unwise to publicly announce good fortune in an environment with few yams and many willing mouths. But while wisdom has its merits, no one fully lives while caught up in the clutches of paranoia.

“Dear friends and frenemies, it is my pleasure to announce that my recently planted African yam (aka Dioscorea rotundata) pierced through nutrient-rich loamy soil at 21:00 hours yesterday. In the absence of a locust infestation, yam and planter are doing just fine.”

Then it’s essential to tweet daily about leaf formation, green pesticide use, water conservation methods, and any unique characteristics of your yam vine. Moreover, when that sweet piece of earthy goodness makes its entrance, pictures of you eating the boiled or roasted yam with spicy palm oil must grace your Facebook page. Please, do remember to close your mouth as you chew. Even when you delete the pictures, you never know where they’re going to turn up.”

This woman offers a fervent yes to discretion. Indeed, the internet never forgets.

How then do we writers harness that dogged “we move” mentality when promoting our work? I thought I would share some strategies that have worked for me.

Relationships are key. Don’t quote me, but I believe the choice of the word “we” versus “I” in we move was not accidental. There is beautiful synergy when people come together for a common goal.

The pandemic may have kept us physically distanced, but word of mouth still makes things happen. That’s what a literary street team can accomplish for you. They consist of people who believe in you and your work. They will help get the buzz going.

I love cross-promoting with other writers. You don’t have to write the same genre. Not only do some of their people become your people, and vice versa, you are in the deep promotion trenches together. The camaraderie is invaluable support.

Social media engagement is vital. You connect with reader groups, book clubs, bloggers, podcasters, and other literary enthusiasts through sharing posts, graphics, videos. Thanks to technology, you can do all these from the comfort of any space.

Apart from keeping active social media pages, please maintain a website. It doesn’t need to be anything elaborate. I’m no techie, and I built mine. While it’s great to be on social media sites, you need a home that is all about you and your work. Include a media kit if you can. Easy access to that information is helpful for book reviewers. That’s the brand identification and building part.

Don’t forget to connect with your public libraries, service organizations that may relate to the themes in your work, and your local independent bookstores. Booksellers are vital resources.

Other things I’ve done are renting tables at county fairs and other non-literary events. Even when I didn’t make sales, I made good memories and often walked away with a new story idea.

Amid all the book promotion, please don’t forget to keep writing and re-writing. Yes, we writers have to sell lots of books. Private islands aren’t cheap. Neither is unlimited Wi-Fi for the necessary research. But first, we write. On hard days, we grit our teeth, sit, stand, and write. No one’s going to buy a blank page.

If you felt something right now, it’s because I just gave you a mental high-five. Rain or shine, we move.


The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Yejide Kilanko was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, and lives in Ontario, Canada, where she practices as a social worker. Kilanko’s debut novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path, is a Canadian national bestseller. The novel was longlisted for the 2016 Nigeria Literature Prize. Kilanko’s work includes a novella, Chasing Butterflies (2015), and two children’s picture books, There Is An Elephant in My Wardrobe (2019) and Juba and the Fireball (2020). You can find Kilanko’s short fiction on Brittle Paper, Joyland, New Orleans Review Issue 43, 2017: The African Literary Hustle, and Agbowó. Her latest novel, A Good Name, is out now. When she’s not busy with life, you’ll find Kilanko online playing simultaneous games of Scrabble.