READERS’ CORNER: There’s money in writing, but only for smart writers

By: Kinoti Gatobu

“Writing doesn’t pay! A writer’s is a dog’s life! Do not get into writing if you’re looking for money!” These are the common phrases you will hear whenever a discussion comes up on how financially rewarding writing is in Kenya.

Locally, writing is deemed as a pastime which you should only engage in after completing more meaningful economic activities.

It’s not perceived as a serious job from which you can get money.

On one hand, we have penniless writers pointing fingers at rogue publishers and publishers claiming local readership cannot pay for creative works. Yet, despite the cry that writing doesn’t pay, creative, authentic writers continue to go back home with fat wallets.

These are writers who have adopted technology to publish, reach their target audience, and market themselves. One of them is Biko Zulu. He is top class, perhaps only rivalled by established wordsmiths like Oyunga Pala, Philip Ochieng and writer-turned-editor Wayua Muli.

A fortnight ago, Biko Zulu put to test the power of the written word in an emotional appeal for a fellow Kenyan. In the story titled ‘That Thing in Jadudi’s Head’, Mr Biko asked his readers to help 22-year-old Emmanuel ‘Jadudi’ Otieno to raise Sh1 million.

Jadudi needed the money to fund his brain surgery in India as he had a brain tumour. Well, In less than six hours, the story had gone viral and garnered donations amounting to Sh6 million!

Indeed, this attests to the power of the written word. It also attests to the following that Mr Biko, through his stories, has built.

A year ago, Mr Biko penned a story titled ‘Jaguar’ on his blog, The story was essentially a paid-up corporate review of the car model Jaguar XF. It brought out the creative descriptive genius of Mr Biko. Sample these lines: “…I have been rolling around in the Jaguar XF like a kingpin.

Like a Liberian warlord. Like a Niger Delta oil tycoon… navigating the beast, through Nairobi’s pasta-traffic. Looking ‘removed’ from the mediocrity of the road. That’s what a Jaguar does to you. It injects elegance into you. It forces you into character. A better character. The Jaguar XF is truly a breathless car….”

These elegant lines indicate that to be a corporate magnet, your lines must be creative. No company will pay for mediocrity.

In the same vein, look at how established this writer is. He writes his own blog, is a columnist with the Saturday Nation’s ‘Saturday Magazine,’ is writer for Business Daily and also pens for several magazines. Mark you, all these writings are not for free. Notably, Mr Biko is not popularly known for his books, but rather for his blog.

Certainly, Mr. Biko didn’t wake up in January and decide to start writing. He has refined his art over the years.

Maybe, as a budding writer, you should pause to ponder why writing has not been financially rewarding to you. The bitter truth that you must contend with is that you cannot just write, submit manuscripts to publishers and sit back to wait for riches to come down. No. Financially rewarding literary works go beyond this.

They entail hard work, creativity in how you connect with readers, the corporate networks you establish and how well you use such networks to your advantage. Moreover, today, with the advent of technology, writers are better equipped to chart their own literary journey without necessarily having to engage publishers in endless 10 percent annual royalty battles.

Now ask yourself, that written work in your hands, is it something a corporate would be willing to spend thousands or hundreds of thousands of shillings for? Have you packaged yourself in such a manner that DT Dobie would be willing to pay you to review their newest release in the market?

Would Kenyans respond as well as they do with Mr. Biko’s works if you wrote in his platform? If your honest answer is no, then maybe you’re not ripe to be published yet!

The writer is the MP for Buuri Constituency and chief executive of Upendo Publications