When sound digital strategy meets genius, the result is usually a sales explosion too big to contain. In this exclusive interview with TechNext, author of arguably the best-selling book in Nigeria right now, “I for Don Blow but I too dey Press Phone”, Hymar David, talks about his book, the digital journey that saw the book break the internet, his views one books vs paperbacks and why Nigerian writers must leverage social media as a powerful took for marketing their works.
Please tell me about yourself, where you were born, where you grew up, schools and family background etc
I was born in Lagos, but we moved to Ogun state when I was three or four. I went to lots of schools sha. I can count five schools before I finally finished secondary school. I don’t like talking about myself because I might say I am one thing today, but tomorrow you see me doing another thing. The person you are interviewing now may not be the same person you meet tomorrow. I just know say I live life as e dey hot.
Tell us about your book, I for Don Blow but I too dey Press Phone. What inspired it and how long did it take to finish writing?
I started writing the book early last year. I was supposed to have published it sometime in May, but I kept going through and rewriting and rewriting. I can’t say anything inspired me to write it. I am a storyteller. Writing is what I do. It is a purpose for me. A duty.
When writing and during the cause of production, did you envisage that the book would make such a splash?
Hahahahaha. I know I am good, I have been told I am good. I mean, when top writers like Chimamanda Adichie read your work and commend you, what else but to let your head dey swell dey go?
However, to be honest, I envisaged a modest success. There’s something about the air in Nigeria that makes you always want to play safe. But when the book came out and people started messaging me to say I was breaking the Internet, I was like, NA LIE!!! Then I rushed to Twitter than Facebook then Instagram and I was shocked.
I never expected it. I don’t even feel I deserve it. But like my mama would say, We are the children of God and sometimes get what we don’t deserve.
How many copies of the book, I for Don Blow but I too dey Press Phone has been sold?
Let us just say I sold enough to be happy and surprised at the same time. The orders were coming in so fast the team I hastily set up to attend to things was overwhelming.
In a country where publishers struggle to sell 1000 copies of a book in a year, what factors would you attribute your outstanding success rate to?
Well, I think it is not just a Nigerian thing. The struggle to sell books is everywhere, especially as there are free ebook apps, ndi oshofree pdf sharers and pirates all over the place.
I thought of that for a long time. I asked myself, how do I sell this thing and sell it fast before other people start making money off my hard work? I had to be deliberate.
I had to make them buy the book by the cover, by the blurb at the back and by the bio. I had to make them look twice, three times, four times. I had to rub small Jaruma for the cover. And thankfully it worked.
The book took social media by storm with lots of personalities some call influencers tweeting and retweeting. Was this part of a strategy or was the book just that unavoidable?
I planned to use influencers to push the book on every necessary social media platform. I thought I had written a good book that people will want to read. I felt it deserved being promoted.
But obviously my marketing strategy was even better than I thought because the thing just catches fire like say na fuel tanker and was spreading. I just felt like giving myself one badt award. Hahaha. But I am grateful it trended a bit. E help my pocket.
I understand you published a previous e book entitled The Gundown. How would you measure its success rate in comparison with I for Don Blow?
The Gundown didn’t really get a push. It was average in the sense that coming across it you would see it as just another crime thriller. I plan on printing it and pushing it a little. It is actually a decent novel. But im no be mate for where I for Don blow dey.
Why did you decide to publish I for Don Blow-in paperback and not e-book format?
Because ebooks are difficult to control and keep track of. You will sell 1 e-copy, 200 people would read it. Haba nau. Nigerians feel entitled to your work.
I mean someone can steal your Facebook post and act shocked that you are upset about it. They think they are doing you a favour by sharing your works free. I felt it was better in print at least if you want to photocopy or pirate it you’d at least spend money doing that.
You go hustle for am.
If your e-book, The Gundown had this kind of exposure on social media and maybe did so well, would your opinion on e-books have changed?
I would still stick to print. You can be trending and getting exposure but not getting anything tangible out of it. Which yeye exposure con be that nau?
What’s your general opinion on e-books? What would it take for Nigerians to be truly ready for it?
Nigerians are not ready for ebooks. No, let me rephrase, Nigerians are not ready to pay for ebooks. Na oshofree dem dey wait for. They want cheaper alternatives to everything. That’s why artists struggle.
That’s why most writers are advised to have a side job make hunger no kee dem. That’s why my papa no wan hear say I wan do writer work. As a matter of fact, some days, as I was writing I For Don Blow, I told myself, Hymar, after all this work and e no sell, na to just leave writing go learn mechanic.
Payments platform, Paystack, seems to play a pivotal role in orders and payments for the book. How would you describe the impact Paystack has made?
Paystack made it easy for me. Very easy. Instead of jumping all over the place sending account, just put a payment link out there and Boom, it gets shared around. Easy and convenient for me and for them I guess.
Books appear to be difficult to market and a lot of people think Nigerians don’t have a reading culture. How would you advise publishing houses especially as regards digital marketing of their books?
It may surprise you, but most times I blame the writers, not the publishing house. Writers think their work ends with just writing. Whaaaat? In 2019? You no wan market? You no wan collect royalty? Writers need to understand they have to push their books too.
They have to be involved and invested in it. They have to try to sell it. Because you collected one huge advance doesn’t mean you now go and buy full chicken and Jameson dey do like e no consign you again. You know, when I was writing I For Don Blow, folks advised me to approach publishing houses, but I refused because I had ideas on how the cover, the blurb, basically everything should be and look.
If you think about it, how many books have trended online this year? How many Nigerian and even international books have managed to catch social media attention? I am not talking about Michelle Obama’s book. I can’t remember one. Can you?
That goes to show a lot of writers and publishing house don’t know how to wring their way into the public eye. If nobody knows about your book, nobody will read it. So don’t blame Nigerians for bad reading culture, blame publishers and authors for poor marketing strategies.
That will be all Hymar. Congratulations once more on the outstanding success of your book.
Thank you very much. The pleasure is mine.
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