Zimbabwean renowned author Sue Nyathi, took time to share writing and publishing insights on Afrobloggers twitter one Sunday morning. The writer who recently revealed the cover photo of her third novel: A family affair began by explaining why she settled for her pen name Sue. Read the unrolled twitter threads below:
I will start by introducing myself. My name is Sukoluhle Nyathi but I write as Sue Nyathi. I have been known as Sue all my life so when it came to publishing I did debate whether to use my full name or my nickname. So I settled on Sue.
There is always criticism as to why I used Sue because it is Anglicised. I could have easily used Su but I would have been criticized for sounding Chinese. So there is no winning. Sue Nyathi it is.
I was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in 1978 at Mpilo hospital. I was literally bread and buttered in Bulawayo. I did my primary schooling at Carmel then proceeded to Girls College for my secondary schooling.
Post high school I was keen to study journalism but there was no tertiary institution in Zimbabwe that offered a degree at the time. My parents also discouraged me, they said it didn’t pay. So I settled for a Bcom in Finance @nustzim Later I did a Masters in Finance & Investments.
So I was never trained as a writer. The only writing I did was English literature in high school. However, for some of you who want to study it, you can do a BA in creative writing. I contemplated doing a MA in Creative writing then Covid19 happened. So I have parked it for now.
People often ask me when did you know you could write. I didn’t think about it. I just wrote. I think the hardest part for most aspiring writers is to start writing. You have to start somewhere. Writers write. It is that simple.
Falling in love with reading and writing
I believe a lot of what you read will influence what you write. I was the generation that grew up on Sweet Valley High. So when I was 13 I wrote my first book titled “Crazy Over You.” It was handwritten on an A3 Marvo exercise book. Had a cover and a blurb.
My first readers were my classmates. They read me and gave me rave reviews. So with the success of this first “novel” I had to write others & I started my own series. My books would be passed around like a DVD and it was always one night only because there was always a queue.
The school I went to did not have African literature on the curriculum so I was not exposed to it earlier. While other children read Nervous Conditions we did Shakespeare. So I grew up reading a lot of American & Eurocentric literature.
The publishing journey.
I was in my 20s when I considered getting published. I’d completed a first draft of a manuscript. Neatly typed out, hours spent in the computer lab after classes. Then came the first rejection letter. I tried again. Got rejected. Then I decided maybe writing wasn’t for me!
Which brings us to the subject of publishing. There are 2 ways to get published. You can go the traditional route with an established publishing house e.g Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster or you can get self published which is gaining popularity.
My debut novel, The Polygamist (2012) was self published. My second novel, The GoldDiggers (2018) and my third novel, A Family Affair (2020) are both published by @PanMacmillanSA
I forgot to add, I was 35 when I published my debut novel. That was like almost 15 years later after my first rejection letter. However I did not stop writing in the interim.
The difference between Self publishing and traditional publishing
I will talk about the differences in self publishing & traditional publishing because that is a question that is often asked. I was introduced to self publishing by my editor when I couldn’t get a traditional publisher who was interested in my manuscript.
With self publishing, you as the writer assume all financial risk. You write, publish, distribute and market your own work. It allows you to develop an audience for your work and puts you out there. The Polygamist certainly put me out there and established me as a writer.
I always say you are a reader before you are a writer and writers read.— Sue Nyathi
With traditional publishing, the publisher assumes all financial risk, marketing & distribution. They will pay you an advance upfront which you have to earn out. Then you will receive a royalty. While the publisher will market you, you still need to self promote your work.
The other thing I need to point out is that if you are self published author you might not be eligible to enter some literary awards because they don’t consider self published books. So this avenue might be a career limiting move if you want to be an award winning writer.
The importance of choosing a genre
I write fiction and hence that has been my focus. As a writer it is important to identify the genre you want to write in. Fiction is a broad genre. As limiting as it may appear, this will help you when it comes to selling your manuscript and marketing your work.
I write first then afterwards I classify my work. The classification really matters for purposes of publication. Contemporary fiction is such an encompassing classification.
If you want to get traditionally published, then you will need to look for publishers who publish that genre you write. This entails visiting their websites and finding out their submission criteria. Some publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts & you may need an agent.
So when you write speculative fiction, you basically write the book then look for a publisher. The other avenue is to write a book proposal and pitch it to a publisher then they can commission you to write the book. Getting a publisher is not always easy, it can take years!!
Subheadings were inserted for the purposes of easy reading.