Tell me about Storytime. I remember the blog that would deliver African fiction to us, was it on a weekly or fortnight basis at www.storytime.blogspot.com. Did the blog come before StoryTime, the digital publisher we now know or the publishing outfit is what gave birth to the blog?
One could say without the magazine there would be no publisher and without the publisher no magazine. Both were formed the instant I decided to try and help address the dearth in African publishing, especially online back then, in whatever way I could. Personally I never saw it as a blog, hence why it was a registered weekly magazine with an official ISSN. What it did was to use what was essentially a free dynamic website at a time when it was fairly expensive to setup up one otherwise.
The magazine was known for its multi-genre focus. Then, in 2012, you put out a call for submissions for stories for an AfroSF anthology. Where did this science fiction vision come from?
Yes, I was always very keen on publishing in as many genres as possible and certainly encouraged writers to try out different genres. In early 2007 when I started looking into African publishing as an African writer, I saw how limited (and still is, but the start has been made) the African publishing scope was in its near-blind focus on literary/contemporary fiction. SF was virtually non-existent, there in fact hadn’t even been a single Pan-African SF anthology published ever, which seemed crazy to me. So even before I started StoryTime, the magazine, and the African Roars, I had it keenly in mind to tackle this dilemma. However, what I needed was experience and a solid foundation to work from, so that I could do it properly, which four years later in 2011 I felt I had, and put out a year long call for subs for AfroSF.
AfroSF of course came after African Roar, the annual anthology that would include the best of the stories published in the StoryTime magazine. I know that since the closure of the magazine, there is a submission process that writers send work through to be considered for the annual AR anthology. How would you describe the reception of the AR annual anthologies over the years?
Given that in this entire time we (Emmanuel Sigauke and I) have worked with a zero budget for marketing, mainly relying on word of mouth (digital and otherwise) and reviews, I’d say the ARs have done pretty well. That is to say while they haven’t sold in their millions they are being read, and have even been included in academia literature courses and such. But more importantly, many of the writers featured in the ARs (quite a few for whom it was their first time to be published in an anthology) have gone on to establish solid and in some cases lauded writing careers. So all in all, I feel the ARs have achieved their purpose, which was to give the writers in them a larger world audience, the start of a bibliography, and the confidence both bring to go on writing. That said, it’s quite a different scene now some five years later, anthologies abound, and loads of new publishers have started up and are doing great things. So much so that I feel the AR’s importance is no longer the imperative that it was, and so the next AR may be the last, comprised of the best of the ARs, and released in ebook and print simultaneously if we do not receive a mass of good stories and decide to continue publishing the annual anthologies. After that I have a number of different publishing projects in mind that will for the most part focus on the genre areas I feel need the most attention. AfroSFv2 is in the works right now and will be comprised of novellas only from some great established and upcoming SF writers like Tade Thompson, Nick Wood, Dilman Dilla, etc.
You publish largely in E-book than Print. Few of the annual AR anthologies are available in print. Why is this? Is this a policy you wish to change with time?
I’d always like to publish in both formats, but the ebooks directly fund their print editions and unless they reach the print expense level targets they have remained in ebook format.
Let us talk about your own writing. How have you managed to balance publishing and your own writing? What is new and old in your writing career? How does the future look like for Ivor, the writer?
I don’t know if I have managed at all well, truth be told, editing/publishing takes up huge swathes of time, so of course, my own writing has been negated to an extent. But, the way I look at it, all this time spent has also made me a better writer. So I can’t really say that my writing has suffered, just its output has been lessened, which is fine with me. I was never in a hurry to become a good writer, but also I know that even a genius needs at least ten years in their field to master it, and I’ve been at it professionally for seven. Patience is the name of this game, patience, persistence, tenacity, and above all, mastering your craft. You can’t be in it for short terms gains. So, yeah, I have lots of writing projects planned out that I chip away at when I have the time, and next year looks like it might give me more writing time.
You won the Golden Baobab prize for Children and Young Adult Literature. What was its influence on your writing career? Do you consider yourself more of a children’s writer
than an adult writer or does this even matter to you, at all?
It was great to win a Baobab prize, no doubt about it, it came early in my career and said I was on the right track, gave me more confidence in my work, confidence to keep on at it, this in itself was invaluable to me. Awards are good like that, but they are not what one strives for ultimately.
What matters to me is the story; this alone governs what I write and how I write it. Classifications as to what kind of writer I am are for other people to speculate on, as yeah I personally refuse to be boxed.
I do not know StoryTime as a donor-funded project. For some reason aid is mentioned in whatever garb for playing a role in the growth of a number of African publishing outfits. If my assumption that StoryTime is not an aid recipient is accurate, I want to know how you
have pulled it off, managed to run the outfit to date. Can African publishing work without donor aid?
StoryTime has never been funded in any way, means, or form, except by itself. I strongly believe that if we want a vibrant African publishing industry, publishers must from the outset decide to be proper business concerns. If this means starting small (even very small, StoryTime is still a micro-publisher and will remain one until it earns enough to step up to a small publisher) and building slowly then so be it, the prime goal should be to stay in business for the long haul. This has of course meant that I have had to work within some very narrow limitations, but the thing about limitations is that you learn how to work around them, even benefit from them through creativity and innovation they inspire. For example: it costs almost nothing (but hard work and time) to publish an ebook if you have the skills needed for the whole process, and if you don’t, you go know. Certainly before StoryTime I had no idea how to edit, how to do basic coding, etc. what I had was passion, a brain, and an internet connection, and that was all I needed, that is all anyone needs. In part StoryTime has been an exercise in showing this very thing in a tangible way. I feel the greatest resources in Africa are passion, brains, and the willingness to learn, and these are the keys to getting things done in an independent manner, with emphasis on being independent.
As an experienced digital African publisher, experimenting beyond literary fiction, what would you say are the top three reasons that keep you going? Things that give you hope about African digital publishing.
StoryTime was formed to help answer a problem I faced and still face as a writer, namely the very few independent African publishers we have, and even less who are willing to go into highly underdeveloped areas like SF, Fantasy, Horror, etc. and help develop them. Though, I wouldn’t call StoryTime a strictly digital publisher (depending on your meaning), I don’t think any African publisher can be only digital, print is still king in Africa, and will be for some time to come. So what keeps me going…? The prime reason remains the incredible wealth of talented African writers we have and the even greater wealth of writers to come. We have so many stories to tell that are changing and will change the world for the better, of that I have no doubts, and it is my greatest honour to be a part of that as a writer and publisher.