Marketing; the Mountain that Still Stands Between Many kenyan Writers and Success
A friend and I recently went into a heated discussion as to what really sells Chimamanda between her talent and sex appeal. My friend thinks she is pretty talented. I am convinced Chimamanda’s amazing book sales are dependent on many more factors than just her brains and talent. She is one of very few African writers who’ve taken image management very seriously.
If F. Scott Fitzgerald and his beautiful southern Belle wife Zelda wholesomely represented the spirit of the jazz age (success, youth and glamorous living. ) then Adichie is their modern day counterpart, encapsulating all the three qualities and still managing to be the intellectual voice of her generation.
Like a good marketer, and every writer needs to be one, this Nigerian girl knows that, even to scholars, image is everything
Let’s face it, since time immemorial, success has always been, and will always be, a great motivator of mankind. So much such that books on how to be happier, richer and more successful will never gather that much dust on the shelves.
Funny thing is that though this truth is known to many writers and publishers, very few of both parties actualize it and yet if writers and book publishers could take this simple yet profound truth to heart, then we’d save marketers a lot of hard work and many more writers could be living off their writing.
Many writers and artists in general like to excuse their shabbiness, bad habits and careless- grooming to ‘art’. ‘you see we artsy people are just like that, we have this muse thing’ and so the so called ‘creatives’ will go ahead and pierce their tongues, get tens of tattoos, get into strange addictions and discard their proper outfits in favour of radiculous artsy attire and behaviors that make the rest of the world regard artistic creativity as a psychological disorder.
Then along came Chimamanda. Not only is she a very creative writer who is thorough enough to research her work and come up with brilliant novels-and-not-so-brilliant-short-stories; she also understands that one of a humans’ best bet is their use of imagination and fantasy. Chimamanda has employed these tools brilliantly both in creating unforgettably amazing characters and in maintaining her public image. Some of my male friends have confessed, after reading ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ that they aren’t sure who they have fallen in love with between Ollana, the hot and intelligent main character and Chimamanda the author of the novel who they equally dub hot and intelligent.
Arguably, one of the smartest artist promoters was one sly guy called Colonel Tom Parker. He identified a teenage unknown Elvis Presley and managed his career throughout until Elvis’ death at the age of 42 . An illegal Dutch Immigrant who ran away from his poor home and changed his identity, Parker negotiated lucrative record contracts and film deals with Hollywood studios turning Elvis into a pop culture extravaganza; one of the highest paid appearances on TV, an amazingly good actor and the king of Rock and roll.
So good was the Colonel in marketing Elvis that even when at 21 the young man had to temporarily stop his musical career and enlist into military service, the colonel , known for his lack of sentimentality , wrote the lonesome Youth long chatty letters if only to encourage the musician to stay a ‘good boy’ and do nothing to embarrass his country. He even managed to finalize highly profitable deals with giant film companies like paramount and 20th century Fox Studio. Strangely enough, after Elvis’ death, the colonel, went on managing Elvis’memory for a while. He staged a fan festival dubbed ‘Always Elvis’ where together with Elvis’ ex-wife Priscilla, he dedicated a life size bronze statue of the star.
Chimamanda , after being lucky enough to gain recognition through her orange prize winner book ‘Purple Hibiscus’ seemed to understand that even then, she still had to, in the words of Michael Bolton ‘walk the distance till she finds her hero’s welcome in the lit world.’
Both the colonel and Chimamanda knew raw genius when they saw it, both also had enough wisdom to know that in the business of marketing , it’s not about ones’ reality but the fantasy you can ignite and sustain; that it’s never about what you are but what you can be; that it’s not about who you are but who you claim to be.
If only publishers could spend as much time planning for book tours as they spent rejecting manuscripts, if only they could work on the image of their writers(forget that rebel writer nonsense), if only they could book TV shows and teaching their writers the art of public speaking and social skills.
And if only writers could remember that they are their own brand ambassadors and deliberately teach themselves to be well groomed, proper in speech and mannerism and smart externally as they are internally, then, we’d have many more stories of Kenyan writers having their books turned into movies (and I’m talking Hollywood here not Kenwood or Nollywood melodrama). Plus, did I forget to mention that a while back Chimamanda got a real phone call from the actor Will Smith telling her that he’d read her book ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ and he just loves how she writes. Yeah, now I’ve got your attention writer, get off those ‘artsy’ clothes, turn yourself into a marketing executive for brand you then get down to some serious writing. And oh I forgot,while you are at it, please get those color layers off your hair for Pete’s sake.