Ayodeji Ajagbe has attained a level most young writers aim for, becoming a bestseller and award-winning author.
The 23-year-old writer, who hails from Ibadan in Oyo State, has published two books; ‘Reflection: Rulers and Preys and ‘What Happened to Helen’. Both of which earned him his awards.
The young author spoke to PREMIUM TIMES about his life as a writer and his achievements.
PT: Why do you describe yourself as a best-selling and award-winning author?
Ayodeji: For my accomplishments, society, the people and my audience, in turn, rate me in acknowledging and recognising my efforts in the writing community. I believe in my audience, which places me as an award-winning and best-selling author because I strive to give my best in everything I do.
Litireso Africa, a content distribution platform in Africa, named my book, ‘Reflection: Rulers and Preys’, as one of the top-rated books of 2020.
Bambooks, a renowned digital library, named my book, ‘What Happened to Helen’, as a bestseller. A few days after my book was called a bestseller, NALSS (National Association of Life Sciences Students) gave me an award for my accomplishments as an author.
I also get a series of commendations and recommendations from home and abroad.
PT: How did Ibadan city influence your writing career?
Ayodeji: Living in Ibadan has had a significant impact on my writing career. I wrote my first book, ‘Reflection: Rulers and Preys’ while still living in Ibadan, and while I’m pretty proud of it, there’s quite a difference in tone between that book and ‘What Happened to Helen, the one set in Lagos state. My books are based on writing “big city” romances where the women wear high heels, the men wear suits, and the cocktails are fancy. I write about that world because that is my world.
PT: Tell us about some of your published works
Ayodeji: For ‘Reflection: Rulers and Preys’, I let my readers explore the challenges of student politics in the world of 24-hour news and social media, as well as the conflict between political ambition and staying true to who you are.
The main character, Comrade Oluwatimileyin Turner, Chief Whip, is a cynical, manipulative politician determined to become President. He is willing to use every secret he knows, every pressure point he can find, and every dirty trick in the book to secure his rise to power—and in the process, confirms just about every dark and terrible thing you thought you knew about politics.
I wrote about my extensive real-life experience in student politics for the book. The result is an electrifying vision of how exceedingly violent governing can be behind closed doors.
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Many stories worldwide about what happened to Helen, but only a few are heard. So I wrote a book to be the voice of all those stories. What Happened To Helen is a book of anecdotes published as a work of fiction. It includes stories of love, pain, and betrayal. Everyone has different life levels, but most are unheard, unspoken, or ignored. So I wrote What Happened To Helen to introduce the lives of ordinary people and their untold stories. We all are somewhere broken inside and lost in darkness, but our willpower and the hope of a better tomorrow gives us the strength to fight that darkness and makes our life beautiful. What Happened To Helen is not just my book. It’s the book of millions of people who live with hope.
PT: How would you describe your style of writing?
Ayodeji: I’m more of a pantser, which means I don’t have a particular outline for my books. I start writing. I have a general idea of what the story plot would be like, but I have no idea when I start or how it will get there or end. I create the characters and then get out of their way and let them tell the story. Sometimes they even surprise me.
Oddly enough, I design my book cover first and then start writing. I write in the past tense and the third person and let the characters feed the senses of seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling. If I don’t feel it, I figure the reader won’t either.
PT: What is the most unethical practice in the Nigerian publishing industry, and are you self-published?
Ayodeji: Vanity publishing has been a menace permeating the writing community from time immemorial. In this practice, publishers or publishing houses approach writers with a juicy offer of getting their books published. When an agreement has been reached between them, the publisher reneges on the contract by not sending the proceeds of the royalties to the writers, thereby ripping them from the fruits of their labour. Yes, I am a self-published author.
PT: Are you bothered by piracy activities, and have you been poorly dealt with by pirates?
Ayodeji: Yes, I am bothered by piracy activities, and pirates have poorly dealt with me. Another instance is the high level of plagiarism prevalent in the writing industry, whereby books by writers are plagiarised and fraudulently sold without the consent or authorisation of the writers.
I’ve had several unpleasant and unsavoury experiences in this regard, whereby some unauthorised platforms put up my books for sale at ridiculous prices without my consent.
It cheats writers of the proceeds of their hard work and intellectual efforts.
PT: Is it possible to become ”rich’ as a Nigerian writer?
In other words, how can a Nigerian writer grow wealth, or do you think writing is more of a passion project and not a money-making avenue?
Ayodeji: Yes, writing is a passion project; people make money from writing books, but it is noteworthy that cash is also expended in writing books.
We have notable writers that have raked a fortune from writing, like J.K Rowlings, The author of the famous “Harry Potter” series, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Identifying your target audience is also very crucial in concentrating your writing. Writing is more of a passion project. But it also depends on your area of paper and your target audience.
PT: Who are your influences in your industry?
Ayodeji: Dr A.H Mohammed was my biggest inspiration, and he is still my biggest inspiration. I always look up to him because of his wealth of creativity and how he has constantly delivered entertaining books. One fascinating thing about him was how he was able to make his readers weep and smile at the same time. He is a legend.
PT: Do you think the advent of social media impedes Nigerian writers like yourself?
Ayodeji: No, I don’t think so. Social media has benefited me and my writing career as I’ve been able to distribute and market my books and sell them to a larger audience in different parts of the world, courtesy of the advent of social media. Social media has also helped me make beautiful connections, and I was able to connect with the role model I’ve longed to meet for a long time, A.H Mohammed, on social media.
PT: How did publishing your first book change your process?
Ayodeji: I used to be just a Wattpad story writer, but my positive transformation began after I published my first book, Reflection: Rulers and Preys. I felt a sense of accomplishment even though I knew it was the beginning of a journey that has been beautiful so far. Learning is a process as well as growth is a process. I am learning new things, and I’m unlearning non-beneficial acts, as well as growing and evolving every passing day.
PT: How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Ayodeji: I have an unpublished book titled “Vendetta” that’ll be out by January 2023. I teamed up with Mutiat Mustapha to write the book.
PT: What does literary success look like to you?
Ayodeji: In my crazy fantasy, Netflix is making a movie based on one of my books. More realistically, I’d like to see people carrying a copy of my book. I’ll feel successful when I’m able to live off my writing.
PT: What’s the best way to market your books?
Ayodeji: Not one-on-one marketing. But I think the best way so far is digital marketing, and I thank God for the various social media platforms we have now. With Facebook, Twitter and Google, I’ve reached more audiences.
PT: If you did not write, what would you have been up to?
Ayodeji: My passion is writing. But if I weren’t to be a writer, I’d be an actor like my uncle, Bigvai Jokotoye. He’s my inspiration.
PT: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Ayodeji: Yes, I read my book reviews, especially the first few I get whenever I publish a book. They are essential to me. I deal with the bad reviews by adjusting and making sure that the next release will be better. I take the bad reviews as a challenge to improve, so I don’t get offended by them.
PT: How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
Ayodeji: It takes me up to five months to write a book. It might be more than five months, though. Although, the publication process takes longer as it’ll have to get to the editor first and other procedures before it finally becomes ready to be out in the market.
PT: Do you believe in writer’s block?
Ayodeji: Yes, I do believe in writer’s block. Usually, writer’s block feels like procrastination getting out of hand when I spend way too much time reading irrelevant things online rather than getting down to work. I imagine I’m especially prone to do this when I’m particularly anxious about whatever I’m working on that day, but it’s a recurring problem.
The most important thing is not to unduly beat me up and to remember that I get to start each day with a clean slate.
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