The publishing industry is known for its lack of diversity and one author has opened up about her own journey of getting her book published. Abiola Bello, 33, is a British Nigerian author who was born and brought up in Stoke Newington where she began writing her first book at the age of 12 which went on to become a three part series when she became an author.
Initially, her parents wanted her to become a lawyer, tennis player as she was really sporty. However Ella Abiola found herself constantly writing, and one day in secondary school her English teacher said she could become an author.
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Speaking to MyLondon, Abiola said: “I didn’t really think about where books came from, I didn’t know it was an actual job, but I told my mum and she was like ‘what nonsense’, the teacher is filling my head with nonsense.
“I always loved writing since I was eight. I would rewrite babysitters club with me and my friends in it and at the time I couldn’t find any books about girls with superpowers, and that’s where Emily Knight came from.
“Publishing is such a weird bubble and you don’t really know anyone in publishing, so I didn’t know how to get into that, I didn’t know anyone who had written a book before and I was insecure to share my writing I started thinking what if I’m not that good at it?
“Then I started professional dancing at 14 and that kind of took over and as I got older it became harder to juggle dance and writing. At 18 I went to study creative writing and met authors and at university, they make you read your story and getfeedback.”
‘Publishing wasn’t a word in Nigerian culture’
Looking back she said she feels her culture didn’t really help her: “Publishing back then was not a word in Nigerian culture, I now see it was a lack of understanding, they were like, ‘how are you going to do this? ‘
“My parents felt like I should do something more secure where I’ll get money. I can understand that now and I don’t know why I had such an insane amount of confidence, but at one point my life wasn’t working out the way I envisioned.
“I was good at dance but didn’t want to be a professional dancer, I was bored of dance and was teaching it, working in retail and I was still out here trying to get a book deal.”
At the time Abiola had begun writing Emily Knight seriously, a book about a young girl with superpowers, Harry Potter and Twilight were just about emerging and there wasn’t a huge range of books about superpowers. Emily Knight was initially a white character, however as time went on and Abiola got more feedback, she changed her into a black character.
Eventually she tried to pitch her book to agents but she felt it was not the right time: “I think I felt my book out too prematurely, Harry Potter and Twilight was becoming so big and no none was really looking for a black girl writing about a black girl who isn’t struggling due to her race.
“I remember in my early twenties I was getting frustrated and thinking publishing isn’t diverse, because in dance no one cares what you look like you just have to dance well. In publishing it’s not always about your book, I remember turning 22 and getting my no’s and some agents said it was good but not really getting there.
“I was in New York with my friend and she wanted to be a fashion designer and I was still stuck in the same place, and then I thought, I want to self publish. I know this idea works, so I found this company in America as dollars would be cheaper to publish.”
Eventually Abiola self-published the book she had been writing since childhood, and then finally managed to get an agent. But getting an agent was not all smooth-sailing as there was a lack of black editors and black people in positions of power. She was told by her agent of her “people do n’t know what to do with a black author”.
She said: “I remember thinking I’m getting penalized on something I can’t change.”
Abiola then changed her agent and got the agent of her dreams. However, when her book by her was sent out to authors she received mixed feedback, with one publishing house even telling her to write a love story.
“I was like, ‘I don’t think I can write this,'” she said. “I wrote an outline and my agent was like, ‘this is perfect’. But then in January 2021 my dad passed away and I couldn’t write.
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I am the Race and Diversity Correspondent for MyLondon, and I enjoy writing about stories to do with ethnic minorities.
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Although I was born and raised in London, I would say I’m very connected to my own culture as a British Pakistani who is fluent in Urdu.
This year I became a finalist for the British Muslim Awards in the Media Achiever of the Year category – and I hope to make a difference every single year with my work.
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“A few weeks after the burial, he was Muslim so it was really quick, I went back to writing the love story and I wrote it in five months. I’ve never written that quick and I remember sending it to my friend and she was like, ‘this is so good’ and I just couldn’t see it.
“I felt the submission in September last year and the next day a publisher got in touch and said, ‘this is exactly the book I want’ and then three out of the big five publishers wanted the book.
“But it was weird as I was so in my grief I wasn’t really paying attention. Simon & Schuster asked if I had any other book ideas, I knew I was going to get an offer, then another publisher wanted a chat too. My agent then calls me saying ‘Simon & Schuster want to give you a three book, six figure deal’.
“I was like are they sure? My year had started off so bad and then to get this news was so weird. The deal only lasted 24 hours, they were so lovely and the editor was black, I was just like I don’t care to hear from anyone else.”
Abiola’s book is coming out November titled Love in Winter Wonderland. The romantic comedy is about a bookshop in Hackney and two characters coming together to try and save it from closing down.
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