Industry Insights: Mariam Jimoh and Reni Kosi Amayo, ONWE Press
Mariam Jimoh and Reni Kosi Amayo are the co-founders of ONWE Press, an independent publisher and lifestyle brand. Read on to find out what they had to say about their journey and mission to amplify diverse voices within publishing...
What inspired you to start your own press? Did you always want to work in the publishing industry?
Kosi: I had just finished writing my first book, Daughters of Nri, and was mulling over the different ways to get it published. The story itself is very important to me. It’s personal, particularly in its centring of Black women. I spoke to traditional publishers who were keen, but as I learned about the mechanics of this business and the language used to describe my book, it all started to feel tokenistic. It felt like the only value they saw in my book was its ability to tick off a “diversity” checkbox.
Mariam: Over dinner, we discussed the possibility of creating another publishing vehicle, one that could publish stories like Daughters of Nri with the justice they deserved. We believed that these stories should not be othered because they focus on the perspectives of minority groups. They deserve just the same amount of respect and individualism given to stories that are deemed to be more mainstream. So, we started ONWE.
Has there been anything you found particularly challenging when starting the press?
As a small publisher in a concentrated market, we have to fight to be heard. That can be challenging at times, especially given the fact that the industry has long-established systems in place that often favour larger publishers with bigger budgets. Given our size and age, we have had to be innovative and flexible. That has resulted in big wins but also substantial losses. That said, it’s definitely getting easier. We’ve learnt from our mistakes and listened to great advice from our predecessors, and we are now in a position to expand and amplify our impact.
What are your aims as a press who hopes to “amplify diverse voices and express under-represented ideologies across all creative industries”?
Our ultimate aim is to stress that stories from diverse voices are not just another trend or gimmick, but rather that there are so many varied stories out there that should be brought to the market by the people who know them best. Good stories have the ability to radically impact most people, and our driving force is to help people feel heard and seen in books, particularly those from diverse backgrounds who have been neglected by this industry for too long.
Is ONWE doing anything to mark Black History Month in particular?
Our mission is to amplify under-represented creatives, many of whom identify as Black, so for us, every month is Black History Month. We’re doing what we usually do: we are investing in stories from Black authors, we are highlighting and sharing books and content from Black creatives on Instagram through our ONWEPicks segment, and we are providing a safe space for Black consumers to get books that centre and uplift them.
Do you feel enough is being done in the wider industry to ensure there is BIPOC representation, especially for Black voices who are often overlooked?
While things have definitely improved, we’re not there yet. You don’t have to go far to see that the publishing industry has a diversity problem. The number of diverse-led books published, as well as the marketing and sourcing budgets allocated to diverse authors, is not representative of the general population. A lack of diversity in mainstream media has a direct impact on self-esteem and negative stereotyping, which contributes to social-economic disparities. As people directly impacted by this, we can attest to its effects.
Can you tell us more about your upcoming releases?
From Dream Country, a YA fantasy set in three culturally-distinct realms inspired by Kenyan, Brazilian, Caribbean, and Grecian customs, to The Landfill Mountains, a YA environmental thriller that tackles climate change, we have lots of exciting books coming up that we can’t wait to share!
What are your top tips for publishing hopefuls applying to independent publishers?
As a lot of independent publishers are made up of small teams, we think the key skill to show on any application is that you’re able to multitask and that you’re not afraid to get stuck in. Also, most indies are founded by a desire to make a change in the publishing industry from the ground up, so demonstrating a passion for their mission and showing how your skill set fits into helping them achieve it is vital.
Finally, what advice do you have for publishing hopefuls wanting to set up their own press?
Speak to people. This industry can be opaque, and though it may seem to be intuitive, it’s really not. Luckily, there are so many great indies out there that are willing to help. When we first started, we spoke to a few publishers like Impress Books, Knights Of, Jacaranda Books and many others who extended warm welcomes to us. Their insight was pivotal to our growth and a testament to how much this community collectively wants to enact change in literature.
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