Women & Money is a monthly PiggyVest series that explores the relationship between real Nigerian women and money. This series sheds light on money, career and business from a female perspective.
For this month’s episode of Women & Money, we spoke to 24-year-old Ifeoma Igwe, a writer and aspiring author. She speaks about figuring out her career, managing her money and her journey to self-publishing her debut novel, Away in Bliss.
What was Ifeoma Igwe’s experience with money growing up?
My parents have been quite comfortable for as long as I can remember. As we grew older, it got better — we went from renting a flat to owning a house. I never had to worry about money at any point.
Did that influence your relationship with money as you grew older?
Probably. In Nigeria, I didn’t really have to think about money. If I needed to buy something, I would just ask my parents. I spent a lot of my time in boarding school, so I didn’t really worry about money.
When I left for the UK, my parents gave me an allowance. In the beginning, I tried to manage it, but soon enough I started mismanaging my money. I was never stranded, though, because if I told my parents I was broke, they’d send more.
Must be nice. Did you get better at managing your money?
Yes. My biggest issue is fashion, so when I stopped giving in to the temptation of buying things I’d only wear once, I had a lot of disposable income to lock away as savings or as emergency funds.
I also started making my clothing assets work for me. I’d rent them out on an app called By Rotation, then use the proceeds to buy stocks.
You really turned it around!
[Laughs] Of course!
What does financial freedom mean to Ifeoma Igwe?
Financial freedom to me is having a diversified income stream that allows me to save, invest, give and also indulge in things I love often. To achieve this, I invest any extra income I get and prefer to lock up lump sums in an account that gives good interest.
Yes. Everything was fine until 2020, when the pandemic happened. I was still an undergrad at this point. But everybody was inside and I lived by myself. I started writing so I wouldn’t go crazy.
One of my short stories was published by Agbowó, a literary mag. I also started working on a book.
An entire book? Tell me more.
Literature was one of my favourite subjects in secondary school. I would write those typical teenager stories that had no beginning or end. But I didn’t take writing seriously until the pandemic. I started publishing short stories on Medium.
I wrote a play for the Beeta Art Playwriting competition that same year but didn’t qualify. In 2021, however, I tried again and emerged as a top ten finalist. Even though I didn’t win, being shortlisted gave me some validation as a writer.
Being an author is a dream I’ve always carried, but I only started working on my first book, Away in Bliss, during the lockdown. The book’s protagonist, Nneka, finishes schooling in London and has to return to Nigeria because the UK has removed the post-study work visa.
What happened next?
It took three years before I realised that traditional publishing may not be for me. Sometimes, agents would email back and say they thought my manuscript was good, just not marketable enough. Or there was potential, just not for them. After more than two years of trying, I stopped searching entirely.
I got a job and became too busy. After a while, I lost the job and had to resume job searching again. My book was on the back burner for a long time. But once I accepted that traditional publishing might not work out for me, I decided to pursue self-publishing.
To do this well, I needed money. I created a budget, which came to £4,000. After careful consideration of all the factors, I decided to ask my parents for help.
That must’ve been a hard decision to make.
I was too shy to tell them about it because writing is really personal to me. Letting strangers see that part of me was easier than letting my family in. It was embarrassing.
Did you know they would accept?
My parents are incredibly supportive, so I wasn’t surprised when they said yes. A month later, they sent the £4,000.
God when? Can you break down how you spent the £4,000?
The £4,000 would only take me so far. I had to give up on some things, like hiring a publicist. The first thing I spent money on was a cover artist. I decided to work with Renike, a Nigerian artist, who worked within my £950 budget.
For editing, I found this platform called Reedsy. It’s a marketplace for self-published authors where you can find editors and book marketers. I searched for a developmental editor within my budget, but I couldn’t find one, so I just settled for an edit letter detailing any issues to address. This cost another £950.
I also paid £91 for my ISBN (International Standard Book Number, a 13-digit code used as a unique identifier for books). I could have gone for the Amazon ASIN number, but that would mean I could only publish with Amazon.
The rest of the money has gone into buying Instagram ads. I’ve spent around £80 on IG ads every month since July, which’ll continue until my book releases. I spoke to a few book influencers and sent out influencer packages. Copy-editing will cost me £500. Lastly, I ordered proof copies of my book from Amazon to send out.
A proactive queen! How much of your budget is left?
About £1,500. It would have been less. I spent £500 of my savings as part of the budget.
Who is your ideal reader?
The book touches on heartbreak, career instability, and post-uni depression. Initially, I created a specific reader avatar, but anyone can enjoy the book. However, it would resonate most with women between the ages of 21 and 23 who have just left uni and are hopeless romantics.
It’s for women who listen to podcasts like I Said What I Said or The Receipts Podcast and spend a lot of time on social media.
If you had another chance, would you choose traditional publishing over self-publishing?
I would stick to self-publishing because I’m entrepreneurial. I see the process of bringing this first book to readers as an opportunity to sharpen my business skills.
During my masters, I started an e-commerce marketplace where people could find Nigerian fashion brands. I ran that for two years and learnt a lot about business, building relationships and partnerships. I’m using that knowledge in my self-publishing journey.
What mistakes did you make on this journey?
Quite a bit. Not reaching out to my friends for help tops the list. There was a time when I tried to get people to create promotional content for me and boosted the request as an ad on Instagram. A few people said they would help but didn’t follow through. Eventually, I reached out to my friends and they were more than willing. I didn’t have to spend any money in the first place.
What business lessons have you learned trying to self-publish?
I have to put myself out there, even if I look foolish. It’s tough reaching out to people and telling them about my work, hoping they find enough value in my story to promote it. A lot of the time, they air me, and it’s embarrassing. Sometimes they respond, which is a win.
What advice would you give people trying to self-publish?
Invest in the quality of your work. But I’m wary of that advice because you need money to do many things, like getting a good cover designer and editor. The book is art but self-publishing is a business. Money will be involved.
Also, invest in becoming better as an author by reading more and doing research. Read not just as a reader, but as a writer. This will help you understand what makes a book work. Watch YouTube videos from published authors on how to improve your book.
What’s next for Ifeoma Igwe?
First, I don’t think I’ll be writing any more books anytime soon. This one took a lot from me. Some books get acquired by traditional publishers because of how well they’ve done outside of traditional publishing. Hopefully, that will happen for me.
But then I don’t necessarily need that because book marketing is like any other sales job. I’m confident I can do it myself. I’m not under any pressure to sell a thousand books in the first year. I’m just going through the motions.
Like Nneka, my protagonist, I haven’t figured out my career yet. When I left uni, I wanted to work in tech. I did for a bit, but I had to find my footing because of the layoffs. Now, I work as a market researcher. I’ve found myself in this interesting phase that is equal parts figuring stuff out and chasing my passion.