“We want to help writers showcase their work”: Ariba Saeed on building a social enterprise while at university

Read part one here.


Luke Alsford: What is the goal for you, with your writing? Is your aim to be in a position where one day an organization like The Writer Summit would want to contact you to speak to aspiring writers? 


Ariba Saeed: All I know is that it is so difficult to make it in the industry! Throughout my life I’ve written a lot, since I was a kid I’ve always been writing books and always wanting to get something published. Even when I was thirteen or twelve I was trying to contact publishing agencies, without any kind of experience on how to do so, and always getting turned down! I hope that The Writer Summit can make it easier for current aspiring writers to make it. In particular, we want to run an ‘In career discussion with series’, in which we’ll have current writers and journalists talking about how they made it in the industry and learning about their experiences in developing a career, as well as talking about their specific works. This will really help people get a breadth of advice, especially because there will be a Q&A section, when audience members can ask personal questions and really get the advice tailored to them.



LA: Is your ambition, though, to publish a book one day? 


AS: I would love that to be the case! Since I came here to Durham, I’ve kind of slowed down in writing books. I mainly write poetry now, because it is easier, but I have written so many books. I have written something with over 100,000 words, that is just sitting there and I don’t know what to do with it, because it’s just so hard to contact publishing agencies. Self-publishing is also so expensive and often you can’t really market your work, so just kind of sits there on Amazon and Kindle and no one ever really reads it. They also charge such high prices for your books to be sold. I did self-publish a book when I was twelve years old, but they marked up the price so that it was £40 and they lied to me and said it would be like £8 – obviously no one is going to buy it! I hope that through The Writer Summit I can make connections and find a route to getting published.



LA: How easy is it as a student to form a business or social enterprise alongside your studies?


AS: I think it’s honestly so difficult. So, with The Writer Summit, we have been in talks about this since the November or December of last year and we really thought, that it would be very difficult to make it a success on our own. We had to establish connections beforehand, which was quite difficult to do, so we reached out to lots of student journals, such as The Bubble, The Mound. Honestly, though, we could have probably achieved what we have by ourselves and without partnerships with other writing platforms, because there’s such a gap in the market for this. Especially the last few weeks have been so incredibly busy, in terms of recruiting and managing a team. I thought getting a team would alleviate the stress, but if anything, it’s just become more stressful. We have realized that we can expand it so much further than we originally thought. Initially we thought it would be a small Durham thing, and now we want to expand it so that its international. We have invited speakers from America, we have a partnership with the Zimbabwe National Debating Team. It’s really gone so much further than we expected it to. For two weeks straight, I was focused on nothing but this, and our degrees have been stuck on sidelines for a bit! We were applying to a Durham University start-up competition and we were in the library until like 8:00 or 7:00 AM, trying to write our entire application up until the deadline. We are hoping this competition will help us so much in terms of expanding and bring The Writer Summit to the next level. The potential prize is £20,000! We really want to use this funding to expand our social chain idea, which is something that my other Co-Founder Craig put forward. He suggested this idea of making a chain of social media accounts that we are partnered with, and then agreeing for all these accounts to post about The Writer Summit on one specific day, so we reach a lot of social media feeds at the same time. Currently we’re reaching over about 300,000 social media users, just because our partnerships have all these social media accounts and followers. If we can expand that, and also try monetize the reach that we have, it would be amazing to get writing and writers and their work to trend on social media.



LA: Do you think Durham could offer more support to ambitious and entrepreneurial students to set up their own social enterprise or business?


AS: I think so. It is very difficult to communicate with the people in Durham, who we think would help us grow our initiative. I contacted many different emails within Durham, to hopefully secure some advertisement and find some links to individuals in Durham who could help us, but they honestly just take so long to respond. I think it’s been quite a few weeks now. As another example, I sent an email detailing The Writer Summit and asking if it could be advertised with students studying English, and all they did was forward that email to the whole cohort, which was so embarrassing as it was an unprofessional look for The Writer Summit; it revealed some details that we didn’t necessarily want everyone to know. It can be quite difficult to navigate Durham’s layers of bureaucracy and communication problems like that, and as I have mentioned can be frustrating but can potential mess up things to. The English Department, however, were helpful in that they did then go on to advertise The Writer Summit a little more with students after that initial mix-up. I am a de-colonizing the curriculum intern, and through that I came into contact with someone who could help us advertise The Writer Summit more widely in Durham, which we massively appreciated.



LA: What is the big long-term goal and ambition for The Writer Summit? At what point will you look on and think, “We have achieved what we set out to achieve”?


AS: We want to get to a point where we have built up such an extensive team, that we can have events most days, through which we could really showcase the work of so many writers. Currently, with our mission of elevating upcoming writers, there’s only so many events we can do a month and effectively organize and release. I want to get to a point where we can showcase lots of unknown writers, and we won’t have to continuously market, but we would have already developed a powerful social chain, which we can use to advertise these writers. That would make it so much easier to improve our exposure, and most importantly the exposure of the conversations and individuals that we are holding these events for. 



Image: Thanthip Moolvong on Flickr

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