Notes on DUE NORTH

When my dream denotes my oppression…

It was that beautiful car that finally did me in.

Shot from a bird’s eye aerial view with sleek doors wide open, denoting adventure in all its ruggedness, it was a gorgeous Range Rover on the cover of the other book.

My dream car. 

And I cried at the irony and symbolism of it all. 

“You don’t understand,” I turned towards my husband through hiccupy sobs. “This hurts so deeply.” His steel blue eyes regarded me, trying to understand. 

Behind those eyes lay a privilege he knows he could never share with me, even if he tried, as he helplessly watched me sob. He has been bearing witness to my struggles ever since we met and has been supporting me and fighting right by my side.

For me, the pain of seeing that car was never about money or material possessions. Those who truly know me know this. I don’t care about physical symbols of status or wealth.

There are also pressing issues in the world. We’re facing a pandemic. People are dying daily and struggling. So, I always operate from a space of gratitude and perspective.

But my pain remains my pain. And if we invalidate each other by measuring levels of pain, then many people will continue to suffer in silence because, according to the world, they aren’t suffering enough.

For me, it was being reminded once again that the industry was never going to give me equal space at my best, while others had the luxury of being mediocre if they wanted to be and still be lauded.

Because as a Black African woman, I don’t have the luxury of being mediocre. Not yet.

Due North - Lola Akinmade Akerstrom

You see… When I shared the cover of both “DUE NORTH” books publicly, many people thought I was either asking for a vote of which cover to go with or was showing two different editions of the same book.

My self-published book DUE NORTH was published in 2017, which is three years and two months before the other book is scheduled to be published this summer. My book also won the Lowell Thomas Award for “Best Travel Book” in 2018, awarded by the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). 

When placed side by side, the similarities are glaring. They even look like first and second editions of the same book.

While many books share the same title and that was the least of my concern (there are over 12 Due Norths out there), it was the font style and color, photo composition using isolation techniques, and overall color palette of the book cover that clearly show there must have been some inspiration along the way.

Someone on their design team had probably come across my book in the past, maybe even honestly forgotten about it, but had been inspired enough. But according to the publisher with a 25+ year history, they don’t search for similar titles and had never heard of my own book until I took to Twitter.

In essence, patronizing me in the most condescending manner possible.

Because when I published my own book, I did a basic title search and made sure my own DUE NORTH was different and autonomous enough from the other 12+ Due North books.

That is simply called doing due diligence. Their designer(s) should have known better.

You see… I have been working hard within both the travel and publishing industries for years. In addition to self-publishing, I also have another book published with a “Big Five” publisher – a bestseller published in 18 foreign language editions around the world. So I am not new to this.

As a travel photographer, I have toiled thrice as hard to convince photo editors why they needed to choose me above the quintessential white guy who looked like he just came down Mount Everest, showered with fresh morning dew, and then headed off to a GQ magazine photo shoot.

For years, I have been building with limited resources while my peers easily get backed by brands and other large collaborations because they fit the look of what a rugged travel photographer looks like. They have been given access to everything they needed to grow and improve their craft and shine over the years.

Women of color struggle with less access to the resources we need to help us grow and develop and are expected to jump through many hoops to prove that our work is worthy. 

Yet, we keep rising to the occasion.

In the words of indomitable actress Viola Davis, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” 

Viola Davis’ words remain a lifeline for me.

When I self-published DUE NORTH, I put a lot of my limited resources into creating a high quality book because I knew I couldn’t produce anything less than. 

As a Black African woman who works in this space as a professional travel writer and photographer, I know I needed to keep creating quality and to keep opening up this space for others who look like me.

I keep working hard so that the world is forced to give us better reasons for why we keep getting excluded because it can no longer point to our skills as an excuse.

You see…

I am tired of people asking me “Did you take that picture?!

I am tired of people asking me “Did you write that?!

I am tired of people asking me “Did you build that? Create that? Invent that? Develop that? Design that?” 

When I saw that cover, it was the physical manifestation of everything I have been fighting against. 

It was a painful slap in my face.

Due North - Lola Akinmade Akerstrom

This wasn’t the first time with DUE NORTH.

Someone poached my entire tagline – “A collection of travel observations, reflections, and snapshots across colors, cultures, and continents”.

And then proceeded to tell me it was pure coincidence and that they’d never even heard of my book before. Someone within my very own network. They came to their senses and changed theirs.

My work gets copied all the time and in most cases, I simply let it be because it’s not worth chasing. As artists and creatives, we all draw inspiration from various sources all the time and they always say imitation is the greatest form of flattery.

But this… This hurt me deeply. 

Due North - Lola Akinmade Akerstrom

It hurt me because I self-published that book. Designed that cover concept. That was my baby. 

It hurt me because I’m currently sitting on a manuscript which publishers reject with “high praise” but can’t seem to connect with because it fully centers Black women. Yet somehow, they can easily connect with aliens, vampires, and other supernatural and inhuman beings with ease.

It hurt me because, in the words of my friend Kate McCulley of Adventurous Kate, they were “repurposing a successful woman of color’s work for a white man.

Some days, I want to throw my hands up in defeat but I can’t and I never will.

I know I am privileged beyond a doubt to be able to pursue a career within an industry considered a dream job by many people. I have also worked very hard for it. I am grateful for every single blessing and opportunity that has come my way. I am grateful for my mentors, colleagues, community and every single person who supports me through my ebbs and flows. I am grateful for everyone who has seen me struggle to build and grow over the years and who continue to pull me back up when I fall down and keep inspiring me to charge on.

If the publisher truly and deeply believes this was a “creative coincidence”, then I am not expecting them to apologize for what they don’t believe in because I am a very reasonable person.

But what I was expecting from them was to fully acknowledge this. To see my own hard work too. 

Time and time again, the industry tries to silence my voice and slap my hand for speaking my truth and sharing my pain publicly. The industry tries to invalidate my voice. 

But that is one thing I will always have… My voice.

I don’t know the author personally and from one author to another, I truly and sincerely wish him the best because publishing a book is hard work and this is not a personal attack. His book is his own baby. A culmination of his own passion.

But I do know that I’ll never look at that car the same way again.

Not because I don’t love that brand because, like a jilted girlfriend who didn’t see it coming, I still do. 

But my dream car, through no fault of its own, now unwittingly symbolizes my never ending fight as a Black woman within this space.

And I’m having a very hard time reconciling that emotionally.

For those of you asking how you can support me through this, please buy my book on Amazon (eBook and paperback versions only) or buy the hardback version here or through Book Depository with free shipping. Thank you.


Important Update

Murdoch Books has sent a heartfelt apology with full acknowledgement and has promised to do better.

I have accepted that apology because I have chosen to extend grace during these difficult times we all find ourselves in.

I have chosen to extend grace because we all need to redirect energy to protecting our families, livelihoods, and staying safe in the face of a global pandemic.

When you do a search on Amazon, the other book comes up first because it was traditionally published versus mine, which is self-published.  And that hurts.

To help me through this, please continue to support me by buying my book on Amazon (eBook and paperback versions only) so it doesn’t get buried or buy the hardback version here. You can also buy the hardback version from Book Depository with free delivery as well.

And always remember that no one can ever take away your voice.