Pearls And Heels: Stella Riunga


Today’s Pearls and Heels woman is Stella Riunga. She works as a book editor at a publishing firm here in Nairobi. She have been editing and writing for the last 6 years now. She also writes a column for a Ugandan newspaper called the Daily Monitor. She blogs from time to time as well at

stella riungu

1.Describe your typical day?

I get up, get ready for work, pray and make my way to work (I live close to my workplace, so I’m usually there in half an hour or so). I get to my workstation, clock in, read a bit of the Bible and begin my day. Usually I have a manuscript I am working on, if it has come back from design stage I go through it to check for errors and to suggest improvements. If I have something that is still raw (in Word form) I go through it, make sure it meets the syllabus requirements, that the content is complete and so on. I also compile artwork briefs if the books need diagrams. From time to time I will have meetings with freelance designers, illustrators and so on to assign or receive work. At the beginning of a project I organize workshops where the authors are invited to come and write. We get unsolicited manuscripts from aspiring authors and this is also part of my work- I have to go through them and recommend them for publication or reject them, then prepare a report which is forwarded to my boss, the publishing manager, and to the author.

2. What did you want to be when you grew up?

First, I wanted to be a teacher, and then I changed my mind and decided that I wanted to be a well- known writer. Hopefully I’m on my way there!

3. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

I would not be afraid of trying new things, or facing rejection. My career has not been that long- going on 6 years now- but if I met my younger self just starting out in 2009 I would tell her not to be discouraged by the long thankless hours- they will pay off in the end. And to learn to take criticism well.

4. What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?

Lots of patience, a genuine love of words and stories, and a keen, critical mind. You need to be the kind of person who cares more about getting the job done than getting the credit for doing it – editors are rarely publicly acknowledged for their work. At the end of the day most of the glory goes to the author and the publisher.

5. As a professional how is it working in the Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?

Nairobi is an exciting place to be. I’ve found that there are lots of people writing and there’s a keen literary awareness as well. I wish there were an association or a body that brings editors together- we tend to work in isolation.

6. What motivates you?

Excellence motivates me, seeing a book that started its life on my desk as a rag-tag collection of papers finally come out in print gives me a deep sense of joy and satisfaction.

7. How do you define success?

Making a positive, felt impact on people through what you do. Being the kind of person who pushes/inspires others to do better and be better.

8. Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My first boss – Monity Odera. She was the publishing manager at East African Educational Publishers when I worked there from 2009 -2010. Her standards were sky-high and sometimes I felt she was impossible to please but she really left a lasting impact on me, career-wise. She taught me how to set the bar high, and for that I am grateful to her. I also look up to Mr. James Tumusiime, the artist behind the Bogi Benda cartoons of the 90’s and the current founder and owner of Fountain Publishers in Uganda. He employed me in March 2012 and placed me in an environment where I was given a lot of freedom and responsibility. It helped me grow. Mr Tumusiime is an entrepreneur, an artist, a book-lover, a family-man, and extremely affable to boot. I learnt a lot of life lessons from observing him.

9. What is your favorite aspect of your job?

Learning so many new things, every day. Today I am working on a history textbook. I love History so you can imagine how much fun I am having learning about the ancient empires of Africa. In the past two weeks I have gone from reading about Guidance and Counselling, proofreading History, to working on a children’s book. My mind is always kept active.

10. What would you say are the key elements to being successful?

I think no human being can claim to be so wonderful as to be successful all on their own. I am a Christian and I believe my life is in God’s hands. He gives me the tools to work- this brain, this body, my health, my job- and blesses my efforts- success is from the Lord. Secondly, I believe that being authentic is one of the key elements to being successful. Once you discover you are you, uniquely gifted and get on with nurturing your talents instead of struggling to imitate others, you are well on your way there. Lastly, I think we need to redefine success. It is not having lots of money to splash about town, a body that others would kill for, lovely clothes, or a lavish lifestyle. It is having meaning in your life, good relationships with the people who love you and a legacy you can leave when you die. These things you can’t touch but they will linger on.

11. What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?

Be patient. It takes time to get anywhere. Buckle down and put in the hours. Be humble, accept that you don’t know and learn. Don’t take criticism so much to heart, cry a few times in private then learn that those who criticize you make you better. Try new things – travel, go places, meet new people- have a life outside your work. Read widely – be curious and read as much as you can- blogs, newspapers, books on fiction, non-fiction, autobiographies, history – it will serve you well and broaden your mind.

12. What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?

The most memorable: the first time a book I had worked on from scratch was approved for print- that was a definite high. Writing wise – the first time I saw my name on a by-line. (I was working as a features contributor for the Daily Metro then).

13. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?

I love watching Nigerian movies! They make me so happy. Outside of work I spend time with my friends, family and fiancé. I read whenever I can get the chance and I write when I need to unburden myself.

14. Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?

I see myself as a published author and an editorial consultant, most likely. I’d love the chance to do some teaching later in life and pass on my knowledge and experience.

Check out Dear Future Husband by Stella Riunga on my blog.


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Potentash Founder. A creative writer and editor at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories. Find me at [email protected]