There comes a time in a person’s life when one wishes to express himself in writing. Most people at some point in their lives have this desire, this dream to write a book, whether a factual study of a favourite subject, a gripping suspense novel or simply the telling of a life story. It has even been observed that it is easier to write a poem than a novel or play due to time factor. The fact remains that everyone has a book in them. A well-known writer, George Bernard Shaw, said: “If you do not write for publication, there is little point in writing at all.”
This is what many authors think will happen to them when they first embark on their publishing journey. This is where the author submits his manuscript to a mainstream publishing house, which then agrees to publish the book. They pay the author an advance (though in reality this is often a very small fee for unknown authors) and they then proceed to publish the book. Usually a book published in this way will take around two years to reach the shops from when it was first accepted for publication. The books are edited and proof-read by the publishing house’s team of editors and a professional cover will be produced.
The books will then be printed lithographically in huge numbers. This gives the publisher a competitive printing price, which in turn leads to a low cover price for the book. A promotional budget will be assigned to get the book into the focus of book buyers. With the publisher’s industry contacts, the book will, in all likelihood, appear on several bookshop chains’ buying lists. These books will then be available for purchase from leading high street bookshops and can often make the bestseller lists for a short period of time. Most authors are attracted to this method of publication because they are paid in advance for their work, can see their books available in bookshops and have the knowledge that their books were considered ‘good enough’ to have been accepted by a mainstream publisher.
I would be a fat liar to my reading audience if I say that the process of publishing the works of creative writers here in Nigeria was smooth-sailing and successful. A former national president of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Professor Olu Obafemi, decried the neglect of writers and creative writing, calling it a national tragedy. When he spoke on publishing, he said: “One of the greatest enemies of the writer is the publisher. Win or lose, they (the publishers) make the gain. They will never declare the total number of books they are publishing and you cannot know the quantity of your books in circulation. They are an extension of the pirates who collude with them.”
Walter Bgoya, an eminent African publisher, exposed the pains of doing the book trade in Africa: “The view that without publishers there can be no writers, may, at a cursory glance appear to be a narrow and paternalistic publishers’ attitude vis-à-vis writers. Yet evidence abounds to show that growth of publishing creates more writers and better writing. Writers’ complaints against publishers in part reflect this reality. The familiar writers’ accusations of publishers stifling their creativity through inefficiency and slowness in getting books published, inefficient marketing strategies and non payment of royalties are evidence of the critical role publishers have in nurturing writers and writing. It places an awesome responsibility on the publishers to the writers and to writing, and in a larger context to the development of national literatures.”
Furthermore, he said: “Textbooks dominate African publishing and it cannot be otherwise. Without money there is no publishing and it is only the captive education market that sustains the industry. But that regrettably is also the weakness of the industry and the temptation for publishers to concentrate all their efforts in money-making, which in the end works against the long-term interests of the continent. For while textbooks are important for education and good education is the basic condition for other development, it is not textbooks that mobilise people for tasks of liberation and I doubt that they will be the tools for conceptualisation and of shaping of the African renaissance.” – (“Publishing For The African Renaissance”, The [Nigerian] Guardian newspaper, Saturday, May 25, 2002, pages 42-43)
Ibidapo Oketunji, a director of the National Library in Lagos, while suggesting a way out of the current book scarcity in the country, kindly tells us that “the primary social functions of a book are to inspire, inform and entertain. Beyond this, its larger purposes are to ensure freedom and diversity and contribute to social growth and political stability. No advanced society can function, and no less developed society can advance, without making a major intensive use of books.” He stated that the genesis of book crisis started with the Christian missionaries before, during and after the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914. They failed to evolve an established publishing scheme in the country due to the fact that they lacked the capacity to undertake the publication of a particular work. Instead, the missionaries made arrangements with home publishers and agents and imported materials. According to him (Oketunji), the colonial masters took over the control of western education from the missionaries but aggravated the problem of indigenous publishing. This made Nigeria dependent on foreign books. Still, Oketunji further said that “the nearer the books are calibrated to the needs of a specific country, the more effective they become as instruments of development.” – (“Crisis In Books Scarcity in Nigeria: Alternative Option”, The [Nigerian] Guardian newspaper, Saturday, August 17, 2002, pages 36, 37 and 38)
Victor Nwankwo decried the situation of publishing in Africa: “Publishing in Africa is heavily dependent on the bread and butter textbooks market. The corrupt patronage system endemic in most of Africa compounds an unsustainable publishing environment. The consequence of this is a widening knowledge divide. Our only hope of bridging this gap lies in a new way of thinking to convert this threatening digital divide into a digital dividend.” In the search for a viable book culture, Nwankwo shares his experience with the Print-On-Demand (POD) being an alternative to the current practice of publishing. – (“Print-on-Demand: An African Publisher’s Experience”, The [Nigerian] Guardian newspaper, Saturday, August 17, 2002, pages 37 – 38)
TO BE CONCLUDED…