Minerva Press is a typical example of vanity publishing. A report says that it was Britain’s largest vanity publishing company, but now it has ceased trading. Its phones at its Leicester office have been cut off and creditors, mostly writers are likely to lose money as its website has ceased to exist. The director of the company, Peter Hamblin, owned Minerva Press. It collapsed with debts of 2.6 million pounds and assets amounting to not much more than some second-hand desks worth about 5,000 pounds. Vanity publishers are those who charge authors money to get their works published.
The secretary to the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Lagos chapter in 2002, Emeka Egwuda, alerted Nigerian writers on the activities of companies such as Minerva, saying that inasmuch as there are publishing problems facing Nigerian writers at home, they should not give their money to vanity publishers to publish their work which they would not see nor receive any royalty. He brought up the idea of self-publishing of which the author could use his money to print his book and get back the copies which he would sell and recoup his money. – (“Pain, anger, as Minerva Press liquidates”, The [Nigerian] Vanguard newspaper, Thursday, November 7, 2002, page 37)
Dr. Adeche Apeji argues that the vanity publisher is one who is scared of giving out his manuscript for assessment at the publishing house, as he fears rejection slips, Uduma Kalu reports. Dr. Apeji sees vanity publishing as a problem to the book industry as it releases to the public poor and mediocre books. He identified vanity publishers as greedy and selfish. “…To resort to mediocrity and vanity is neither in the long-term interest of the book industry. A vanity publisher can only live his name – vainglory. And that’s no good name for any author.”
Uduma Kalu said: “…self-publishing has its demerits too. Apart from the writer not having enough money to publish himself, the print run is usually a few copies and circulates virtually among fellow writers since there is no machinery to publicise the book.” – (“Watch it! The self publishing boom may be dangerous”, The [Nigerian] Guardian newspaper, Friday, June 25, 2004, page 30)
Eze Ogo of The Post Express reports: “Recently, the need for writers to know the kind of contract they enter into with their publishers and the importance of familiarity with copyright laws have been on the increase.” He related how the famous Ghanaian novelist, Ayi Kwei Armah, when he was invited to the 21st annual convention of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) held at the Presidential Hotel in Port Harcourt, told reporters and writers when he was first in Lagos how Heinemann Educational Books cheated him in the contractual agreement reached with the company in 1977. Phillip Begho, another creative writer and property lawyer, was also at that convention to give a talk on the need for writers to understand copyright laws.
He argues that “though a creative work is of an intangible nature, it is nevertheless the product of labour. It is nevertheless a form of property. And all property must be protected. All honest and useful labour must be adequately compensated…the rights of writers certainly include the right not to have their work copied, used, varied or distorted without their permission.” Begho attributed this resurgence to the economic downturn: “As the economic environment becomes harsher, there is a greater need to fight for what is yours. In any jungle setting, oppression is rife, plunder is prevalent, and one must stand to protect what belongs to one.” The lawyer proffers that writers who are not paid their royalties or paid paltry sums can take their publishers to court: “The writer has a right of action to take his publisher to court where there has been a breach of agreement. But the best course of action is to see to the resuscitation of the economy. Writers and other artists will not have such a raw deal in a healthy economy.” – (“Writers and Intellectual Property Rights”, The Post Express newspaper [defunct], Sunday, December 16, 2001, page 18)
It is very sad that in Nigeria today, it is the same old faces that one sees when it comes to literary business. At each point in time, it does appear that the critical searchlight still revolves around the same old voices: Achebe, Munonye, Amadi, Soyinka and Okigbo, a report said. The critical establishment in the literary culture of Nigeria seemed to have died in its totality. The report further said: “With the exception of the likes of Maduakor and Nnolim, who allow their critical breath to touch the young writers, there appears to be no hope for the teeming population of writers in the country. It is disturbing that the critical energy is still directed at old arguments…many others are here waiting for sunlight, waiting for recognition……It is true that the old critics have paid their dues, but it may be necessary that they join hands to launch the new writers on the global platform through their valued critical intervention, that at least will provide the guiding step for aspiring critics for a generational task.” – (“Literary culture and the death of critical establishment”, The [Nigerian] Vanguard newspaper, Thursday, May 2, 2002, page 33)
Even Bernth Lindfors in an article entitled “Accounting for differences” (The [Nigerian] Sunday Vanguard newspaper, October 6, 2002, continued October 13 & 20, 2002, page 41) in honour of Professor Charles Nnolim says: “Writers who command attention are ‘ipso facto’ more important than writers who are ignored. The biggest trees in any chosen forest are always clearly visible.” Furthermore, he says: “…what we have here is a clear indication that Soyinka and Achebe have a commanding lead over all the rest, that Ngugi is their only potential challenger at the moment, and that all the rest enjoy significantly less critical esteem.”
Charles Nnolim looks at issues in contemporary African literature: “The lachrymal nature of modern African literature made it inevitable for that literature to start by blaming the white man for everything wrong with us, castigating him for exploiting our resources and debasing our humanity. We also blamed the white man for not granting us, at least, flag independence to allow us develop ourselves. And when the white man threw in the towel, our eyes were opened to the rapacity, greed, myopia, and the corrupt tendencies of our indigenous politicians……the publishing houses suffered a demise. Time was when publishing houses like Heinemann, Evans Brothers, Oxford University Press, Spectrum Books, Longman, African Universities Press, offered advance royalties to budding writers to complete their work. Toward the dying hours of the 20th century, the publishing houses turned around to demand large sums of money from budding writers in order to have their works published. Soon, they were joined by new “publishing” establishments in Nigeria – Kraft Books, ABIC, Malthouse, which insisted on publishing a writer’s work on a cash and carry arrangement – and before a new writer could catch his breath, countless but nondescript desktop computer “publisher” or rather, printers who had cornered ISBN numbers joined the field with no facilities for marketing or distribution of their products.”
In conclusion, he says: “In sum, it is the position of that African literature and its criticism has suffered a decline at the turn of the century. The causes of this decline are manifold. The downturn in our economic order, the demise of the publishing houses that made availability, distribution, and marketing of new literary texts impossible, the fact that our best writer reached their peak in the late 80s so that their most productive years have suffered exhaustion…these plus the fact that what kicked the African writer in the stomach in the 60s and 70s are no longer current. All contributed to the lull in literary creativity and its attendant criticism at present. It is imperative, therefore, that a change of vision and a new attitude of the mind should govern and direct our creative efforts in this century.” – (“Where is African writing going this century?”, The [Nigerian] Guardian newspaper, Friday, September 23, 2005, pages 31, 34 – 35)
TO BE CONCLUDED…