Author, "Capitalist Nigger: The Road to Success."
Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, African Sun Times, www.africansuntimes.com
In reply to dialogues 496, 501, 505 and 509, I support what the first writer said, that "African writers cannot live on their writing," alone. But why is that? In an article I had written in September, 2003, I stated as follows,
"There are many Africans who think I should behave like the majority of African
authors who think it is better to spend an enormous amount of time writing,
editing and printing a book only to let it collect dust in their basement.
Well, sorry to disappoint those people. What is the essence of that? If your
book is not selling, what's the use of having published the book, just for your
own enjoyment or what? How will people know your viewpoint, then? Unless, of
course, if you are one of those rich Africans who prefer to heat their houses
with dollars in their fire place, then you can afford to have somebody write a
book for you and then distribute it free."
I know of two Africans here in the U.S. who have quit their jobs, and made marketing their books their only employment. They are doing all the things that are necessary in ensuring that they live on their writings. First, they believe they produced a good book, that is the book is well written, not when you open the book there are all kinds of mistakes, words misspelt, sentences not well conceived or grammartically wrong, and of course there is the matter of
the book poorly produced.
Secondly, they are out there hustling their books, attending book fairs, book expos, calling into radio stations or being interviewed on radio/tv stations, writing articles which mention their books. If you are a self-published author, it means you have invested a lot of money in your work. Unless you have a lot of money to burn, it means you have to do everything to recoup your
investment and still sustain yourself. The problem with most African authors, is that most of them are in academe where they always have to fall back on their salaries.
Africans have a dependency syndrome. They want everything done for them. The greatest culprits are the so-called elite class, who have been spoilt rotten. Writing and living on your book should not have anything to do with government, it is the same welfare syndrome. Help me, help me, help me, give me, give me, give me!!
It is just like everything Africans do, we don't pay enough attention or research enough how others have done or are doing it. Yes, of course, you can live on your writing. Do the math. Unless you are published by an main stream publisher, it is up to you to ensure that you market your book. As an independent author/publisher, selling between 10,000 to 20,000 copies a year, will make you good money. Let's assume you didn't go the route of publishing a hard-cover which costs arm and a leg and decide to bring out your book as a paperback, spending between $2.00 to $2.50 in total expenditure before editing and type setting and of course the time you invested writing the manuscript, and you priced your book at $14.95. If you went through the wholesale route, you might gross between $60,000 to $120,000. But selling half of the book yourself even discounted to $10 can still make more you money, and you will be free to
write another book. Speaking engagements could throw in another $5,000 or more
a year, plus the satisfaction of the applause and knowing that your ideas are
being absorbed by many people.
Promoting and selling are tough enough jobs, but you must first of all have written something that people can read and understand; and then proceed to ensure that the book is well produced. As the author said, people use book launching, especially in a country like Nigeria, to make some good money by selling a few books because people have paid thousands or millions to "launch" the book. After that nobody ever hears about the book or its author. But that is not what it should be. If you have written a book that individuals can't go out and buy on their own, then you are absolutely wasting your precious time, more than purely an ego trip, unless you have written a textbook published by a main stream publishing house.
Prof. Chinua Achebe's book, "Things Fall Apart," has sold more than 11 million copies since its printing - that is almost a yearly average of 250,000 books, despite the fact that you hardly hear him on the book circuit, although he does quite a lot of speaking engagements. But the book will not continue to be such a strong seller if he had not in the first instance produced a well written book.
There are those in academe who believe because they have written a book, sometimes just a reproduction of their theses, they deserve to be accorded the word "author." Our people should stop deluding themselves. If you are to write, write something that is universal in the sense that anybody anywhere can read what you have written and understand its meaning, even if you are writing about your village.
Only then can African authors make money as writers and even compete with the grants that their counterparts in West are given, rather than calling on African governments to come to their aid. We can't continue to call on governments to do everything for us. What have the elite done for Africans?