About this writer
I am of the opinion that alternative methods of publishing are very worthy alternatives to traditional publishing. Like the advertisements from many self-publishing outfits state (it’s almost like they copy that from one other), it was done by authors who went on to have glittering literary careers – names like Hemmingway, Grisham, get bandied about. So, one finds oneself in good company, in a manner of speaking. These guys were once “anybody” before they became “somebody”.
I often tell anyone who will listen – an ideal world is one in which everyone writes and we all read what the other writes. It would be a better world because the perspectives available for inspection would be so immense, and it would probably broaden understanding, although the hate shared on social media seems to cast doubts on this supposition because it is one of the models for exploring such a possibility. However, we are made aware that such views exist, however unsavoury they are. Writing should be as ubiquitous, powerful and as widespread as speech. In the past, traditional publishers were able to act the roles of “voice limiters” – they held the gate keys or passes to readership. If a literary work was too daring, risky or did not express a view or perspective with economic potential, it was possible to stifle it. Those days are thankfully gone. The corpus of world literature is a list of works that were turned down several times by traditional publishers before someone had an “a-ha moment” and decided to publish them – a case in point would be “The Day of The Jackal” by Frederick Forsythe, one of my favourite books, a thriller classic. To characterise a writer’s work as that of “anyone who has come in through the back door” is to somehow dehumanise or debase the importance of each one’s unique perspective of the human experience which is the essence of literature. In fact, I would go so far as to identify it as arrogance and snobbery writ large. With standard editing and other tools available to traditional publishers, the works of most authors could shine and thankfully, those tools are rapidly becoming available to savvy self-published authors at affordable prices that no longer cause financial bankruptcy.
The “creative control” option is also attractive for some writers. In my interaction with some established authors, they state that their publishers give them creative control. I am very doubtful however that they are as lenient as self-publishing companies, some of whom never read or edit the work, a dubious advantage. The editing of the work is solely at the discretion of the author, a burden that is often taken off the back of established writers by traditional publishers. Unsurprisingly, questionable editing often makes many self-published works seem like poison chalices.
Speaking from my Nigerian experience, when the first draft of my novel was ready, between 2006 and 2008, I approached a few Nigerian publishing outfits for a possible deal. With hardly two kobo coins to rub together, I was expectantly presented by those publishers with the estimated cost of publishing my work, costs that I would bear – I believe their “consultancy” fees were incorporated in those charges. This was more than discouraging. All they had to offer to the public was the hard copy edition of the work. They could not really be blamed entirely for their cost-dodging policies. With a decimated middle-class and falling literacy levels in Nigeria, interest in indulgences such as fictional novels had dwindled to near zero levels. I was told bluntly that they would only absorb all publishing costs if I were to publish a textbook in the field of accounting, my day job.
At the same time, I explored the possibility of having my work published outside Nigeria and made available to as wide as an audience as possible, which is probably the aspiration of many a writer. The foreign self-publishers had e-book options available. I decided to tarry awhile hoping something would break and some traditional publisher would see the potential in my work. Real life doesn’t always follow the author’s plot.
Curiously, watchers and respected voices of the Nigerian literary scene are ever so quick to complain about the slow death of literature in the land, the dearth of literary work and are even faster – currently, it is almost like reflex action – to denounce self-published work in an environment where a losing battle is being fought to keep the scene alive. No better illustration of confusion exists, I believe. A clamour for improved standards all-round would be a better tactic to improve the present state of affairs.
When I had put together sufficient personal savings, I invested it in publishing with a UK-based self-publishing company in 2011. It is a decision that I have never regretted. Just before I followed that path, a literary agent informed me that most publishers would consider my novel too expensive to produce – a rather considerate guy, because the others never explained why they turned my work down (new authors, beware – etiquette is a strange concept to many literary agents). It was an illusion-shattering moment, reading that email. I still believe no one can ever accept the possibility that an African resident in Africa can ever write a story with one of the main characters modelled after Frank Sinatra, or about a coup in China, or accept to publish a work with a total word count of over 200,000 words – yes, the world is so impatient now, 200,000 words is impossible for most to read in the days of 149 character dominated cyberspace, which coincidentally – irony of ironies – is the best tool for a self-published author to thrust his or her work out there in the public space.
The traditional publishing world has come to see the fluidity of its hold on readers – its opponent is not only self-publishing, social media has become another worthy opponent because frankly, it is often more alluring and dramatic than whatever many world-renowned authors can put together. There are reports of famous authors now exploring the self-publishing route. The publisher of my first work, AuthourHouse, was acquired by Penguin in 2012. Kirkus Reviews now has a paid-for review service strictly for self-published authors – which on its own opens a vista of moral grey areas about one of the oldest literary review journals “selling out” and pulling its punches in its reviews of such works. I explored the Kirkus option – and it was very revealing and helpful in an endeavour that is so heavily reliant on independent feedback. I was a rookie writer at the time and some of their observations were wake-up calls for me as regards my writing. I would advise any aspiring writer with means to explore similar options where they are available.
My self-publishing experience has been a roller coaster ride and truth be told, not as economically rewarding as some may think. Yes, let’s face it folks, writers deserve moderate pecuniary rewards for their mental exertions because for fiction writers, induced schizophrenia, the headaches and migraines that follow extensive lying in 100,000 plus words, in written text, is no mean feat – I speak from personal experience. My second novel is almost done and I say this without mincing words – self-publishing is an option I shall be willing to explore once more. Never again will any manuscript of mine gather dust, electronic or physical, just because some agent or traditional publisher doesn’t think giving vent to my voice could be worth the effort.