Towards fostering mutual relationship between authors, publishers

relationship between authors
Samuel KolawoleProfessor and Akachi Ezeigbo

IT is a known fact that the relationship between authors and publishers can be likened to that of a cat and mouse. However, Professor Akachi Ezeigbo, a renowned professor of English, in her lecture at this year’s University Press Plc’s Author’s Forum, believes mutual relationship can be fostered between the two, thereby removing the age-long suspicion that each is trying to cheat the other.

Professor Ezeigbo’s lecture, entitled: Building a partnership that works: The relationship between authors and publishers in Nigeria, dwells on the experiences of the lecturer being an author, as well as a publisher, as she is a executive director at UP Plc.

In the lecture, Professor Ezeigbo highlighted the fact that both publishers and authors need one another for a smooth publishing sector, and without the authors, the publisher has no business.

“While the relationship between authors and publishers can be compared to a marital union, they are essentially in an adversarial relationship.

“However, one good thing is that the industry has grown tremendously in Nigeria over the years,” Professor Ezeigbo said.

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The don went down memory lane, explaining how foreign-based publishers first dominated the publishing sector in the country.

“These foreign-based publishing companies like Oxford University Press, Heinemann Educational Books, among others, published our first generation of writers like Professor Chinua Achebe, Professor Wole Soyinka, Professor Chukwuemeka Ike, among others.

“After the civil war, indigenous publishers sprang up, as well as publishing companies, which were off-shoots of foreign publishers, and the sector began growing.

“Today, there are new publishing companies around the country, but the relationship with authors has been froth with uneasy peace or outright rancour.

“Most writers are unhappy with their publishers, who they accuse of a number of failings, especially that the publishers rob them of their rewards.

“In giving credence to this claim, I have been published by eight publishers, but only the University Press Plc pays royalties, as well have documents showing the total number of my books sold.

“Authors can complain of neglect by publishers; writers are attention seekers, and they want their publishers to pay attention to them, through trainings, fellowships, residencies, among other areas.

“However, publishers complain that Nigeria is not a book-friendly environment, as lots of people do not make buying books or reading a priority, not even the educated class or people in leadership positions.

“There are other constraints for publishers, which put them at a disadvantage, thus making many of them incapable of paying royalties to their authors.

“Despite all these, publishers understand the need to recruit and retain good authors, but piracy is also affecting most publishers, including students who prefer to photocopy the intellectual work of an author, instead of buying the book.

“Pirates cause huge losses for publishers, and publishers are handicapped financially when they publish books that fail in the market,” the don said, while lamenting that a larger percentage of Nigeria’s population are illiterates, thus making publishing endangered, while marketing books will become an uphill task or an unprofitable venture.

With the relationship with publishers not particularly smooth, Professor Ezeigbo noted that this has resulted in many writers opting for self-publishing, despite the fact that there are new publishing companies they can work with.

“In fact, self-publishing books are winning awards, but the majority of them are badly edited and poorly packaged.

“Some authors now patronise foreign publishers; there is also the digital and e-publishing, which authors can publish their books on online platforms like Amazon and other e-publishers. However, how many authors have profited from this?,” Professor Ezeigbo asked.

She explained that e-publishers don’t do much for authors like traditional publishers, and they get to receive a huge percentage from the sale of such books on their platform.

“They don’t market for authors, or assist in designing the book, but they gain huge percentage from each copy sold, despite doing nothing for the author.”

The way forward

The way forward, according to Professor Ezeigbo, is for publishers and authors to build a relationship based on respect, trust and empathy.

“We must understand that the relationship cannot be perfect, but both parties should remain together and work in harmony.

“Although authors have the option to self-publish, they are better-off working with publishers who provide editorial skills, design and layout, marketing and distribution for the books.

“However, both must be honest to each other, and we must not forget that authors will stick to publishers that treat them well,” Professor Ezeigbo said, while commending the way the University Press Plc treats its authors.

Earlier, in his opening remarks, the chairman of the publishing company, Dr Lalekan Are, said the relationship between authors and publishers is mutually rewarding, as good authors bring fortune to the publisher, while reputable publishers promote authors beyond their shores.

Dr Are described publishers and authors as Siamese twins whose dependence on each other cannot be undermined.

“The relationship between authors and publishers also produce a synergy that oils the wheel of educational development and advancement of the nation.

“The roles of authors and publishers remain distinct, each dependent on the other for the successful completion of a publishing project,” Dr Are said, while also advocating for promotion of writing in indigenous languages.

In his closing remarks, the managing director of UP Plc, Mr Samuel Kolawole, explained that the company would always put its authors first, and that was why it came up with the annual Authors’ Forum, where the company and its authors can rub minds on issues affecting the industry.

“We have been having the Author’s Forum for the past nine years, and next year, we will be having the 10th edition. It will also be coming up when the company will be celebrating its 70th anniversary of its existence in the country,” Mr Kolawole said.

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