By Anote Ajeluorou
ALTHOUGH only a handful of publishers attended this year’s Publishers’ Forum organised by Committee of Relevant Arts during its yearly Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF), it yielded positive fruits that would benefit Nigerian writers and publishers in setting possible agenda for their writing henceforth. The forum is designed to synergise the business of book publishing, distribution, sales and emerging issues in the book chain.
It held at Goethe Institut, City Hall, Onikan, Lagos.
With facilitation from the boss of Cassava Republic Press, Abuja, Dr. Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, it had Managing Editor, Kachifo Limited (Farafina imprint owners), Ms Uche Okonkwo, Editor, Storybooks, Litramed Publishers (Lantern Books imprint owners), Ms Onyinye Nwaiwu, a few others on e-portals who are creating new online platforms for book promotion and sales and book enthusiasts in attendance. It focused on ‘Genre Fiction’.
Bakare-Yusuf pointed out that ‘literary or traditional fiction’ rather than ‘genre fiction’ is the form of fiction Nigerian writers are more engaged in whereas genre fiction, especially its romance/erotica sub-type is the biggest money-spinner the world over grossing over USD$1.4 billion a year.
Other variants of genre fiction highlighted include crime, science fiction (scifi) and mystery. Nigerian writers were encouraged to delve into these sub-genres and make the most of them, especially as they cater to the reading needs of young adults who appear shutout of the literary space at the moment with the emphasis on literary fiction.
Bakare-Yusuf noted that a lot of books written for young adults appear moralistic and a turn-off for young people, which she said isn’t good enough. According to her, “Young people are just discovering themselves in many ways; they are just discovering sex, their bodies, sexuality. So, such issues that engage them should form the basis of the fiction that they read”.
For her, appropriate content of fiction for young adults is key and morality or moralizing isn’t one of them. However, for those who may feel squeamish about such position, Bakare-Yusuf was quick to point out stories should have morals carefully woven into their fabric and not ‘in-your-face’ type of morals at the expense of literary finesse.
As she put it, “We must stop putting pressure on writers by asking them to write moral books. We need to expand our imagination so we don’t block young people’s cognitive reasoning. Authors who write morals into the fabric of the book are the most skilled. A writer’s first responsibility is to his craft and not burden it with social concerns. We need more publishers and not just writers to expand the scope of materials being published; we are not exploiting the breath of the publishing landscape enough to add to our bottom line”.
It was generally agreed that Nigeria has a huge young adult demography that can support literary fiction, but that the needs of that demography are largely unmet with the kind of content being produced. With a few or no books dedicated to romance and erotica, crime or science fiction or mystery that ordinarily elicit the curiosity of young adults, the country’s writers have not only shut out that segment of readers, but have also denied themselves the huge revenues accruable from it.
Bakare-Yusuf noted, “So, publishers have to be conscious about what they are publishing. It’s about demographical fiction. Your storylines must have that conflict about emotions that young people deal with. To be able to capture that 67 per cent of Nigeria’s population (80 million), we have to take content seriously, which means we have to take young people’s sensibilities into account”.
Another area of concern is the medium of conveying content, especially with the advent of technology, which Bakare-Yusuf said has transformed their sensibilities. What used to interest young adults 20 years ago is not what interests them now. For instance, social media has replaced the once-cherished art of letter writing:
“No more letter writing as against social media; these must be reflected in the writing. Now, there are no restrictions, as to what they can read, as young people (who are largely ‘Digital Natives’) read variedly now than before. So, too, sales of e-books are stabilizing and not decreasing. We need to get into the heads of young people when developing content for genre fiction”.
ALSO, e-publishing or e-book formats and how to maximise online sales using different portals featured at the forum, with Okechukwu Ofili speaking on his OkadaBooks online portal for publishing and book sales and Elnathan John discussing how to effectively use Twitter and social media platforms to maximize information to reach target audience.