Amalion Publishing

Sulaiman Adebowale is the director of Amalion Publishing, a publishing house based in Dakar, Senegal. He has exciting ideas for writing and publishing in Africa. Enjoy!

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Sulaiman does not agree that all African books lack quality…

I am afraid not the books Amalion publishes! In fact, I don’t know any publisher on the continent or outside who will deliberately set out to produce anything but excellent books. It is understandable that most of the time we get what we pay for in the business. It is an expensive endeavour producing and marketing books. The more money and time you have to put into the production processes, the better the end result. But the money invested means you may have to print more copies to sell and more money to market and distribute in order to even think of breaking even. Are we willing to pay more for books as we do for our hair extensions and mobile phones? If not, how much are readers willing to pay to buy books, regularly or even occasionally?

Sulaiman says collaboration with TV industries can help in promoting new writers and their books…

The initial effort and resources in distribution and marketing new books need to show results and quickly too. The result could be visibility for the author and publisher, but realistically it should be more than that too. Sales are important not just for the author and title in question, but also to allow an opportunity to sustain the publishing business and the chance for other authors and books to get published in future.

Every publisher would wish their books sell regularly and be in constant high demand for an extended period of time, but the volume of new books coming out everyday makes such a wish wishful except for prescribed textbooks and some equally extremely well known author or classic title. The reality of the current terrain cannot be glossed over. About 20 years ago, a publisher can first release a hardback edition, six months to one year or more later, a paperback edition. Each edition’s release provided an opportunity to sustain the book in the news, same for the translated editions. In today’s scenario, it is not so for most books. The economics of the business is already turning hardbacks into antiques, except for specific academic titles and children’s picture books, and the focus is on the paper back and digital editions. Some publishers are also simply doing only digital and or use POD to make some paperback copies available.

However, if publishers can collaborate better with the film and TV industries, the buzz could help. Same with the increased interest in literary festivals and fora, combined with hangouts on social media, there are more spaces and opportunities to keep talking about a book and further draw public attention. It is equally the writer’s contribution to be out there and be willing and ready to promote the work.

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On distribution…

We work with distributors locally and with the collaboration of authors we also get the titles to some bookshops. There are specific outlets that attract the readership interested in the kind of books that we produce, unsurprisingly we target them. Certainly, it is not an easy task given the economic contexts of most countries on the continent. As the business grows into other kinds of lists, we are going beyond these outlets to touch a wider readership.

On having more and efficient publishing houses in Africa to accommodate more writers…

There are several questions and assertions here worth looking at closely. First, it should not necessarily be a bad thing for there to be more writers than publishers. The job of publishing developed over time to address a specific need in a community. Part of that job is to gather, evaluate and refine the works of authors and publish them for dissemination to a wider community. With time, the work evolved to become an archival role with the development of an industry of information and documentation to make it possible. This archival role was possible not just because of the socio-economic and political contexts around the history of books, but also because of the very essence of the way publishing operated. Publishers through their workings and production processes – reviewing, editorial, design and eventually printing and distribution – were also sifting and vetting writing, ensuring that before disseminating books and knowledge, some form of house cleaning has been done beforehand. It is understandable that not all writing and authors can get published in such a scenario. The community would, over time, begin to regard published books with some kind of seal of approval.

Yet, the publishing process has somehow ensured to varying successes and failures that outright bigotry, falsehood and danger can be removed from the end product. Of course that is not to say that what gets published is not influenced by a myriad of factors, but what is more interesting is that those factors and human perception of it change over time and space. Think Heart of Darkness and other subtle and unsubtle works of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in today’s mind, or what our feelings will be if, to pick an extreme example, Mein Kampf just landed on a publisher’s desk today, and that unease is exactly what is happening with the book out of copyright from 1 January 2016.

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On self-publishing…

So an author’s love gets spurned and he or she decides to self-publish the work. Great, the technological advances and possibilities of our times have made that really feasible at least without considerable financial ruin, depending on which side of the have and have-nots they are, of course. Some authors have been successful doing this, most have not. Some publishers have also been successful publishing authors, most have not as well. It is the way of the world. Specifically for the African book market, the rarity of successful self-published books could be one of the reasons why we are having this discussion in the first place. The writers have yet to come up with better published and marketed titles on their own. Going back to your first assertion earlier that “People hold the notion that books produced in African countries lack quality and excellence in their editorial capacity”, it would be enlightening to know which of these books are self-published or not.

The volume of writing out there, in the form of blogs, websites, Facebook musings, email discussion groups and twitter posts, suggest several realities. There’s more than a plethora of platforms and outlets for African writers to express themselves and get their work shared. Blaming someone else does not have such a strong standing anymore. The opportunity is there to share your writing to the world and even get useful feedback and both praise and downright condemnation promptly. The very same opportunity on the other hand sets another daunting challenge, how does a writer get noticed in this avalanche of writings online? How do you make your literature stand out from the drivels of writings out there? Who keeps the copy of that short story you posted when you simply forget to update the domain address? It takes some work and resources, and if you can do it on your own or collectively, please go ahead, but be ready to accept the results and consequences and be humble enough to acknowledge that not all writing have to be published.

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Sulaiman cites Man Booker winner, Marlon James, as one example of a writer committed to his art…

The news about how Marlon James’s first novel John Crow’s Devil got rejected 78 times before publication has circulated since he won the Man Booker prize for his third novel. Apart from saluting his courage for taking the bother to actually count the rejections, what struck me most about the whole news is that despite knowing the intricacies of the publishing process as a copy writer with a network of publishing actors and printers to help him out, he did not resort to self-publishing. It takes enormous strength for a creative person to be ready to be judged and supported by someone else. So it is all well and good to focus on ‘improving the efficiency of publishing’, but may be writers should focus on their craft, the art of writing, to better their chances of being published, and leave something worthy for humanity.

Hear what he thinks about the digital engagement of readers…

Yes, there are publishers on the continent releasing and selling e-books either directly or through some collaborative programmes. This has been going on for some time now. Amalion also publishes digital editions. But the key question is still on the market and the earnings, when will this side be a good ROI? If the ecommerce platforms develop further in most African countries and not just a few, there can be better leverage there. And we can also think of doing something much more interesting and engaging with e-books rather than simply just selling the plain vanilla epub and kindle files. Secondly, most publishers still have work to do about creating content for mobile phones, which is the dominant digital platform in our part of the world. Authors would have to come up with new forms of writing, hence the buzz on flash-fiction. It is encouraging to see apps on folk tales and proverbs being shared, if the makers are able to make a ROI to develop further, the publishing industry will benefit from it. Some stories and plots would still need to be fully fledged and long form to be well appreciated though; so there will continue to be a space for that too.

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We round up with Sulaiman sharing few words about Amalion…

Amalion is a pan-African publisher. From the word go, we set out to publish authors from the continent from wherever they are, in Africa or elsewhere. We have published authors whose writing and experiences really go beyond national boundaries to reflect the reality of what Africa is also about, a continent with people spread across the world. We have published authors from Burundi, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal, not counting the edited collections with contributions from academics from all over the continent. We don’t really face anything unusual other than the demands of a cross border business in countries with challenging environments for small businesses, not to talk of a creative social enterprise like publishing.

Enlightening, yeah? I told you! The excitement isn’t over yet. Next, we bring you Nigerian Su’eddie Vershima of SEVHAGE! 🙂

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