Su’eddie Vershima Agema is founder and Chief Executive Officer of SEVHAGE Publishers in Benue, Nigeria. He speaks to Praxis about the profitability of writing and publishing in Africa.

READ: Nigerian Literature on Regional Pedestal

Hear what Su’eddie says about the high prices of African published books and how it affects the young African reader…

I will take it from the end. Yes, books should be sold at lesser prices. Why not? But the printing cost of books in most African countries is quite high. This translates to expensive books. We hope that somehow better systems will be put in place to change the African printing and publishing industry. Do you know that we actually import almost all our paper in Nigeria? Sad, huh?

There are two sides to this coin. To find balance, we will explore them. On the one hand, certain Africans excuse their non-patronage of the works of African writers as being due to price but this is not always the case. The truth is the same people might go to any length to pick the title of a favourite foreign author or the same African writer they ignored some time back when they discover such a writer has got a prize or two (especially if it is international). You will be shocked at how much a lot of people pay here to buy inspirational books from – John C. Maxwell’s to Robert Kiyosaki’s to Brian Tracy’s…

Publishers can revive interest in African literature by printing what people want to read. We shouldn’t stick to things that our readers might find boring. So, publish what people would want to read, make noise about it and I believe, the interest will be picked.


We go further on contracts and monetary dealings between writers and publishers…

Proper publishers do not dupe their writers. Contracts are usually signed by writers and their publishers before a book deal goes through. When the book is published, honest publishers pay royalties as agreed or give the books to the writer; depending on the agreement. If however you have a dishonest publisher, making noise about the bad deal might be a good way to get your money. Shout everywhere about the theft. No one likes their reputation marred—especially publishers.

Still on royalties…

Most writers are not poor, but it isn’t really royalties that give them wealth. For every traditional book we do, we try to give a fair deal to our authors but I dare say that not even publishing alone can make a lot of people rich in this clime of ours.

The energy devoted to the marketing of books…

How does one quantify energy really? We put in plenty naira worth of energy into marketing our books.

Professionalizing publishing to produce best results…

Publishing is professionalized – to borrow your phrase. The problem is a lot of people go to roadside printers to have their books bound. Some writers even do the whole work themselves. They are in a mad rush to get their work out and do not seek professional expertise. So, when individuals or printers do your work, you pay the price for the whole roadside work. However, you will discover that the books of most reputable publishing houses have a measure of editorial finesse that makes you smile. I have read my fair share of Nigerian and African books from reputable publishing houses without taking my pen to do some editorial. I agree though that sometimes a few publishing houses have their occasional bad books sha… It happens.

If you insist I should proffer an answer to your question I will simply say: writers should be patient with their work. They should have their work properly edited before printing. Publishing houses—reputable and mushroom alike—should try to employ quality editors to take care of their works.

READ: On Publishing Business in Africa: Sulaiman Adebowale

On book tours and keeping the public updated with works of new writers to bring them to full boom…

Everything depends on the nature of the book and the agreement reached by the writer and the publishers. The truth is publishing is not charity. (Publishers who do charity, like our SEVHAGE Publishers, have a registered charity that takes care of it.)  A publisher will promote what sells. They need to make money. When it turns out that a certain writer is not good enough or cannot bring much money, then they jump to the next thing that will give them the bucks. Publishers can decide to help emerging writers by having a proper package that will keep their name up. They can help to organize more tours, get slots for these authors in book fairs/festivals, get reviews done etc. To be frank though, most publishers will rather do this to books or authors they know they will make their returns on. So, what’s the way out? All writers especially the emerging ones should give their all to the craft and create works that will speak for them and maybe even force the publishers to be nicer.

Prose and poetry appear to have stolen the show in the publishing scene as there appears to be a decline in publishing new plays. Su’eddie shares his opinion on this…

I can’t speak for the whole of Africa but I can say that in Nigeria, there used to be a thriving theatre culture. People would go to theatres to watch plays and the rest. Thus, there was a need for these plays. Now, that culture has dwindled. So, people do not buy plays as much. What sells? Largely prose but we have a lot of fantastic poets you cannot ignore. So, you see more of these being published. Add that to the number of awards going for both of these two and you have a firmer answer.

READ: Interview with 2015 Caine Prize Judge; Cóilín Parsons.

Science fiction and nonfiction are two genres that are not popular in African literature. Reason for that and what can be done…

Ah! Help me ask o! I am thinking of some Nigerian Star Wars and Star Trek already. Oh well. We have a lot of science-related works in the market. One quickly comes to mind now: Devil at the Wheel, a book I read years ago. The problem is these books are not as celebrated as other types of prose. We need to make more noise about it and create an atmosphere for it. People like Eugene Odogwu, Benjamin Tarachi, Samuel Okopi, my brother, Gabriel Agema and Ivor Hartmann are just a minute few of people I know who are working towards promoting the science genre. There’s much to be done, but I know the day will yet come.

So Su’eddie, like Sulaiman, agrees that unpublished writers need to be more committed and patient with their works to be able to publish books with remarkable impression. Let’s find out what Mamadou Daillo (from Dakar, again!) thinks.

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