Sunday, 18 March 2012

Pursue African Publishers - A Igoni Barrett Urges at Kingston Book Festival 2012

Pursue Publishers in English Speaking African Countries
Nigerian Short Story Writer Igoni Barrett Urges at 
Kingston Book Festival 2012

Nigerian short story writer with Jamaican roots, Igoni Barrett, encouraged Caribbean writers to seek publishing opportunities in English speaking African countries. Barrett, who was speaking at the Kingston Book Festival on March 16, said that Kenya and South Africa have populations of about 40 million and 50 million respectively and Nigeria 150 million people; and books for a Jamaican market can be sold where English is spoken.

Seek publishers in English-speaking African Countries
Speaking of overcoming distribution problems between writers and booksellers he said, "The key is partnership" and that South Africa is known for having a very vibrant publishing industry. 

"As you submit work to publishers in Jamaica in the Caribbean in the US, in the UK and Canada it is also important that you go beyond. South Africa is a place I would advise you to publish. Many well-known writers started publishing in South Africa. The local publishers, who you probably have not heard of publish good, well-packaged books, promote you and sell your books locally and strike a deal with a UK publisher. People like Nadine Gordimer, and Nobel Laureate John Maxwell (JM) Coetzee started that way," he said.

Speaking of the kind of books that sell well in Nigeria, Barrett said that text books, self help books, memoirs, political books, and popular fiction do well, benefiting from the country's large population. 

"The publishing house I worked for (Farafina) published a social studies supplementary text book, at the time the book was produced, Farafina, was not sure how well it would do and produced two million copies, the copies were sold out in three months," Barrett said. He noted, however, that fiction did not sell anywhere nearly as well.

He said that cultural similarities between Caribbean countries like Jamaica and English speaking African countries arise a shared language, physical appearance of the people and linkages through history. 

Journals in Nigeria would welcome Caribbean writers
"I can see how the success of (books) in the Jamaican market will be transferrable to the Nigerian market or the Ghanian market or the Kenyan or South African market...A business book written for a Jamaican market can be sold in Kenya, for example," Barrett said.

He also highlighted cross cultural opportunities in the area of journal publishing.

"Until I came to Jamaica I was not aware of the Jamaican Journal, which is a journal I would like to submit work to. In Nigeria there are several journals that feature the work of Caribbean writers and I can see the Jamaican Journal doing well in Nigerian universities; so there needs to be closer ties," he said.

Barrett also said that the selling price of books by African writers in Jamaica bookstores can be reduced if Jamaican publishers got the rights to publish African writing for the Caribbean market.  He gave the example of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus that sells for the equivalent of J$300 in Nigeria but was for sale for J$1,500 in Kingston.

Barrett arrived in Jamaica to participate in the Two Seasons Talking Trees Literary Fiesta 2012 that was held in Treasure Beach on February 25. His travel was supported by the Tourism Enhancement Fund of the Ministry of Tourism. Special partner for the 2012 fiesta was Jamcopy, the Jamiacan copyright agency.

Gwyneth Harold is the writer of the young adult novel, Bad Girls in School
Review of novel