Sunday, May 15, 2016

Nigerian International Book Fair Experience: Where are the authors?

Workshop on writing, publishing & marketing for indie authors
Hello all,

The Nigerian International Book Fair 2016 has come and gone, and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fact that I facilitated a workshop and got interesting feedback from 98%, if not 100%, of the attendants. Some sent emails, some called, some I saw the next day looking for information on literary services.

I also enjoyed the fact that I attended the international conference/official opening of the fair, where I met interesting people; there was a book reading, there were seminars and other workshops, and finally, the famous Author’s Groove, organized by the Association of Nigerian Authors, titled “Everyone feeds on the author, but who feeds the author?” I did a book presentation, a reading of my book by a Youth Corps member, and a giveaway.

Corps member reading from #TwentyOneDays
During the fair, I took walks, once in a while, round the different halls, saw all the tons of books being displayed for sale in different stalls; I saw many people trooping in and out; there were also beautiful d├ęcor, flyers, posters and banners; there were balloons here and bowls of sweets and candy there, but the one thing I expected to see wasn’t there: Readers having the opportunity to meet authors, because the authors were not there.

Well, I wouldn’t say that there were no authors at all; they were not just exhibiting. I however saw some authors in passing, looking around and visiting stalls. They didn’t have personal stalls, as their books were displayed by some publishers/booksellers. That’s okay, but there’s nothing like buying a book directly from the author, discussing it with the author, and getting it signed.

The fair looked more like a Publishers or Booksellers fair, and I’m not saying it should be strictly an authors’ fair either, but authors are the main reason why there are books in the first place.

I think my most interesting moment was when some students came to buy my book, and when I told them I wrote it, they got so excited. One said she was in Arts class, she read a lot and would love to write. I could tell that seeing an author made her believe that authors weren’t invisible or that books didn’t write themselves or just drop from the sky, lol. I know she never believed that before, but nothing could beat the excitement in her eyes. She got the book and went to call her friends... I heard one of them say “There’s a celebrity here,” and it made me laugh. Another came and asked if I wrote ‘Twenty-One Days,’ and I said yes, and she smiled, said “Nice to meet you,” blushed and ran off. A couple more came, smiled, waved their hands and ran off. The students weren’t the only excited ones. Adults too.

Some asked me questions about writing, what inspired me, what my writing secrets were, and for tips on writing. In fact, I got lost providing the answers, but in a good way. I don’t know who was more excited... me or the people I kept telling about writing. And in the midst of all the excitement I asked myself “Where are the authors?” The other authors. The books are here, but the faces behind them are not. I think I sold a lot of books just because I was there, talking about the book, and signing copies.

Now, I don’t know who is at fault in all of this. To get an exhibition stall there is quite pricey, so some authors immediately start calculating profit and loss as soon as they are told the price. The only ones that can afford to get the stalls are those who have the means, like an author who got a stall, but got a PR team to man the stall and sell the books on her behalf; like bookshops, publishers, and even printers. So if the cost was the reason for not seeing our authors, then it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to participate. Maybe next year there’ll be an opportunity for authors to display their books at a cheaper rate. It’s the Book Rave idea I have for authors, and hopefully, that will start soon.

But then, to be exactly sure of the reasons why authors weren’t exhibiting at the fair, I asked both authors and some publishers, and they gave me some reasons: too expensive; I have a full-time job; no time; too busy; I never knew about a book fair; authors are too proud, they feel too big, etc. I’m not going to comment on any of the reasons… they are their reasons after all.

Before I sign out, I should also add the funny side of the fair... I saw all kinds of people at the fair: the ‘stall shoppers,’ who are the equivalent of window shoppers. There were those who came to ask for free books to help them be ‘better writers,’ and those who came to market their services, “I’m an artist,” “I edit from start to finish,” “I’ll market your books like no other,” “I can print better books than what you have.” There were also those who came to look for sweets/candy... it was their main aim. They would come and talk, with their eyes constantly glued to the sweets/candy bowl, until you offered them some. If you didn’t, they would grab a handful when you look away. Some come back again to ask for more.

There are those who come to tell you how you should run your business or operate: “Arrange your books this way, there is a certain presence in the other stall because of how their books are arranged...” worry not, I like it this way and people are buying it. The other stall with the nice presence complained of no patronage for other reasons. I’m not sure it’s about the arrangement, but thanks for the advice.

“Change your book cover, it doesn’t stand out…” Worry not, everyone passes and stops to look in my stall. They say the cover is attractive and the first thing they see, so they want to know about it.

“Your book is too heavy, the text is too little, Nigerians don’t read bulky books…” Worry not, some like them bulky and buy my book because it’s voluminous and affordable.

“I was at your workshop, I loved it, but don’t you think you should consider working as an English teacher as well, to teach writers how to write proper English in their books, not just how to write…” Worry not, they can send their manuscripts to editors to correct the errors, but thanks though.

“Nigerians devalue their books too much. If your book is too cheap, people will think it’s not good...” Will you buy a book for ≥ N 3,500, no matter how good you think it is? No answer. I didn’t think so.

“Nigerians buy books by foreign authors for ≥ N 3,500 or more if necessary, so they will definitely buy books by Nigerian authors at the same price... they have the money, but they just don’t trust Nigerian authors to be as good as foreign authors...” soon they would ☺.

There were definitely more funny moments, but I can’t put them all here.

So the top question now is: Will I participate in the next book fair? Maybe, maybe not... but chances are that I will. I hope the organizers will carve out an ‘Authors Corner’ and give special discounts to authors so that they can exhibit, sell, sign, and meet people.

Inasmuch as I loved all the attention given to me, being the only author there, I wished other authors could have also been there to enjoy the fun and feel the love. I also want to thank all those who got our books... We sold so many books (70 and counting), thanks a lot for the support. Where would our books be if we didn’t have anyone to read them? I was able to get just a few pictures with some readers and sorry to those who we couldn’t capture.

Some bikers showing support to author Ogbonnaya Kanu

Until the next big book event...

Literarily yours,

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