Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 22, July 1998 

 
 

A `New Deal' between African writers and publishers

Statement issued by participants at the African Writers-Publishers seminar (Arusha III), Tarangire Sopa Lodge, Arusha, Tanzania, 23-26 February, 1998

Preamble

Twenty African writers and publishers from nine countries and ten resource persons with background in publishing met at Tarangire Sopa Lodge, Arusha, 23-26 February, 1998, for an `African Writers-Publishers Seminar' (Arusha III). The seminar was directed by Walter Bgoya (publisher) and Niyi Osundare (writer) and organised by the Dag Hammarskj÷ld Foundation and the African Books Collective (ABC). The main objective of the Seminar was to respond to the call for a `New Deal' between writers and publishers in Africa in their struggle to strengthen African literature and culture. (The statement represents the broad consensus of the participants although some of them may not necessarily agree with all the points made.)

There is a need for a code of conduct as a guide to humane relationships between writers and publishers.

Statement

The starting-point for discussions on a new relationship between African writers and publishers was the following paragraph from the Summary Conclusions of the Seminar on the Future of Indigenous Publishing in Africa (Arusha II), organised by the Dag Hammarskj÷ld Foundation in Arusha, Tanzania, March 25-28, 1996:

`Seminar participants were unanimous that the time has come for a `New Deal' between writers and publishers in Africa. Both groups now understand enough about publishing to be able to place their relationship on ethical and professional grounds where they can fulfil their respective responsibilities and see themselves as inseparable partners in the process of creation of African literature. Towards that end, a conference of African writers and publishers should be organised as soon as practicable with the aim of drawing up a charter to guide relations between the two professions.'

It is in this spirit that we now provide some details for this `New Deal' under the following headings:

  • The role of the writer and the publisher's expectations.
  • The role of the publisher and the writer's expectations.
  • Contractual issues and writer-publisher relations.
  • African values and African writing.

We recognise that the context in which both writers and publishers will apply these principles varies considerably from one African country to another.

The role of the writer and the publisher's expectations

Publishers have a right to expect:

1. a well-produced, original manuscript (i.e. cleanly typed, preferably on diskette, but if handwritten it must be legible; the writer must keep a copy of the manuscript)

2. ideas and suggestions for cover design, illustrations and presentation of the book

3. sympathetic acceptance of the process of editing and preparation of the work for publication

4. submission of the manuscript to one publisher at a time with a limited period of response before submission to another publisher

5. the reading and returning of proofs within a specified time and with minimum alterations and additions, unless the writer is prepared to pay the extra costs incurred

6. first option on the writer's subsequent work for sequels only.

Furthermore the writer should inform him/herself about:

7. details of the publishing process

8. the basic economics of book publishing and book distribution

9. the content of his/her contract, especially covering territorial,

10. translation and publishing rights, and time limits relating to such rights.

The role of the publisher and the writer's expectations

Writers have a right to expect:

1. written acknowledgement of the receipt of the manuscript

2. communication and transparency about publication schedule and print run/reprints, and provision of regular and accurate royalty statements and payments

3. consultation on details of book production such as cover design, illustrations and the general presentation of the book

4. effective promotion of the publication and the writer him/herself, and consultation on possible promotional approaches

5. exploration of the possibilities of effective promotion through book launches, readings, book fairs, print media, television, radio and the Internet

6. exploration of the possibilities of `parallel products' such as cassette recordings and videos

7. a record of reviews on each title and regular communication about these.

Furthermore, the publisher should:

8. assist the writer in gaining a clear understanding of the publishing process

9. seek to nurture and support new writers

10. distinguish between new and established writers in terms of familiarity with the publishing process and not have unrealistic expectations of new writers in this regard.

Contractual issues and writer-publisher relations

There is a need for a code of conduct as a guide to humane relationships between writers and publishers. Such a code should provide for an adjudication panel to arbitrate in cases of disagreement between the two parties. The panel should be made up of representatives of writers' associations and publishers' associations along with representatives of legal affiliates of the associations, representatives of printers' and booksellers' associations as appropriate in each African country and of copyright tribunals or commissions where these exist.

The publisher, in consultation with the writer, needs to find means of exploiting and harnessing the new technologies, including print-on-demand and the Internet, to the advantage of both parties. The publisher should also seek to inform himself/herself about measures being developed to protect intellectual property against violation due to modern technology.

Publishers and writers need to express a commitment to encouraging and sustaining associations of writers, publishers, printers and booksellers as an element in the creation of an enabling environment for the book industry and a reading culture in African society.

African values and African writing

The involvement of writers in discussions on all aspects of book issues in Africa should be encouraged and efforts made to vitalise and support writers' associations. Likewise, we welcome and support the African Publishers Network mission statement, which reads: `APNET's mission is to strengthen African publishers' associations through networking, training and trade promotion to fully meet Africa's need for quality books relevant to African social, political, economic and cultural reality.'

There is a need to strengthen indigenous textbook production so that it can subsidise creative writing. There is also a need to encourage authors to write in indigenous African languages, to promote positive African values, and for publishers to find the means to publish such works and make them profitable and affordable in Africa.

Strengthening African literature and culture through cooperation between writers and publishers should provide the guiding principle and aspiration for the two professions.

Participants: Walter Bgoya (Tanzania); Shimmer Chinodya (Zimbabwe); Wendy Davies (United Kingdom); Per Gedin (Sweden); James Gibbs (United Kingdom); Sven Hamrell (Sweden); Chukwuemeka Ike (Nigeria); Mary Jay (United Kingdom); Taban lo Liyong (Sudan/South Africa); Flora Lucas (United Kingdom); Cont Mhlanga (Zimbabwe); Mugyabuso Mulokozi (Tanzania); Abel Mwanga (Tanzania); Serah Mwangi (Kenya); N.G. Mwitta (Tanzania); Olle Nordberg (Sweden); Victor Nwankwo (Nigeria); Gillian Nyambura (Kenya/Zimbabwe); Akoss Ofori-Mensah (Ghana); Atukwei Okai (Ghana): Kole Omotoso (Nigeria/South Africa); Tess Onwueme (Nigeria/USA); Femi Osofisan (Nigeria); Niyi Osundare (Nigeria/USA); Dafe Otobo (Nigeria); Katherine Salahi (United Kingdom); Irene Staunton (Zimbabwe); Robert Sulley (United Kingdom); James Tumusiime (Uganda); Moyez Vassanji (Tanzania/Canada). [end]  [BPN, no 22, 1998, p 3.]

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