I called Heinemann a few years back to inquire about submission guidelines for their Pacesetters series. What I learnt was that the series had been discontinued, and they now only publish educational books from African writers. I was devastated, because I remember the first time I read one (The President's Son by Kwasi Koranteng). What a rush, to read a suspense story based in contemporary Ghana. Before then all books that I knew of by African writers were used for Literature in school. Looks like we are back to that ...
Now, don't get me wrong; having a book being used for Literature is one of my dreams, but the books that make money aren't those being treated in school. Seriously, how many people read Shakespeare for fun? They either had to read it in school or they watched a movie or got inspired in some other way to read it. They don't go to a bookstore and think, "Oh, Hamlet. Sounds, interesting. One copy, please."
On the other hand, people pre-book Dan Brown's novels and read it just for pure pleasure and in the case of novels like The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown is able to challenge the very core of people's beliefs. It will be interesting to do this for Literature, don't you think?
Let's get back on tract. I'm talking about leisure books--the type you'll read on the plane, or on the bus or in the park. I'm talking about those books you want to read, not because you need to write an exam or take notes. Where are West African stories in this genre of fiction?
I have a feeling one of the reasons Heinemann discontinued the Pacesetters line was due to not receiving enough submissions from African writers and also not getting enough profit from their sales. In this second point, African writers erred in the fact that they didn't self-promote their works. As a marketing person, I'll bet my last cent on this: if there is money to be made, Heinemann or someone else will create an imprint for African fiction other than those designed for classroom use.
How can we get our children reading when they don't have material other than those they are forced to read in school? Our counterparts in the US and Europe start their 'reading careers' with books like Nancy Drew and The Famous Five. Once that love for reading is acquired then you can interest them in the more serious material.
I'd like to see the day Avon or Harlequin publishes an African story, aspiring writers from West Africa giving serious competition to author's across the world for the attention of these large and established publishers. Why should any publisher set up in India and not Ghana or Nigeria? Why should they think only of South Africa when they consider Africa? Let's bring the publishing business home to West Africa.
It can be done!
Next week, I'll start a series about the many little steps we need to take to get ourselves shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the world.