Interview| Publishing Is A Labour of Love — Servio Gbadamosi
Poet, publisher and arts administrator, Servio Gbadamosi heads Winepress Publishing and its parent company, Noirledge Limited, a robust independent publishing house helping to mainstream a generation of new voices in contemporary Nigerian writing.
Through the Sankofa Initiative for Culture and Development, he works with emerging writers, artists and culture practitioners across the country providing multiple development and promotional platforms. Gbadamosi also co-hosts the weekly radio show, Alpha Culture, on Lead Radio 106.5 FM (www.leadradio1065.com). The arts centric program extends the frontiers of Nigeria’s literary offerings to the mainstream media through its purposeful popularisation of bold new works by emergent writers and creatives in the country.
Gbadamosi’s works have appeared online as well as in journals, newspapers and anthologies like the Association of Nigerian Authors’ (ANA) Review 2017, Crossroads: Anthology of Poems in Honour of Christopher Okigbo, Fela’s Re-arrangement: A Collage of the Poetic Biography of Nigeria’s Folkhero of Afrobeat Music and The Sky is Our Earth: Anthology of Fifty Young Nigerian Poets. He coedited the poetry collections; The Promise this Time was Not a Flood: A Sevhage Anthology of Flood Poems and Salt of the Heart: Anthology of Poems for Nigeria at 50. His debut poetry collection, A Tributary in Servitude, released in February, 2015 won the 2015 Association of Nigerian Authors’ Prize for Poetry, one of Nigeria’s most prestigious literary prizes.
A 2016 recipient of the Ebedi International Writers Residency fellowship where he co-wrote the chapbook, A Half-Formed Thing with fellow residents, Ehi’zogie Iyeoman and Ikechukwu Nwaogu, Gbadamosi also curates the Arts and Culture Exchange program in Ibadan and edits SankofaMag, a culture and development magazine at www.mag.sankofainitiative.org.
#Synners let’s usher @betaservio in with a round of applause!
Thank you for having me!
Let’s begin. Tell us about your journey towards publishing.
Well, it started sometimes in the last quarter of 2007. I had just completed my first collection of poems and I couldn’t wait to show it to the world. I went round town, talking to a number of publishing house who I thought would be interested in the manuscript.
Unfortunately, I was met with rejections every where I went to. Some even advised that I would stand a better chance of getting published if my work were fiction or an academic text that could be prescribed for use in schools.
So, out of anger and the frustration that came with it, I started discussing the possibility of starting a publishing house focusing on promoting the works of young writers like me with members of the art club I use to run as an undergraduate at the Olabisi Onabanjo University. From then on, the idea has continued to grow and manifest itself in new ways. And I have had a lot of help from like minded people along the way.
It’s amazing how gifted our young people are in this country. I and my team meet a lot of brilliant young people ‘writing their hearts out’ from time to time and the temptation is to try to publish them all. But then, being a small independent press, we have to act within budget. Which is why I and my good friends started the Sankofa Initiative (@SankofaICD). Whatever we cannot do within the budgetary limits of business, we can do as a nonprofit organization working solely for the passion of seeing our cultural industries grow.
Wow! So basically, rejections led you to publishing! Talk about turning a gloomy situation to a positive one!
What can you say about the quality of writing produced by young Nigerians?
Amazing! There is an abundance of talents. People with bold new narratives coming out and telling their stories in fascinating ways across genres. I’m convinced that the golden age of Nigerian writing is just around the corner.
But then, I think that the absence of proper structures and institutions geared towards the promotion of literature and cultural development is hampering our productivity as youths starting out in this vast creative jungle.
But again, I must salute the courage of these young creatives working so hard to surmount all the difficulties that decades of irresponsible political leadership has foisted on us.
Technology is playing a huge and crucial role in this. The Internet and all the possibilities it brings are helping us navigate. Litmags, literary blogs and groups exist on all social media and messaging platforms where young writers engage in meaningful discussions that further advances their creativity.
And there’s the place of electronic publishing too. A lot more books are being published by our young people in ebook formats and serialised on blogs. It’s an economically smart way to commence the publishing journey for first time authors.
There is the place of talent and the place of skill. I sincerely think that young people interested in writing or the arts in general need to take their self-development more seriously. Read widely. Be teachable and open to new ideas. Get formal training where possible.
I meet a lot of young writers who are obviously talented. But then, one is able to tell sometimes that they are yet to seriously put in the work and discipline that would move them from, as Jim Rohn puts it from ‘Good to Great’.
Talent, that’s where we all start from. The amount of work/effort we put into its development and the platforms that society makes available to us and/or that we make available for ourselves play an important role in determining how much success we’ll make of it.
Let’s talk about publishing poetry. Why poetry? Why not a “fast moving consumer good” like fiction?
Let me first state here that I’m naturally drawn to poetry and the possibilities it brings to the languages in which it is written. I’m a poet first and I tend to see things in verses and images. Please note, I’m not saying that other genres are less important at all.
Fiction, like any other text, has its audience. Poetry, drama, nonfiction and academic texts all have theirs too. And @WinepressGroup publishes them all. What we look for is original, good quality writing that draws us into the narrative and takes us on new adventures.
The Guardian says that the publishing industry is doing well but not necessarily authors. What’s the sharing formula after book sales?
That’s really tricky to generalise. I say so because the terms of contract varies for each publishing house and sometimes from 1 author to another even when they are signed to the same publisher but, it ranges largely from 5 – 15% for most traditionally published authors.
While we have publishing houses that authors sometimes suspect are deliberately out to cheat them, I must state that venturing into publishing and the creative industries in general in Nigeria is really a treacherous terrain.
I and my publisher friends joke about it all the time. I mean, how our line of trade is essentially a ‘labour of love or a love of labour.’
The absence of structures and institutional support for our literature and writers hampers the smooth running of our affairs.
Sincerely now, I know that there are publishers who loose money on books they have published due to the absence of these support structures and not because the quality of the work and its presentation is inferior to the commercially successfully ones.
So then, it becomes a communication and trust issue between the author and publisher, when and where they’re openly honest with one another, whatever challenges arise can be resolved amicably.
And don’t forget that we all have bitter economic realities, literacy, poor reading habits and low purchasing power to contend with. Whether as authors, readers, students or publishers, these are some other issues that affect us all and informs our needs and buying choices.
“Publishing in Nigeria is a labor of love or a love of labor.”
– Servio Gbadamosi
Who gets the 5-15%? Author or publisher? Who bears the cost of publishing, marketing, distribution?
Well, where a book is traditionally published, the author typically gets between 5 – 15% in royalty payments. In this case, the publisher is solely responsible for the cost of publication, marketing and promotions etc. I’m just citing a general example here.
Where a book is self-published, the author is responsible for the cost of publication, marketing and promotion etc. Sometimes, the publisher might also have these services on offer for a fee.
@WinepressGroup and @noirledge have both traditional and self-published titles.
Alright! It’s that time of the show when we’ll be taking in questions from our audience! Let’s roll.
@DheeGenius: Our guest mentioned how a lot of young Nigerian writers don’t put in the required “work and discipline” that would elevate their careers, I’d like to know the ethos he was alluding to especially considering the challenges many Nigerian writers face when trying to be successful.
The other question I wanted to ask is about the art itself — poetry. I don’t know anyone that got rich strictly by writing poems. Doesn’t this suggest that success as a poet shouldn’t be measured by how many books you sell or how much money you make?
@betaservio: I’m simply saying that the books and authors we read go a long way in shaping us as writers, as creatives. It would shock you to know that I have met young poets who confidently say that they “do not read poetry!” That they really solely on inspiration to write.
How such writers will grow or why they think they have the agency to foist their inspired writings on the reading public remains a mystery to me.
It’s GiGo! That’s the reason why the best athletes in history worked with highly skilled coaches and follow a strict regimen.
In response to the second ask; true, I’m yet to meet anyone who started out in writing because they saw it as a means to accumulating wealth. For most, it starts as an “obsessive compulsion” sort of. The Art keeps calling and drawing you in no matter how far you run away from it.
So, while book sales, fame, money etc are often not the poet/writer’s primary motivation for writing, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the writer is able to earn a decent living from the proceeds of his/her creative endeavour. It affords them the peace of mind to focus.
@Nosa_collins: Being a publisher and also a writer how does it feel and how do you cope with them? Because I know for sure writing needs time and dedication.
@betaservio: It’s glorious! I get to read so much inspiring stuff first hand. The joy of being the midwife that helps bring such new work to d world is beyond words. Also, my great team @WinepressGroup and @noirledge provide a lot of support that affords me the time to write regularly.
And that brings us to the end of the show! We learnt so much from today’s session!
We want to thank in a special way today’s guest @betaservio, the CEO of @WinepressGroup! Don’t forget to contact him for publishing needs!
Here’s saying a big thank you to everyone who has made this conversation possible.
Watch out for #LocomotifsAndOtherSongs, a new poetry collection by poet & scholar, @TosinGbogi coming from our @noirledge imprint next month. The team @WinepressGroup says thank you!
Special thanks to all those who tuned in tonight. I’m sure we all gleaned more than a few things. It was indeed a rich session! We appreciate you.
Join us same time next Monday!