By Edward Nawotka
In today’s feature story about publishing in West Africa, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, one of the founders of Cassava Republic Publishers notes: “digital allows us to challenge the notion of the narcissistic authorial voice or the cult of the ‘genius’ that is at the heart of book production with its obsession over the individual celebrated author which masks the collective efforts that is involved in any act of creation.” Paradoxically, later in the same piece, the author, Robert Cornford of Oxfam, notes that in Nigeria, many are concerned that “digital publishing (or at least digital production and printing) makes it too easy for material of very low quality to be self-published.”
“Some is to do with academics who will put a cover onto their lecture notes and then make this required reading for their students; some linked to self-publishing of memoirs and “autobiographies.” Many ‘publishers’ in Nigeria are printers who take on self-published work, so there is a lot of material of compromised quality. Most of this is at present in print, but participants could see how the ease of access to digital platforms could exacerbate this problem.”
These ideas seem at odds with each other. One arguing that digital publishing is naturally more collaborative, the second arguing that digital publishing makes it easier for publishers to go it alone (with poor results).
In the United States there are symptoms of this happening as well. Last week, I asked “Is Self Publishing Too Selfish” and suggested that self-publishers and DIYers can learn a great deal by taking on the role of “publisher” for another persons work. I argued that one is not truly a “publisher” until they start publishing other people’s work (many disagree), and suggested that until they do so, they are merely a printer. Self-publishing, by it’s very definition, is a go-it-alone endeavor. Yes, increasingly self-publishers collaborate with service providers — be they professional editors, proofreaders, designers, et al. — who all provide feedback and make contributions to the work.
That said, someone who his hired as a service provider has far less stake in the outcome of a book — especially one that appears under the colophon of an individual — and where their personal investment is invisible. At a publishing house, things are somewhat different, in so far as all the work the house produces is a reflection of that individual, whether they are an editorial assistant or the editor-in-chief: after all, they carry around business cards and a resume that features that very house’s name. It will be part of their professional reputation forever.
One solution to this issue would be for publishers of all kinds, traditional, self, DIY, whatever — to credit the editors, proofreaders, agents, publicists and others inside the books — and not just as a passing reference in the acknowledgements, but on the copyright or another page, much like a magazine does?
It would make for interesting reading.