By Paul Chika Emekwulu
In the fall of 1996, as I was signing my book at Walden Books Bookstore in Shawnee, Oklahoma in the United States of America, a woman probably in her fifties walked up to me and asked:
“Why should I buy your book?”
We Nigerians don’t have a tradition of books signed by authors because of not being spiritual enough. We tend to be more physical than spiritual hence book signing is not a popular event in Nigeria.
There are reasons for this mindset and here are some of them.
(1) Can book signing make any noticeable difference in my bank account?
(2) Is book signing synonymous with a positive change in my WhatsApp data?
(3) Is the book going to be free?
Those and others are some of the reasons why things like book signings don’t have any meaning to some average Nigerians. Rather as mentioned earlier, Nigerians prefer what they call book presentation.
Here is an idea:
Maybe if we start planning for brand name bookstores like Barnes and Noble, Pauline Bookstore in the US etc., book signing will surely turn out to have a deeper spiritual meaning to the average Nigerians.
Such a development will also go a long way in improving the already deteriorating reading culture which has been taken over by cellular phone technology especially the Android type. The book publishing industry will also start to make a significant contribution to solving the unemployment problem in the Nigerian economy.
Now, imagine yourself walking into a bookstore and buying a book on African time versus buying the same book from the same bookstore where the actual author has been invited for a brief appearance and a presentation invoke different feelings.
(1) First, you have the opportunity to share your thoughts.
(2) Second, you can ask specific questions about book writing if that interests you.
(3) Third, you will have the opportunity to ask the author what he has coming next in terms of future titles.
(4) Fourth, you have the opportunity to share emotional moments related to the book and more.
Here is a specific example you can relate to:
Imagine yourself again walking into a bookstore and paying for a copy of Things Fall Apart. Now what of walking into the same bookstore, pay for the same book and have the author Late Chịnụa Achebe himself sign the book and write in it. How do you feel? Wonderful! Right? The woman who came to see me at Walden books wanted such an experience.
Now, I still remember what I told her.
“My book will show you how to publish your own book because the New York Giants will not encourage you,” I told her. She was hearing from the horse’s mouth.
The book in question was a Do-it Yourself Handbook on self-publishing titled, How You Become A $uccessful Self-Publisher in America And Elsewhere with a review by Dan Poynter, one of the early modern pioneers of self-publishing.
At that time I had a math book, Magic of Numbers. that was making the round with the publishers, gathering rejection letters enough to start a wall papering business.
Magic of Numbers garnered reviews from Curriculum Services, Oklahoma State Department of Education, and Linda Bailey, math coordinator, Oklahoma State Department of Education at the time. It also attracted a review from Dr. Floyd Coppedge, former Principal of Douglas High School, Oklahoma City and a one-time Oklahoma Secretary of Education.
Due to some professional and marketing issues, the book didn’t succeed as expected. It has long been enlarged, aggressively edited and is being prepared for another edition.
I narrated to the woman my unending stories with the New York Giant publishers and the subsequent rejection letters. The irony of it all is that when my math book was self-published it was adopted by the Oklahoma State Department of Education and Washington DC Public Schools. What a wrong verdict on the part of these publishers! Yes, at times for the wrong reasons their verdict is wrong. That confirms the fact that when a publisher finally decides that your manuscript belong to the slush pile, it doesn’t necessarily imply that it is not of high quality or relevant enough. There are other reasons why your manuscript could be rejected.
Now, the woman at the bookstore is still talking. Let’s pay attention and listen!
“I don’t have the intelligence to get my books into the school system,” she continued.
Writing a book at times is a matter of what should be.
“It is not a matter of intelligence. It is about having a message, it is about having a viewpoint, it is about having a viewpoint you care about, it is about having a viewpoint you believe in, and excited about, and of course, have the intention to share with others.”
I told her.
She regarded me for a few seconds and bought the book which sold for $19.95.
School districts are searching for answers. They are looking for solutions to problems posed by gang membership among the youths, they are looking for solutions to problems posed by technology among school children etc. In Nigeria today, there is increasing interest in cult membership and initiation among the youths. In Nigeria today nobody reads anymore. The Android type of cellular phone is now the new novel.
Not only that.
There are ongoing local and national dialogues on election malpractices.
(1) Do you have an opinion?
(2) Do you have a perspective?
(3) Do you have a controversial topic (Controversy sells)?
(4) Do you have a controversial perspective for at times, controversy assists in telling the truth?
(5) Teachers are looking for new curriculum materials associated with understanding certain concepts not only in mathematics, not only in economics, not only in computer programming, not only in Chemistry but also in other school subjects. Maybe you can identify those things not in the syllabus but relevant to the syllabus. Come forward. The system needs you.
(6) Those in higher education are looking for solutions to societal problems through research. The United States government is looking for solution to gun violence in general and school shooting in particular. Because of this, they are looking for resources, maybe your book is what they are waiting for, maybe your perspective is what they want to listen to.
(7) Do you think you have a special knowledge, skills, talents, training etc. that needs to be shared with the world?
(8) Are you a teacher with unusual ways of presenting ordinary classroom concepts?
(9) Are you currently a speaker, a seminar presenter and you don’t have a book yet on what you speak about?
(10) Do you write articles for newspapers or magazines etc.?
If yes, have you ever thought of building a book out of your articles?
(11) Do you have an idea for a book but don’t have the necessary skills to articulate your ideas or don’t have the discipline to put your ideas together?
(12) Have you ever thought of collaborating with someone on a book project?
(13) Are you a good story-teller?
(14) Can you tell stories that can hold people’s attention for hours on end?
(15) Do you have ideas or a cause you will like to be remembered for?
(16) Has your book ever earned a rejection slip?
(17) Have you ever felt like writing a book after a spiritual experience?
(18) Are you a graduate student?
If yes, why not explore the opportunity of turning your thesis into a book?
If you answered yes to at least one of the above questions, you need to write a book.
How do I know? Your answer said so.
It is time to get spiritual. Start now to visualize your book. Give your book a tentative title and change it later on if necessary.
Build a dummy of it and put it under your pillow.
Who am I talking to?
(1) If you are a newspaper editor I’m talking to you.
(2) If you are war veteran I am talking to you.
(3) If you are a medical doctor I’m talking to you.
(4) If you are a retiree I’m talking. to you.
(5) Are you a business man or business woman? If so, I’m talking to you.
(6) If you are among the many out there with a talent, education, skills, an unusual experience, special training or knowledge to share with others then I’m talking to you.
If you belong to this set of people, write that book and don’t just talk about it. Just do it and start doing it now by writing the first sentence. Do it now by writing the first paragraph, do it now by writing the first page, do it now by writing the first chapter. Slow and steady wins the race.
Yes, I want to write a book but now isn’t the time. I’m not ready yet. That’s what you are saying but I’m here saying something different. No, no, now should be the time. Don’t wait for conditions to be perfect for there may be no perfect time. Conditions may not be perfect. Stop procrastinating, for procrastination is the thief of time.
Do you have an idea for a novel and haven’t even started the first chapter? Yours may be the next Harry Porter. If you haven’t, what’s preventing you? If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?
If you haven’t, what’s the distraction? If you haven’t, what’s the stumbling block?
You haven’t and your reason is because either your high school English teacher, pastor or your lecturer hasn’t written even newspaper article or your friend who had a better result or a better qualification hasn’t written anything, then why should you? It is like a younger sister waiting for her older sister to get married off first before she gives attention to that young suitor seeking her hand in marriage.
Maybe you are waiting for someone’s approval perfect time before starting your novel. I’m here to tell you not to wait anymore. Just do it.
At times we are scared of labels? Stupid, strange, slow, weird, irresponsible, Are you scared of labels? Labels are just opinions not facts.
Are you scared of being labeled weird?
Are you scared of being labeled dumb? When you are called dumb that is the time you’ve the right to look ‘dumb’ by getting passionate and excited with what interests you.
When you’re called stupid that is the time you’ve the right to be even more ‘stupid’ and move forward.
When you’re called weird, that is the time for you to be proud of being ‘weird’ by using your talents and accomplishing things. .
It was Oprah Winfrey, the American author, producer, actress and philanthropist who said that “passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on that which excites you.”
In fact, when you’re called all sorts of names that is the time you’ve more right to answer all sorts of names and still focus on what you have a passion for.
Remember it was by being called “dumb” that Dr. Ben Carson became one of the best neuro-surgeons in the world. Today, Dr. Carson has written several books including:
Think Big, Take the Risk, You have a Brain, America the Beautiful, The Gifted Hands and The Big Picture etc.
It was by being strange, that some early scientists were ostracized.
By being strange these early scientists bequeathed a lot to mankind. These things include electricity, the telephone, DNA, airplane, electric bulb etc. If they hadn’t worn these various labels courageously and beautifully, if they hadn’t stuffed up their ears with cotton wool, these inventions wouldn’t have seen the light of the day today. These inventions ended up making the world a better place.
In some universities, the junior staff, not some members of the junior staff, for some reasons are forbidden from writing books. In such circumstances, only the members of senior staff are encouraged to further their writing interests.
At a meeting in one of these universities in Nigeria, a professor was credited with issuing a statement saying “that any academic staff of the university below the rank of senior lecturer and above would no longer be allowed to write books, either for use by students or other academic purposes.”
According to the statement, only senior faculty members and above should be permitted to write books and such books, he continued must be approved by the university senate before being introduced to the students. If books written by senior lecturers of this institution must be scrutinized for quality and approved by the university senate, a relevant question becomes:
Why can’t the same senate scrutinize and approve books written by junior faculty members?
If there is a law that forbids the senate from scrutinizing books written by junior academic staff of the university, such a law should be revised.
Alternatively, another body could be instituted to perform a similar task for the junior faculty members to avoid overtasking the senate. When implemented, this could provide the needed motivation among the junior faculties and in the process further creativity among them as well.
Please, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not against checking the activities of the junior academic staff for the benefit of the students. I applaud the professor in his effort in providing a friendly academic environment for the students. What I’m against is coming up with policies that will end up stifling individual creativity.
After all being a senior lecturer or a senior faculty member is not a sine qua non for producing an academic work of relevance and excellence. Creativity in all its forms has no boundaries and should have no boundaries as such this policy of the professor has to be re-examined.
There is a dire need for a standard but barring junior academic staff of a university anywhere in the world is not the best way to achieve that standard. No junior academic staff of any university anywhere in the world should be barred from writing books.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “denial of justice anywhere is denial of justice everywhere.”
In the same vein and in my honest opinion, no junior academic staff of any university should be barred from writing books for denial of beauty is denial of beauty everywhere.
Resources being utilized in prohibiting the members of junior academic staff from exercising their basic human right of self-expression should be diverted to encouraging them instead of discouraging them.
By doing so we are discouraging and not encouraging the originality in all human beings.
Always remember that writing a book is not necessarily a matter of intelligence, social status or rank but a matter of having a viewpoint, a viewpoint you are excited about and of course have the intention to share with others.
This article is an excerpt from an unpublished manuscript by Paul Chika Emekwulu, an international bestselling author, a professional speaker, a seminar presenter, an award winning author, publisher, and an Igbo Language activist.
He is the author of several books including:
The ‘GPS’ of the Holy Bible, Getting to know Fibonacci numbers, Mathematical Explorations for Advanced Students, Somebody Should Help Me: Asụsụ Igbo Na-Ada Ụmị, When Spell Your Name in Igbo is Equivalent to Spell Your Igbo Name in Igbo – A Mathematical Slant.
He is a regular contributor to both Maranatha and Trinitas newspapers. He is available for speaking engagements.