The Literary Agent Is A Persona Non Grata

In Nigeria’s book industry, the Literary agent can be described in the strict meaning of the Latin phrase: Persona Non Grata, to go by the opinion of Lola Akande, novelist and University lecturer.

That phrase is commonly used in a context different from its meaning, which is “person not appreciated”.

“Nigeria had (and still has) well established publishers – Heinemann, Evans, Macmillan, Longman, Spectrum”, Akande told the gathering of writers at the ANA-organised “Authors’ Grove” at the recent Book Fair in Lagos, “but the market was not up to scratch and potential agents were not encouraged to open shop”.

The author of the winning novel What it Takes, said that “the nearest to literary agency in Nigeria appears to be Adewale Maja-Pearce who used to be an editor for Heinemann, UK. He could go out, source an author, and then recommend the author to Heinemann. However, the Nigerian environment seems to have transformed him to an agent for the author rather than for the publisher. Today, he looks at works and edits them.”

In most cases, she explained, “people who are interested in agency work do it outside of Africa. To be an agent means that you are going to arrange for an author to be linked to a publisher and to be linked to the market. You could organize a book lunch, media and other promotional events around the book. But not in Nigeria. The Nigerian author is usually his own agent, his editor, publisher, printer, marketer, promoter and seller. The implication is that a self-publishing author wastes about 90% of their time carrying out activities that are not contributory to the quality of the work – marketing”

Describing Nigeria as “simply not yet in the modern world”, she observed that “most things that apply to other countries do not apply to us. One of such things is literary agency. Because literary agents do not exist in Nigeria, there is no one to promote the author’s craft and business. To remain, you must promote your own craft and business”.

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