Last Monday, I had the opportunity to sit on a panel to discuss publishing perspectives in our world today. The panel discussion was part of the two-day annual book festival hosted by the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) held from September 21 to September 22.
GAW is the foremost union of writers in Ghana with its history beginning from post-independent Ghana in 1920. The association went through several metamorphoses and challenges before taking its present-day form.
The crème de la crème of Ghana’s prestigious literary history was all part of this association. Mention any of them – the likes of Michael Dei-Anang, J.H. Kwabena Nketia, Efua Sutherland, Crakye Denteh, Kwesi Brew, Geombeeyi AdaliMortty, Cameron Duodu, John Okai (Atukwei Okai), Kobina Eyi Acquah, Vincent Okunor, Asiedu Yirenkyi, Fred Agbobli, Kofi Anyidoho, Rex Quartey, Bill Marshall, Kojo Yankah, J.E. Allotey-Pappoe, Kwesi Annor and Benjamin Kumbour – and they would have been involved with the association or any of its previous variants.
Despite the challenges this organization has faced throughout its history, it is very commendable that it is still on its feet today, serving as the oak tree for writers and everything literature in Ghana. This is one of the reasons I am proud of my scattered involvement with the association.
My Memorable Encounters With GAW
The first time I heard about GAW was in 2015. I was at the PAWA House at South Ridge in Accra for the launch of Cecelia Amoafowaa’s Poetry Excursion On An African Mind. The reception, the history and the people of GAW left a great impression on me that I wanted to join. Unfortunately, I lived 147 km from the capital where all the action happened. But I was sold on the fact that such an association existed, and I was excited any time I had to return to the PAWA House for an event or participate in any GAW related activity.
Three years after that first meeting with GAW, Nana Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng conferred membership of GAW on me. This was at the launch of Adabraka: Stories from the Centre of the World – an anthology published by the Ama Ata Aidoo Centre for Creative Writing of the African University College of Communications, where Gyan-Apenteng who was then the president of the association presented me and the other contributors to the anthology with certificates of participation.
I have participated in other GAW events, and I must say they have all lived to expectation.
GAWBOFEST is an acronym for the Ghana Association of Writers Book Festival. The purpose of the festival is to bring together various stakeholders in the book industry in an atmosphere of fun to celebrate books, reading, writing, storytelling and creativity. The 2021 edition was the 10th anniversary of the festival, and it was under the theme Empowering Ghana Through Reading.
As with many events these days, due to COVID-19, this year’s GAWBOFEST was held with a hybrid of virtual/online and in-person activities. The festival’s lineup of activities included an opening and closing ceremony, three panel discussions, a young writers forum and readings from selected winners at the 2019 GAW Literary Awards.
The panel discussions were on the following topics: Creating the/a conducive ecosystem for creative writing in Ghana, E-book dynamics and apps in Ghana and Publishing perspectives in a disrupted world; Self or independent publishing vs. traditional publishing. The third topic is where I come in.
My Perspectives on Publishing in Ghana: Traditional Publishing Vs. Self-Publishing
The traditional publishing space in Ghana is saturated with textbook publications. Only very few publishing houses focus on non-textbook publications like novels, anthologies, non-fiction creative books, biographies, memoirs etc. The overhead costs of publishing companies are astounding. Taxes on the importation of raw materials and equipment are headaches for anyone who wants to venture into the space. That’s why textbook publications seem more lucrative for publishing houses. There is a ready market for textbooks which gives the publisher a good return on their investments and writers/authors are happy with their royalties.
On the side of the creatives, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to improve the quality of writing, improve creative nurturing for the youth and encourage more publication, especially by young writers.
For the longest time, I have been an advocate for writers submitting their manuscripts to publishing houses for consideration. When I get the opportunity to meet with publishers, I also encourage them to set aside 10 to 15 per cent of their investments for non-textbook publications. This is how we can begin to bridge the gap and deal with the dearth of quality works coming from Ghana.
While we push publishing houses and creatives to come together do more traditional publishing, I believe self-publishing could be the way to feed the literary thirst of the Ghanaian masses. Many creatives and critics abhor the idea of self-publishing. The key argument has been that self-publication is vain which is why it used to be called vanity press. Self-published books are described as such because most of them come out amateurish and unprofessional. These two bad raps about self-publishing need to be arrested to turn around the bad reputation it has. Three things must be done – quality control, editing and design professionalism.
I will write more about these next week. However, note that delightful books get read, whether they are self-published or traditionally published.
New Perspective on Publishing in Ghana
Every platform is an opportunity to learn. I learned and added to my personal thoughts on the subject from the second panelist in the discussion – John Akwasi Amponsah. As a textbook publisher, he shared important trade secrets beneficial to anyone who wanted to join the space. Basically, authors or writers, need to align their content with current curricula so their books are accepted by the Ghana Education Service as textbooks or supplementary textbooks. It is not enough to just produce content. It must align.
There’s still more to write about publishing in Ghana and I will continue next week. Many thanks to Nana Awere Damoah and Kofi Akpabli for recommending me for that slot on the panel. Thanks to Francis Gbormittah, President of GAW and his executives for putting the festival together. I wish GAW all the best in the coming years.
Until I come your way next week, as always, it can only get better, and we can only get better.