If Poetry is Dead, I’m Here to Resurrect It! – A Re-jig of the Publishing Operating Model
Co-authoring my first book has been somewhat of a blessing. Given me a cause to make noise for. After getting our offering edited and self-published, the logical next step for us was to send it out to a few established publishers to see if we could get any traction at all via this channel. Most of the responses were immediate with several of the publishers mentioning that poetry, short-stories were no longer the way to go for them. From an economic perspective they were more interested in full-length novels as they had more potential from a commercial viability standpoint.
The rejection reminded me of an era where defiance, innovation and disruption was needed to create a new world order – the era of hip hop. Before the era of hip-hop, I’m guessing that rock also went through the same treatment. Most hip-hop artists that started out in the 1980s, whom we’ve come to love and adore today encountered a lot of resistance when they approached major labels with their mixtapes in attempts to get recording contracts. Hip-hop was considered a risky business as these major labels were unsure of what the uptake of a recorded rap album would be. In addition, whether rap would be accepted within the mainstream also brought more uneasiness for major record label executives. So to avoid incurring any losses, they turned most of the artists down.
But being anti-establishment, is often what is needed to change the game and transform the world. Instead of running away from the noise, sometimes you need to run towards the noise – do the unnatural. Due to them not getting any support from the major record labels, most artists invested in themselves to record their music, established their own record labels and leverage their community to grow and progress into sizeable record companies. Examples include Uptown Records, Bad Boy Records, Death Row Records, Grand Hustle Records, Disturbing the Peace, Ruthless Records, Loud Records and so much more. All of the abovementioned records have established several platinum selling artists whose craft is appreciated in popular culture as well as within their niche markets.
Now back to poetry. I’ll start off by accepting that perhaps poetry’s commercial value may be on the down trend. I’m guessing that people are more into sci-fi / mystical / thriller / biographical novels and comics which can someday be converted into film and series manuscripts. Examples that come to mind include Harry Potter, the Divergent series, the Twilight series, Fifty Shades of Grey, Game of Thrones and many, many more.
But there’s tons of value in short writings as well. Good poetry makes you feel, love, hurt, sadness, pain, anguish, hope, inspired, motivated, aspired, comforted, empathy, sympathy, despair and the list goes on. I recently had the pleasure of watching Donovan Livingston’s Harvard graduation speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XGUpKITeJM. If this speech isn’t inspiring, I’m not sure what is. Marianne Williamson answered what is humanity’s deepest fear question with this response: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure” in her book A Return to Love. A quote made famous by Nelson Mandela and Samuel L. Jackson in Coach Carter.
So for the book publishers turning the short story and poetry writers down based on commercial viability. I challenge you to engage with the artists to come up with new business models that can return this critical sector of the arts back to its former financial glory. If the world’s largest taxi operator doesn’t own any cars; world’s most popular media company, creates no content; the world’s most valuable retailer, carries no stock; and the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no property – surely those interested in the arts can also come up with a new way of selling poetry for a decent return.
I haven’t given up, I’ve invested in my own work. Not just for myself but for the sake of others who wants Africa to read and write more. We can’t continue to refer to the Chinua Achebes and Ngugi waThiongos as the creators of Africa’s best literary works in 2016. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we don’t respect them. We admire them, they are our inspiration. We also aspire to be like them. That will, however, not be possible if the book publishers don’t come to the party… Let’s get Africa back on the literary path it deserves to be on. Let’s read more and get our people to write more.