Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Editorial Lie

A common complaint I often hear among the Nigerian literati is that there are no good editors in Nigeria. We say this because our markets are flooded with too many poorly-written tomes that move straight from a writer’s pen directly to a printer’s press. These would-be authors are in such a rush to publish that they barely sit down long enough to properly punctuate their work. When taken to task many of these writers will complain that they couldn't find a decent editor. And our literati – the critics, authors and intellectuals – have jumped on this bandwagon.

It is true that traditional editorial structures don’t exist in Nigeria. In the West, a brilliant author could submit their manuscript (through an agent) to a publishing house and find themselves assigned to a brilliant editor. Together, the author and the editor would work to make the manuscript shine. This would take months of bickering and rewriting. It would be hard and it would be painful – for both parties – but in the end the final book would be the best book it could be. In Nigeria, most publishing houses are no better than one-man operators with printing presses. Those that aren't are under enormous pressure, and often can’t afford the time or the cost of an in-house editor. A writer looking for important editorial feedback doesn't have a lot of places to go.

However, I think the bigger problem is the attitude of many writers themselves. Too many Nigerian authors are going into the world of letters with dreams of instant stardom. For them, it is more important to see their book published than to make sure it is a quality product. They are approaching writing the same way one would approach the selling of second-hand shoes – with an eye to quick profits and a big launch with lots of deep-pocket donors. They have no desire to go through the pain and hassle of a thorough editorial process.

To say that there are no good editors in Nigeria is to perpetuate a lie. There are plenty of good editors, but they are not cheap, their processes are not easy and they do not guarantee that money and success will instantly follow you once you use their services.

Editing is intensive work. And perhaps because it takes so much out of everyone involved, it can come across as expensive and needless. But if you have ever read a favourite author and been entranced by their early work only to be disappointed by their later products, you will know what it means to have a good editor. Don’t be surprised if you find that in the background your beloved author changed editors – or declined to be edited at all.

Perhaps that is what it comes down to. Like our lip-service to corruption, which we Nigerians all abhor and yet all practice, we are giving lip-service to the editorial process. Every Nigerian writer claims they want a good editor and yet few are willing to commit the time, money and effort that would be required of a thorough editing. At the same time, the literati complain that there are no good editors in Nigeria yet celebrate mediocre writing, encouraging the very writers most in need of sound editorial advice to disdain the process.

The problem isn't that there aren't any good editors. The problem is that too many authors aren't willing to make the sacrifices required to move their writing to the next level. So enough with this editorial lie, if you really want a good editor – and you’re not just talking – give me a call. I know a guy...


  1. A very timely post. In the age of self-publishing and the allure of instant success we've seen the rush of more and more mediocre work flooding the market. Good editing can't be substituted. It's hectic but is so worth it to ensure a good product.

    1. I agree, we need to all slow down and put quality over quantity.

  2. hey I have read your work on KR "bigger than the sky", it is great.

    Kamala in Tanzania

  3. I will definitely give you a call.