‘Why we set up a society for editors in Nigeria’

Ojogwu

The Society for Book and Magazine Editors of Nigeria (SBMEN) held a two-day editing masterclass in July, which had ‘An Editor as a Creator: Understanding the Technical, Practical and Business Aspects of Editing’ as theme. The society’s Executive Director, ANWULI OJOGWU, said, “We came up with the idea for the society in 2017 when we both observed the difficulty in finding talent to hire, limited domestic training opportunities to improve our skills and the lack of a professional body to represent our interests. So in 2018, we made it a reality.” She spoke with ANOTE AJELUOROU on the vexing problem of editing in Nigeria’s literary space and how the society will intervene

What informed the need for a workshop for editors in Nigeria’s literary landscape? How hard are editors to be found in the country?
We held the workshop for three reasons. First, the workshop was an official launch of the Society for Book and Magazine Editors of Nigeria, to let the public know that we have opened our doors and we exist. The next reason was to meet people who are practising and those who aspire to practice the profession. The last reason was to use the opportunity to show editors how important their work is as part of the ecosystem in the publishing industry, through the courses.

There are many editors in the system. They can be found in different media. In the case of books and magazines, because they work under the radar most of the time, it is hard to find them. So, part of the reason we have this society is to create a community where editors know one another, where publishers can hire talent, and where the public can find the editors they need.

Editing is a major headache in Nigeria’s literary space. How far do you think your workshop can go in resolving it?
The workshop was revealing. Editing is an art and a science. Editors need creativity to shape the essence of an author’s work; but they need the science to meet standards to present the work in high quality. These skills are teachable. These skills become perfect with iteration. It cannot happen one time with one workshop, which is why we founded the Society for Book and Magazine Editors of Nigeria, to serve as an educational and professional platform to nurture talented editors. So, at the workshop, the participants came to understand that continuous development is the path to high competency.

How often do you intend to hold the workshop?
The society’s workshops will begin to run consistently in 2019, throughout the year, mainly in Lagos. But we have a national outlook to build membership from around the country, so we intend to hold a few workshops as well in key cities in Nigeria next year, too. We are currently finalising our curriculum and continuous professional plans for the four levels of our membership: Trainee, Intermediate, Advanced and Professional. We will have other programmes and activities as well such as business clinics, events to build editors’ competence.

What happens to the proceeds of the workshop?
We are a legally registered non-profit under the CAC with a board of trustees that oversees our activities. What we generated from the workshop, and future workshops, will be reinvested back into our organisation to enable us fund other workshops.

What were your findings during and after the workshop about editing problems?
We found people cared about creating quality content. They all wanted to learn more about editing, storytelling, raising the standard of their work, freelance business, among other things. These are the important things that contribute to creating a quality publication. We had accomplished facilitators in publishing who talked about these issues. It was a very practical workshop.

When would it be hurray for Nigerian writers to have the services of editors readily at home and obviate the need to go abroad?
I think Nigerian writers and publishers already use the services of local editors. I can testify to that because I co-own a publishing company and I use the services of Nigerian editors. But I get what you are asking: the works of creative writers published abroad are usually edited by foreign publishers. It is only natural that the publishing company take editorial control if it is invested. However, our stories, whether published locally or overseas, can benefit from the expertise of a Nigerian editor, who understands the nuances of our language and culture. For instance, our language of camaraderie and trade, the Pidgin English, appears in many books these days. It has many variations in written and spoken forms depending on the region in Nigeria; hence, there is no consistency. So, how do editors help? We actively get involved in developing standard ways to apply the language in written work (creative and non-creative works) to create consistency. We can work with linguists and other stakeholders to accomplish it. I believe that foreign publishers would appreciate our services to help with cases like that. This is an initiative that SBMEN intends to pursue in creating consistent and standard language for written form.

What damage would you say poor editing has done and continues to do to Nigerian writing?
It has caused a lack of trust in our competency and raised questions about the quality of our education.

A lot of writing happens on social media, and largely unregulated by the services of editors. What is the place of good editing in that space?
The way that we write on social media sometimes reflects the casual way that we speak daily, which is informal, laced with colloquialisms, abbreviated words and Nigerianisms. However, there are many individuals who pay attention to the way they write. They write in clear sentences with verbs and nouns. Same applies to formal entities such as businesses on social media. I believe they are conscious of posting well-written content. And there are people that do not care. Unfortunately, editors can’t regulate private thoughts.

Self-publishing is another area where editing has taken the backseat. How can this be corrected?
I think self-publishing suffers because there isn’t the same amount of care, rigor and meticulousness applied to editing like it is done in traditional publishing. Caveat: traditional publishing in Nigeria is not perfect, but some publishers understand the value of editing and editors. They understand the value of good content and the risk of producing the reverse. Self-published authors must appreciate the value of good content, the value of an editor’s contributions to their work, and the value of editing to the outcome of the work; otherwise, there will always be problems with producing quality work. They must dispel the idea that these things can be done quickly, because we live in times when things are done at speed owing to technology. Publishing is a conventional industry, and since the discovery of the book, it has not been obliterated even with the invention of tablets and e-books; rather, more media forms have been included, and the problem with good content has only heightened. The concern for quality content is the same whether in tablet or book form. This makes the role of an editor vital in the production of good content. Lastly, self-published authors may be discouraged because of the cost of the editing service, but there are always editors to work with them at reasonable fees. At the SBMEN, educating the public on how editing works and its value to the creative process, and how to work with editors is part of our programmes we will launch next year.

What exactly has been the cost of editing in the literary space, would you say?
I think that editing rates are not competitive enough compared to our counterparts across the Atlantic. Regardless, there are many editors in Nigeria that command appreciable fees as high as six digits because of their level of expertise and experience. There is a lot of opportunity, yet some do not even do it full time. The flexibility and creativity of the profession attracts people. These days we have many people transiting from other careers to become editors. I have met court magistrates who are now editors, for example. But we have no standardised rates here; rather, we use templates from overseas, which has its limits. To solve the problem, one of our goals in the society is to standardise freelance rates for different levels of editorial work. This will help a new editor in the industry fix appropriate fees that matches her services. We are advising many new editors on how to cost their services already.

* The Society for Book and Magazine Editors of Nigeria (SBMEN) is made up of founder, Kachifo Limited, Muhtar Bakare, acclaimed author and former editor of Heinemann African Writers Series, Adewale Maja-Pearce, former Arts Editor of The Guardian Newspaper and co-founder of Committee of Relevant Arts (CORA), Jahman Anikulapo, co-founder of Parressia Publishing Ltd Azafi Ogosi Omoluabi, Olajide Bello of ABFRCO, and Enajite Efemuaye.

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