On Kukogho Samson’s “What Can Words Do?”, Parresia and Origami Books

What Can Words Do by Kukogho Samson. Image from www.brainypoet.blogspot.com

What Can Words Do by Kukogho Samson. Image from http://www.brainypoet.blogspot.com

A publisher’s reputation is as good as its business. Each time a publisher chooses to release a book, it’s name matters, or at least should matter. Publishers realise that to keep that reputation or improve it, they must put their best into giving the author a great outing. I believe it’s not different with Parresia, including Origami Books, its self-publishing imprint. It could not have intended that things get so bad when it took up Kukogho Samson’s “What Can Words Do?” under its Origami imprint.

Of course, every author also has a name to project, or enhance. An author usually has great expectations whenever his or her book is published. And it is a legitimate expectation. I also had that expectation when Odili Ujubuonu’s Coast2Coast published “Colourless Rainbow” my first poetry collection, in 2011. Till today, I’m still indebted to the publisher in every sense of the word “indebted”. But I digress.

I believe no author signs a contract knowing he might end up in court as a claimant or defendant. Authors want to be guest writers in readings. Authors want to gain some recognition in the literary community, and beyond. Samson must have had such expectations too. And he put his money where his heart was, and still is. He took the risk to bankroll his dreams.

Close to a year later, Samson didn’t get what he had expected- especially coming from “Parresia” (Origami’s mother-firm), a fast-growing publishing house that has gained some reputation in the business. Samson must have been disappointed when he finally let his frustration with Origami end up in social media on August 31. “Kobo Profit” he called it, from Parresia’s “magic tricks”. I saw it the second it was posted. I felt that no matter what it was not the right way to go about it. I quickly contacted him. It was too late- Samson had obviously had enough. I showed some understanding; I treated his opinion with respect. But I still believed there could have been another way.

So you can imagine how relieved I felt when I discovered Parresia’s Chief Operating Officer Richard Ali, had become aware of Samson’s post. Richard has been to me a reliable friend and colleague, especially in the past few months. Knowing Richard’s calm approach to issues, I was optimistic the matter would be more appropriately settled. Perhaps I was wrong.

Richard asked Samson to “write a proper public post”. I reasoned this was to enable Richard respond robustly. I found myself wondering if that was the best option open to Richard. Yes, Samson’s earlier “Kobo Profit” was full of innuendos, but I didn’t consider Richard’s express permission Parresia’s best option. I still don’t; especially so when one objectively considers Richard’s eventual response on Parresia’s (Origami’s) behalf. I think it threw business ethics to the wind, focusing more on Parresia’s reputation than the author’s frustration. It may be legally right but it doesn’t seem moral to me. Wonder why most members of the younger generation of poets who commented on the matter went with KIS on this? Wonder why I had to say something about the matter? No, it’s not just because Samson is a friend and fellow poet. It’s not also because of Samson’s popularity with this huge community of young poets and writers. It’s about the way a fellow poet has been seen to be treated like “trash” (as Samson puts it). And that’s exactly what I believe Richard’s Origami may have failed to appreciate for what it’s worth. Sniffing blackmail is Samson’s post is one thing, but one should not dismiss the main grouse here.

An author is frustrated. Legitimate expectations, understandably high, were not met. The publisher failed to communicate effectively and efficiently. There was a huge gap in communication. That gap created the vacuum for this dirty fight on social media- the author goes crazy on Facebook. And suddenly, the publisher has all the answers. There is something not right about that.

I agree that Samson should never have brought the matter to Facebook. Never. But having ended up in social media, damage control becomes paramount. Origami may never have intended any damage to Samson’s sale plans and projections, but that is clearly the result. I believe Samson’s disappointment and frustration are largely informed by Origami’s failure to meet its obligations adequately. Even Richard concedes to that inadequacy on their part, citing Azafi’s health condition at the time, cost projections, etcetera.

Samson wanted to know the book stores his books were available, it took months. He wanted to see the reviews- they were not forthcoming. There were reasons, but they hardly change the end result. In Richard’s own words: “In the final analysis, and relying on the 50% discount on the distribution and marketing fee, it was not possible for Origami Books to foot the bill for getting reviews into the papers.” If the discount given was going to negatively affect the distribution and marketing of the book, why offer any discount at all? IF the author was “begging”, it should have nothing to do with performance since Origami accepted. I think to expect Samson to bear the eventual result may be too much for him considering his understandable expectations.

And Readings? Well, Azafi’s letter shows there were plans for that but Samson was not prepared at the time. When (according to Samson’s response) he was eventually ready for readings, communication between Origami and the author was not at its best, to say the least. I believe Richard Ali’s team could have done better than that. If half of the reasons Richard has given in his response had been communicated to Samson earlier, I doubt if the matter would have gotten this far.

Let’s see this matter for what it really is. It’s not about money- that’s why the figures don’t bother me. It’s not about fraud nor is it about blackmail. The Samson-Origami matter has been the avoidable result of a gap in communication between a publisher and its author. And it should not be taken too personally by any of the parties. Samson went too far by posting the matter on Facebook, especially considering the allegation of fraud contained in the post. I don’t think fraud was intended.

Richard Ali, as the Chief Operating Officer, should not also have allowed the matter degenerate to this level. Samson is a client. His rights and privileges are also important. Origami must at all times respect its client’s reputation just the same way it cares for its own reputation. One side’s reputation is not exclusive of the other. And that’s why I find Richard Ali’s comparison of its other authors’ poetry with that of Samson most uncalled for. No matter the good intention behind such comparisons, it does not show that the publisher respects the author’s works. It’s most unacceptable to me as a fellow poet, and I believe to the generation of young Nigerian poets and writers. Even Richard Ali belongs to that generation.

I plead with Parresia’s team and Samson to try resolving the matter privately.

I respect Parresia’s wonderful contributions to the growth and development of Nigerian literature. I believe Origami imprint is one of the innovative ways Parresia is creating greater opportunities for writers. This episode should not cast any doubt on its commitment to this noble mission.

The Samson-Parresia-Origami episode should be a challenge to us all. It should challenge us as publishers, booksellers, critics, reviewers, literary journalists, and authors to raise the bar. It should challenge us all to learn from our experiences and become even better at what we do. It should challenge us all to appreciate our imperfections and learn to see things from the other’s angle. In this way, rather than drawing blood from swords of rage, we will be writing on the pages of history with the pen of our lives what makes us thick.

Senator Ihenyen