Interview: Authors Nowadays Are Lacking In Imaginative Flair. – Dillibe Onyeama.

Growing up in the 1980s, my young mind mostly burrowed in my father’s modest collection of books at home whenever I was not out playing with friends. It was always easy for me to mark out, at a glance, books published by Dillibe Onyeama’s Delta Publications (Nigeria) Ltd from books by other Nigerian Publishers – aesthetics!. Perhaps because he was first an author (with works such as Nigger at Eton, Sex is a Nigger’s Game, Night Demon, Secret Society, Revenge of the Medicine man) before fully taking up publishing, his books come in high quality paper, inimitable creative cover designs and readable text prints that showed they were printed outside Nigeria. He was Abubakar Gimba’s first publisher, enjoying the distinction of releasing the late novelist’s debut novel, A Trial of Sacrifice in 1985 and many others that followed. He marketed Gimba’s works with panache, describing him as “the Northern answer to Achebe and Soyinka”.  But that is a story from the dying years of the last millennium. This is 2017 and many of the indigenous and multinational publishing firms of the flourishing era of the 1980s have grown out of business. Dillibe Onyeama though has not stopped and he tells us why and how there is still Delta Publications (Nigeria) Ltd almost four decades after it was established.  

How it all started

It started with the desire I nursed while still living in London in 1980 to return home to Nigeria finally and continue my career in literature at home. I had been living in England for 22 years, and at that time, I was a managing editor in a London-based book-publishing outfit called 'Satellite Books'. I liaised with several eminent Nigerians on the idea of forming a book publishing company, and ultimately this metamorphosed into 'Delta Publications (Nigeria) Limited', which was hatched in June 1981, and had a temporary office in Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, before I relocated to my home state Enugu. Our first title was 'NKRUMAH THE MAN' by his former lady friend, Genoveva Kanu. It came out with a bang, was serialised in 5 parts in 'Punch' Newspapers, and all 15,000 copies of the initial print-run sold out within a couple of months.

Competed favourably with bigger publishing companies including multinationals

It was simply a matter of imaginative flair and catering for the unusual - going for stories that are somehow different and not run-of-the-mill. Rather than looking for established authors, we sought out new talents and tried to build them up with original promotional strategies that would raise eyebrows.   

1982: Dillibe Onyeama at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Germany.

Reason for publishing more books with Pan-African themes.

Well, as an African publishing outfit, it figured that we would concentrate largely on pan-African themes. But we wanted to invest more on human vanity as a source of good marketing, and went for biographical and autobiographical themes. Apart from 'NKRUMAH THE MAN', we published titles like 'YESTERDAY'S AFRICANS', 'HEROES OF WEST AFRICAN NATIONALISM', 'MODERN MESSIAH' (Jim Nwobodo), AFRICAN LEGEND (Arthur Nzeribe). Such books sold very fast.
Dillibe Onyeama

 Why it was easy to publish fine fictions by good writers

In those days, Delta was among the few indigenous publishers paying royalties and looking for new literary talents to build up. We would actually buy good works from unpublished authors, pay them advance royalties if their works were good, and get them to sign a printed publishing agreement that stipulated 6-monthly royalty payments on sales recorded. We offered such attractive incentives, and in that way secured some exceptional talents on our list - such as Abubakar Gimba, Christopher Abani, and quite a number of others. Delta was heavily promoted when it was hatched, and this drew many hopeful unpublished authors who were finding it difficult to get their works accepted. And those books, well promoted when we published them, sold very well. We started off with 8 novels, and all of them sold out.
Abubakar Gimba and Dillibe Onyeama

So what has changed in the publishing industry today? 

The change is that our nation has degenerated to a level of recession, and outside mandatory schoolbooks, our people cannot afford the luxury of buying books. You get a situation where the cost of one book today can feed a family of five for one good week. Many publishers have gone off the radar since those days of the oil-boom, when books for leisure were in great demand. To survive you have to reach deep down into your creative impulses in order to find ways to circumvent the challenges of making books sell profitably.

Delta Publications in want of outstanding books to publish

I would not have said "slowed" down because of the economy - rather, slowed down from the absence of outstanding works for publication. Once an exceptional work is submitted for publication, no matter how bad the economy is we will buy it and apply the necessary creative flair to get it to the masses in commercial quantities. Having said that, however, recession or bad economy does not help matters.
      Some of the contemporary books published by Delta Publications Ltd

What happens now?

It has been a few years back since Delta purchased publishing rights on royalty basis. We tend to get involved in co-publishing arrangements if a book has potential, and we assist thereafter in the marketing and promotion. Our would-be authors nowadays are lacking of imaginative flair, and need to read more international creative works to imbibe the niceties of the tricky plot structure.
Minna, May 2011: Late Author, Abubakar Gimba hands over the manuscript of his 7th work, A Toast In The Cemetery to Dillibe Onyeama.

Most successful publication in terms of volume of sales.

Obviously I would have to say Abubakar Gimba. His titles that we published - 'TRAIL OF SACRIFICE and WITNESSES TO TEARS were runaway bestsellers, reaching upwards of 100,000 copies in Nigeria. We are putting the finishing touches to immortalising him with THE GIMBA BOOK LEGACY. This will entail lectures, book fairs and a literary award. He was the ideal author for every publisher both here and offshore.