Authors contribute to the world’s literature and knowledge, and thus to life-long learning that can change society. When authors write, they build a legacy and make a living. For a long time, many Ugandan authors treated writing as a secondary source of income and depended on their primary jobs for a living. When Covid-19 hit the world, Uganda was not spared. The pandemic affected authors, particularly those dependent on work to support their creative projects. To support the recovery of authors, the Uganda textbook Academic and Non-Fiction Authors Association (UTANA) in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES), International Authors Forum (IAF), and Norwegian Non Fiction Writers and Translators Association (NFFO), organised a hybrid seminar on “The Business of Being an Author”.
The seminar was hosted by UTANA and moderated by Professor Elisam Magara, UTANA Chairman and Professor at Makerere University, and featured four speakers:
- Professor Maggie Gee from Bath Spa University, representing the International Authors Forum, talking on “Creating a Living: Authorship Global trends and lessons for Developing Countries”.
- Elly Nyambobo Sabiti, Author of Agriculture Principles and Practices for O-level, A-Level and BTVET, of Busitema University, providing their experience as an author.
- Emmanuel Otim, Deputy Head Teacher City High School, presenting the challenges of balancing teaching and writing career in schools.
- Jonathan Kamwana, Commissioner, Department of Teacher Education, Training and Development (TETD) on the “Education Sector strategic directions in promoting writing and Authorship”.
The Business of Being an Author
Professor Maggie Gee considered the business of writing from two angles: writing alone and with others. Authors sit down, explore ideas and write, before worrying about publishing. The second aspect draws from other people and their skills. The author does the writing, editing, and marketing, hoping to earn money out of writing; this requires hard work and belief in their work. Without this, publishers have nothing to publish.
Given his 36 years’ experience as a professor, Elly Nyambobo Sabiti says that having passion in writing is the first step of a successful author. He linked his interest in writing to his education. The skills acquired in training and research led Sabiti to writing that enabled him to earn a living through promotions, paid-for travel and attending conferences, which in turn enabled his dream of writing books. Maggie and Elly stated that often an author needs to not only write well, but also review, edit, and market their work. This requires patience as you focus on your writing. He recalls: “The first draft produced seven hundred pages… it took us about six years to finish publishing three books”. For Elly, having authored three books which are on Amazon and widely read by schools, farmers and more in east-African countries gives him a sense of pride and satisfaction.
On balancing a teaching career and being an author, Emmanuel Otim quoted Albert Einstein: “Education is not the learning of facts. It’s rather the training of the mind to think”. Emmanuel explained that for a teacher to impart knowledge, values and skills, relevant tools including books are required. To develop their subject, a teacher should be a constant reader to help broaden the outlook of their learners. To enrich and enliven their teaching, teachers are often involved in writing. Emmanuel commented that, from his experience, authorship is a business that requires an investment of time, money and equipment. It also requires skills such as design, typesetting and editing, as well as publishing costs. This makes authors dependent on other parties like publishing houses for support.
Many challenges for authors are a result of history. Maggie asserted that while many would prefer writing in their local languages, colonial history has not enabled this.
Considering authorship as an important means to promote sharing of knowledge and ideas, there is a need for writers to claim payment for their work and its use, and this is something authors should fight for collectively, though they need government help.
All the speakers concurred that balancing academics and authorship is a major challenge. Emmanuel advised that care should be taken to ensure that writing doesn’t interfer with a teacher’s obligations. Other challenges he outlined included transparency of royalties, and unfavorable remuneration. Ellyadvised of the importance of identifying gaps in the market, as he found agricultural books in Uganda were scarce, and his book aimed at filling that gap in the education sector.
Promoting writing and Authorship in Uganda
Jonathan Kamwana outlined the agenda for education regarding authors. In Uganda, frameworks like Vision 2040, and a Government Development Plans and White papers on Education, have guided the sector to develop the human capital as a means to a strong modern society and economy. The target is writing books to be put in the hands of the students as a way forward.
There has been an unfortunate shift towards teachers discouraging reading by instead “selling their notes to children”, which Jonathan lamented. This way, he says, “teachers kill creativity, curiosity” with a focus on cramming for tests over understanding. As a way forward, the Ministry is developing a policy to support the writing of books, a strategy that is hoped will improve a reading culture. He stated that the department is “ready to collaborate with authors to support this initiative promoting the business of being an author”. He concluded: “Let’s create reading and writing at the right stage by preparing students to write at an early stage”.
Asked whether authors have a right to be remunerated or should write as a service to society, Maggie contended that writers must be remunerated because there is a universal right to payment for work done and payment for the use of work. Maggie stated that these two principles are needed for writers to make a living. She also outlined the need for help from governments, given the enormous contribution writing brings to the creative economy.
The panel made the following recommendations:
- Authors should commit to their work writing quality books.
- Schools should include reading in their timetables.
- Teachers should give work that encourages learners to research and write.
- The public should be encouraged to support the work of Ugandan authors.
- The Country should recognize writing as an essential skill and industry.
You can watch the full discussion here.