By Farooq Kperogi
If I get a dollar for every time random Nigerians that I don’t know from a hole in the wall want me to edit stuff (entire book manuscripts, articles, proposals, etc.) for them for free, I’d be a multimillionaire!
But seriously, what sustains the idea in Nigeria that writers and editors are complimentary communal intellectual wells from where everyone can drink? You don’t ask a doctor to treat you for an illness for free. You don’t ask a lawyer to defend you in court for free. You don’t ask an accountant to do your taxes for free.
In fact, you don’t ask a graphic designer to design logos for you for free. Only writers and editors are expected to offer free labour – as if they didn’t spend time and money to acquire their skills or don’t require effort and time to render their services.
We creative types are probably responsible for why we’re taken for granted. We’re willing victims of what one scholar by the name of Andrew Ross calls “cultural discount” whereby “artists and other arts workers accept non-monetary rewards – the gratification of producing art – as a compensation for their work, thereby discounting the cash price of their labour.”
I used to edit for lots of Nigerians for free out of a sense of community service, but eight out of 10 times I won’t even get a mere “thank you.” I answered people’s grammar questions by email and eight out of 10 times I never received an acknowledgement much less an expression of gratitude. That caused me to question what I was doing.
Contrast that to my experience in America. When even friends want me to help with editing their work, they unfailing ask how much I charge per word, and never fail to thank me afterwards.
I’ve earned enough money from editing and rewriting academic articles for American scholars in my spare time that my wife and I decided to set up a small business called FAMEK Global Consulting, LLC.
Now each time random Nigerians send me those casual emails asking me to edit stuff for them, I send them the link to my rates per word. They never come back.
A few months ago, someone wanted me to edit a book containing the speeches of a governor (yes, a serving governor!) for free. I sent him my rates and said it was up for negotiation. I never heard back from him.
I have a full-time job as a professor, researcher and father.
I also have a small business that I run. Where do I have the time to edit people’s articles, books, speeches, etc. for free?
I know I speak for many Nigerian editors and writers whose learning and skills are taken for granted by several people.