Ayo Oyeku is an author and the Chief Executive Officer of Eleventh House Publishing Limited. he tells BLESSING ENENAITE about his love for the arts and other issues
tell us about your background.
I am from Osun State. I had my secondary education at Government College, Ibadan, Oyo State. and I had my tertiary education at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State.
As a child, I fancied the idea of being a writer but not as a career goal. I wanted to study a course related to engineering. Growing up in a peaceful family of four gave me all the tools needed to read, think and imagine. I started writing at the age of 13 and signed my first publishing deal four years later. However, that milestone did not determine me from studying Physics with Electronics in the university because I enjoy science. Since then, I have forged ahead with science on one hand and art in the other.
What influenced your decision to become a writer?
It would be unfair to conclude that my decision to become a writer was influenced by a thing or two. I grew up in a home filled with books, and a father who loved reading, and encouraged his kids to do likewise. I remember being inspired by Wole Soyinka’s literary achievements when I got into secondary school. Consequently, I had a small circle of friends who were avid readers and creatives. I remember my brother telling everyone who cared to listen back then that I had a talent for writing. Everything (I am today) is as a result of passion, grit, hard work and luck.
You are the CEO of Eleventh House Publishing Limited. How will you describe your experience so far?
It has been more like a magic stunt performed in front of a teeming crowd. I stumbled into the art of publishing in 2011 and I was fascinated by the book production process, starting from the first draft to galley proof. I started Eleventh House in 2018, as a home for creative minds who have something special to share with the world. Books are capable of changing the world and I wanted our titles to fulfill this purpose. Even though we offer hybrid self-publishing services, we have remained committed to our vision. The COVID-19 pandemic shook our business but taught us the value of working remotely – which we still practice till today. Sadly, the state of the economy has not been friendly with our production costs. Hence, our authors are unable to print as many copies of their books as they desire. Despite all these, we have remained true to our mission and we are helping authors to produce beautiful books that are reaching homes and crossing borders.
What are the challenges you face as an author and publisher?
Getting published is not easy. Writing good sentences takes repeated intentional attempts. Weaving stories can be back-bending. Selling books are quite demanding. Nothing is easy. Yet, there is beauty and meaning in all the uneasiness, which propels me to do more.
What are your achievements as a writer?
My first book, First among Equalswas selected in 2004 by the World Bank, for distribution across libraries in Nigeria.
Also, I have won local and international awards. I have been shortlisted twice for the Golden Baobab Prize; emerged as the winner of the Ezenwa Ohaeto Prize for young novelists; won the Association of Nigerian Authors prize for children’s literature; appeared as a guest in major literary festivals within and outside Nigeria. However, my greatest achievement has always come from the understanding that someone somewhere appreciates my literary offerings. My other published books include, noble ambition, She Made the Trees Walk, The Kick, Shuga, Queen Moremi Makes a Promise and The Legend of Ataoja.
It has been said that many Nigerians don’t read. How do you convince people to buy your books?
Reading is both a habit and a culture. If you meet book lovers, convincing them to buy your books won’t be necessary. As an author and publisher, my task has always been to produce an excellent book, bind it in a beautiful cover, and make it available for sale at a market-friendly rate. Hence, I don’t do much in convincing people to buy the books. Rather, I spend time in creating awareness for people to see the need to read. Nigerians need to understand that reading should be enshrined in our culture. Books offer answers to most of the issues plaguing us. I participate in literary festivals, go on book tours, donate books, as well as attend physical and virtual readings all because I want to encourage people to read. Fostering the reading culture in our nation is my most important duty as a writer and publisher. People buying my books or the company’s titles come as an additional reward for my efforts.
You have a niche for children’s books. What is the reason for that?
It is true that the ‘hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world’. It is also true that the hand that writes for the cradle is the hand that rules the world. Children’s literature is a genre that is sometimes scoffed at and undervalued. Many people even assume it’s easy to write for children. That is not true. My first published book happened to be a children’s book, after I was encouraged by my publisher to do so. As my career progressed, I tried my hands on poetry and other genres of literature. But, I am particularly drawn to writing for children because they are the beacons of hope. Our future rests on them. Hence, I have devoted towards influencing their minds and thoughts with the books I publish. It is also important for our children to see themselves in the books they read too. Literature texts for most kids in private schools happen to be foreign literature. This is not a bad decision by school administrators but we need to understand that identity is important, and children should be able to appreciate and connect with their own. I write stories set in Nigeria, using Nigerian names for my characters, and ensure that the illustrators sketch African kids on the pages too. I am writing for children because they are the future.
It seems eBooks are fast overshadowing hardcopy books. What measures are you making to ensure you stay in business?
I love holding books in my hands. This is a feeling that many booklovers can attest to. e-books cannot overshadow paperbacks or hard covers. The world is changing and we are also embracing the new opportunities that come with it. We help our authors to make their books available in digital formats. We also make our eBooks available in digital libraries. Many of our authors are considering these publishing options along with paperback.
If you were not a writer, what would you have become?
I would have become an engineer. After I graduated from the university, I worked at an IT firm for a while but I did not get any sense of fulfillment from it. I considered other job options too but they did not excite me. I returned to writing and I am happy. I won’t have it any other way, anymore.