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How can we produce a book without facing the challenges of publishing including distribution, promotion and free interaction? How can we evaluate a book’s influence and relevancy to today’s world? Who can define the nature of the relationship between the writer and publisher? What are the most important economic, cultural and social criteria that serve as a real barometer of their places in contemporary markets? What mechanism can be used to select the best texts, and should this mechanism be subject to the authority of the publisher?
How do these factors affect the promotion of literature across a variety of genres? More importantly, who ultimately controls these educational, cultural and economic criteria?
“Nasher” interviewed a number of guests and owners of publishing houses, who took part in the 27th Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, to ask their opinions.
Iraqi novelist and academic Muhsin Al Ramli told Nasher: “My experience with Arabic publishers differs from that with foreign publishers. The difference is manifested in dealing, editing and a strict adherence to rights with overseas publishers, and bearing in mind the difficulties faced by Arab publishers, I deal with them with more flexibility and tolerance.
“Frankly speaking, the financial returns that I earn from a single translated novel released by a foreign publishing house are equivalent to all the financial proceeds I received for books released by Arab publishing houses. I believe the Arab publisher needs to improve his ways of selecting important topics and find a qualified editor, who knows the challenges of creative writing.
“The owner of the publishing house must be accurate and committed to the terms of the contract between the publisher and the writer. He should also be active in promotion and active in participation. If he does so, this will certainly benefit the writer, publisher, and the reader.”
Poet and Publisher Mohamed Al Nabhan, the owner of Canada-based ‘Massa’ publishing house, said: “The relationship between the writer and the publisher is subject to major challenges which start from the moment the writing begins. The basic elements of the book industry, which need key factors to be in place, are often missing or unclear.
“For example, most publishers do not care about the cultural views of a publishing house. The Arab market’s criteria may confuse the writer in adopting a clear-cut action plan. For example, the publisher may refuse to publish content that he had earlier accepted under the pretext that the market needed a particular type of a book. The lack of clarity in the contracts is another confusing issue, which affects both parties and causes a lot of problems, in turn damaging the relationship.”
Al Nabhan added: “The editing of the text or having it reviewed by a panel of judges is also an issue that may be rejected by the writer. This is all besides the confusion in the format, which is an important element for creating the character of the publishing house or expressing the content of the book. The writer may emotionally interfere with the details of the book’s format, while the job of the publishing house is to present the most appropriate form in communicating the text to the reader.”
Al Nabhan pointed out that the post-production phase is a more complicated issue in the Arab world, as the reader is more interested in ideas put forward by social media platforms and offered by libraries. Therefore, the book does not enjoy a good presence in the Arab media in general, and this prompts the writer to promote and market his own book.
UAE novelist and publisher Mohsen Suleiman, the owner of ‘Title’ publishing house, stressed that the relationship between the publisher and the writer should be based on the grounds of partnership and integration, as “no one can deny the other’s role or steal the limelight from him to enjoy prominence.”
Suleiman underlined the inevitable need to encourage young writers and give them the chance to express themselves. He said the works should be examined carefully by a panel of experts who have experience in all forms of creative works and stressed the need to support Emirati publishers by helping them reach out to Arab and international publishers and participate in Arab and international book fairs. He noted that new publishers suffer from the distribution issues and should have the opportunity to publish their writings directly through book outlets.
Egyptian poet Mahmoud Sharaf said: “I have an ambiguous and difficult relationship with publishing houses thanks to my diverse experience with publishing houses. I have dealt with several government-owned publishing houses that published three of my poetic works. I have also dealt with private publishing houses, in which one collection of my poetry was released. Finally, I published my first collection at my own expense.”
He added: “Writers face different problems with both government-owned publishing houses and private publishing houses. Government publishing houses usually delay the publishing of books, which is one of the major problems that authors struggle with.”
“On the other hand, one of the problems that face authors when dealing with private publishing houses is the absence of the culture of publishing where value should be placed on the quality of writing and literature. Private publishing houses usually try to generate financial returns at the expense of writers, which is a dilemma in such a sensitive field.”