191030 sibf
People at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) at the Sharjah Expo Centre. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

The recently concluded Sharjah International Book Fair bedazzled visitors with an astonishing 15 million books showcased by 1,576 publishing houses. Historically Arab writers have had a distinctive prowess with the written word, on account of its long history of publishing exceptional masterpieces spanning various genres.

Rightly so, this collection merits a global audience who can leaf through its wisdom, originality, and imagination with much appreciation. As such, the Arab publishing industry must reorient and innovative its practices in order to market regional content creators’ works to global audiences.

It is important to bring together a vast network of public policymakers, publishing houses, writers, illustrators, editors, distributors, and booksellers who can realise this ambitious vision jointly. Introducing and enforcing global best practices concerning printing, content, intellectual property, or book illustration is considered pivotal to its success.

Publishing current market data, consumer preferences, and government policies and regulations on the publishing industry will provide useful insights for publishers to optimise their business plans. Publishers could also co-design impactful regulations for the publishing industry by working with public policymakers, such as suggesting laws that protect intellectual property rights of authors and illustrators.

Introducing new, fresh works

Hosting regular trade events, rights buying events, information sessions, and training programs will enhance knowledge and skills among key actors in the industry. Positioning literary agents as scouts for new writer voices will also be a much-needed step towards introducing new, fresh works.

It is essential that original literary voices are cultivated. Writing is as much a craft as it is an art, requiring abidance to particular linguistic and creative rules for it to be appealing. A quick search will yield a vast array of academic and informal writing courses provided all over the globe.

New York University’s Creative Writing Program has been acclaimed as a leading Centre for the study of literature and writing for more than three decades. The program is currently being held in a charming town house in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of New York City, where students attend events, workshops, intimate readings, literary salons, panel discussions, book parties, author talks, and seminars that are held in the house throughout the year.

Students can also embark on inspiring summer writing programs based in New York, Florence, and Paris where they can learn essential writing skills that will take them far in their creative journeys.

Its MFA Writers Workshop is a creative apprenticeship held for five intensive ten-day residency periods in the city of Paris. During the program, students participate in a suite of literary events, including workshops, craft talks, lectures, manuscript consultations, reading series, and professional development panels.

Spark the imagination

Paris is uniquely positioned to spark the imagination of writers with its rich literary history and cultural attractions. Its inspiring backdrop paves the way for many creative moments to master the art and craft of writing, immerse in the creative process, and live a writer’s life just like the writing legends we are familiar with.

It is equally important to cultivate the skills of other key actors in the publishing value chain, such as translators, editors, and book illustrators. It is only respectful for foreign literary works to be translated in such a way that readers do not feel amiss of its original thought and sublimity.

Additionally, packaging books in an aesthetic fashion, from gorgeous book covers to inner book illustrations, are an essential part of the overall appeal for books. On this note, editors play an influential role in guiding writers and illustrators so that their works can reach stellar literary and artistic standards.

There are many entertaining ways of marketing books to the masses. Events such as World Book Day, book fairs, literary festivals, national celebrations, adored themes, heritage references, or celebrating the birthday of a famous author all provide ample opportunities for inspiring a reading culture.

It is vital that books are widely accessible via excellent distribution channels and affordable prices. Astutely positioning books in high-traffic literary hotspots, such as public libraries, book fairs, school libraries, cafés, and workplaces can also create appeal among the masses.

To achieve wide readership and scale, Arab publishers should also leverage the digital book market in a number of creative ways. For example, browsing through many publishers’ websites, such as Waterstone’s bookshop, is a delight as book-lovers can browse best-selling books, thematic collections, signed or special edition books, blog posts, and podcasts.

Highlighting engrossing reads

On the other hand, independent bookshops, like Hatchard’s and Daunt Books in London, actively engage with bibliophiles via social media platforms. To illustrate, their posts highlight engrossing reads by in-house experts, window displays decorated with the latest themes or celebrations, author visits, and book signing events. Lately, they have launched an exclusive book subscription service, wherein hand-picked books are delivered monthly to subscribers tailored to their specific interests.

Moreover, online book clubs are an excellent medium for readers to convene virtually and discuss or review their favourite books. Publishers can also feature their best-selling books on popular apps and offer instant content access upon purchase online, such as Apple Books, Kindle, and Audible audiobook service.

Many countries also choose to showcase their best-selling books which emphasise their unique heritage, beloved characters, important issues, and author voices, such as the Books from Scotland or Japanese Books for Everyone websites. Popular lifestyle magazines could also feature exceptional Arab content creators and books from the region.

Arab writers are uniquely positioned to enthral global audiences with their fascinating and original voices. By adopting some innovative practices, publishers can cast a wider net in the industry and garner much-deserved appreciation for our region’s literature.

Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and literature