A Personal Journey to Publishing in the Arab World
My journey into publishing was not a conscious decision but more of an accident. I am of Palestinian origin, born and raised in Jordan, and graduated in Mass Communication at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. To begin my career, I entered the field of advertising and enjoyed parts of my work but always felt that I was not fulfilled. Something was missing.
One day, my mother, a sole publisher at the time, asked for my help in producing an animated version of her latest picture book and that was the moment that changed everything.
With no background in business or publishing I plunged right in, determined to build a publishing house from the ground up. My focus was to make work as efficient as possible by creating a strong and structured publishing system. This was simultaneous to getting a hands-on real-life crash course in book publishing. Having my mother’s experience as a foundation enabled me to learn fast and granted me total freedom to experiment on her books.
Cover of Rayyan.
I cared very deeply about design and appreciated how important first visual impressions are. I knew from my own experience that books are actually judged by their cover and that good design would greatly enhance the joy of reading.
One of the first things I did was to re-illustrate an existing series to give it a new life, which later resulted in increased sales and translations into multiple foreign languages. This confirmed to me that I was on the right path which was both reassuring and confidence building.
As with every small business, I have been involved in everything from acquisition of scripts to marketing and distribution. While challenging at times, it has been an amazing experience. My involvement in all areas of publishing has enabled me to understand what it takes to make each department function at its best, thus allowing me to build a strong foundation and team.
Cover of Black Line.
Then came family life! I got married, moved to the UK and continued to work remotely with the team in Jordan. Juggling motherhood while managing a publishing house from a distance was not easy. Having my own children however, enabled me to experience first-hand, what books they enjoy and what is attractive to them.
I would not have been able to manage working remotely had it not been for our great team in Jordan. From the start, my goal was to build a strong and passionate team with a can-do attitude and the spirit to challenge the way we work, aiming always to be better. This culture has always been at the heart of our team building.
One of the greatest moments for us is when we discover new talent and there is no shortage of that in the region. We publish for writers from across the Arab world including Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Oman, Emirates, Tunisia and more.
The talent is there, and the ideas are plentiful, however more training and workshops for upcoming authors are needed to bring out this talent even more. We welcome this talent to satisfy the need for so many more books to be written about a multitude of topics and across a wide range of age groups.
There is equally a rich pool of talented illustrators and designers out there. One of the main challenges, however is finding this talent. Having illustrator and designer agencies will structure this process and reduce the time spent searching.
We have worked on some very exciting projects and truly enjoy the creative journey that our books take.
One of our recent publications is entitled Rayyan, the name of a smart 12-year-old boy, who decided to keep a diary of the challenges he faced while taking part in a science competition at school.
We wanted the book to mimic a real diary as best we could and had to make sure that the layout represented actual writing by having a mix of alignments, fonts and sticky notes. It was fun figuring out what a boy of that age might illustrate in a diary and commissioned the illustrations accordingly.
It was such a great reward to receive the positive reviews, amongst them one from a 10-year-old boy expressing how, to him, it felt like a true diary in every sense of the word.
Another recent publication is Black Line, an interactive concept book, beautifully illustrated using lino-print technique to show the endless possibilities of a black line.
When you open the book the reader sees a black line, in different thicknesses and shapes, and on turning a flap the possibility of the line is revealed. The line can be a monkey bar, a railway track, a ballerina’s ribbon . . . . Written in simple rhyme, Black Line is a visually engaging and creative book for all ages.
The luxury of a small and growing boutique publishing house allows us the freedom to publish a wide range of categories, including board books, picture books, early reader, young adult, craft and silent books. Our focus is always on great content across all categories.
We communicate with our audience in various ways. Social media has become an invaluable tool to acquire and retain loyal customers. A number of book fairs across the region and throughout the year enable us to showcase our publications. Book fairs are also an enjoyable opportunity to maintain contact with our audience and meet our readers on a regular basis.
Our stand at Sharjah International Book Fair in 2022.
It’s an exciting time to be in publishing in the Arab world. The growing number of awards across the region continues to raise the quality of publications and encourage more focus on design and content.
The market is currently booming with new publishing houses offering new content for children and young adults to an ever-growing audience with an appetite for good quality original Arabic books.
Pages from Rayyan © 2022 Tamara Qashha (author), Sasha Haddad (illustrator), Al Salwa Publishers.
Pages from Black Line, © 2022 Yazan Al-Masarwah (author), Burcu Yilmaz (illustrator), Al Salwa Publishers.
Al Masarwah, Yazan (illus. Burcu Uthania) (2022) Black Line. Al Salwa Publishers, Amman, Jordan.
Qsahha, Tamara (illus. Sasha Haddad) (2022) Rayyan. Al Salwa Publishers, Amman, Jordan.
Salwa Shakhshir is the publisher and managing director of Al Salwa Publishers, an award-winning boutique publishing house that specialises in original Arabic content for children and young adults.