UK and European publishers attending the Sharjah International Book Fair have said the event has brought new business and new opportunities for them and their writers. But it is important to think long-term in the market, some say.
Emma Shercliff of Cassava Republic told The Bookseller: “This is my first Sharjah Book Fair (although my colleague Bibi Bakare-Yusuf has been on two previous occasions) and it has been the most wonderfully productive few days. As well as learning more about the market here and having the chance to meet with distributors from the region, I’ve been both buying and selling rights. I found the ‘match-making’ sessions [held during the book fair's professional programme] incredibly useful; I’ve had the chance to meet in person with publishers with whom we are already working and have also made a host of new contacts. We have had a lot of interest in our titles from publishers in Europe and China as well as the Middle East and I have strong hopes that the work of our African writers will become more widely available in other languages as a result."
Shercliff was particularly pleased with the opportunity to highlight the work of Cassava author Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, whose debut novel Season of Crimson Blossoms has just won the $100,000 Nigeria Prize for Literature.
"A panel event at the Fair, a prominent interview in The National newspaper, and school and university visits have provided a wonderful platform from which to launch his book here in UAE," she said. "For a small publisher like Cassava, it would be impossible for us to undertake a trip to the Middle East without the support of SIBF. We have been incredibly well looked after and I would highly recommend the publishers’ professional programme to any small publisher interested in expanding their reach in the region.”
Sarah Odedina, editor-at-large at Pushkin Children's, was also enthusiastic, describing the professional programme at the fair as "a wonderful business opportunity." She said: "It offers unparalleled networking opportunities and the chance to show people our titles as well as talk to new (to me!) publisher and agents about their books. With the added support of the translation grant this book fair is fast becoming a staple of the publishing year." SIBF offers support for translation costs with titles acquired through the Fair.
Urpu Strellman, publishing manager of Finnish company Art House, which publishes a range of fiction and non-fiction, described her visit as "a good beginning." She said: "It is a good start to understanding the culture and how to do business. It is just the curtains opening. There are great possibilities and talking to Nordic colleagues here, they are doing business. The amounts of money are fairly small, but it is a growing area."
Strellman said it was important to think long-term. "You can meet a publisher for five years, and then they have the book [for you]," she said. "If you get to know them now, you have the connections and know what is going on. In European cities, we don't know enough about Arabic literature and whether it will work. Sales figures in European markets are low at the moment, but who's to know it won't work? Readers don't choose a book by the author's country of origin, but the quality of the book."
Also taking part in the professional programme were Comma Press's Ra Page and Andrew Sharp, group rights and digital director at Hachette Children's Books, as well as representatives from UK agencies including Curtis Brown. Sharp said his company was considering an acquisition after he unearthed a promising title at the fair.
Among many authors appearing at SIBF are big names including Cassandra Clare and Eric van Lustbader.
The Fair runs until the 12th November.