Sharjah International Book Fair 29th Edition

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Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
ExpoCenter 7th - 17th November, 2012. Hours | Saturday - Thursday: 10a.m. - 10p.m.; Friday: 4p.m - 10p.m.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Fake Plastic Souks: How To Self-Publish In The UAE

United Arab Emirates
Image by saraab™ via Flickr

Here's your own guide to the process, just in case you decide to write and self publish your own book. And before you start with all yer 'yeah, right, like that's going to happen', don't write the idea off. It can all be quite cathartic, believe me.

1) Write a book.
This is generally considered to be a good first step in self publishing. Of course, if you're self publishing a picture book, or a collection of your watercolours you'll have to approach things slightly differently but I'm going to concentrate on the novel form for now.

2) Get a professional editor.
I use Robb Grindstaff. I've always heard good things about Bubblecow but have never used 'em. You need a professional edit for two things - a structural edit and a line edit. The structural edit looks at your story and how you've put it together, aiming to cut redundancies, tighten things up and keep you basically on the straight and narrow. The line edit gets rid of all those stupid little errors that litter every manuscript, no matter how hard you search for 'em. People like Robb are born with strange compound eyes that pick these up in a way we normal mortals can't aspire to emulate.

3) Make sure you understand what you've written.
That sounds daft, doesn't it? But you're going to have to sell the thing all by yourself, so you'd better have properly scoped out the subjects, topics and characters of your book and sifted through them to find the best angles to promote, the things that are going to engage people. You'll need a strong blurb, too. More posts on this later, I'm sure. (Are you guys okay with all this book talk or are you longing for me to go back to whining about HSBC and stuff?)

4) Decide on your platforms.
It's essential to be on Amazon's Kindle and for that I used Kindle Direct Publishing. To support other e-reader formats, I went to Smashwords. I also put together an edition using CreateSpace, which lets me offer a printed book through Of course, e-reader adoption in the Middle East is still low because Amazon doesn't sell either Kindle or content to the region, which really doesn't help us writers, I can tell you. Because of this, you're going to have to print your own booky book for the Middle East market.

5) Apply for permission to print from the National Media Council.
In order to print a booky book in the UAE, you have to have permission. Importing a book is different and requires a different level of permission, which any distributor will sort out. But printing one here means you have to get this permission. How? By going to the NMC in Qusais (behind the Ministry of Culture building) and lodging two full printouts of the MS. One of these will stay in Dubai as a reference copy and one will go to Abu Dhabi to the Media Control Department, where it will be read and approved or not for production in the UAE.

6) Realise that Dubai is going to take its sweet time over this and send another copy direct to Abu Dhabi yourself by bike.
I am so very glad I did this.

7) Obtain your permission to print
I got mine in an unreasonably short time thanks to a very nice man at the NMC taking pity on me and accelerating his reading of my book. It helped that he loved the book, which delighted me more than you could possibly imagine.

8) Get an ISBN
This is actually a doddle. You nip down to the Ministry of Youth and Culture in Qusais and give 'em Dhs200 and a filled out form that gives the title of your book and some other details and they send you a fax (A fax! How quaint!) with your UAE ISBN number. By the way, ISBN numbers mean very little, they're a stock code and do not have any relationship to copyright or any such stuff. You need one to sell books, but that's as far as it goes.

9) Go mad trying to find novel paper, then give up and go to Lebanon.
By now you will have already got a quote from a printing press - all they need to actually print the thing now is that little docket. It's about here you'll finally make the decision that you don't want to use the 'wood-free' paper all the UAE's printers want to print your book on, but to actually use real book paper. It's actually called, wait for it, 'novel paper' and is a very bulky, lightweight paper. Pick up a book by the spine and it will tend not to 'flop', while a book printed on wood-free stock will.

Nobody's got it. It's as if nobody in the UAE has ever published a 'real' book, just books printed on copier paper. I'm not having it - I'm going to all the trouble and expense of producing my own book, it had better look like a book, feel like a book and, when you pinch its ear, squeal 'I'm a book!'.

So one goes to Lebanon - or Egypt, or Jordan. People write and publish books there all the time, so you'll find printers and novel paper abounds. Which means you never needed that permission to print at all, as now you're importing a book. Bang head repeatedly against brick wall and do Quasimodo impersonations.

10) Delay the UAE edition launch to the TwingeDXB Urban Festival, taking place on the 10th December 2011, where you're doing a reading and stuff.
I could have made it in time for the Sharjah International Book Festival if I'd settled for the other paper, but I decided to delay instead and get it done properly. So we're launching the online edition at Sharjah, with an open mic session where I and self-published Emirati author Sultan Darmaki will be doing readings and Q&A and stuff. That takes place this Sunday, the 20th November, at the SHJIBF 'Community Corner'.

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