After a fourteen-hour flight from New York City, four graduate students from the Center for Publishing at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies (NYU-SCPS) stepped onto Abu Dhabi soil, eager to begin work as volunteers for the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The four had been selected after an intense competition that included submitting an essay about their goals for the volunteer experience and appearing before a committee for an in-depth interview. This public service endeavor was made possible by Jane Dystel, a well-respected literary agent, president of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, and daughter of Oscar Dystel, a legendary leader in the publishing industry and former CEO and chairman of Bantam Books. Jane oversees the Oscar Dystel Publishing Research and Development Fund, which provided the resources for Joana Costa Knufinke, Erin Cox, Karlyn Hixson, and Courtney Sanks to travel to Abu Dhabi and work alongside Emirati volunteers and staffers of KITAB, a joint-venture between the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) and the Frankfurt Book Fair. Below, please read the first two posts on the students’ Abu Dhabi adventure:
A first impression of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF) is one of pure awe. Elaborately structured platforms, plush discussion areas, and replicas of historical sites were built to embellish the many exhibitors’ displays. Unlike Book Expo America and other international book fairs, ADIBF is open to the public. The dress, from the traditional abayas on women and dishdashas on men to western garb, was as varied as the languages spoken. The fair, which runs from March 15th to 20th at Abu Dhabi’s state-of-the art conference center, features 875 publishing companies from 58 countries, including 545 publishers from 17 Arab countries. A quote that appeared in the fair newsletter, Show Daily, exemplifies the aims and goals of the convention: “The event is a melting pot of global publishers, and it is an important crossroads at which book industry professionals from around the world can do business with the Arab community.”
So, on day one, we jumped right into our duties at the fair. Under the supervision of Julia Strysio, the professional program manager, we were assigned to specific tasks. Our assignments included management of the “illustrator’s corner,” distribution of marketing materials, contribution to the ADIBF Facebook page, writing short excerpts about fair activities for publication in the Show Daily, and assisting with the professional education programs as well as the e-Zone (an area of the fair featuring talks on e-publishing and demonstrations of a variety of digital products).
The professional program consists of discussion panels lead by industry leaders from all over the world, providing attendees and exhibitors with the opportunity to learn about industry trends. On day one, a highlight was a discussion entitled “19 Rules for Doing Business in The Arab World” lead by Ali Alsaloom, local celebrity, cultural ambassador and author. “Know the priorities of your culture and ours and find where we meet in the middle,” Alsaloom advised. “It is the small aspects such as dress and the region they [your colleagues] are from that will help you learn how to best make a connection.” Understanding that a phone call is often preferred over e-mail (personal contact matters) or that an aggressive handshake can send the wrong signal is the first step to getting in the door and creating long-term relationships with future business partners.
After a “match-making” session—speed-dating for publishing professionals looking to find new business partners—and a panel about the French publishing market, the attendees began trickling out of the convention center and making their way home. There was a clear air of excitement and a great many business cards were exchanged. The fair is a literal testament to the old adage, “where East meets West.”
by Courtney Sanks
On Wednesday, the fair was fully awake. Crowds of schoolchildren holding hands clustered around the exhibits, eager to see the array of books from many lands. Meanwhile, professionals in the publishing industry worked hard not only at networking but, on many occasions, selling the translation rights to their books. In fact, KITAB gives a subsidy to any translation transaction, from Arabic to any language, and vice versa.
Honoring this year’s cultural focus on France, many French professionals, writers, illustrators and poets were invited to the fair. In the professional program, Anne-Solane Noble, foreign rights director of the French publishing house Gallimard, led a discussion on “How to Deal with Translation Rights.” In her informal chat, she unveiled the three pillars of a good rights seller: “know your book, match it to a suitable client, and acquire as much experience as possible.” She lamented the very limited number of agents in Arab-speaking countries and how difficult it is for writers in this region to find publishers. Nobody in the audience seemed to disagree with her statement.
At the e-Zone, Peter Balis, who teaches New Media Technology: From Mobile to E-Books in the M.S. in Publishing program at NYU, gave a talk on “e-book basics,” in which he explained to a large audience the meaning of terms such as ePub and reflowable text and demonstrated e-readers like the Kindle and Color Nook.
In addition to such lectures on key publishing topics, a number of cultural activities run all day at the “creativity corner,” the “signature corner,” “the discussion forum” and the “show kitchen” – literally a kitchen where celebrity cooks prepare delicacies for the public. So far, we think the ADIBF and Abu Dhabi in general constitute a great cultural buffet and an amazing experience for us!
by Joana Costa Knufinke