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Cairo-Based Hoopoe Fiction "Embodies the Freedom" of an Independent Publisher

Bookwitty By Bookwitty Published on February 1, 2017
This article was updated on September 17, 2017
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Nadine El-Hadi

Named after a bird found across the Middle East, known for its distinctive crown of black and chestnut feathers, Hoopoe is a new imprint of the AUC (American University of Cairo) Press, which for over half a century has published Arabic literature in English translation and wide-ranging books about the Middle East. Hoopoe seeks to publish fresh writing from Marrakesh to Baghdad and Khartoum to Aleppo for "adventurous readers everywhere". With historical epics, social satire, police procedurals and stories of the future Middle East, Hoopoe publishes paperback and digital editions of contemporary writing. Neil Hewison, Associate Director for Editorial Programs, Nadine El-Hadi, Acquisitions Editor and Basma El Manialawi, Marketing Manager, answered the following questions collectively:

What is your editorial line? What makes you stand out?

We’re based in Cairo, overlooking Tahrir Square; we publish fiction with a distinctively Middle Eastern flavor and with an incredible diversity of writing – in terms of geography, style and genre – that we have carefully curated for our audience.

We seek to present curious readers with outstanding stories, books that people will read to enjoy, be moved by, be provoked by, but not purely as a means to be educated about the Middle East, an expectation that has too often been placed on Arab writers.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being an independent publisher?

Our ability to take collective risks with projects we believe in and are passionate about.

Hoopoe – our almost-one-year-old fiction imprint – is the embodiment of the freedom that being an independent publisher allows. We created a new brand that moved away from the traditional literature targeted at scholars and academics, and that appeals to a much wider audience, tapping into the larger world fiction market.

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What is the most challenging aspect?

We don’t have the machines of large scale publishers, especially in terms of marketing, advertising, publicity and of course, funding. However, we are able to overcome many of those limitations with a small, yet zealous team, who are willing to take on multiple roles to see the imprint grow, and we’ve been rewarded with a great year. The emergence of social media has also diluted the importance of mass advertising and allowed us to reach our specific target market.

How do you connect with your readers?

We are fortunate enough to have a bookstore arm with branches across Cairo where we personally meet our readers every day. On a more global level, we have a large social media following which keeps the conversation flowing with our readers. Our authors, translators, distributors and staff are all advocates for our vision, and we work together to engage with our reader community.

How important are book fairs for you?

Being based in Egypt, we don’t have sufficient interaction with the publishing industry, so book fairs are a great opportunity to dip into the new insights, trends and challenges of our trade. We also use the chance to connect and partner with organizations and journals focused on fiction.

How important are independent booksellers for your business? Do you see more sales online or through bookshops?

For Hopooe, we have seen a significant rise in our sales through indie bookstores, versus large chains, something we had expected during our planning phase, since we have a lot of alignments in terms of mission and objectives. Independent bookstores have the freedom to be selective and venture into uncharted genres. We believe that there is a community of readers who both won’t be put off by the idea of reading a translated book, and may be looking for something a bit different than mass fiction. 

Can you give us an example of an extraordinary cover design that a larger publisher wouldn't have risked?

The Televangelist – it’s not the cover design per se, but the combination of it with the title. When you hear the word "Televangelist," you don’t expect to see a bearded Imam with a traditional Islamic headwear. We knew this cover would create interest when seen on shelves and online. 

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