It was a year ago that Arabic-publishing stalwart AUC Press launched their new imprint for “engaged, open-minded readers,” Hoopoe Fiction:
At this year’s inaugural Dubai International Publishing Conference, held on March 5 and 6, AUC Press Sales and Marketing Director Trevor Naylor spoke about how the press, based at the American University in Cairo, learned to change directions “under duress.”
Before the events of January 2011, the majority of AUC Press business was not in its extensive line of Arabic fiction translated into English. Instead, it was selling to the country’s tourists. Indeed, AUC Press’s local distribution was formidable, and books could be found at hotels and tourist destinations all across Egypt. However, after January 25, 2011, that market crashed.
“Eighty percent of AUC Press business was settled in one market and overnight we lost it,” Naylor said to the publishing-conference audience.
Up until that point, Naylor said, “We hadn’t really focused on selling fiction. We’d been really lazy.” On average, “We would sell 300, 400 copies of a novel after, all that work. What were we doing wrong?”
Well, clearly the marketing and distribution of AUC Press fiction never got the same attention as their tourist-facing titles. Naylor said they heard from distributors that the covers looked too “local,” their focus on hardbacks made the books too expensive, and they were, overall, “too marginal.”
“We set about a series of fundamental changes that created Hoopoe Fiction,” Naylor said.
They argued about the name of the new imprint for some time, Naylor said, but eventually agreed on one of Egypt’s most common birds. “It’s the penguin of the Middle East.”
A different sort of book
Naylor said Hoopoe Fiction is shifting gears, moving toward more accessible books. The imprint has signed a five-book series of detective novels with Moroccan novelist Abdelilah Hamdouchi, for instance. Also, he said, in what was perhaps the most surprising announcement: “We’ve made a decision that we’ll consider books written in English about this region.”
Already, AUC Press’s Hoopoe, which previously had been the only house solely focused on Arabic fiction in translation, has signed a book by an Irish author. The book still touches on life in the region. But, Naylor said, “We’re using this new vehicle as way to go diff directions.”
Naylor said they also came to some other, nuts-and-bolts decisions: If they were going to reach international press, they were going to have to start delivering on time.
Also, they found post-2011, it became more difficult to produce books in Egypt. Surprisingly, they found they could produce books in US for less, and with more even results. “We used to have to use, in our print shop, whatever paper was in Cairo. We made the best of it.”
A different sort of results
Naylor said that the first year of Hoopoe’s existence saw significant changes: “The outcome has been far greater review coverage.”
If in the past, AUC Press used to sell an average of 300-400 copies, Naylor said they’re selling around 2000 copies of the new titles.
One of the other results — thus far — has been a lack of women novelists on their new list. However, when asked by ArabLit contributor Sawad Hussain about this absence, Naylor said there were four books by women signed up and forthcoming, although he demurred from naming them.
Also, Naylor said, HoopoeFiction is currently planning for the next five years, so they’re seeking your submissions.