On Cairo’s New Agency for Literature and the Arts

By Omar Ibrahim, with M Lynx Qualey

Earlier this month, the Egyptian advertising agency “Bears Factor” announced that they now represent a slate of authors, translators, and content creators, including ArabLit contributors Ahmed Salah al-Mahdi and Omar Ibrahim.

Literary agencies based in the Maghreb or Mashreq are still a rarity, and author and agency co-founder Bassem El-Kheshen answered a few questions about why Bears Factor got into the literary-agenting business.

What was the idea behind starting it up? Whose idea was it, and why?

Bassem El-Kheshen: When I came back to Egypt and started looking for a publisher for my first novel, I faced a lack of a clear process to submit my manuscript to one of the publishing houses or even a clear requirement, or a minimum standard to get my work published. And even after getting published, there was no clear ownership to lots of necessary activities in order for the work to get noticed.

Will the publisher be doing the marketing or should I?

And even if I’m well-off, where should I direct it?

And how can my work reach bookstores and be placed in a visible section?

As for the contract that I signed, have I made a mistake that I didn’t negotiate the publisher about it, or I should be happy that I was given a chance to publish my work without paying for it?

All these questions made it clear that we lack some important role that has been an integral part of the publishing industry in the west, which is: a literary agent.

My partners, Ahmed Hussien and Marwa Faisal, are both very accomplished business executives who wanted to seize the chance of applying Blue Ocean strategy on the Egyptian publishing market. This, they assumed, might be a force of change in the whole industry.

Is the idea mainly to support Egyptian artists & creators?

BEK: Bears Factor already represents the catalogue of JABberwocky Literary Agency in the region, and hopefully soon we’ll be announcing other partnerships during the London Book Fair. And to make sure that the Arabic translations that we sell the rights for to the Arabic publishers are of great quality, we started recommending some translators from whom we saw accurate and authentic work.

Those same translators started contacting us to negotiate their contracts, then Arabic writers started requesting meetings to ask us to represent their entire literary project, from choosing the best publisher to negotiating contracts, audiobook deals, social media marketing, and selling the rights of the work to be translated.

Over the past five years, we established great contacts with most of the Arab publishing houses. Bears Factor is not a new project at all; what delayed our launch was studying the market before starting up with a core team of talented writers, translators, editors, marketing experts, and other business partners.

Who are some of the Bears Factor authors and translators?

BEK: It is a great honor to be representing Brandon Sanderson’s Arabic rights in the MENA region, especially his current Secret Projects, which became the most funded Kickstarter in history.

Our presence in the region made it easier for Arab publishers and Arabic translators intrested in such huge projects to get faster answers for their inquiries and offers.

Our clients include big names in the world of fiction, like Grady Hendrix, Micheal J. Sullivan, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This provided us with a chance to arrange for collaborations with regional bookfairs and bring those amazing authors closer to their appreciative audiences.

Writers and translators we represent currently: Dr. Sherif Shaban, Mohamed Esmat, Doha Salah, Amr El-Menofy, Nora Nagi, Khamila El-Guindy, Omar Ibrahim, Ahmed Salah Al-Mahdi, Yehia Azzam, Mohamed Al-Makhzanji, Dina Heikal, Yehia Safwat, Mahmoud Allam, Noha Behman and Islam Gawish.