By Essayed Taha
Ahmed Saied is an Egyptian literary editor and publisher who studied Arabic language and literature, as well as Islamic studies, at the Faculty of Dar Al-Ulum. He is pursuing a Master’s in literary criticism and has worked as a linguistic editor since 2009, later transitioning to a role as a literary editor. In 2010, he assumed the role of publishing director and subsequently established Al-Rabie Publications at the end of 2012.
He founded a literary salon named the “Downtown Cultural Salon” in 2009, where he played a pivotal role in showcasing the talents of emerging writers, poets, storytellers, and singers.
His contributions extend to presenting and participating as a speaker in international and Arab forums related to publishing. Notable events include his participation in the Arab Publishers Conference in Sharjah in 2019 and the Malta Book Fair in 2018. During these events, he engaged in public discussions about the “bold” publishing experience, as he was responsible for planning and editing some of the most significant works at Al-Rabie Publications.
In the public sphere, he served as a member of the International and Arab Exhibitions Committee of the Egyptian Publishers Union from 2016 to 2021 and subsequently became a member of the Arab and International Exhibitions Committee of the Arab Publishers Union, continuing to represent the Arab Publishers Union in various international exhibitions and forums.
Can you define your role as an editor? What do editors do? And what don’t they do?
The literary editor plays multiple roles all at once, serving as the voice of the everyday reader, the academic critic, and the publisher.
When embodying the perspective of the ordinary reader, the editor’s task is to intervene in the text, removing superfluous elements, untangling convoluted plotlines, fleshing out incomplete characters, and trimming the writer’s excessive musings. This is done to prevent the text from becoming burdensome and tediously slow-paced due to the author’s penchant for elaboration. The editor’s role here is a delicate one, requiring the discernment to distinguish between needless verbosity and engaging storytelling that enriches the creator’s artistic vision while maintaining the text’s structural integrity.
In the role of the academic critic, the editor steps in when the writer muddles voices, and poses the question of “who could say what?” or when the narrative strays from established storytelling techniques and the foundational structure of the text.
Additionally, the editor also embodies the publisher’s perspective, taking into account intellectual, literary, and commercial considerations. Here, the editor devises professional solutions to ensure that significant disparities do not arise between the creative vision and the publisher’s expectations during the publication process.
The role of an editor involves removing and highlighting specific errors while suggesting professional, technical, and artistic solutions. This helps the creator enhance their work, making it more professional, refined, and aesthetically pleasing. It’s important to note that an editor does not directly add to the text, nor do they change the creator’s beliefs, guide them, or infuse their own style or thoughts into it.
Do you think there are specific challenges for editors working in Arabic? Or if there are misunderstandings that authors have about the editor’s role?
The first challenge lies in having skilled and experienced editors. This is particularly crucial because the number of professional editors is considerably lower than one might expect, and, in my view, this is the most significant issue.
The second challenge involves Arab authors recognizing new pathways in the industry. Many of them rely heavily on our inherited Arab literary traditions, which emphasize concepts like “inspiration.” They often view any editing of their texts to refine structure, enhance language, remove flaws and redundancies, and shape the development of characters as a direct intrusion, considering it a violation of the creator’s unique creative process, which they see as a solitary endeavor without any external input.
What are the challenges of working with publishers?
The Arab publishing industry has yet to evolve from merely being a “bookseller” to becoming a “book creator.” To this day, it cannot be said that there is an Arab publishing industry; rather, what exists is the production, printing, and selling of books. There’s a substantial gap between this and the broader global concept of a publishing industry, largely due to a complex interplay of historical, political, and economic factors, which can be explored in a separate discussion.
Amidst the ongoing challenges, progress towards a true “industry” in the global sense has been slow. For instance, many Arab publishers remain unfamiliar with the role of the literary editor, while some who are aware of it may not prioritize it. This lack of emphasis could be attributed to a purely commercial mindset that doesn’t prioritize the quality of the work or to a desire to cut expenses related to production, because of the book market’s relative stagnation for the last several years.
I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work as a literary editor for Al-Rabie Publications across numerous releases. In this context, economic pressures and other factors haven’t significantly hindered me, allowing me to continue practicing the profession I’m passionate about.
In your opinion, why is developmental editing important?
In my view, the primary importance lies in the professionalism that the work achieves through editing. An external observer can easily distinguish between a piece that has undergone literary editing and one that hasn’t had the same opportunity.
What are your most and least favorite parts of the job?
I like engaging with creative and intellectual texts, diving into their stories, and developing their narratives. Witnessing a work evolve to its artistic maturity and observing discussions among readers and critics about its artistic progression is truly fulfilling. Also, I value the continuous process of research and ongoing learning. Through my 15-year journey in literary editing, I’ve come to understand that an editor isn’t an expert in everything, but rather a skilled researcher and a problem solver who knows how to identify and address problematic aspects of a text with precision, leaving no trace of intervention.
What concerns me is the current status of Arab editors and the lack of recognition for their contributions and significance within the Arab publishing landscape.