By Essayed Taha
Samar Abou-Zeid studied French Literature and German Philosophy in Beirut and Freiburg-im-Breisgau. She started to work in publishing in 2005 as editor at the publishing department of Librairie Antoine, and later was in charge of the Naufal imprint at Hachette-Antoine (Lebanon). In 2012, she joined the Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing’s team as Senior Arabic Editor. At the end of 2013, she co-founded Al-Karma Publishers in Cairo and remained its Publishing Director until August 2022, when she decided to reduce her administrative workload and concentrate on editing. She is still involved as a member of the publishing house’s management committee. Her editorial experience covers the main sectors of book publishing: textbooks and trade, fiction and nonfiction, adult and children’s books, works in Arabic and in translation.
Can you define your role as an editor? What do editors do? And what don’t they do?
What editors do: Editors accompany a text from the moment it is received from the author to the moment it can be sent to press. Different levels of editing are involved during the process; they can be taken charge of by the same or by different persons. In Arabic publishing, it is usually the same person who executes the different tasks:
- Developmental editing: plot, narration, characters, chronology (in fiction); structure, sequence of ideas, contradictions, repetitions (in non fiction)
- Line and copy editing: dialogue, consistency of wording with the different characters (in fiction); stylistic matters, language correctness, applying the publisher’s house style rules to text and formatting (in both fiction and nonfiction)
- Checking rights of the use of quoted material and getting permissions wherever needed (or asking the author to do so)
- Solving comments from the proofreading phase and sending file to typesetting
- Checking the formatting of the typeset document and solving comments from the proofreading phase on the PDF document
- Giving the approval on the final copy.
What editors don’t do: Editors are not writers, nor proofreaders.
So they don’t appropriate the author’s text but work with them in order to take the first version of the text to its best possible final form.
And they are not responsible for misspellings and grammar errors (which are an especially tricky field in Arabic, with all possible errors linked to hamza, vocalization, and declensions).
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?
It has become a commonplace to state that Arab authors, especially recognized ones, usually don’t accept modifications to their texts. I think Arab authors did not accept the relatively new addition of editors in the publishing process, because these did not exist in the early days.
Then slowly, some of the authors were being translated, and their translators and editors were editing the translated texts. Some of them saw the merits of editing, but they still hadn’t seen competent Arab editors yet. There are still very few competent editors compared to the number of Arab publishers.
What are the challenges of working with publishers?
I cannot really talk about challenges, as I have always had the privilege of working with publishers (mainly Naufal/Hachette-Antoine and Al-Karma Publishers) who strongly believed in the advantages and necessity of editing and have supported my work and helped me evolve in it.
What are your most and least favorite parts of the job?
Once I’m working on a file, all parts are important, and if a task seems tiring or tedious, the pleasure of a satisfying final text makes one forget any difficult phases during the work.
Perhaps my favorite part of the job is the author’s gratitude that the editing has made their work the best it can be. The book being well received by the public and the critics is a great joy. And seeing it win a prize doesn’t hurt, either.