Shereen Kreidieh

SHEREEN KREIDIEH
SHEREEN KREIDIEH
General Manager, DAR ASALA (LEBANON)

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Shereen founded Dar Asala publishing in 1998 and is the General Manager. Dar Asala produces high quality children’s books in Arabic. Shereen also teaches children’s literature and social work in Haigazian University. Currently Shereen is the president of Lebanese Board of Books for Young Children (Lebanese chapter of IBBY) and member of the executive commitee of IBBY international. Previously, Shereen was a member of the Book and Reading Promotion committee in the Ministry of Culture in Lebanon, a member of Hans Christian Anderson Award Jury for 2018 and is an alumni of the International Young Publishers and Cultural Leader programme of the British Council.

Dr Shereen Kreidieh has a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, a Teaching Diploma in Early Childhood Education, a Master’s degree in Children’s Literature, and a PhD in Publishing from Oxford Brookes University.

1. How did you get into the publishing industry, and what attracted you to publishing?

My father was a publisher (Dar Annahda Alarabiya, mainly for academic books) but he didn’t really push either me or my sister into the business, so I didn’t really consider going into publishing. My last years of schooling was during the war so were quite unsettled but I knew I wanted to work with children and education in some way. I eventually chose to study education at the American University in Beirut where I took a children’s literature course. We had to create our own children’s book, so my father suggested to me that that I start to publish children’s books under a new publishing house he had established, Asala. I ended up publishing four of my friends’ work and my interest in the industry really began. I also knew that there was so much more to learn about publishing children’s books, so I decided to continue both with my university and post-graduate education as well as starting the children’s publishing line under Asala and publishing more books.

2. You set up Dar Asala in 1998, what was your motivation to set up your own publishing company?

I think it was motivation to start something new and challenging, and it was exciting to into the family line of business and bring my new expertise. I started travelling to book fairs and realised there were many gaps in the children’s book publishing industry and room to develop the business. My master’s degree was about children’s publishing and I realised that most of the industry was made up of educational books, fairy tales and folk tales, as well as a lot of translations into Arabic. There was lots of scope to explore other genres and publishing Arabic voices.

3. How has it developed in the last 23 years? And tell us about Dar Asala today?

It was tough and it is still tough but amazing. I knew when I started that the children’s book publishing industry in the Arab World had a lot of room to develop, but there were no real role models and experiences to draw from. I did an internship in the year 2000 as part of my master’s degree at Egmont Publishing in the UK and spent time reading through manuscripts. I was amazed by the number, and quality of submissions and realised that this process was a great way to discover new voices and talent. When I returned to Beirut, I decided to try to find new authors and illustrators by encouraging submissions. I advertised in local newspapers and started to meet many people in Lebanon, which led to publishing new books. A good number of the books we published in the beginning didn’t work so well, so we had to experiment to get the high-quality stories and illustrations we wanted to publish. I knew when I started that it would be a minimum of 10 years before I started earning from the publishing house and I ended up spending more than 15 years of investing into the publishing house. Now we receive many manuscripts daily and the children’s book publish industry is in a much better place in the Arab World than before.

Thanks to my degrees in education and publishing, my research and knowledge of children, books, and publishing, and the experience I’ve had over the last 20 years, I have realised what makes Asala different and special and a leader in the Arab children’s book publishing industry. We discovered and gave chances to many of the very well-known and award-winning authors and illustrators in the Arab World. Our books reach the Arab World and Arabs all around the world including the US, UK, Europe, and Far East. Now we have more than 2000 titles and we still produce new books and reprint and edit our older releases.

Nowadays it is hard, Lebanon is sinking with everyday problems with safety, electricity, fuel, and many other problems. What makes me happy is being approached by customers and consumers who love our products, and this is rewarding.

4. You were part of the British Council Young Publishing Entrepreneur programme and have also studied with Oxford Brookes University. How have these experiences shaped your career?

England oh England, I love the fact that I have experienced publishing in the UK. With the British Council programme, we visited many publishing houses, distributors, wholesalers, and bookshops and I learnt a lot. I saw how developed and fast moving the publishing industry can be and the fact that it is so different to publishing at home. I applied and still apply what I experienced in the UK and other parts of the world: experimenting with new titles, being different and specialized, attracting new readers, creating new markets, coordinating with my staff, and researching. In my PhD thesis I experimented with techniques used to market children’s books in the UK, in Lebanon and the Arab World markets and I was shocked to see that it didn’t work in the same way. Business experiences and results change in different markets.

5. What have been your biggest achievements in your career?

Building Dar Asala as a trusted brand is a great achievement. I was able to apply what I have studied, and still invest and grow. Finding new talents, nurturing authors and illustrators, and being able to experiment and risk with new ideas again and again is my biggest achievement.

6. What challenges have you faced in your publishing career?

In Lebanon, every day is a challenge. My biggest challenge is people. I was born into publishing and there were always unspoken ethical lines that my dad and his friends used to have: respecting the borders for each publishing house means we do not run after each other’s authors and illustrators and markets. Publishers used to be like family members, they used to spend lunches and afternoons in our house and collaborate for the best of everyone. A challenge I faced was the disappointment when publishers would copy our new titles and call our authors and illustrators. It took me time to get used to it, but I have learnt not get very close to the people I work with to protect myself from being disappointed and hurt.

7. Tell us about your work on behalf of the industry, with IBBY and others?

I love my work with IBBY and what we do now is renovate and develop public school libraries in Lebanon. It is a beautiful project that is still being implemented with the help and coordination of UNESCO, Book Aid International, French IBBY section, IBBY Canada, and IBBY Netherlands.

As an IBBY EC member we plan activities and coordinate with our country sections. I teach children’s literature in the university, and it is exciting to see how our students start with hardly any idea about the world of children’s books and end up excited to read and share international books.

I collaborate also with some NGOs in Lebanon like Assabil and we are trying to implement new projects to target our needs in Lebanon.

8. Lebanon has faced many issues over the past few decades, how has this affected your business and how are you addressing these challenges?

Growing up in Lebanon has affected me as a person; it has made me stubborn and resilient. I always feel like I live in crisis mode, but I do not give up. The situation in Lebanon affects businesses, it is a challenge where we cannot have a fixed plan, but we should be flexible and act quickly since every day is a surprise. The business would have been much bigger if it was somewhere else. In Lebanon the government does not have well established funding and support programs for publishers. In addition, we pay high taxes in Lebanon with few or no returns. It costs us a fortune to get electricity: in our office we have a generator and official electricity line fees (which are barely available). Internet is also another challenge, and we usually must take files home to work on. It has been hard to find fuel to get electricity and even to drive to the office in the past couple of months. We think of plan B and C and D to continue our days and find options to change plans if X or Y or Z happens. We moved part of our stock and we will start operating from Istanbul now as a next step. We also rented a space in Sharjah and we will ship from there to the Gulf.

9. How would you describe publishing in the Arab world, vs publishing in the rest of the world?

Publishing in the Arab World is totally different than the UK and Europe and China. Titles take longer to sell, we rely on book fairs for a big percentage of our sales, and books are linked with teaching. In addition, publishing houses in the Arab World are much smaller in size of employees.

10. What is the environment like for women in publishing in Lebanon?

Women and men publishers are treated in the same way in Lebanon. Distributors in the Arab World are mainly managed by men and since Arab businesses are really impacted by personal relationships, I feel it is harder for women in the industry to push their titles and enter big business deals.

11. What are your hopes and aspirations for the future?

I hope my country can get out of the crisis we are facing but this will be difficult. I plan to add more lines to the publishing house, but these plans are currently under wraps. When my plan B is on track, the new lines of publishing will start.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Ameena Saiyid

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Ameena Saiyid, OBE, Knight of Arts and Letters (France) Star of Distinction (Pakistan), is the Founder and Director of the Adab (Literature) Festival, and Publisher and MD of Lightstone Publishers, Pakistan which she launched officially this month.

She was President of the Overseas Investors’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Secretary General of the Jinnah Society and is on the Boards of Habib University Foundation, Institute of Business Management (IoBM), Institute of Art and Culture (Lahore), and Sindh Madrassatul Islam University. She is a member of the federal education minister’s Search Committee for the selection of scholars on Pakistan Chairs abroad, a member of the foreign ministry’s committee of Arts and Culture and a board member of Kashf Foundation.

In the UK, Ameena is a Trustee of the Vicky Noon Education Foundation, which gives scholarships to Pakistani students to study at Oxford and Cambridge Universities ,and a director of Pakistan Literature Festival.

Ameena was MD of Oxford University Press, Pakistan for 30 years. She is the first woman in Pakistan to become the head of a multinational company.

Q1: What attracted you to the publishing industry and how did you get into publishing?

I was conscious of the challenges in the educational system in Pakistan which comprised low standard state schools and a growing number of private schools which became popular because of the failure of the state schools. However, I was dismayed to see foreign books being used in private schools based in contexts with which Pakistani children were unfamiliar and could not relate. I felt strongly that, in Pakistan, where half the population was below the age of 15 and needed quality , relevant and affordable schooling, the corresponding support from publishers was missing. I felt I could make a small contribution in this area. My first job in publishing was with OUP but I left in 1986 to set up my own publishing company, Saiyid Books, with the aim of publishing textbooks for schools. Since I did not have the means then to invest in publishing, I decided to sustain my business by importing school textbooks and general books. This worked out well and my business began to make a profit by 1988. However, it would have taken long to organically become a publisher. In the meantime, the head of OUP Pakistan left and a team from OUP UK arrived in Karachi to headhunt. They contacted me and, after a discussion, offered me the position of sales director. I refused and said the only position I would accept would be that of country head. There was silence and the meeting concluded. I thought that was that and cheerfully went back to my business. A few days later, I was called again and offered the position of country head. I discussed the offer with my family who thought I was out of my mind to leave a successful business of which I was the proprietor for a salaried job. However, for someone who had joined an organisation at entry level, to become its chief executive was exciting. Also, during the interviews, I had spoken about my aspiration to publish and was offered the resources to do so significantly. The OUP management of that time were true to their word and allowed me to make investments in publishing. With great excitement, I went about setting up a full publishing structure by recruiting editors and designers and actively began commissioning authors. It was difficult to get experienced editors, book illustrators and designers so I arranged for their training both in Pakistan and abroad by sending them on various publishing courses. Soon we were up and running and captured the burgeoning school market with our locally-originated, reasonably-priced but benchmarked against the highest international standard textbooks.

Q2: You became the first woman to be appointed as a head of a multinational company in Pakistan – What does this achievement mean to you ?

It means a lot to me as it enabled me to open the way for other women and give them the confidence to walk the same path. In those days, it was unheard of for a woman to be the CEO of a multinational or even a local company. When women began knocking on the doors of boardrooms, I felt that I helped leave the door ajar for them. Being elected the first woman President of the Overseas Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI) in its 150 years’ history, a body of all the heads of multinationals in Pakistan, created greater ripples and many in the chamber were aghast though many supported me.

Q3: What challenges have you had to overcome in your career? And how have you overcome them ?

The challenges were many and they came from all sides, including internally in OUP.I must commend my managers in OUP Oxford in those days who trusted and supported me through thick and thin and this played a major part in my work and the success of the Pakistan Branch of OUP which grew by leaps and bounds in turnover and profits but also in prestige, profile and respect. The market was a different matter. I was doing field work in my earlier days and would visit booksellers, libraries and government offices in addition to schools. Booksellers, especially in Peshawar, a conservative town, would refuse to talk to me and insist I send a man with catalogues and books. They were terrified about their reputations if they were seen talking to a woman. Eventually they gave in and finally even invited me to sit and gave me tea and orders. I’ll never forget the expression of an official in a government office in Lahore when I walked into his office. He looked as if he had seen a ghost. He got up and ran out of the room and left me standing there bewildered. On his way out, he said, “Send a man if you want any work done.” I think I overcame these setbacks by persisting and not giving in to prejudice. I like to think that perhaps people got educated in the process and realized I was not going away so they might as well make the best of it.

Q4: You are also the first woman to be appointed first vice-president and then president of the Overseas Investors’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry – what does this entail ?

I was elected Vice President and then President from 2009 to 2011. The Overseas Investors’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI) is a prestigious and high-profile chamber of almost 200 captains of international businesses in Pakistan. Being elected was not easy but I worked hard and tenaciously for it for years. I faced many taunts from some people such as “How will you find the time to fulfil your responsibilities when you have to manage your home and children?” Some asked “What will you do if your husband gets transferred from Karachi?” I remember someone telling me “you can’t give me orders”. Again, my strategy was to dig in my heels, ignore the unpleasant part of the experience and serve out my term as best as I could. I had to work twice as hard and spend time on chores which others were paid to do but I found that easier than getting reluctant people to do them.

Q5: Tell me more about your new publishing venture – Lightstone Publishers.

I feel as if I have returned to my home and roots after 30 years. Having left my own fledgling publishing company, Saiyid Books, to join OUP, I am absolutely delighted to be in charge of my own business again: it is liberating, and as if I never left Saiyid Books. I have a small but great team who are agile and dynamic. I’m thrilled at the response from the market which is keeping us busy. We publish mainly school textbooks in all core subjects but also non-fiction general books and fiction. I’m particularly pleased about being able to publish fiction as Pakistani authors have achieved international fame in this genre. We have our head office in Karachi and a small office in Lahore and are busy promoting our list across Pakistan. Of course, we suffered a setback on account of Covid-19 but managed to sustain ourselves and are now glad that things are beginning to improve with the opening of schools after six months. We are delighted about being an indigenous and efficient publisher with links to international publishers whose books we adapt for Pakistan. I feel that I am opening pathways for women entrepreneurs in publishing and find it so rewarding.

Q6: And please tell us about the Adab Literature Festival.

I went to the Jaipur Literary Festival in 2009 and it opened my eyes to the power of the written word and how authors were treated like rock stars in India. I returned to Pakistan determined to provide such opportunities to our public and authors. I mentioned this to a Pakistani literary critic and writer, Asif Farrukhi, who immediately joined me in the quest to launch a literary festival. We approached the British Council in Karachi and they rose to the occasion and provided tremendous moral and material support for our literature festival. It was launched in 2010 and was an instant success with an audience of 5,000 and around 35 Pakistani and international authors. After that, there was no stopping us. We had them year-after- year, launched another in Islamabad and had one in London in collaboration with the Southbank Centre in 2017. My aim throughout was to provide a model which could be replicated across Pakistan by others so that it became a movement to promote reading and writing. Now there are dozens of such festivals being held across Pakistan. When I left OUP in 2018, my friend and literary partner for almost a quarter of a century, Asif Farrukhi and I continued with our favourite occupation and launched the Adab Festival in 2019 and then organised another in 2020 fortunately just before Covid. However, tragedy struck and Asif Farrukhi passed away suddenly in June 2020. I felt bereft and have still not come to terms with it.

Q7: What are the proudest moments of your career?

I think the proudest moments were every time I received a book on which I had been working from the printers. There were thousands of such moments but I relish them all. If you ask for a single proudest moment, it was on 20 October 2020 when I had the official launch of Lightstone Publishers which, for me, was a defining moment.

Q8: Who and what inspires you ?

I was inspired by many people such as Ravi Dyal and Santosh Mukherjee of OUP India. They were competent, decent people who taught me the ropes of publishing. I was inspired by their quiet dignity and humility although both were intellectual giants. I learnt a lot from Sockalingham of OUP Malaysia who again was so knowledgeable about running a publishing business but was a great teacher and generous with his time and knowledge. My managers Roger Boning, Peter Mothersole and Charles Lewis were all inspirational people, fair, competent, and gracious. So I’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity of working with so many people who inspired and encouraged me to learn, grow and achieve and gave me the confidence to hang in there. I owe whatever little I have achieved to them.

Q9: Being a female leader in Pakistan is hugely inspirational, what advice would you give to aspiring female publishing leaders in Pakistan?

I would urge female publishing leaders to be strong and not get intimidated as that is unavoidable and inevitable in our patriarchal society. In order to survive, they must have confidence in themselves and insist on being accepted on their terms. Above all, they must never get discouraged and give up. I hope they will not be inhibited by traditions and demand their rights and never accept the lack of empowerment of women as their lot

Q10: What opportunities are there for women in publishing in Pakistan? What are your hopes and aspirations for women in publishing?

I feel the opportunities for women in publishing in Pakistan are many and it is really a low-hanging fruit which they must grab with both hands. Publishing as a whole is not very developed in Pakistan while the number of writers is rising. However, strong marketing efforts are needed to get people to buy books by shouting from the rooftops.
Women’s perceptions, priorities, and expectations today are different from what they were earlier. Women are now questioning structures and attitudes both within their homes and outside and are challenging their marginalization and ghettoization. This applies to women in publishing as well. I have great hopes for women in publishing because I see that they are bold and hard working. I remember a time when women felt they should have less challenging jobs so they have time left over for other interests. I find now that they are taking work very seriously and look for demanding roles in order to learn, prove themselves and rise in their profession. A hope and aspiration I have for women in publishing is for them not to be inhibited by frankness and honesty in literary works and feel that they have to remain within the bounds of perceived morality and virtue. They should publish books which recount the human experience boldly and honestly otherwise it will not qualify as literature.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Ana Nicolau

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Ana Nicolau was born and raised in Bucharest, Romania. She received her bachelor’s degree in French and European law at Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne in 2010, and a second bachelor’s degree in Romanian law from the University of Bucharest in 2011. Pursuing a path in publishing, she concluded a MA in Publishing at Oxford Brookes University in 2014.
In 2011 Ana started working full time at Nemira Publishing House as a copyright manager, representing the company internationally. In the following years she became more involved in the editorial process and was promoted in 2014 to editorial director. In 2015 she became the general manager of Nemira, and a member of the Board of AER (the Romanian Publishers’ Association). In 2016 she relaunched the children books imprint Nemi, and in 2018 a new science fiction, fantasy & thriller imprint, Armada, followed in early 2021 by the debut of a new non-fiction imprint, Orion, and the start of Nemira’s audiobook program, all part of the Nemira group. In 2021 she founded a second business in partnership with her brother, Radu Nicolau, which will be the first audiobook platform on the Romanian market – Echo, which debuted August 2021.

1. You studied law at university, but decided to go into publishing, what was your motivation to pursue a career in publishing?

I don’t think I ever imagined myself a lawyer or a judge when I went into law school. I was more enticed by the prospect of doing something different from the publishing business I had grown up into and striking up on my own. When I was two years old my father, Valentin Nicolau, founded Nemira. Books, writers, editors, and artists were always part of my universe. I started interning there when I was 12 years old. The summer after college my father needed somebody to cover for the copyright assistant who had left abruptly. It was my first time working in the editorial department and I was mesmerized by the amount of book proposals I was getting from agents and foreign publishers. Before that summer I never really comprehended the ties publishers have to this wonderful international book community. That’s why I decided to take some time and seriously considered the possibility that maybe after all my place was in publishing and with the family business. I went to my first Frankfurt International Book Fair book fair 4 months after that and I fell in love completely with the rights community and the energy there.

2. You moved up through the ranks in Nemira and became its general manager in 2015. Who or what has inspired and motivated you in your career?

I consider both my parents to have had a great influence on me in different ways. My father instilled in me a love for books and knowledge. We’re very alike in many ways. I always admired his passion, his determination, his courage, and fairness. My mother has a heart of gold and a kindness that I can never praise enough. I consider myself lucky to have had the chance to work side by side and learn from both. It’s a rare gift to be able to work with your parents. You get to know them as adults, as co-workers and as managers. Of course, family dynamics in a shared business are challenging, but ultimately it has been really rewarding. When I started in 2011, I actively tried to learn as much as I could about all aspects of the publishing business. I did rights for a long time but quickly became involved in the editorial selection and in the production process. Being a family-run company and a relatively small one at that (around 40 employees at that time) it was easy for me to get to know everybody and learn about their work. Over time, I wanted to understand more about the industry and how other publishers work so I joined the MA in Publishing at Oxford Brookes in 2013. I kept working long distance and tried to apply as much as I could of the lessons I learned there. Both my parents were obviously very excited at the prospect of having another Nicolau in charge of the family business, so I got a lot of support from them.

3. What challenges have you faced in your publishing journey – either personally or professionally?

I think the greatest challenge was my father’s abrupt passing in 2015. I was 26 years old at that time, still fresh in the publishing business and faced with taking over a company in a tumultuous market and continuing my father’s legacy. The support of my mother and my colleagues at the time was invaluable. I had to learn a lot, quickly, and I believe I succeeded not only to maintain my father’s legacy but to grow and consolidate our business in the past 6 years. Another great moment of doubt was the beginning of last year when the pandemic hit. I felt acutely the responsibility to provide for my employees despite the uncertainty of the market and setting a course in the middle of the storm was truly terrifying. But the great advantages of running a small to medium sized company is that you can be agile and respond quickly to changes in the market. And that’s what we did – we transformed our editorial plan which is usually set in stone into an ever-fluctuating plan. We published books that had a good potential to sell online while the bookshops were closed. We quickly rescheduled more brick-and-mortar titles for when the bookshops opened. But we never stopped publishing new titles which turned out to be the right move and many bookshop owners later thanked us since they were eager to get new books to sell and nobody else was publishing any new titles for a while then.

4. The last 6 years have seen great growth with new imprints in various genres for Nemira, what is the publishing scene and reading culture like in Romania and where does Nemira fit in and contribute?

The Romanian publishing scene is very dynamic and diverse. The trade market is estimated at around EUR 80 mil. a year and ebook sales are only 1-2% of that. With a population of 19 million, the average per capita expenditure for books is only EUR 4, one of the lowest in Europe according to the Federation of European Publishers (FEP). There are no government-endorsed programs to encourage reading, which is a very sore point for publishers and library funds for book purchases are at the lowest point in history probably (another sore point). Some publishers such as Nemira, Humanitas, Trei, or Curtea Veche have a relatively long history on the market, having been around since the ‘90s or ’00, but there are also young publishers like Black Button Books or Signatura that are very dynamic. A large part of trade is concentrated in the hands of several bookshop chains like Cărturești or Diverta (who recently filed for bankruptcy after the pandemic crisis last year). More and more sales are done online through retailers like elefant.ro or libris.ro. Pre-pandemic book fairs were an important part of the publishing scene in Bucharest, marking the two strong publishing seasons in May and October. As for Nemira – we started out as a genre publisher in science fiction and fantasy and quickly grew into a general publisher. We’ve always been the proud publishers of classic authors like Frank Herbert or Ursula K. Le Guin, while also publishing modern classics like Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, Amor Towles, Jhumpa Lahiri or Min Jin Lee, and finding new voices that speak to younger generations and write across genres like Matt Haig or Naomi Novik. We’ve also made it into our mission to promote new generations of young Romanian writers. But above all our main goal is always to offer the pleasure of reading to our readers and develop a strong bond with them.

5. You have since launched a new audiobook platform; can you tell me a little bit more about this?

Echo is the first audiobook platform in Romania, and is a joint project with my brother, Radu Nicolau. We’ve combined my experience in publishing with his love of tech to give birth to a second business in our family. Echo aims to bring readers’ beloved authors from a wide range of genres, read by some of the best actors or by professional readers, all in an easy-to-use and intuitive app (powered by Beat Technology). This would not have been possible without the great support of our fellow local publishers like Curtea Veche, Trei, Publica, Niculescu, Humanitas and many others who believed in this dream of ours. We are also very grateful for the backing of Cărturești, the leading retail chain in Romania (winner of Bookshop of the Year at London Book Fair International Excellence Awards 2021), who is our strategic partner. A novelty of the platform is that it is not based on an unlimited subscription like most European audio platforms. Fair remuneration for authors and publishers was at the basis of our project which features a credit-based subscription system that benefits rights holders while also being very attractive and offering a premium service to users. Our listeners can choose between three types of subscriptions that give them a certain number of credits to use every month in our app. Books are priced in credits, most ranging between 1 to 3 credits. The feedback so far has been extremely positive on the market.

6. What comes next for you and Nemira? What hopes and aspirations do you have for your career, your publishing company, and the Romanian Publishing industry?

It’s hard to talk about hopes and aspirations for my career without also talking about my personal life. Running a family business is different from just working as a publisher in somebody else’s company. I guess my greatest hope is that I will not be the last generation of Nicolaus to care for Nemira and our books, that I’m just at the beginning or at the middle of a story. That in the coming decades my children or my brother’s children will grow up in this world and will come to love it like I did. One thing is for sure – this very long-term approach to business makes me a better manager, more concerned with the impact of my actions (or inactions) in the future. This is one of the reasons why I take my role in the Romanian Publishers Associations very seriously and strive to affect change in our industry. Traditionally, Romanian publishers have been very divided and have had a hard time working together toward a common goal, but I feel that a second generation of publishers that are now inheriting the business from their parents are slowly turning that around.

7. What are you most proud of in your career so far?

My father taught me never to shy away from a crisis. Last year in March when things felt as they were crumbling around us, when we weren’t sure what the next day might bring, my team and I were looking to the future. That’s when Echo started. When we saw the potential in building a local Romanian audiobook platform. We’ve learned so much from this experience. We had to switch from thinking as a publisher to a developer’s point of view, we spent hundreds of hours negotiating with other publishers who were used to see us as the competition rather than a partner and there were times when I wasn’t sure if we could pull it. Launching a new business is never easy, more so in these times, and doing that while running a publishing house through a pandemic is almost insane. But again, the specific dynamics of a family business, the support of my mother and sister-in-law (who joined Nemira in January 2020) and the wonderful team that we’ve built over the years have made this possible.

8. What is the publishing industry like in Romania for women, especially female leaders, and entrepreneurs like yourself? How do you see this in the global context?

When I took over the company after my father’s sudden death, I was in my mid-twenties, fresh out of a publishing MA and had little experience. Most of my competitors where males in their 50s or 60s that had seen some decades in publishing and most of them had started off from scratch and were self-taught. Everybody thought I would sell the business at the beginning, of course. I don’t know if it was my age that made them think that, or the fact that I was a woman but almost nobody thought I would succeed. There were only a few women publishers back then, and a few famous editors. I feel this has changed over the last 7 years and I’ve certainly tried to help with that. Nemira’s management team is exclusively female. 80% of my editorial team is female and you can see that in the selection of the books we publish. On the other hand – the most important literary agency in Romania – Simona Kessler Literary Agency – is run by Simona and a team of strong-willed women. New publishers have taken flight in the last years that drive the feminist debate – like Black Button Books or Hecate. Female readers outnumber male readers, and it’s about time the publishing scene reflect that too. To put it in the global context – the me too movement never had a lot of force here. There were never any public scandals or outings like the ones that happened in France and elsewhere.

9. Are there any specific programmes or support schemes for women in publishing? Again, especially to reach leadership roles.

No, not really. I’ve tried to implement that in my company but there’s nothing official in the industry. You’ve given me something to think about. I think the main challenge for women in publishing now are children. I’ve seen many women that have tried to do both – have a career as an editor and have a family – been forced to take a step back to focus on raising their infant children. Childcare is expensive and most times they don’t have the support of their family. It’s an impossible choice – do I spend time with my child and care for their education or do I put in the hours at work to promote in the company? Nobody should have to decide between the two but it’s a reality for a lot of my peers.

10. Do you have any advice for women looking to succeed in leadership positions in publishing?

I think that the best advice would be to find a supporting partner. And a publisher where you like the culture and the people you work with so you can grow there. Those two are immensurable to me. Also – don’t get boxed in. Try different positions in a publishing house. A lot of people think they want to work in editorial, but they might have a good brain for sales or marketing.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Arevik Ashkharoyan

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

The ARI Agency was established by Arevik Ashkharoyan who, having worked for 10 years in the corporate world decided to pursue a career inspired by her love of reading. She started a literary agency with a partner in 2010 and helped establish the Armenian Literature Foundation in 2014. In 2016 she launched The ARI Literary and Talent Agency to represent literary and creative talent of Armenian origin from all around the world.

In 2017 Arevik launched a non-profit organisation – the ‘ARI Literature Foundation’ to implement projects aimed at the development of the publishing sector, establishing international dialogue and promoting reading and writing.

1. How did you get into the publishing industry – what is your journey to now running ARI Agency? How did you manage to move from the corporate world to publishing?

The first 10 years of my working life was spent working at international and local non-profits and state organizations, and right before my 30th birthday I realized that I want to do something of my own and to stop working 9 to 6 for someone else. This was a very important and life changing decision which I will never regret. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at that point, but I knew that I really wanted to work with books, as reading has always been my passion and publishing industry sounded very attractive to me.
I talked to a publisher acquaintance of mine about this and he told me that there was a missing link in the local industry called a literary agent. I had to literally google it and watch some movies about writers and their agents. That’s when I started researching the local literary scene, reading contemporary authors and was surprised at what I found. Small countries like Armenia, especially those with a soviet past, have a bad tradition of underestimating their own writers. My generation was brought up on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky; the mark of big empires on smaller nations is always overwhelming. But for Armenia, with an ancient history and “glorious” past we are so proud of, it takes time to accept the values of modern times.
So, I started the first ever literary agency in Armenia with a partner. I learnt the job from ground zero, how publishing industry works – not only locally but internationally. In about a year, it was obvious to me that this would be the job I would do for the rest of my life, and in 2016 I left my business partner and established ARI Literary and Talent Agency. Now I work with around 15 Armenian contemporary writers, as well as promising emerging writers or total newcomers. Among my clients are indeed some of the best authors in Armenia and I am proud to be working with them.

2. What challenges have you faced in your career and how have you overcome them?

The first challenge you face when you represent literature from a small country is pitching it to publishers who have never heard of your country. You need to tell them where you come from and give them some background about your country, language and history before you start talking about literature.
Another challenge was to realise that only agenting and selling rights of Armenian authors wouldn’t earn me a living wage, let alone run a company. However, it was also obvious that I wasn’t going to give up this profession for an employed role. So, we started offering services to help us cover necessary costs. And now we also have a long list of clients – independent local publishers who buy rights with our help.
The others problems we face include the lack of creative writing training and other necessary conditions for the development of the book market in Armenia and its promotion worldwide. To solve this, I established a non-profit organization called the ARI Literature Foundation, which is implementing projects to provide those conditions not only for me, but the wider industry. ARI Foundation is now implementing such projects as Write in Armenia International Writing Camp to create dialogue between young and emerging writers from different countries and to find and train the new generation of Armenian writers. Another project we do is Let’s Read! Clubs, to promote reading from a young age and ensure a new generation of readers. A recent endeavour – Zabel International Women Writers Forum, which we are starting in October 2020 – is to invite established women writers from all over the world share their experiences and empower young women writers in their future career.
The biggest challenge, though, is the lack of professional literary translators from Armenian into many languages. We have tailored a Translators’ Association and Residency Program and are now trying to find funding for its implementation.
I do understand that most of these issues should be solved by the government, or, at least, by governmental funding of non-profits to implement this kind of projects. But, I think, and this is not only true of Armenia, changes first come from individuals before they find solutions in the cultural policies and later state funded programmes. At least there is the translation support project from the national Library of Armenia which is called ‘Armenian Literature in Translation’, which is also a result of private and non-profit representatives, including myself, lobbing for it for years.

3. What do you most enjoy about your job?

I really enjoy book fairs; these are always my happy moments. And of course, with every new edition of the books, it’s like a new and stronger motivation to continue my work. But there are many other moments to look forward to, such as conversations with writers and feedback of readers.
Once a friend of mine told mine that it must be amazing to get paid for reading books. Yes, it is amazing, unless you have to first earn the money then to pay yourself. But it is still worth it.

4. What have been the highlights of your career in publishing?

Every next rights deal is a special highlight for me. These deals are made with such difficulty and the foreign editions come so late that I haven’t yet got used to the moment of holding a physical copy of a new foreign edition of a book I represent in my hands.
So, I do believe that the real highlights are still to come and one of them would be to sell movie rights to one of our books. I represent a wonderful fantasy novel, which has a great movie potential.

5. What is so special about Armenian writers?

Every literature is special in its way. Armenian literature has some outstanding storylines and ideas which can be described as search for identity at national and personal levels.
Armenian contemporary writers have lived through many shocking and life changing events. The collapse of an “Empire” after 70 years of Soviet reign in the region, finally gained a long-desired independence, which came with its hardships and a regional conflict, still unresolved, and a genetic memory of a Genocide. All these and our incredible pride of our ancient history, gave birth to a literature about struggle for independence, preservation of identity and creation of the new culture. Of course, we can name a dozen of countries with similar topics in their literature. But what’s outstanding in the contemporary Armenian literature is the new language that authors are creating to express themselves and the new realities. There has always been a gap between our literary and spoken languages and the current generation is working towards narrowing the crack. The contemporary novels are not strictly plot driven. Most of them are post-modern, a belated new Armenian post modernity.
Apart from these literary fiction titles, we do have some commercial genre fiction as well, such as high fantasy and fantasy-romance. But it is difficult with commercial fiction, since being a WRITER in Armenia used to mean something different than in the most of the world. It was considered a sacred person, and literature a holy place. It is this stereotype that the new generation is now breaking and creating great literature for everyone and not only the select few.
Anyway, the novels and short fiction that I represent are selected to fit different readers and will come as a surprise to many of them worldwide.

6. Has anyone inspired you?

I was quite inspired by some agents who I met in the very beginning of my career and all three of them have become my mentors, I still keep contact, work with them and hang out at book fairs around the world. My godmother in agenting is Bettina Nibbe from Nibbe Literary Agency in Munich, who I met during her trip to Armenia for a publishers’ forum in 2011. And the other mentors and friends are Nermin Mollaoglu from Kalem Literary Agency, Istanbul and Rema Dilan from Peter Lampack Agency, NY. Outstanding women and personalities.

7. What is the situation for women in publishing in Armenia?

The situation is very complicated. There are neither many female publishers, nor writers. However, women are a majority within translators. Armenia has a controversial history of women in leadership, such as the first woman diplomat in the early 20th century, whereas in many European countries women still couldn’t vote, and, at the same time, quite a traditional and conservative society later. Right now, with revolution and government change two years ago, the situation is slowly changing, but there is still along way to go for women to break through in this sector and many others. The question why there are not many women writers among outstanding classics is unfortunately still not clear to many. And the question about why there are not many today in contemporary Armenia is still to be answered. It is interesting that when we do a creative writing programme for young writers 90% of applicants are young women. But as it comes to getting first books published, it is vice versa. Something is preventing young women from choosing writing as a career and the reason could be a viewpoint around a woman writer in a traditional and conservative society. But this will change gradually with every success that women are having these days.

8. What do you do in your spare time?

My job is a lifestyle. My spare time is spent mostly on reading or watching movies. But since I am also a proud mother of two, I try to spend as much of my free time with them as possible. But apparently my best communication with kids is either through reading for them or discussing the books they have read. They are great readers and I find it very effective to teach them things through the books I offer them to read.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Blanca Rosa Roca

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Blanca Rosa Roca is the founder and CEO of Roca Editorial in Barcelona, Spain. She started her career in publishing in 1976 with Grupo Zeta and co-founded Roca Editorial in 2002 with four other partners. She has been the Chair of the Junta Directive del Gremi de Editors de Catalunya and Chair of the Cambra del Llibre de Catalunya and in 1996 she was awarded the Memorial Ferran Lara prize, awarded to editors under 40 years old.

1) Why did you choose publishing as a career and how did you get into publishing?

I always have read a lot, I love reading. I was studying Economics at university and at the same time I was working as assistant in the newsroom of a magazine Interviu, the best-selling magazine during Post-Franco Spain. The stars then aligned when I started working at the big media group – Grupo Zeta, which in in 1986 purchased Editorial Bruguera and renamed it ‘Ediciones B’. I started as publicity and promotion director of Ediciones B, and one year later I was promoted as Managing Director. For me it was a dream come true. I didn’t really know very much about the book publishing business. At my first Frankfurt bookfair, I realized that it was a huge business and that I would have a lot to learn. I was ambitious though and working with some brilliant people who together wanted to make Ediciones B one of the strongest publishing houses in Spain.

After the death of the Chairman of Grupo Zeta in 2002, I was fired. It was the best thing that happened to me however, and one year later with my best colleagues at Ediciones B, we founded Roca Editorial.

2) Tell us about Roca Editorial now?

Six of us got together in 2003 to form the independent publishing company Roca. We knew the business of books, we had great contacts in bookselling and with the literary agents, and in press and we were fortunate that we were the second client of a new distribution company set up by friends. We are now a team of 16 full-time employees, and we publish commercial books, crime, historical, literary, young adult, graphic novel and non-fiction. With the Covid-19 pandemic we encountered many difficulties because of decreased sales and returns from booksellers who were forced to close. We are also facing a globalization of the publishing business as with other sectors. The two big Spanish groups are buying independent publishing houses in order to increase in size and gain more market share. As an independent publishing company, it is difficult to compete.

3) Your career has gone from strength to strength. What was your driving force?

I love everything about publishing from the writers to the booksellers to other publishers, and this passion has really driven me to succeed. At Roca, I have known my colleagues and partners for many years, and we work together really well. We share our love for the industry and the company which keeps us motivated.

4) You occupied 2 ‘Chair’ roles at a young age. Did you encounter any challenges with this because of your gender? Or because of your age?

I was the first woman in Catalunya to occupy the position, and I was very young. Many of my colleagues were older men, who I think felt quite paternalistic towards me, and definitely challenged me. In general, everyone was very kind, in particular, in the Cambra, it was the booksellers that really helped me. As a team, we were very daring, and we did some surprising (and somewhat shocking) campaigns which ended up being very successful.

5) What have been the proudest moments of your career?

There are some, but one was when I was fired from Ediciones B, a lot of writers wrote to me giving their support. Another proud moment was when the American author, Noah Gordon, one of the bestselling authors in Spain, decided to come to be published by Roca Editorial instead of going to a big group.

The economic crisis of 2006 was difficult for the company, sales were very low. In 2007 Noah Gordon published his new novel – his first one with us which not only helped us in the economic crisis but became the pivotal moment in the life of Roca.

We are now the only independent publishing company in Spain to be distributed in Spain and Latin America by Penguin Random House.

6) What are the biggest challenges you have had to overcome?

Starting a new publishing company from scratch is always difficult. We had to gain the confidence and trust of authors, agents and booksellers. As an independent publishing house, we have fewer resources than the bigger multi-national companies and this makes it difficult to compete and survive in a globalized market.

7) Has anyone inspired you on your publishing journey?

My colleagues and business partners are a continuing inspiration to me. Others that have helped me on my journey include Riccardo Caballero, Former CEO PRH and Nuria Cabuti, now CEO, Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial. In the US, Judy Klein at Hachette books, and the authors, Noah Gordon and Edward Rutherford have inspired me. Craig Russell, the Scottish author as well as lots of Spanish authors have also given me a real impetus to succeed at what I do!

8) What is the landscape like for females in publishing in Spain? Has it changed over the years since you began?

It has changed a lot! There are many more women in publishing in Spain than there were when I started. It feels much more gender balanced and there are notably now some fantastic women in senior management. Twenty years ago. the Sunday supplement of El País titles ‘Mujeres del Libro’ had 3 female leaders on the cover – which in those days was big news, Isabel Polanco (deceased years later), Ymelda Navajo and me. I think women read more than men and have a really good ‘nose for the business.

9) How do you think the publishing industry can inspire and motivate more women to get into leadership roles?

Role models are very important. We see some strong female leaders in other businesses, and we are publishing the stories of some strong women, including Kamala Harris, Jacinda Ardern, Maye Musk or women who fight against Nazism, as the Auschwitz Librarian, Dita Kraus

I hope I am an inspiration to young women in publishing to encourage them to become leaders.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Eva Karaitidi

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Eva Karaitidi graduated from the Schools of Language and Literature at the University of Athens and the University of Paris III / Sorbonne Nouvelle. Her doctoral dissertation, which she defended in Paris in 1987, explores the art of poetry in ancient Greece.

Eva has been working as a publisher for Greece’s oldest publishing house (Hestia) since 1987 and in 1998, she took over the management.

As a writer, she has published two collections of short stories (from Alexandria publishers) and has translated five books of French literature for Hestia. She recently translated Micheline Flak and Jacques de Coulon’s Children Who Succeed: Yoga in Education, again for Hestia. She began studying and training in the Indian tradition of Satyananda Yoga / Bihar School of Yoga in the 1990s. Having trained in the Satyananda system, she’s been teaching yoga to adults since 2010 and to children and young adults since 2015.

France bestowed upon her the title of the Knight of the Order of Academic Phoenix in 2011.

Questions

1. Hestia has been a family run business for 5 generations – did you always want to join the publishing industry having grown up with it? What made you decide to join publishing eventually?

To be honest when I was younger, I did not even consider becoming a publisher. Of course, I loved books, and having been raised with them, they were a special part of my youth, as is the case for many children. I admired storytelling, thus authors, but I considered the publishing industry to be about commerce and money, so I thought it was not for me. I mostly admired my physician father and his work with patients and diseases.

I eventually entered the family business after long studies in Greece and France, as a sudden feeling of duty, and of gratitude for a long tradition that kept offering education, knowledge, and enjoyment to many generations of Greek language speakers and readers.

2. How has the business managed to keep going through the last 135 or so years, especially given the various economic and political turmoil in Greece? What have been the secrets to success?

I hope the secrets will be discovered one day… I think it had to do with vision, firm resolutions, adaptability, integrity, sense of service beyond material gains and losses. Not forgetting the aim.

3. What challenges have you faced in your publishing career, especially since you took over the general management of the business?

The greatest challenge has always been overcoming my own limits. My great helping hand was, and still is the eternal feeling of being a student having to learn new matters every day and passing exams every minute.

I had to overcome the suspiciousness of most people around me by proving I was not just my mother’s daughter. I had to convince employees, colleagues, authors, authors’ heirs and rights managers, agents etc. I had also to convince my own family that I was capable to manage this difficult business. And the challenges continue!

4. What have been the highlights of your career so far?

Publishing books that overcome the time limits. Surviving the deep Greek crisis, surviving the pandemic, moving on when everything seemed lost. Always honoring the authors that keep honoring us. It is a long story we keep cultivating: we keep publishing the great authors of the 1930s (still under rights and still appreciated and selling good), but our youngest author published his first book when he was only 23.

5. What is the environment like for women in publishing in Greece? Have you ever faced any difficulties in the industry or in running your business because of your gender?

Women have been very active in the book sector even at older times, meaning my mother’s generation (she was born in 1928). I mean, Greece is a very traditional country, very conservative at times, and women were not exactly brought to shine as careerists, but, despite this, they were somehow naturally accepted as publishers, in the Athenian environment at least. And they did shine!

Even in my generation (born in 1955) girls and women felt in their skin they had much less opportunities comparing to those of men, but I personally always felt equal to anybody (and to men), and that stands you in good stead from being thrown out of the game.

6. Can you tell us a little bit about the publishing industry in Greece today?

It has a really very small role in the whole economic game, but it is very important, as is the diversity of the publishers and the quality and variety of the books produced. Most of the publishing companies are family businesses, and many new ones arise every now and then, run by cultivated and capable young people. I firmly believe that what we all have in common is passion. Without it you cannot go on in this country. I think many or maybe most of us publishers bear this in common with artists.

7. How does Hestia fit into the landscape? What kind of publishing does Hestia specialize in? How does your bookshop fit in the picture?

Hestia specializes nowdays mostly in literature, greek and international, history, testimonies and biographies, essays, philosophy, psychoanalysis. We also publish a well known review called Nea Hestia, being published under different editors since 1927.

I have a great respect for poetry and children’s literature and I hope can restart with them in the future. An interesting thing is that many publishers were literaly saved by selling children’s books during the financial crisis.

8. What has been your vision for the company over the last 23 years and what does the future hold?

It has been mainly a vision of respecting and honoring the great opportunity I was given by inheriting this publishing company. Of course every generation leaves its traces on the long path of Hestia. Mine is continuing the great literary tradition and also working with new subjects, as yoga or LGBTQ+ literature. We recently published a book by young author and performer Sam Albatros (pseudonym) which has become a bestselling title, and we plan to publish two other important novels (one by a very young author, the other by a most respected film director and essayist). We are branching out of this new coming trend of describing a highly hypocritical and homophobic society it was about time to discover in Greece.

9. You run a successful publishing company, you are a writer and a translator, and you teach yoga – how do you manage your various aspects of your life and career?

Alas, I am not a writer, I just love to exercise with language and it so happened that I kept writing short stories for 15 years or so, and I think it was my way to find balance in my everyday life. And it was over later on, when balance was introduced by the routine of yoga practice.

As for the translation, this is another form of practising with language and so I have translated several French authors (4 novels by Jean Mattern, Yasmina Réza and Pierre Mérot) which have been published by Hestia, a psychoanalysis book by Jean-Bertrand Pontalis and a yoga manual for school teachers by Micheline Flak and Jacques de Coulon.

Regarding yoga, I haven’t taught it since the beginning of the pandemic as I don’t teach online. So I just taught people for free in the Greek islands during my summer holidays (one of my students was 97 years old!) and I keep practising regularly as a Satyananda Yoga disciple, following different online programs, mostly Greek but also international.

The publishing job actually occupies most of my time!

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Louise Umutoni

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

1. What was your pathway into the publishing industry?

My journey is very similar to many other people in the literary space on the African continent. I grew up an avid reader, alongside my brother who was also an avid reader. A real defining moment for e was at the age of 7, I stole ‘The Pelican Brief’ by John Grisham from my brother and started reading it. Even though I probably didn’t really understand it, from that moment I was gripped by reading. I was very conscious however that I only had access to stories which were based on Western experiences, and I really didn’t see myself in any of the stories. I realised I wanted to see my own context in the books I was reading. At 12 years old, I stumbled across the book ‘The Concubine’ by Elechi Amadi, which opened the door to a world that I didn’t know existed, despite growing up in Kampala, the thriving capital city of Uganda. People being described were a similar colour, with things I could relate to – I immediately got drawn to African literature and then went crazy to hunt down any African book I could find. I got through as much as I could get my hands on, and there was always a love for and relationship with African Literature and books from a young age.

I wrote my first book at 14 – realising that it wasn’t really how it works – simply writing the book didn’t mean it was published. My love affair with stories and narratives continued as I went to university in Canada. This was an important part of my identity and I saw gaps in our literature scene quite clearly. I started engaging with the politics of knowledge and access to publishing spaces for African writers and understanding why I couldn’t get my hands on the literature I wanted . I was especially drawn to finding solutions. After finishing university, I moved back from Canada to Rwanda and see if I could address some of the challenges. What initially started as some thoughts of sensitisation around culture evolved quickly into a publishing business. I began by awareness raising – doing writers workshops for women, doing book clubs etc – bringing people together around books, but ended up speaking to people who were veterans in the sector, including Kate Wallis who was in Rwanda – and is now one of the directors in Huza Press. I also connected to Ellah Wakatama who made me promise I wouldn’t set the publishing company up as a not-for-profit, that it must be a business (which I have maintained). I was also in touch with the African Writers Trust – which supported my first training in the publishing space. So many people, especially women were very welcoming and supportive of my endeavours and really encouraged me to set up Huza in 2015 in Kigali and run the first ever prize for fiction in Kigali.

2. Who or what inspired you to enter the publishing industry?

I didn’t think I was going to start a publishing industry – I wanted to build capacity for writers and to bring people together, provide mentorships and literally throw everything at the problem and find a solution. The publishing company idea was one of the solutions, and even prize was also thrown at the problem. I really didn’t think I was going to start a publishing company – and there not many people to look to on the African continent for inspiration given that the majority of publishing is in the educational textbook space. I’ve since been able to reach into a fantastic network of people such as Bibi Yusuf-Bakara (of Cassava Republic), Goretti Kyomuhendo (founder and current director of the African Writers Trust), Lola Shoneyin (of the Ake literature festival), a whole range of people doing fantastic work in the African literature space. I also took inspiration from the Kwani Trust in Kenya which is doing some really interesting activities.

3. Tell us about Huza Press?

Huza means ‘bringing together’- and stories bring us together, shared narratives that encourage us to empathise with others, and to see ourselves in stories. This year we have 4 titles in 2021, we usually publish 2 titles a year. We try to limit number of titles, given we are not a big team and we really want to give each title as much attention as possible. I strongly feel there is not enough knowledge being produced on the African continent that is being given a platform. We absolutely need to increase our contribution of knowledge as a continent from its very low base of 2% – given the size of the continent and the stories and knowledge we have. I feel we must contribute to the African literary canon that would otherwise go ignored. To do this, we must tackle the gatekeeping issue and show we do have people writing, who have interesting stories and are putting forward their own experience, but not had support, nor access to opportunities to publish their work. I also want my son and daughter to have access to these works, narratives and knowledge when they want to learn about Rwanda or the Continent – rather than having to work really hard to get hands on an African book and see themselves in books.

So far, we have published a range of genres, including biography, memoir, fiction. We are thinking about children’s books and poetry and have plans to publish an upcoming anthology that would launch a poetry imprint of Huza.

4. You have also established a fiction prize and the KigaliLit series of literature events – can you tell us what motivated you to launch these?

I set up the prize to get a sense of what people were interested in writing – as not much writing was coming out of Rwanda (apart from books about the genocide). What surprised me was how people wanted to write about stories that everyone else in the world was writing about, e.g. sci-fi, love, pain – it was inspiring. I knew as well that writers could also benefit from mentorship – so we offered 10 shortlisted writers to be connected to established African writers who worked with them on stories for about a month to give them a sense of what a good story looks like. This support would then elevate the quality of work we were receiving. It was a long-term plan to inspire and develop writers and go on their journey with them.It was a long-term plan to inspire and develop writers, and go on their journey with them.

When we could actually meet in the same place- the live events – KigaliLit was a partnership with Goethe Institute. We ran them for about 2 years, with the ambition to bring African writers into Rwanda and introduce them to audience and introduce audiences to African works.

Got some really interesting writers in. Rwandas who were producing work as well to expand their horizons. Was at the core of this. Not been able to run these for some time. Partnereed with Open Winter festival to add a literature compentnt to arts festival that focused around theatre – not lit – so we added that component to that festival. Got some poets involved. Hope to get back into this when allowed and se ethe excitement and rewad from the connections.

5. Describe a defining moment of your career.
Small team but punch above our weight. Won Brittle Paper publisher oof the year last year which was exciting as we struggle during the pancemic. We are still young. We got so much incredible support at the beginning. Still to come – lots of things that need to happen

6. Have you had any role models that have inspired you on your publishing journey?

7. What is the publishing industry like in Rwanda?
Books hard come by, logistical issues – how to get titles from one place to another. Driven by schoolbook/textbook market and industry – at core of publishing industry. Lotsof publishers, been asked to judge publishers book prize – was surprised by how many there ae – base don what school curriculum needs. Not much else

8. What is the landscape like for women in publishing in Rwanda?
No different to other sectors. Publishing is more inclusive of women – similar to around the world. Businesses are owned by women in the space, it’s a small industry and not lucrative. More women tend to go those spaces. Sense that women are storytellers etc.

9. What advice would you give to other women in publishing?
Collaboration is key – people want to collaborate – Jalada, African Writers Trust, all small an all tryin to address challenges, though collaboration. Can come together as pulishers to solve distribution challenges, and improve how we have done distribution of books across contient, not a lot of funding in creative space. We have to work collaboratively. Not smooth sailing – been challenging- speak about collaboration and ariculaet the challenges, what work and didn work and been honest about lessons.

10. What has been the ongoing impact of your literary mentorships in your community and in Rwanda?
There has been so much change, incremental changes, starting from a low base. Rwanda never engaged with the Caine Prize – we got storis into the anthology and got them to run theirworkshop in Rwanda in 2017. Getting Rwanda into the space for African litereature was a great step. Put out calls for stories – we got 40 submission s no we we are in the 100s and quality has improved to such a huge level. Caine prize worthy. Continue to see challenges around reading culture – which is improving which has been the lowest in the region. Eductaional policy spaces, you see thisbut it ihas impacte the publishing space. Very different to Uganda which has completely different reading culture – always s reading something. In Rwanda, going to shop to buya newspaper (there were very few- raido more popular that reading) – they were weeks old, magazines, years old. Didn’t shift alit – people not reading. In Uganda, people sitting on street reading. Such a different culture. Starting to see movement and a push around people o read, Bookshops now coming up.

Need to get more titles out there – have a residency coming up – need to try and solve logisictical issues. Foster collaboration between different writers. Finally going to continue running events. Do more workshops/mentorships.

Want to resolve some f the distribution challenges and get backs to travel further. Launched in UK and across the coninuent and get them out further – get them into the uS. Look at target audience which would be huge for us.

African literary renaissance. Piece in 2016 about changes starting to see in the African Literary Canon.

Can entrepreneur as much as possible – you cannot entrepreneur yourselves around bad governance. Issues outside oour scope of influence, border controls, and real issues to logistics.

Thinking about improving air transport routes, still expensive. Distributing through Nairobi and use ports in Kenya, but as soon as hit Mombassa, get taxed and then those books have to be brought to Rwanda, but already incurred tax. Books in general shouldn’ be expensive but become expensive because of transport costs – buy air, then tax – makes them inaccessible.

Moved back in 2005 to Kigali

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Mine Soysal

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Mine Soysal is an author and publisher. Born in Istanbul she studied archaeology at university and worked in this field until 1994 when she entered the world of writing and publishing. In 1996, she founded Günışığı Kitaplığı, a publishing house specialised in publishing contemporary children’s and YA books from Turkish and world literature. She herself is the author of YA novels and short stories.

Soysal worked as the chairperson of the Children’s and Young Adult Publishing Commission of Turkish Publishers Association for three terms, and since January 2020 she has been a board member of the Turkish Publishers Association. She took part in the Executive and Monitoring Committees of the 5th National Publishing Congress held in 2009 which was a turning point for the Turkish publishing sector; she also participated in the 6th National Publishing Congress held in 2018. She works for many projects for the development of reading culture, fights against censorship and self-censorship, and works for the promotion of contemporary approaches, quality and diversity in publishing.

Living in Istanbul, Soysal currently works as the executive editor of Günışığı Kitaplığı.

1. You both studied archaeology and worked in this area before changing careers to be an author and publisher – what inspired this change in career and why publishing?

Archaeology was my childhood dream. I was curious about the past that created today. I had the opportunity to seek answers to my questions over the many years that I worked in the field of archaeology. I listened to the stories of extraordinary people I met in different geographies while practicing my profession. I was used to working by writing, recording, and archiving everything and over time, the stories took over my mind and life. I was also unable to be an “ideal” civil servant who only did what she was told without any questioning! So, when I realised that I could be much happier and more productive in the magical world of literature, I ended the professional life that had lasted more than 10 years at the Istanbul Archaeological Museums.

I wanted all children to experience what my country and its rich cultural heritage generously offered me when I was a child. I had personally experienced what a child who achieved his/her dreams can do in adulthood. Thus, I not only entered the world of books, but also dared to write and publish literature books for children and young adults.

2. You set up your own publishing company 25 years ago, how easy was this to do and did you face any challenges setting up a publishing company at that time in Turkey?

When I started to take my first steps in publishing, my friend Hande Demirtaş and my sister, editor Dr. Müren Beykan became my companions. Günışığı Kitaplığı was born out of the persistence of three young women wanting to create a quality literature collection for children and young adults. All three of us were very different people, coming from different life experiences. But we were all idealists who were dreaming of a happy and peaceful future for the world, as well as being avid readers of literature. Works of contemporary literature, poetry, and philosophy as well as the classics were our staples. Yes, our dreams were huge, but our investment capital was very modest. In the first years, we created additional budgets through publishing and doing agency work with private companies; we used all the money we made to develop our publishing house and publish new books.

The 90s were complicated years for our country, due to both the beginning of digital transformation and the political turmoil that shook the country. Our publishing, on the other hand, was getting stronger by evolving into a more innovative structure. At the time, when children’s books were mentioned, mostly educational and didactic books were coming to mind. There were very few quality examples of children’s literature. Moreover, the concept of young adult literature was not even known. We began to tirelessly explain the unlimited possibilities offered by literature to school-age generations at every opportunity and in every way. We tried to show more adults that quality children’s literature has no age limit and that it can give readers of all ages a shared reading pleasure.

One of the most important issues we focused on in the first years was to consider the needs of the market and create age groups. We catered for the ages 3-8, 8-12, 12+ and 15+ with competent literature books. In addition to contemporary translated works, we met with creative writers in Turkey who focused their hard work on children’s literature. We drew the attention of the masters of our literature and enabled them to produce original works for children and young people. Of course, some of our books received reactions by both the ministry of education and conservative circles. We defended literature, books, and our readers against the various forms of self-censorship created by the traditional family culture at school and at home. In the beginning, it was not easy to make quality books and to be visible on the bookstore shelves and in the media, while dealing with the controlling and oppressive attitudes of adults.

3. What is the motivation behind the publishing company?

Thanks to the contemporary works we have carefully selected from Turkish and world literature, we created opportunities to draw the attention of readers of all ages to the wonderful universe of meaning present in literature and enable different generations to lead shared experience in this universe. We show with our books that children’s literature does not mean that the books can be read only by children, but the books that can be read also by adults. We attach great importance to the liberating contribution of literature to a peaceful, egalitarian, and just world. We work with an understanding of publishing that is based on human rights, children’s rights, and animal rights, that stands against all kinds of discrimination, racism, and violence, by being fascinated by the coexistence of differences that respect the harmony of nature. We believe that children and young people, like adults, have the right to be introduced to quality books, to access and read the book they want, and that joyful reading experience can turn into a lifelong pleasure, not under coercion, but only through free will.

4. What are the challenges the publishing sector in Turkey is facing?

Like the publishers in many other countries, we fight against censorship and self-censorship every day. The economic and political problems in our country have a negative impact on our book market as well such as the prices of imported book paper and printing raw materials. Our rights contracts are also being negatively affected by foreign exchange fluctuations, causing unpredictable increases in production costs. In Turkey, where the “fixed book price” regime has not yet been enacted, the devastating discounts of online sales platforms, which are getting stronger with the pandemic, are putting both bookstores and publishing houses in trouble. Increasing copyright violations in online media, a rapidly expanding unfair competitive environment, and new ethical debates caused by unlimited marketing opportunities are all on our agenda. Bookstores in the pandemic are struggling to survive. Publishers pay the production costs in advance but can only collect the payments of the books sold much later. Pirated books is another serious problem that couldn’t be solved despite best efforts. Bulk purchases for public libraries are insufficient and the e-book and audiobook markets are moving much slower than expected. On top of everything, fundamental issues such as the publication of more quality books that support cultural diversity and expanding our cohort of experienced editors are always on the agenda.

5. Günışığı Kitaplığı goes the extra mile to promote a reading culture in Turkey, as do you. Can you tell us more about these activities?

Over the years we have been faced with many obstacles to the development of a publishing and reading culture in Turkey. We felt the need to work for different target audiences, sharing knowledge and experience, and finding common solutions. Starting in 2010, we tended to work like an NGO and to run innovative projects. First, we launched the “Literature in Education Seminars” aimed at the professional development of teachers and librarians. To date, nearly ten thousand educators from all over the country have attended these seminars, which we will organize for the 15th time in Spring 2022. Since 2011, we have been running the “Zeynep Cemali Short Story Competition”, for 6th, 7th and 8th grade students. The competition heralds the writers of the future, and the Award-winning Stories Booklet is being published annually and distributed free of charge to schools and universities every year.

We are holding our annual publishing conference, now in its 11th year, “Zeynep Cemali Literature Day” online on November 13th, 2021, with the participation of all individuals and organizations that contribute creatively and professionally to the world of books. (In this year’s conference program, we will hear from the IPA President Bodour Al Qasimi, and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk.) This conference has become an important independent platform that brings together creative professionals such as writers, editors, translators, and illustrators, as well as publishing house managers and employees, copyright agencies, booksellers and distributors, librarians, experts from the media and academia, to discuss and evaluate current developments. We publish the content of all our seminars and conferences on our digital platform Keçi (www.keciedebiyat.com) where we store and archive this valuable content for the use by our industry.

Alongisde our “Library for Children” project, we are also carrying out regional training seminars on a continuous and regular basis for the public librarians. On our special website gunisigiYOU.com, we provide creative reading practices related with our books, which inspire educators and families.

6. What is the situation like today for women in publishing in Turkey? Especially in leadership positions?

Since the 2000s, many more women have joined our sector. Along with the rising women’s rights movement across the world, efforts from publishing houses to build more professional organizational structures and for specializing in their fields have played an important role in this. However, the number of women managers and business owners who are in decision-making positions in publishing houses, distribution and retail companies, and even professional associations, is still low. Ingrained expectations from women, including family and social responsibilities, prevent them from having a say in creative fields like publishing where one’s dedication may mean working 24/7.

7. How has your career as an author intertwined with your career as a publisher?

Writing and publishing are two unique pursuits with completely different dynamics. Publishing, a full-time professional job, of course steals my time for writing, reading, researching. But even though it means I write fewer books, my identity as a publisher also places me at the heart of our reading culture. The books I have written have allowed me to meet, chat and discuss with children and young people across Turkey over many years. After every meeting with my young readers, I come back to the publishing house with new issues, questions, dreams in my mind and perhaps more importantly, with great hope. Young people give me extraordinary energy, making me to think more and more deeply about different problems. They offer a perfect harmony that brings together the publisher Mine and the writer Mine. I am very lucky.

8. You talk to young people, educators and parents in schools, universities and libraries under the banner of “Mine Soysal Literature Seminars and Talks”. What messages do you aim to deliver?

In my seminars and interviews, my top priority is the right and freedom to read. It is very important for me that children and young adults, who are overwhelmed by the prejudices and excessively controlling attitudes of intellectually limited adults, discover the real magic that books and literature can create in their lives. I think they should experience the real “pleasure of reading” that will add meaning to their lives and create unexpected transformations. This is instead of the mistakes made to force them to develop a “reading habit” as fast as possible. In my meetings with young readers, we talk about current issues such as gender discrimination, violence, femicide, miscommunication, poverty, wars and immigration, the climate crisis and equality.

I try to explain the rights and freedom of reading to families and educators in different ways. I try to show the adults in our country, where the rate of literary reading is quite low, that reading is not just a necessity but a mental pleasure that can only grow through personal discoveries. Instead of controlling and monitoring what children read, I tell them that it would be more effective to constantly offer them many quality options. I want children to understand that one day they can truly become readers only by freely experimenting with the subjects they are interested in and are curious about. For this, I invite adults to be interested in books and to acquire a pleasure of reading.

9. What comes next for Günışığı Kitaplığı and for you personally?

An easy future awaits neither publishers nor our readers. The new generations, who quickly and skillfully incorporate today’s technologies into their daily lives, are caught in social media’s bubble. The gap between new generations and adults is getting wider every day. Moreover, the adult world has forced them to live with the dire consequences of the global climate crisis. We constantly think about how we can prepare our children for this challenging future that awaits them. How we can bring them closer to science and arts and how we can support their mental and spiritual empowerment through literature. We are working on creative collections that will meet their ever-changing reading needs. We continue to offer them new books from both international and Turkish literature that will be their “unforgettable ones.”
I’m also persistent. I’m writing new novels and stories for young people. My desk is very colourful with new files these days…

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Sandra Tamele

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Sandra Tamele dreamed of being an Architect, but after three failed attempts to secure a job in this field she decided to pursue her other passions, translation, and languages, on a full-time basis. 2007 marked her debut as a literary translator, and she has since translated 21 works of poetry, prose, and children literature from English and Italian into Portuguese. She is passionate about her work and committed to promoting literary translation among young Mozambicans by hosting an annual competition that led to the establishment of the Publishing House, Editora Trinta Zero Nove (ETZN), the first Mozambican publisher dedicated to literature in translation. Her start-up publisher strives to give voice to debut, black, female authors, and writers with disabilities or from other minorities to work towards a more inclusive, loving society. In 2021 the initiative was awarded the London Book Fair International Excellence for Literary Translation. She was born in Pemba, but currently lives with her husband in Marracuene, where she plans to open the first bookshop/community library in the district of over 262 thousand inhabitants.

After Architecture, what motivated you to start a career in publishing as a literary translator?

I confess that I never planned to give up architecture. Becoming a literary translator was the fortunate outcome of an unexpected life changing event which meant that I had to give up my career after seven years studying for my degree. I consider myself fortunate because I had an alternative, I spoke Italian and English which enabled me to establish myself as a commercial translator and interpreter. Reading is a passion that I fostered from an early age and being able to read in five different languages it was fated that I would find a book that I wanted to translate. That book was Io non ho paura (I’m not scared) by Niccolò Ammaniti, and its story changed my narrative. Translating Ammaniti started as a school project, but my persevering to complete it catapulted me into being the first Mozambican to translate and publish literature. I have since translated 17 titles for fellow publishers both in Mozambique and overseas. I’m really honored to have joined PELTA, the Portuguese into English Literary Translators Association, and proud to be working towards the dissemination of new voices from Lusophone Africa.

What were the challenges in acquiring material to translate?

Unlike my fellow Mozambicans I’m among the lucky few that have consistent access to the broadband Internet and thus to have been able to join online forums and networks of publishers that are open to share their diverse catalogues, therefore there is no lack of materials to translate. The most important challenge is financial, having the funds to be able to pay writer advances or translator fees. Being a publisher from a small market like Mozambique I’m working to raise the awareness of overseas publishers and authors about the reality of the market I’m operating in – which is completely different from theirs. In my country 39% of the people are illiterate, and more than half live under the poverty line, both realities affecting women disproportionally, this means that the price of our books is much lower, and the print runs much smaller, so I often must negotiate on the terms of a token or no advance.

Having worked as a literary translator, what inspired you to start a Publishing House?

Again, this was not a planned move, in 2015 I started a literary translation competition aimed at promoting reading and literary translation among young Mozambicans. Three years later I had three beautiful books of short stories by authors unknown in the Mozambican market which I pitched several times to existing, established publishers. None of them was willing to publish the format or work in translation, this led me to decide to establish Editora Trinta Zero Nove. Trinta Zero Nove means September 30th, International Translation Day, and we are the first Mozambican publisher dedicated to translated literature. Our debut collection was published in 2019 with three titles translated into one language, and it has since grown into 37 titles translated into seven languages. This makes me very proud and inspires me to work further in Mozambique, a country with 42 spoken languages and one sign language, and I’ll do my best to represent most if not all of them in print.

How would you describe the Mozambican publishing industry today? What are the challenges and opportunities?

The fact that is, there is no publishing industry or infrastructure in Mozambique. There are no records or statistics available. A small group of publishers is now trying to set up the Mozambican publishers and booksellers association and their first task will be to run a census and find out how many players are there in the market. A market dominated by three multinational textbook publishers that, sometimes, publish fiction. When I started as a publisher it was one of those major players who told me that publishing fiction in Mozambique was an act of courage.

I’m very happy to have seen in the last couple of years the rise of indie publishers established by young writers which are bringing more diversity and quality, and interest to the literary scene in Mozambique.

I believe we all share the same challenge, the trade book market is too small with a poor distribution infrastructure, most of our potential readers cannot afford to buy books. Also, we face the deep-rooted belief that Mozambicans don’t read at all.

Being an optimist and drawing inspiration from similar projects in the region and internationally, I believe that we are at a turning point if we tap into digital resources, and we evolve like other markets did. That is why ETZN is publishing eBooks and audiobooks in local languages and in Braille and in Mozambican sign language; by making books more inclusive I believe that we can reverse this gloomy scenario.

Editora Trinta Zero Nove is the first Mozambican publisher dedicated to literary translation, what were the challenges of being a pioneer in this sector?

The greatest challenge is having a pool of translators to work with. As I mentioned before we are translating into Mozambican languages, eMakwa, ciSena and ciChangana and there are only a handful of translators into those languages in addition they are often unfamiliar with translating literature, which means that projects take longer because of training requirements.

The other challenge is that translation is expensive, it adds to the cost of a book that is already expensive, so publishers are always challenged to find ways of making our books more affordable for the readers in our market. Distribution is also an issue because there is a deep-rooted belief that Mozambicans can speak the languages, but they cannot read in them, so trailblazing in this sector has many unknown variables and barriers, that we are striving to overcome.

Your Publishing House strives to publish diverse voices and authors. Can you talk about the initiative and its future?

Our motto is: giving stories (read people) a voice. We publish women, because female voices are often rejected and refused by cis male publishers who believe that women are incapable of intellectual, interesting, creative writing. We publish people with disabilities and their stories. We also publish LGBTQ+ narratives to make our books inclusive and relatable to all Mozambicans. These voices were all underrepresented or never published and are often people who ae discriminated against and abused. That is why the initiative is relevant at this moment in time. We have since published five titles about people with disabilities written by people with disabilities as well as titles by queer authors. We plan to expand and grow this number by cooperating with organizations that work for the rights of those minorities.

In 2021 you were awarded the London Book Fair International Excellence for Literary Translation. Did this award open new opportunities for you?

Yes and no. Yes, because the West recognizes the importance of such an award, and I am honored to be part of the group of seven organizations from around the world that I’ve won the same award. More so because I am a micro publisher from a developing country and my peers are all from rich Western countries with strong communities and/or governmental support, something that I do not have. No because my compatriots and publishers of the region fail to grasp the importance and magnitude of this historical award, I’m not sure if it is because I’m a woman or because I’m black or both.

Nevertheless, they cannot take from me the joy and honor of being the first publisher from the PALOP to have been awarded the International Excellence for Literary Translation. I was even happier when Yulia Kozlovets, from The Book Arsenal Festival from Ukraine, shared with me that this award meant being the best in the world in that year. it also meant increased interest and participation of young people in the annual literary translation competition, growing the number of applications from 50 in the previous year to over 250.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced in your career and how have you overcome them?

Having given up a career 17 years ago, I am struggling every day to find new mechanisms to persevere in publishing. One of the biggest challenges is making it in this male dominated world. Mozambique is traditionally a country where female leaders were revered and respected, but our colonial past meant the assimilation of patriarchal and sexist values which make it difficult for a woman to be taken seriously or be seen as worthy of a leadership role. Being assertive is my strategy to counteract the initial perception of male collaborators, peers, and clients, and to make them see me as an equally ambitious, professional, and competent person.

Do you think that bringing in young people will eventually change the perception and how long do you think it will take before we start seeing some changes?

Yes, that is why children and young people are the focus of all my initiatives. I think that this is only natural in Mozambique, where more than half our population is under the age of 18. This means a large pool of youngsters that we need to inspire and empower to generate change.

It is not easy to give a timeline for when this change will be visible, my country is just 47 years old, and I am part of the first generation of native, black intellectuals. Again, because of the colonial past when black people were denied schooling past 6th grade. I can’t remember where I read that it requires at least two generations and I’m doing my part to impart on young women from my community all the values on which my personality and purpose are based on.

Have there been any women that have inspired you in your career in general and in your publishing career?

Yes, I do, and I am so happy that I found them. I am so happy that now technology enables easier connections among female publishers.

Richa Jha from India, who I met through Publishers Without Borders. She is a powerhouse, and the books that her publishing house is creating are amazing. And sometimes she, like me, does not see the business side of being a publisher. In fact, I’m struggling with the financial side of the business – I am more interested in the creative process of publishing books.

Colleen Higgs from South Africa, a neighbouring country. She is the one who makes me persevere. Her indie press, Modjaji Books, started like ETZN and is celebrating their 15th anniversary this year.

Last but not least, Dominique Raccah, the founder of Source Books, who grew out of her garage into the top 10 publishers in in the USA. I think of her every time I walk into my office/warehouse in my garage.

I am extremely happy to have found them and so happy with this network which is mutually supportive and gives me the chance to learn from them.

What does the future hold for you?

I’m becoming a bookseller. I dream of opening this bookshop/community library, a space where women and girls can come and read books to change their narratives. In Marracuene, where I live, a mere 26 km from the CBD of the capital city, Maputo, seems like a distant a rural area. Despite its population of 262,000 people there is not a single library or bookshop In the District. I know that most people cannot afford books, and this seemed the best model to ensure that low-income readers are not left out and are able to read ETZN’s and other books. I hope to include also digital resources because they can bring audiobooks to those who cannot read.

It will not be a brick-and-mortar store, but a giant book shaped wooden structure that can be placed at markets, public gardens, and schools. We’ll be able to go where our potential readers are, and offer them relatable, and potentially lifechanging stories to change their narratives, like Ammaniti’s book changed mine.

I love to tell this to every person I meet. Please read as much as you can and then follow the tree Ps: perseverance, patience, and practice. Don’t be discouraged because nothing is going to be easy, so you must find a way to cope. Perseverance is the key.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Shereen Kreidieh

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Shereen founded Dar Asala publishing in 1998 and is the General Manager. Dar Asala produces high quality children’s books in Arabic. Shereen also teaches children’s literature and social work in Haigazian University. Currently Shereen is the president of Lebanese Board of Books for Young Children (Lebanese chapter of IBBY) and member of the executive commitee of IBBY international. Previously, Shereen was a member of the Book and Reading Promotion committee in the Ministry of Culture in Lebanon, a member of Hans Christian Anderson Award Jury for 2018 and is an alumni of the International Young Publishers and Cultural Leader programme of the British Council.

Dr Shereen Kreidieh has a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, a Teaching Diploma in Early Childhood Education, a Master’s degree in Children’s Literature, and a PhD in Publishing from Oxford Brookes University.

1. How did you get into the publishing industry, and what attracted you to publishing?

My father was a publisher (Dar Annahda Alarabiya, mainly for academic books) but he didn’t really push either me or my sister into the business, so I didn’t really consider going into publishing. My last years of schooling was during the war so were quite unsettled but I knew I wanted to work with children and education in some way. I eventually chose to study education at the American University in Beirut where I took a children’s literature course. We had to create our own children’s book, so my father suggested to me that that I start to publish children’s books under a new publishing house he had established, Asala. I ended up publishing four of my friends’ work and my interest in the industry really began. I also knew that there was so much more to learn about publishing children’s books, so I decided to continue both with my university and post-graduate education as well as starting the children’s publishing line under Asala and publishing more books.

2. You set up Dar Asala in 1998, what was your motivation to set up your own publishing company?

I think it was motivation to start something new and challenging, and it was exciting to into the family line of business and bring my new expertise. I started travelling to book fairs and realised there were many gaps in the children’s book publishing industry and room to develop the business. My master’s degree was about children’s publishing and I realised that most of the industry was made up of educational books, fairy tales and folk tales, as well as a lot of translations into Arabic. There was lots of scope to explore other genres and publishing Arabic voices.

3. How has it developed in the last 23 years? And tell us about Dar Asala today?

It was tough and it is still tough but amazing. I knew when I started that the children’s book publishing industry in the Arab World had a lot of room to develop, but there were no real role models and experiences to draw from. I did an internship in the year 2000 as part of my master’s degree at Egmont Publishing in the UK and spent time reading through manuscripts. I was amazed by the number, and quality of submissions and realised that this process was a great way to discover new voices and talent. When I returned to Beirut, I decided to try to find new authors and illustrators by encouraging submissions. I advertised in local newspapers and started to meet many people in Lebanon, which led to publishing new books. A good number of the books we published in the beginning didn’t work so well, so we had to experiment to get the high-quality stories and illustrations we wanted to publish. I knew when I started that it would be a minimum of 10 years before I started earning from the publishing house and I ended up spending more than 15 years of investing into the publishing house. Now we receive many manuscripts daily and the children’s book publish industry is in a much better place in the Arab World than before.

Thanks to my degrees in education and publishing, my research and knowledge of children, books, and publishing, and the experience I’ve had over the last 20 years, I have realised what makes Asala different and special and a leader in the Arab children’s book publishing industry. We discovered and gave chances to many of the very well-known and award-winning authors and illustrators in the Arab World. Our books reach the Arab World and Arabs all around the world including the US, UK, Europe, and Far East. Now we have more than 2000 titles and we still produce new books and reprint and edit our older releases.

Nowadays it is hard, Lebanon is sinking with everyday problems with safety, electricity, fuel, and many other problems. What makes me happy is being approached by customers and consumers who love our products, and this is rewarding.

4. You were part of the British Council Young Publishing Entrepreneur programme and have also studied with Oxford Brookes University. How have these experiences shaped your career?

England oh England, I love the fact that I have experienced publishing in the UK. With the British Council programme, we visited many publishing houses, distributors, wholesalers, and bookshops and I learnt a lot. I saw how developed and fast moving the publishing industry can be and the fact that it is so different to publishing at home. I applied and still apply what I experienced in the UK and other parts of the world: experimenting with new titles, being different and specialized, attracting new readers, creating new markets, coordinating with my staff, and researching. In my PhD thesis I experimented with techniques used to market children’s books in the UK, in Lebanon and the Arab World markets and I was shocked to see that it didn’t work in the same way. Business experiences and results change in different markets.

5. What have been your biggest achievements in your career?

Building Dar Asala as a trusted brand is a great achievement. I was able to apply what I have studied, and still invest and grow. Finding new talents, nurturing authors and illustrators, and being able to experiment and risk with new ideas again and again is my biggest achievement.

6. What challenges have you faced in your publishing career?

In Lebanon, every day is a challenge. My biggest challenge is people. I was born into publishing and there were always unspoken ethical lines that my dad and his friends used to have: respecting the borders for each publishing house means we do not run after each other’s authors and illustrators and markets. Publishers used to be like family members, they used to spend lunches and afternoons in our house and collaborate for the best of everyone. A challenge I faced was the disappointment when publishers would copy our new titles and call our authors and illustrators. It took me time to get used to it, but I have learnt not get very close to the people I work with to protect myself from being disappointed and hurt.

7. Tell us about your work on behalf of the industry, with IBBY and others?

I love my work with IBBY and what we do now is renovate and develop public school libraries in Lebanon. It is a beautiful project that is still being implemented with the help and coordination of UNESCO, Book Aid International, French IBBY section, IBBY Canada, and IBBY Netherlands.

As an IBBY EC member we plan activities and coordinate with our country sections. I teach children’s literature in the university, and it is exciting to see how our students start with hardly any idea about the world of children’s books and end up excited to read and share international books.

I collaborate also with some NGOs in Lebanon like Assabil and we are trying to implement new projects to target our needs in Lebanon.

8. Lebanon has faced many issues over the past few decades, how has this affected your business and how are you addressing these challenges?

Growing up in Lebanon has affected me as a person; it has made me stubborn and resilient. I always feel like I live in crisis mode, but I do not give up. The situation in Lebanon affects businesses, it is a challenge where we cannot have a fixed plan, but we should be flexible and act quickly since every day is a surprise. The business would have been much bigger if it was somewhere else. In Lebanon the government does not have well established funding and support programs for publishers. In addition, we pay high taxes in Lebanon with few or no returns. It costs us a fortune to get electricity: in our office we have a generator and official electricity line fees (which are barely available). Internet is also another challenge, and we usually must take files home to work on. It has been hard to find fuel to get electricity and even to drive to the office in the past couple of months. We think of plan B and C and D to continue our days and find options to change plans if X or Y or Z happens. We moved part of our stock and we will start operating from Istanbul now as a next step. We also rented a space in Sharjah and we will ship from there to the Gulf.

9. How would you describe publishing in the Arab world, vs publishing in the rest of the world?

Publishing in the Arab World is totally different than the UK and Europe and China. Titles take longer to sell, we rely on book fairs for a big percentage of our sales, and books are linked with teaching. In addition, publishing houses in the Arab World are much smaller in size of employees.

10. What is the environment like for women in publishing in Lebanon?

Women and men publishers are treated in the same way in Lebanon. Distributors in the Arab World are mainly managed by men and since Arab businesses are really impacted by personal relationships, I feel it is harder for women in the industry to push their titles and enter big business deals.

11. What are your hopes and aspirations for the future?

I hope my country can get out of the crisis we are facing but this will be difficult. I plan to add more lines to the publishing house, but these plans are currently under wraps. When my plan B is on track, the new lines of publishing will start.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Thabiso Mahlape

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Thabiso Mahlape is the Founder of Blackbird Books in South Africa, an independent publishing house that is dedicated to giving young black writers a platform (www.blackbirdbooks.africa). Thabiso holds a Bachelor of Information Science degree specialising in Publishing from the University of Pretoria.

In between juggling submissions, proofs and sales, Mahlape is a columnist: she writes regularly for The Sowetan Newspaper and has contributed to magazines such a Destiny and VISI.

As a writer and a speaker, her focus is largely on self-development, body politics and what it means to be a black woman in South Africa. She is part of the Mail & Guardian Top 200 in 2017, OkayAfrica Top 100 Women in 2020 and was awarded a Certificate of Excellence for her work by the Premier of Gauteng, David Makhura.

Q1: Tell us about your journey into the Publishing Industry- what attracted you to the industry and how did you start?

I wasn’t attracted by the industry actually; it was an accidental relationship. I taught myself how to read because I had a burning desire to be learn English after suffering some humiliation at age seven. I started with my father’s newspapers, which he brought home every day. I soon graduated to books and I don’t know or remember how I first came by those condensed Reader’s Digest editions. But I found them and found, for the first time the wonder and joy of being lost in a story and or characters.
I did not have the idyllic childhood of being read to, so I never read any age appropriate books. But from thereon my relationship with words and stories was born. In high school I would write stories in a notebook and loan it out to school mates as a library would. They’d come back worn and torn but I was happy that they had been read. When I finished high school, with my limited knowledge of what else was there I thought that the only way I could pursue that passion was through journalism. At the age of 16 I didn’t know that publishing was a career that you could enter in South Africa. This was partly due to lack of representation in books (all books were by white people). I saw bylines in newspapers by black people hence my leaning towards journalism. I didn’t however know that you could study publishing.
But just before I was to leave to study, I was recruited into an engineering programme because of my good results in maths and science and thus began the biggest nightmare of my young life. I spent four years depressed and wishing I’d die.
After failing horribly in the last year, I eventually told my dad why and luckily he too remembered who I’d wanted to be before the recruitment happened so he agreed to pay for me to go and try again at something I loved.
When I arrived at the University of Pretoria, the journalism class was full. Someone advised me to study publishing, and the rest as they say, is history.

Q2: After you finished studying, how did you get into publishing and what led you to set up Blackbird Books in 2015? What was your motivation for doing this? What do you hope to achieve with the publishing house?

I finished studying in 2008 and had 18 months doing odd jobs here and there and in July 2010 I applied for an internship programme run by the Publishers Association of South Africa (PASA). They told me I had been placed with Jacana Media but when I arrived, they knew nothing about my internship! They were very gracious however and took me on. That was a decade ago. After the internship they kept me on doing all kinds of odd jobs and I decided to give myself the job title of junior publisher. I worked in the submissions department and discovered a book My Father My Monster (by McIntosh Polela)) which I worked on with a senior publisher. The book really was quite ground-breaking and really delivered in terms of numbers.
Asa junior publisher I spent a lot of time in commissioning meetings with only white people who were able to name drop lots of people they could approach for books. It really made me wonder whether I fit into the industry as I couldn’t contribute to those conversations. However, the best piece of advice I was given was “Contribute by saying the names of people whose stories resonate with you”. I did this and found I was able to participate much more actively.
I soon gave myself the job title of “Publisher” and by 2013-2014 I reached a ceiling quite quickly with my career. A few books in I had already published a book that won the biggest book award in the country at that time, and I was already feeling like what’s next? I knew I deserved a higher salary, but because the company couldn’t pay me what I wanted I reduced my hours to 3 days a week and set up a consultancy business. In 2015, I then used the consultancy business to set up a JV imprint with Jacana and we called it Blackbird Books. I really welcomed this opportunity with both hands especially because it meant I could publish just the stories I wanted to publish and that black writers would have a platform dedicated just for them. This arrangement worked for 4 years but in the end we had very different views on how BlackBird could really be a different way of publishing and in April 2019 we realised it was the end of the road for the JV and that I would have a year-long exit plan. April 2020 came around very quickly and before I knew it, we were independent with the freedom to try new things.
Now that I am independent, I want to turn this into THE literary gateway into Africa. What I mean by this is that in Frankfurt Book Fair there were lots of people loozzking for African writers, but the successful ones usually had an element of Northern influence ie people leaving Africa to go to the UK/USA. My vision for this publishing house is that Africans need to define and be settled with what African content is. It will be a publisher where authors are not asked to confirm or shy away from ideas because they were not palatable to someone who was not in Africa. It will be African stories by Africans and for Africans.

Q3: What challenges have you had to overcome in your career?

Being spoken down to, by a lot of the people in the industry and within the company that I worked for. What was hugely frustrating was the need to always need to justify my reasons for all of my decisions when my counterparts didn’t have to.
A huge challenge now is to be publishing for a market that is largely still trying to find itself in as far as books and reading are concerned, after being ignored for so long. Representation has many layers, and we are a very diverse country with 11 official languages and we need many black publishers to really cater for the market. The black readership is not homogenous.
But perhaps the most painful challenge I’ve faced is to have mistakes threaten your career when others can just glide past theirs.

Q4: Have you had any role models that have inspired you on your publishing journey?

Toni Morrison. I realised that I sit in a place where I can do for South African black writers what she did for Americans. And because I really want to be able to write, and hope that one day I can be able to retire well in time before my mind leaves me and write, just like her.
I have had other people that inspired me since that initial inspiration but hers was most definitive.

Q5: What are you most proud of in your career so far?

Mostly, staying in it, when it is so hard with very little returns.
But I am most proud of the writers whose careers I have been able to help start, the confidence my ‘yes’ has given them to soar. This really warms my heart on days when the spreadsheets are more red than black, like now.

Q6: What is the environment like for Women in Publishing in South Africa? Are there any programmes or initiatives that support women in the publishing sector to get ahead?

Even though the face of every day publishing is women, not talking about CEOs and boards, there aren’t any initiatives like that. No one has stopped to really think about how we give women more leadership positions and strengthen and grow their careers. If there is, I am not aware. And of course, the Government Ministry (Arts, Sports and Culture) under which we are lumped seldom ever has the word publishing in any of their communication about the arts.

Q7: How has the environment for black writers changed in South Africa over the last 5 years since you started Blackbird Books?

This is weird to answer so I am going to borrow from someone.
“BlackBird Books has broadened the space for black narratives and experiences. It has given a voice to those whose life’s journey can impact broader society.” – Redi Tlhabi, broadcaster, journalist and author.
I do believe that the presence of Blackbird Books and my visibility of Thabiso Mahlape as a publisher has encouraged a new wave of literary interest in the country. We have seen more book-clubs and a wave of self-published authors because this platform created an energy that could be tapped into.

Q8: You are a writer and speaker yourself, what are you passionate about when it comes to writing and speaking?

I write about my life a lot. My dad doesn’t always enjoy it because unpacking my issues means delving into a lot of our shared history as a family. But he is particularly proud when I tackle misogyny and call it out. I don’t think he particularly wants any of us (3 daughters) to get married and every time I take it on I think it comforts him knowing I would never allow a man to treat me as anything else but what he brought me up to be.
Mental health, women and society are generally my interest.

Q9: What do you think of the PublisHer initiative?

From the minute I met Bodour (Al Qasimi, IPA Vice-President and Founder of PublisHer) I had renewed hope of what support can look like. I am especially proud and supportive of the platform because I have met and seen her heart. Sometimes people start things because they tick boxes, this is not one of them.

Q10: How do you think we can encourage and support more women into senior positions in the publishing industry?

I try offer my ear and expertise where I can.
I hope to be able to grow some pushing women leaders in my own company, so if you know anyone keen on investing in a small African press, let me know.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Yumiko Hoshiba

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Yumiko Hoshiba is a graduate of Ochanomizu Women’s University, a national university in Tokyo, Japan, with a cognitive psychology degree. After graduation from university, she worked as an editor at one of the famous magazine publishers in Japan. In 1985, Hoshiba co-founded the publishing company Discover 21 Inc., in Tokyo. Since then, she had been the president of the company, overseeing its management and operation until the end of 2019. She now runs a new start-up publishing company called “Hoshiba & Company”.

In 2013, Hoshiba was elected to become a board member of JBPA (Japan Book Publishers Association) and is now the vice president of its international committee. She was the first and only female board member of JBPA, representing the voice of female readers in Japan. She has also been active in promoting Japanese publishing industry both inside and outside of Japan and is a member of the IPA Executive Committee.

Question 1: At university you studied cognitive psychology – what led you to get into publishing? Why did you decide to become an editor?

In Japan, when I graduated from university, it was common for women to become a full-time housewife after giving birth to their first child. The publishing industry and the civil service (including teachers) were some of the only workplaces in which a woman could work for a lifetime. I entered and passed the examinations for national government officials and for the teacher recruitment. At the same time, I also succeeded in the interviews for a magazine publishing company. There were many female students who wanted to be editors in the publishing industry, especially for fashion magazines so the competition was much much higher than for any other companies. I was proud to have succeeded and therefore decided to join the publishing company. Additionally, I didn’t like the idea of being bound by the rules that governed the life of a civil servant, I was more attracted by the idea that I would be living a freer and more flexible life.

Question 2: In 1985 you co-founded your own publishing company – what inspired you to do this? How did you get started and what was your initial publishing programme?

There was someone who funded me to start a publishing company, and the timing coincided with my thinking that I wanted to edit books, not magazines. I started from scratch, so I didn’t know any authors who would write for us, therefore produced so called “gift books” by translating popular books from the United States. Following on from that, based on feedback from readers, I published a lot of books on the words of love and the words that would make the readers feel good when they read them. They became huge hits.

Question 3: How did you manage to build up the company? What challenges did you face?

How I managed to build up the company;
1) We cultivated bookstores that dealt directly with us and managed to work with the top 5,000 bookstores (out of 12,000) as our customers. We created a unique customer management system for that purpose.
(2) Continuing to produce original books and attractive authors that sell well at a bookstore that makes them want to trade with us.
(3) Actively worked on branding and public relations activities such as working on the media, utilizing social media, and forming fan clubs.

The challenges I encountered:
In Japan, there are two major distributors called agents, but unlike those of other countries, they play a role of industry banking in a sense. They have the right to decide what and how many copies to deliver to which store; and own all the data on returns and sales. There is a huge disparity for the trading conditions and the settlement terms determined not by the current sales volume of the publisher but by previous vested interests. New small publishers with no connections are basically denied the deal. Then, after a short period of direct trading with bookstores, you will finally gain a degree of credibility and are allowed to trade through them, but with the most disadvantageous conditions.

Because I felt repulsed by this unfair old system, I refused to deal with the agencies after we grew bigger and more successful, and continued with direct trading for a long time, but there were two major difficulties.
(1) Bookstores didn’t like it (Voucher work, accounting work, return work, etc. can be done in a batch if you go through the agency, but for direct trade with publishers, they need to carry out separate work, which increases costs and is more work for employees).
(2) Employees dislike the job of sales (although many students have aspiration to work for publishers, most are wishing to become editors)

How I overcome those challenges:
Regarding (1) We kept publishing books which sold well and gained a lot of fans. Over the course of time, there were more and more bookstores who wanted to trade with us directly.
Regarding (2) I have made various management efforts to improve and maintain the motivation of employees.

Question 4: You started another new company this year, why did you start a new company? What are your aspirations for this company?

With my previous company’s investors, I made a promise to retire at age 65. Even without the promise, I believe that once the company grows to a certain level, the company belongs to the employees, and I thought that young people should take over. If the founding president stays forever, young talent will not grow. I find it’s not attractive! However, since I am not old enough to retire, I wanted to start a new small publishing company by myself without worrying about getting in the way of young people.

Question 5: What are you most proud of in your career so far?

My proudest achievement is growing the company: we created a mechanism to directly trade with 5,000 major Japanese bookstores without going through distributors; and made us the number one publisher of this business style in Japan. We launched project after project which were so successful that other publishers imitated us; we discovered new authors and raised them in such a way that not only the (now famous) authors but also their readers thanked us. I have developed the company which many students wish to work in, not just any publishing company, but specifically for Discover 21.

Question 6: Why did you decide to get involved with the JBPA? How did you find the environment there? What are you hoping to achieve there?

Just as Google was about to gather information about books and Amazon was about to start e-books, I entered the JBPA. Since various changes are coming to the publishing world, I thought it would be necessary to collaborate with other publishers.

I was elected to be a director a few years after joining JBPA. I was the first female director in JBPA’s more than 60-year history. This is because the JBPA’s membership is limited to the presidents of publishing companies, and of the 1,000 Japanese publishers, there were only a few female presidents. It may be a little more now.

While my company has had a stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair for more than 10 years, I was resentful at the low Japanese presence there and at the JBPA, I called on other publishers to exhibit as well, and to make their attendance more proactive. I encouraged them to sell their rights overseas and achieved some results. Because of these achievements, I was appointed as the Japanese member of the IPA’s EC.

Question 7: You are also now an Executive Board member of IPA, what does this mean to you?

As I hear about the expansion of education, freedom to publish, and protection of intellectual property in other countries, I am reassured of the mission and the significance of publishing. I’d especially like to contribute to the efforts around the freedom to publish in the world.

And in Japan, publishing is mainly for entertainment, centered on comics, or for the means to learn skills useful at work. I would like to turn the industry around to catch up with the international trends.

Question 8: What is the environment like for women in business in Japan? Especially female entrepreneurs? And for women in publishing? Do you feel this is changing at all?

The law for equal employment opportunities for men and women has been enforced, and the government has set a target for the ratio of women in managerial positions. The legal system for women to continue working has improved considerably over the last 30 years. However, in 2019, Japan was ranked 121st out of 153 countries surveyed in the “Gender Gap Index” (which shows the degree of gender equality around the world) announced by the World Economic Forum (WEF) every year. The government’s goal of 30% female managers in companies by 2020 has not been achieved at all, it is less than 10%. Fewer than 4% of women executives are in listed companies. In addition, the ratio of female entrepreneurs is 15%, which is also low in the world.

The same is true for the publishing world. However, it seems that women working in the Japanese publishing industry are less interested in management and career advancement than those working in companies in other fields

Most Japanese publishers are owned by founders’ family, and the position of president has been assumed to be succeeded by their sons. But recently, due to the shrinking trend of the publishing industry as a whole, small and medium-sized publishers are not succeeded by sons but by daughters. I think there will be more and more cases of daughters inheriting publishing companies. In addition, when it comes to small and medium-sized publishers, there are aspects similar to being self-employed. I feel that it is a relatively good job for women to develop their talents without having to adapt to a male dominant society.

Furthermore, the number of female authors in business and utility books is increasing. The number of female readers is also increasing. Various walls in distribution are being destroyed. I think it’s a good time for Japanese women to build their own publishing companies.

Question 9: Do you know of any programmes or initiatives to support female leaders and entrepreneurs in publishing in Japan?

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any. However, there is a voluntary group of women working in the publishing world, mainly sales staff who hold a get-together once a year. I participated only once. At that time, more than 100 people were gathering.

Question 10: What do you think of the PublisHer initiative? How can it help you? What can you contribute? How can it help other female publishers in Japan?

I think the network is a great attempt to support women in publishing around the world and thanks Bodour Al Qasimi for doing this. I think that if you organize regular online meetings and Facebook groups that any woman working in the publishing world can join, I will encourage all Japanese women in that world to speak out and participate. And if you would have a real meeting or party in Frankfurt or so, some of them will be able to join and make friends in the world publishing society. That would be great.

The first step would be to spread this newsletter and post it with Google translations.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Alma Causevic Klemencic

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

ALMA ČAUŠEVIĆ KLEMENČIČ, B.Sc. in Cultural Studies and B.Sc. in Cultural Anthropology, is a manager in the field of culture. In 2009 and 2010, she worked as an independent researcher in cultural anthropology. In 2010, she participated in the organization and execution of the World Literatures Fabula festival that was carried out in the framework of the World Book Capital Ljubljana. From 2011 to 2013, she was Executive Producer and Assistant Director responsible for the management and implementation of the Maribor 2012 – European Capital of Culture project. Since 2013, she has been employed at Beletrina Academic Press, one of the most ambitious and innovative Slovenian publishing houses, where she is currently serving in the position of Executive CEO. She is also a Council member of Cankarjev dom, the largest cultural establishment in Slovenia and a member of Managers’ Association of Slovenia, which listed her as one of the top 3 young Slovenian managers of 2021.

How did you enter the publishing industry? Did you always want to work in publishing? How did your studies on cultural anthropology lead you to books?

I never thought I was going to work in publishing. I was always close to the cultural world, going to and organising cultural events since I was a teenager, but then it was by chance I studied anthropology and cultural studies which gave me a good background into what culture is and what it means for society. At that point, I thought I’d stay and work in academia and research but I ended up helping organise the World Literatures Fabula festival, the main festival of the UNESCO World Book Capital Ljubljana 2010 programme. It seemed like an interesting and rewarding job suited to my skills as a born organiser. As I got more involved, I began to really enjoy it, including activities such as applying for funds and getting involved in European projects. I think for me, it is more exciting than academia would have been.

I then gained further experience by working extensively in dance, theatre, and other cultural institutions. However, the real breaking point for my career was when I received an invite to join the Maribor 2012 European Capital of Culture project as the head of production. At the Capital of Culture project, I worked with 2 colleagues who had also founded Beletrina Academic Press 25 years ago as a student initiative. The student movement was very powerful at this time of independence, with funds being given to mobilise young people with various programmes. They invited me to join them to strategically re-position Beletrina in the publishing world.

The different experiences we gained over time and the learnings from the projects and collaborations helped us think about publishing in a new way.

Your early career saw you in a Festival role for books and publishing – what did that experience teach you about the industry?

This experience was essential in giving me perspective on how important it is for people to see, hear and meet the authors. Also, because you need to know and understand the side of an author and how different authors prefer to operate. It allowed me to understand the value of the publishing world as a form of entertainment, as well as giving emotions and allowing us to step into another world.

Your next role was a broader role around the European Capital of Culture – what role did books play in this programme and in your role?

We had a literary programme supporting different producers and publishing houses as well as curating and hosting literary events. We hosted the main interviews and events with famous topical thinkers and supported these events with a book, aiming to capture and give longevity to the event – in the same way video does nowadays.

The programme also supported new publishing imprints and brands giving the European Capital of Culture a legacy. Finally, combining together different fields of culture was interesting and made it successful. It gave different visions of what you can do with books and how to rethink publishing. There are so many choices and ways to play with publishing and it made me realise that we need to be bolder in this industry.

You finally joined a publishing house in 2013, tell us about Beletrina Academic Press. What do you enjoy about the industry?

We mainly publish fiction but we also have books in the field of humanities. We publish predominantly Slovenian authors, both known and unknown, and are also doing a lot of experimenting with our authors. We recently had a manuscript from a man with a criminal past; his writing is fabulous and the subject matter can be influential. Our aim is to spark the imagination of authors and not just what they are used to.

Two years ago, we launched a sub brand – Classical Beletrina – publishing works of world classics with new translations, new imagery, new promotion. It has been around 30 years since Slovenian publishing houses did classics and this has proven to be a good business decision and opportunity. This year we have another new brand, Star Beletrina, focused on 5 new children classics per year over 5 years.

We are very focused on book production and on keeping high standards of quality. It has been difficult to find a supplier to work with that can give us the quality that we demand. Right now, we do our print in Slovenia, but also abroad.

Nearly a decade ago, we launched a first digital platform for Slovenian e-books called Biblos. The platform was set up in collaboration with all Slovenian public libraries and major Slovenian publishing houses for the purpose of setting up an e-lending system, which functions as a national e-lending system used in Slovenian public libraries.

What I enjoy most about publishing is the mash up of 2 worlds; the business world including products, strategies, knowledge in management, marketing, etc., together with the softer side, events, authors ,and culture. I love the challenge and opportunity of connecting with other sectors – knowing that everything starts with a story but there is a codex of environments involved – it has a lot of history that is differently accepted in different minds. There is mash up of classic, new, business and culture all in one industry.

How would you describe the Slovenian publishing industry today? What are the challenges and opportunities?

The industry today is certainly shrinking compared to the times during independence when it had huge importance, but in the new world of the internet, etc., the sector hasn’t really kept up. Lots of publishers closed their doors. However, I am optimistic and know that books play an integral role in people’s lives and the industry has the potential to become bigger. People have gone back to reading all kinds of books.

Being a small industry like Slovenia, we all know each other and what our focuses are. We can see how new publishers and new digital services can be launched. It is calm and stable right now but could be disrupted – it’s an adventure.

You also have another role as a council member of Cankarjev dom – what does this organisation do and how does it fit in with your day job?

This is the biggest cultural institution in Slovenia, including owning the biggest halls in Slovenia for events, protocol activities and bigger cultural activities. This gives me the opportunity to get inside understanding and influencing national policy. Having worked a lot with public institutions through my previous roles, I’ve learnt to value the insight into how the national sector functions and what the role of literature plays in this. This role is very helpful for the strategic direction of the publishing company.

What is the proudest moment of your career?

I am very proud that I managed the challenge of producing Maribor 2012 – European Capital of Culture project successfully.

What challenges have you faced in your career?

I have faced many challenges, but the ones I most remember are connected with people. One of the biggest challenges I faced was learning how to let go “over-controlling” and trust people that they will do their work – and that is and will be enough. By doing that, I have learnt how to enjoy the things I do.

What is the landscape for female leaders in publishing in Slovenia?

I believe it is quite good, or rather, I refuse to think, live, and act differently.

What does the future hold for you?

I do not know the answer. But I truly hope that good, interesting, and innovative people will be by my side.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Sonia Draga

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Sonia Draga is a true Publishing Entrepreneur – the Founder and Owner of Sonia Draga Publishing Group which she established in 2000. It quickly became one of the biggest publishing houses in Poland, specializing in contemporary fiction, biographies, reportage and popular science, publishing around 200 new titles per year. The Group owns 4 bookstores, 3 of which have cafes hosting literary events. The Group also has 4 imprints – a Children’s publishing house called Debit and a graphic novels imprint – NonStop Comics, a YA fiction brand Mlody Books and a non-fiction brand Post Factum.

As well as running the Publishing Group, Sonia is an author, translator, TV hostess and works tirelessly on behalf of the industry where she is President of the Literary Fiction Section of the Polish Book Chamber. She is involved in many activities promoting Reading for Pleasure. She is also a member of the board at the Book Fair Ltd. – the company that organizes major book fairs in Warsaw, Gdynia, Szczecin and Katowice.

1) How did you get into publishing and what attracted to you the industry?

I was born and brought up in Silesia and graduated from the University of Economy in Katowice.
My path to the publishing sector was rather unusual, before starting in the publishing industry I was distributing car audio equipment and the first book I published (and actually translated and did the DTP myself) was CAR STEREO COOKBOOK, a handbook I treat as an essential one to boost the sales of the car audio equipment I was distributing. It was very exhausting as I had to work on the translation during the night (literally!) whilst my days were spent managing the publishing house. I was also looking after my son who was 7 years old at the time. When I saw the result – a physical book – I was so happy that I recalled my everlasting love for books and decided to try with a fiction book. The industry was very difficult as a field for business opportunities, but I was passionate about the books and persistent. It took 2 years before I finally saw positive results.

2) Your publishing house has grown significantly over the last 20 years. What plans do you have for the future?

I have invested a lot in recent years – in the new imprints and in the bookstores – so I am fully focused on these projects, to “nurture” them, so that they become profitable. As soon as it is possible, we plan to organise lots events in our bookstores with a range interesting people.

I have also been asked to do lectures on publishing at the local university, so I may put some focus on academic activities.

But to be honest, it is so difficult now to talk about future plans. For the moment, my concerns are more about immediate future. I hope we will have an opportunity to talk again after the contagion is over and the world goes back to normal life – then my mind should think more properly about future…

3) What are your proudest moments of your career?

I have 2 that really stand out. In 2012 Sonia Draga Publishing was chosen the Best Publisher of the year 2012. In 2015 I was awarded the National Order of Merit by the President of France for distinguished achievements in promotion of French literature.

4) What challenges have you encountered in your career so far?

I think I face challenges almost every year in running my business – when I had to change my distribution partners, move the warehouses – but one was definitely 17 years ago when I was preparing the Polish edition of the book written by the author not much known until March 30th2003, when his latest book at that moment “Da Vinci Code”, became a world phenomenon.
The next challenge was publishing the books by EL James – the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series. We sold over 5 million copies of different editions of the books written by just these two authors, so it was a huge operational challenge.

5) As well as running your publishing group, you have a career as an author, translator, tv hostess, photographer and interpreter – tell us more about this activity?

I am especially keen on foreign languages and apart from Polish speak English, French, Italian, Spanish and Swedish. I have translated several books from English including: “Car Stereo Cookbook” by Mark Rumreich, “Good in Bed” by Jennifer Weiner, “The Polar Express” by Chris van Allsburg, “Mozart Finds Melody” by Stephen Constanza, and my most recent one is “In the time of contagion” by Paolo Giordano.
I love travelling and photography as well and have authored several books travel books illustrated with my own photographs: “Mexico – a country of contrasts”, “South Africa – a country of surprises” and an album with own photographs “World in My Camera”. I am also a regular contributor of articles to a Polish literary magazine. In the past I have been a hostess for the TV programme on books “Silesia reads”.

6) Which books are you most proud of publishing?

There are so many books I am proud of! I need to start with “Angels and Demons” by Dan Brown (that was the first book of his that we published). I bought that book together with “Da Vince Code” six months before the premiere of the second one, based on my own intuition. As such, I was named one of the “early believers”, what obviously makes me proud. Then I must mention “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides, one of the best literary books we’ve published and that we need to keep reprinting.

The “My Brilliant Friend” tetralogy by Elena Ferrante, a real jewel in the publishing world. The books by Jussi Adler-Olse which took me 2 years to negotiate with the agent and the previous Polish publisher, who is of academic profile and thus was not very successful with Jussi’s thrillers. I fell in love with them and decided not to give up in those complicated negotiations.

There are more stories like that – also with some of our children books, and graphic novels, and non-fiction titles, but I am trying to be concise…

7) Who do you admire in the publishing industry? Who are your role models?

Bodour Al Qasimi is one of such persons – she is at the head of not only publishing company, but many international initiatives, coming from the country where men have better opportunities to reign.

8) What is the situation for women in publishing in Poland?

The situation for women in publishing is improving, however very slowly. At least it is no longer surprising to see a woman at the head of a bigger company, but men still dominate the top positions. But I must admit that 20 years when I started in this industry, I had to fight hard to show my competence – it was like that for the next 12-15 years. Only in the last few years have we seen men pay respect to the women at the positions in our industry. The biggest bookstore chain has been run successfully by a lady since 2015, so that has been proof that women like her can manage this kind of venture. Actually, she is another person in the industry I admire.

9) You are active within the Polish Book Chamber – do they have any programmes that support and promote women in publishing?

No, unfortunately there are no such programs available.

10) What are your views on the Global PublisHer network and how do you think it can help and support women in publishing?

I think this is a great initiative and I do hope it could be of help to women in publishing around the world. I don’t know yet what could work – but any conferences, any possibilities to exchange ideas will be always helpful. The world is still run by men, so we, women, have to connect and support ourselves!

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Maria Pallante

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Maria Pallante is the President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers (AAP), after building up a duel career as both an eminent copyright lawyer and seasoned executive, including working for the Guggenheim art museums for nearly a decade and serving at the helm of the US Copyright Office for six years. She has delivered and published a number of major lectures, including “The Next Great Copyright Act” at Columbia University and “I am the Captain Now: Resisting Piracy and Contortion in the Copyright Marketplace” at the University of Wisconsin.

1. How did you come into the field of law? What was your driver for your career and did any women inspire you?

I haven’t thought about this in a long time! I think there were two main drivers, really. I was attracted to the empowerment that the profession affords, meaning that I like understanding the legal frameworks and some of the specific laws—and gaps in those laws— that underpin the world we live in. And I also wanted a flexible career path, as I knew early on that I was equally attracted to the hands-on creativity that business environments offer, where in addition to advising leaders, I could also actively lead. It is always more fun to be at the table!
As I developed a particular passion for copyright law, I was very fortunate to hold both law and business positions within super interesting organizations, such as counsel and assistant director of the Authors Guild, counsel and licensing (branding) lead for the global Guggenheim network, policy head and executive officer of the Copyright Office, and now as AAP’s CEO where I use both my legal and business skills daily.
Stepping back a bit more, I attended a small college that had been founded by women and which was still highly supportive of women when I was there, decades after it had become co-ed. Out of great respect for that legacy and environment, I thought I might pursue an academic life. But a professor of mine pointed out that as someone more interested in politics and leading change as student government president, I was possibly a little too impatient for the life of a scholar and might actually be happier in law school. That moment seems funny to me now because it was so obviously true.
As a law student, I really gravitated to human rights issues, which led me to constitutional issues, which led me to the rights of individuals, which led me to a great respect for the importance of knowledge and creative expression. I took every class I could find on both copyright law and free expression. I immediately loved the complementary relationship of these two areas and how they make so many creative businesses— music, movies, and art—possible. But my first interest has always been books, because stories are at the heart of human creativity. As a child, I used to read under the covers with a flashlight.
Even in law school I started to think more robustly about business and sought out a non-legal internship at Simon & Schuster, which had a DC office at the time. But then I wrote a paper on some legal issues in the publishing industry which helped me meet a local lawyer and literary agent named Gail Ross, who in turn introduced me to the Authors Guild in New York, where I was fortunate to become a staff attorney early in my career, just as the never-apologetic change-maker Erica Jong was elected President of the then-ever-so-slightly-stuffy Guild council. Copyright has always been great for networking!

2. How was the environment for women in the legal profession when you started? Did it change as you went through your career?

As a young lawyer, I can’t say that I was focused on looking around at the top of the profession and asking why there weren’t more female judges or law firm partners, as I was more focused on trying to distill my own interests and find a paying path into copyright law. I also took an unusual path, against all advice I should say, by foregoing the traditional training grounds of a big law firm, so I missed out on some of the subtle and maybe not so subtle gender politics of early career life that some of my friends experienced.
I will say that when I became a mother, I did not have some of the flexible tools that are available now to both men and women. I remember that my husband, who was and is very hands on as a dad, could not count on understanding or support at work to help with pediatrician visits or other childcare needs, which in turn affected me as a working mother. For context, my kids are now 21 and 23, and I think that things have greatly improved. I am glad to see women and men openly and confidently assert their family related leave requests.

3. What attracted you to the publishing industry and the role as President and CEO of the AAP?

Everything! I get to use my legal expertise to advance an industry that prioritizes creativity, education, democracy, and scientific progress. I have a platform by which to lead, an extremely talented staff, a membership I am honored to represent, and a portfolio that is intellectually fascinating. AAP also has a proud history of having a hands-on Board of Directors comprised of CEOs from all parts of the industry. I was attracted at the outset by this energy and commitment, and I have learned a ton from working closely with so many leaders. As a Board, we discuss many episodic events, but the guiding star is always about leading for the long-term benefit of the entire industry and the greater publishing ecosystem. I am proud to say that we have accomplished a great deal together in the past few years, making our policy work more impactful and our day-to-day operations more modern and efficient.

4. What are your impressions of women in publishing in the US?

They are incredible! Publishing is not a highly visible profession, meaning that for both women and men much of the culture is to stay behind the scenes, where one can focus on promoting authors or research or educators and students. But more to the point, U.S. publishing depends on women at every level and, as an industry, we do have a higher ratio of women in managerial positions than many other sectors. We are proud of this because it means that both women and men are committed to promoting qualified women to leadership positions. Of course, there is always more to do.

5. How is the AAP supporting women in publishing?

AAP’s primary role is to support the needs of its member companies and in this work many of our touch points are with women. My team and I work routinely with female CEOs, lawyers, and communications professionals, for example.
More precisely, I have been working with my Board executive committee to identify more female candidates for the Board. When I first joined AAP, we had three women on the Board out of twenty; now we have six and will soon have seven. These exercises are holistic in that the entire Board works together to achieve them, but they take time because gender isn’t the only balancing consideration.
At the staff level, we are predominantly female which includes minority women, but we are always looking for additional ways to diversify and challenge our small team. Small offices allow people of all professional levels, even interns, to have a lot of robust input and access to interesting work, but the scale is naturally limiting. For us it is super helpful to have such a range of member companies, by size and sector, because they are like an extension of our team—we get to leverage their brain power and experiences. As a CEO, I am also aware of my purchase power, and like to challenge firms and consultants to put together diversely qualified teams when competing for work.

6. Who motivates and inspires you now? Do you have any role models of your own you admire?

I like leaders who are passionate about their jobs but rigorous and clear-eyed about getting to the right answer, if that makes sense. I tend to avoid self-impressed personalities and ideologues because the world is complex and needs complex thinkers who are sufficiently aware and respectful of other people.
I am amazed by young global leaders like Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg who have such clear and selfless objectives. In the United States, I greatly admire Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, for their extremely impressive intellectual abilities and inspiring public examples of female leadership. I especially love that RBG is both a brilliant lawyer and a pop culture icon. At my daughter’s suggestion have been reading and re-reading Rebecca Solnit’s books; she is such a precise thinker and eloquent storyteller.
I have always admired the talents of authors, songwriters, filmmakers, and artists—how they inform and inspire us while also acting as catalysts for so many businesses. As the head of the Copyright Office, I was dedicated to giving them a voice within the greater copyright debates. Authors should have meaningful rights and remedies, including to the small transactions that sustain so many of them, and should not have to spend their days warding off an endless tsunami of online piracy. I think that writers, musicians, artists, and filmmakers are all part of the public interest equation that copyright propels.

7. What advice would you give to women?

The usual high-level advice is always true. Learn to listen to yourself, seek out women and men you think you can learn from, don’t be afraid to ask for advice, and don’t wait for a perfect time to seek, accept, or create a promotional opportunity or project. There is no perfect time. If you are a manager, I would say be especially sensitive to how women contribute to meetings and objectives, recognizing that female styles are sometimes understated.
I would also say that natural interests have a way of finding you, so don’t worry that you will get “off track” by trying new things. For example, I considered a publishing career early on, but pursued law and policy instead. Now, as the head of AAP, I am contributing to publishing in the precise manner that makes sense for me but one I could never have predicted. And embrace the job you are in! When I worked at the Guggenheim, the entire atmosphere of contemporary art and iconic architecture was intellectually manic, with my colleagues unapologetically looking for projects across the globe that had never been done before. By contrast, in government policy making, the work ethic is very comprehensive and deliberative and progress is incremental. Both experiences were invaluable to me.

8. Why do you think the PublisHer network is important?

The PublishHER network is fantastic! In a very short time, it has ramped up the otherwise happenstance way in which we meet other professional women during our hectic lives. PublisHER events have been disarmingly simple—dinners and discussions about and amongst women in publishing—but they have been a smash success thanks to the leadership and global perspective of my friend Bodour Al Qasimi. Last year, on behalf of AAP, I was very happy to join forces with Bodour to co-host the founding PublisHER event in London. The network is one way to give life to fresh ideas and, where needed, change. I think it will be a force for new business collaborations across continents.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Mitia Osman

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Mitia is a business graduate and has completed the Columbia Publishing Course at Oxford. She holds the position of Executive Director at Agamee Prakashani, a leading publishing company in Bangladesh that specializes in both fiction and non-fiction titles. Mitia founded Mayurpankhi, a children’s book publishing company, in 2014 with a catalogue that features a vibrant collection of captivating and exciting books tailored for the new generation of young readers in Bangladesh. The company has been honored with awards twice for publishing the highest number of quality books for children in the country.

Mitia’s dedication to the publishing industry has led her to participate as a guest, fellow, and delegate in numerous international publishing events, conferences, and book fairs across the globe. She actively engages in these platforms to exchange ideas, collaborate with industry professionals, and contribute to the growth and development of children’s literature on an international scale.

1. What inspired you to get into publishing? Did you grow up in a house surrounded by books?

My passion for publishing was deeply influenced by my father, Osman Gani, who is the owner of Agamee Prakashani, one of the largest publishing houses in Bangladesh. Growing up in a family that cherished books, I was surrounded by a rich literary environment that fostered my love for reading from a very young age. Our home was frequented by prominent authors and artists who were not distant celebrities, but rather familiar faces and mentors. At the time, I had no understanding of their social and literary stature, as they were simply my ‘uncles’ or ‘aunties.’

As I progressed through my education, I naturally gravitated towards assisting my father in the publishing industry. It was during this period that I developed a keen interest in the intricacies of bookmaking. Witnessing the transformation of a raw manuscript into a polished book, observing the craftsmanship involved in creating captivating covers, exploring various layouts and designs, and appreciating the artistic elements such as illustrations and binding techniques all fascinated me. I found myself captivated by the exceptional work and the tremendous effort that goes into each aspect of the publishing process.

2. You currently work in 2 publishing companies, one specializing in children’s books. Why did you decide to launch your own children’s publishing company and how do you split your time between them?

I decided to launch my own children’s publishing company due to my passion for children’s books, which were not extensively published by my father’s company specializing in literary fiction and non-fiction. The allure of picture books, with their ability to transport readers to magical worlds, deeply fascinated me. Their simplicity and timeless appeal inspired me to embark on this venture.

Despite facing skepticism from others who questioned the need for another publishing house, I remained steadfast in my vision. At the age of 25, I chose to pursue my dream of establishing a children’s publishing company rather than conforming to societal expectations. This decision was met with mixed reactions, including doubts from some family members who had long awaited news of my marriage.

However, my unwavering determination and inspiring dream propelled me forward. I recognized the challenges of simultaneously managing both my own publishing company and my involvement in my father’s business. Thankfully, I have the support of dedicated colleagues in both organizations, which lightens the load.

While my father continues to lead our trade publishing company, Agamee Prakashani, I take charge of the foreign rights section, allowing me to focus primarily on my children’s publishing venture. This focus includes a strong emphasis on publishing Bengali picture books, bringing the magic of storytelling to young readers in their native language.

3. How is the publishing industry in Bangladesh today? Where do your companies fit into the landscape?

The publishing industry in Bangladesh today is indeed smaller in scale compared to what one might envision based on the country’s population. While Bangladesh has a significant population, the publishing industry is still developing and growing. It faces various challenges, including limited resources, infrastructure, and distribution networks.

In this landscape, my companies play a significant role. Agamee Prakashani holds a prominent position as one of the largest publishing houses in Bangladesh. It has a strong presence and reputation within the local market, catering to readers interested in these genres.

On the other hand, Mayurpankhi fills a unique niche. By focusing on children’s books, particularly Bengali picture books, we aim to contribute to the growth of children’s literature in Bangladesh. We strive to provide quality content and engaging stories that resonate with young readers, nurturing their love for reading from an early age. Our company brings a fresh perspective and innovative ideas to the local publishing scene, aiming to inspire and captivate young minds.
In 2022, both our publishing houses received prestigious awards from the Bangla Academy, the country’s apex body to promote literature, for publishing the highest number of quality books for both general readers and children.

While the overall publishing industry in Bangladesh may be relatively small, our companies are working diligently to expand its horizons. We seek to enrich the literary landscape by promoting diverse voices, encouraging reading habits, and contributing to the cultural development of the country. As we participate in international book fairs, we hope to showcase the unique offerings of the Bangladeshi publishing industry and foster collaborations that can further elevate the reach and impact of our works globally.

4. You are keen on creating a reading for pleasure culture – what is the current situation for kids’ reading, and can you see it improving?

The current situation for kids’ reading in Bangladesh presents a mixed picture. Limited access to books, particularly in underserved areas and among disadvantaged communities, poses a significant challenge. Additionally, the prevalence of digital entertainment and distractions competes with traditional reading habits.

Despite these obstacles, efforts are underway to improve the situation. Various organizations, including publishers, educators, and community groups, are actively promoting reading among children through book donation drives, mobile libraries, and reading campaigns.

While challenges persist, there is optimism for the future. By addressing issues of book accessibility, implementing reading initiatives, and embracing technology, we can foster a reading culture that resonates with children and instills a lifelong love for books.

5. What are your plans and aspirations for future publishing?

My future plans and aspirations for publishing center around pushing the boundaries of creativity, diversity, and inclusivity in children’s literature in Bangladesh. I aim to discover and nurture talented emerging authors and illustrators, providing them with a platform to showcase their unique voices and perspectives. Embracing technology, I plan to explore new formats and interactive storytelling methods while preserving the enchantment of printed books. Ultimately, my goal is to have a lasting positive impact on children’s lives, fostering a lifelong love for reading and empowering the next generation to shape their hearts, minds, and imaginations through the power of stories.

6. What are you most proud of in your career so far?

In my career as a children’s book publisher, my greatest source of pride lies in the positive impact I have made on the lives of young readers. Through carefully curating and publishing captivating children’s literature, I have nurtured a love for reading and learning in numerous children. It brings me immense joy to know that I have played a part in sparking their imagination, expanding their knowledge, and shaping their worldview.

Moreover, I take pride in the collaborative relationships I have developed with talented authors, illustrators, translators, and the publishing team. Together, we have brought these stories to life, combining our creative efforts to create meaningful and engaging books for children. Witnessing the growth and success of the authors and illustrators I have worked with fills me with a deep sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.

Ultimately, knowing that I have made a difference in the lives of young readers and contributed to their literary journey is what I cherish the most in my career as a children’s book publisher.

7. What have you learnt from travelling around international publishing events?

Traveling around international publishing events has been a tremendous learning experience for me. Firstly, it has exposed me to the global nature of the publishing industry and the diverse perspectives and approaches that exist in different parts of the world. Interacting with publishers, authors, agents and other publishing professionals from various countries has helped me understand the nuances and cultural influences that shape the publishing landscape.

One important lesson I’ve learned is the significance of collaboration and networking in the publishing world. I have made lots of friends from different parts of the world. Attending these events has provided me with opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals, forge valuable relationships, and exchange ideas. I have witnessed the power of collaboration in fostering innovation, sharing best practices, and navigating the evolving trends and challenges of the industry.

Furthermore, traveling to these events has deepened my understanding of the global market and the importance of cultural sensitivity. Each region has its unique literary traditions, market dynamics, and reader preferences.

These experiences have reinforced the need for adaptability and embracing change in the publishing industry. Technology advancements, evolving reader habits, and market shifts require publishers to be nimble and open to experimentation. Witnessing firsthand the innovations and strategies employed by publishers around the world has taught me the importance of staying adaptable and embracing new approaches.

8. Are there many women in publishing in Bangladesh, and if so, what is the situation like for women in senior positions?

Regrettably, the publishing industry in Bangladesh is still largely dominated by men. The majority of publishing houses are owned and operated by men, creating a gender imbalance within the industry. While there has been a gradual improvement in the situation for women working in publishing, progress has been slow.

Reflecting on my own experience, when I initially entered the industry 15 years ago, there were only a handful of women working in publishing. Due to the nature of the family business, I was among the few women involved. However, in recent years, I have observed a slight increase in the number of women joining the industry, but it is still a relatively small proportion. The presence of women in senior positions remains limited.

The underrepresentation of women in senior positions highlights the need for greater gender diversity and inclusivity within the publishing industry. Efforts should be made to create equal opportunities and empower women to take on leadership roles, allowing their voices and perspectives to shape the future of publishing in Bangladesh.

While progress is being made, there is still work to be done to achieve a more balanced and inclusive representation of women in senior positions within the publishing industry in Bangladesh.

9. What advice would you give to young women wishing to start a publishing company?

To young women starting a publishing company, my advice is to stay focused, determined, and resilient. Educate yourself about the industry, build a strong network, and seek mentorship. Develop a clear vision and differentiate yourself. Embrace technology, seek partnerships, and believe in your capabilities. Overcome obstacles with passion and purpose.

10. What motivates and interests you outside of publishing?

Outside of publishing, I am motivated and interested in various pursuits. One of my passions is traveling and exploring different cultures. Immersing myself in new environments, trying new cuisines, and connecting with people from diverse backgrounds fuels my sense of curiosity and broadens my perspective.

I also find solace and inspiration in nature. Spending time outdoors, whether it’s hiking in the mountains, walking along the beach, or simply enjoying a peaceful moment in a park, helps me recharge and find a sense of balance amidst the busyness of life.

Another area of interest for me is the arts. I derive great joy and inspiration from exploring art galleries and experiencing various forms of artistic expression. Whether it’s appreciating paintings, sculptures, photography, or attending theater performances, the arts stimulate my imagination and allow me to delve into different perspectives and narratives.

Furthermore, reading books beyond the realm of publishing is a source of intellectual stimulation for me. Exploring diverse genres, both fiction and non-fiction, expands my knowledge, deepens my understanding of the human experience, and exposes me to new ideas and viewpoints.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Renata Gorgani & Pico Floridi

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Renata Gorgani is the CEO and Publisher of Editrice Il Castoro, the publishing house she founded in 1993 along with Pico Floridi and other associates. She is also board member of the publishing houses Tunué and Sonda, and President of Libreria dei Ragazzi. She is a board member of AIE (Italian Publishers Association) and since 2020 a board member of Centro per il Libro e la Lettura (Italian Governmental Body for Book and Reading).

In September 2016, she was elected as President of La Fabbrica del Libro SpA founded by Fiera Milano and Ediser (Services Company of the Italian Editors Association). From 2005 to 2010, she conceived and directed Quantestorie, a children’s book festival in Milan.

Renata holds a degree in Modern Humanities from the University of Milan.

Pico Floridi

Pico Floridi is President of Editrice Il Castoro, the publishing house she founded in 1993 along with Renata Gorgani and other associates. She is also a board member of the publishing houses Tunué and Sonda, and Vice-President of Libreria dei Ragazzi.

After graduating in France, she worked as journalist and freelancer for the cultural section of Le Monde, and the Italian daily newspaper la Repubblica, and also as Italian correspondent for Architectural Digest.

From 2005 to 2010, she founded and directed Quantestorie, a children’s book festival in Milan. From 2010 to 2014, she was Director of the Bookshop of the National Museum of Cinema in Turin.

1. You both had different jobs before you founded your publishing house – what were your roles and why did you decide to come together and found a publishing house? Had you ever thought about publishing as a career beforehand?

Renata was press manager in a publishing house, Pico a journalist.

Pico: I had never thought of publishing as a job really, but a good chat over a really good fish soup managed to convince us both that this would be the best challenge for our future.

Renata: I was already working in the field but had never thought of running a publishing house of my own. When the opportunity came, I had no hesitation whatsoever. Building a whole new business from scratch was a fantastic prospect.

2. After some time you founded Il Castoro – focusing on children’s books – why did you decide to move into the children’s publishing sector?

We began by publishing books about film. The Castoro Cinema monograph series is still the largest ever made, with over 250 titles and every filmmaker you can think of. We also published all sorts of other cinema books and catalogues, but we soon realized that, if we really wanted to expand our business, we needed to focus on other areas. And children’s books were the choice. The market in this genre was growing fast, so we thought we could find our niche by publishing books of the highest quality, always looking for new directions, always trying to be close to children’s needs and tastes. We started with an ideal reader in mind and grew with her. We now publish all kinds of titles for all audiences, from newborn to YA and crossover, picture books, novels, graphic novels, and non-fiction.

3. You have also acquired other publishing companies and taken over the running of a bookstore in this period – is that part of a bigger strategy to expand the company?

Yes, we now have two sister companies and two bookshops for children: La Libreria dei Ragazzi in Milan, and La Libreria dei Ragazzi in Brescia.

The two publishing houses are Edizioni Sonda, for both adults and children with the main themes of ethical diets, civil rights, social inclusion, responsibility towards the environment, and technological innovation; and Tunué, whose focus is graphic novels for junior and adult readers, as well as non-fiction, comics, animation, video games, and contemporary pop culture.

We chose them because they cover two areas that are particularly valuable to us. By building a publishing group we achieved a broader vision of the book market, thus optimizing the organization and costs, as well as cultivating new ideas.

4. Renata – you are also very active on industry related activities – as a board member of the Italian Publishers Association and Centro per il Libro e la Lettura. What motivates you to undertake these activities?

Renata: Our activity is part of a broader domain, with many themes in common. I feel it is important to engage with other publishers and tackle the challenges of our industry as a cohesive community: discuss new initiatives, draw the politicians’ attention to the issues that really matter to us. It is also very important for a publishing house for children to work on all themes linked to the promotion of readership, the relationship with schools and public libraries, and the future of bookshops.

5. What challenges have you had to face being young female entrepreneurs in the publishing sector?

Luckily, the publishing sector is populated by many incredibly clever women, but of course at the beginning it was quite hard to stand up to distributors, salespeople and chains – not to speak of biased journalists!

6. What is your view of the Italian publishing sector with regard to women in leadership? Would you like to see anything change with regard to supporting and championing women in publishing in Italy?

Italy’s situation is a mirror of what’s going on worldwide. Most of the workforce is female, and yet the big bosses are usually men. This is changing, but still too slowly.

7. Your publishing house celebrates its 30-year anniversary this year. What have been your highlights over the past 30 years? How will you be celebrating the anniversary?

Our very first early readers from Pittau and Gervais were translated from French and are still in print.

The publication of Diary of a Wimpy Kid was a turning point in our business, and in the opportunity to reach non-readers, which has always been one of our key goals. Some of our books have been translated in several languages and still are bestsellers, like Storia di Goccia e Fiocco, Il Manuale delle 50 avventure da vivere prima dei 13 anni, Io sono Zero and Nebbia.

A turning point in our journey was our strong engagement with graphic novels for kids, a resounding success from the outset. We started with Raina Telgemeier, and we are now publishing about twenty titles per year, including Italian authors and translations.

In the past few years we have published Le 15 Domande (The 15 Questions). This is our encyclopedia for today’s children, fifteen titles designed to better understand the present and imagine the future! Stem subjects, presented in the most exciting form for children in order to answer their questions, and raise many more.

8. What do the next 30 years have in store for you? Both personally and professionally!

Pico: Many more books, of course; and especially new ideas. Invention. Innovation. Captivate the reader with funny, exciting, profound stories, stories that move you in a slightly different place from where you were when you first opened the book. Expand our readers and reach the ones who never had a book to read for pleasure.

Renata: We want to understand what’s changing, we want to listen to kids. We keep looking for fresh perspectives. We are keen to innovate, to communicate the values we believe in: being open towards diversity, learning to look at the world from multiple viewpoints. Embracing the world we live in, and preparing a better future for our kids. And, of course, growing as a business!

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Felicia Low-Jimenez

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Felicia Low-Jimenez has worked in bookselling and publishing for over a decade. She is the Publisher at Difference Engine, an independent comics publisher in Singapore. She is also one half of the writing team behind the best-selling Sherlock Sam series of children’s books. She has her first published adult fantasy short story in Fish Eats Lion Redux.

1) What attracted you to get into books? First as a bookseller?

I will have to give full credit to my parents. They brought me to libraries and small family-owned second-hand book and comic store on the weekends when I was a child. It wasn’t just the act of reading that was special; it was the whole experience of going to a magical place where I could pick and choose books that was amazing. I think that led me to look for work in a bookstore and from there, I learnt a lot more about the different aspects of the book industry, which fascinated me.

2) You then set up your own publishing house – Difference Engine. Can you tell us what you publish? What was the inspiration behind the publishing company? Do you miss Bookselling?

Difference Engine is an independent publishing house based in Singapore. We are inspired by stories from Asia and are committed to publishing diverse, well-written, and beautifully illustrated comics of all genres, both print and digital. We would love to work with writers and illustrators, both new and experienced, to contribute to the growing Southeast Asian comics community. In addition to our main publishing line, Difference Engine also publishes DE Shorts, an imprint focused on self-contained stories on a wide range of social issues.
Difference Engine is part of Potato Productions, which started in 2005 as a media and publishing house. Since then, Potato has evolved into a portfolio of companies in industries ranging from digital content to education. Our founder and head, Lee Han Shih (Hans), is a huge comic book fan that had always wanted to start a comic book publishing company. He knew of me because of my work at Kinokuniya Bookstore and because, as a writer, my partner and I worked with some of his team members to run workshops for children.
I think I will always miss bookselling because of the sheer range of titles I was exposed to and the friends I made along the way. Plus, bookstores are magical places. However, I’d still like to think of myself as a bookseller now—it’s just the work that I do has changed somewhat. But in the end, I still work towards getting a story into a reader’s hands.

3) The graphic novel and manga scene is booming around the world right now. Why do you think this is?

For graphic novels (in the English language), I think social media changed a lot of things when it allowed creators who had stories that wouldn’t necessarily be a good fit for corporate superhero publishing to reach their audiences. And then publishers had no choice but to sit up and take notice because the readership for these independently created stories had a huge audience! If I’m not mistaken, it felt like the first real shift towards comics becoming more diverse and inclusive both in terms of content and creators started with stories like Lumberjanes (created by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Gus Allen, and Nate Stevenson). The creators and the comic had had a huge online following before they were traditionally published. These days, so many comic book creators get their start online first, and the traditionally publishing route comes later. The sheer depth and breadth of content available now in the comics naturally led to a rise in readership.
For manga, I think the very sharp rise in popularity came about because of the pandemic. While manga (and anime) have always been incredibly popular for people in Asia, it was parents (both in Asia and beyond) putting their kids in front of the TV (and the streaming services) during lockdown that led to so many more kids (and young adults and adults) becoming hooked on anime and then transitioning to reading manga. I had to read one of my favourite series in Mandarin when I was growing up because there weren’t any English translations, so I think the fact that manga is being translated into so many different languages now is amazing.

4) How do you manage your time as a publisher and as an author?

I get asked this question a lot, and I feel like I’m supposed to give an answer that displays how disciplined and organised I am, but to be honest, I really love what I do both as a publisher and as an author so I’m basically just working all the time. I tend to start my days early and end my days late because the mornings and nights are when it’s quiet and that’s when I get the most work done. And weekends are also usually half-filled with either catching up on work or set aside to immerse myself in something I’m writing. I am making a concerted effort to have days where I don’t feel the need to be productive though—I don’t feel it particularly healthy to never fully shut off from work or writing.

5) What is the publishing scene like in Singapore right now? Is it a thriving environment for independent publishers?

I think there’s definitely a lot more content being produced, and writers and illustrators have avenues to publish that they didn’t have just a few years ago. It’s quite exciting to see so many stories being created in Singapore and Southeast Asia. However, I think independent publishing still struggles because distribution outside of Singapore (even to the Southeast Asian region) is challenging for a variety of reasons. And that limits our market reach and size.

6) What are the biggest challenges you are facing in your career right now?

I think it’s finding enough time to do everything I want to do while still parking enough time to rest and spend time with my family and friends.

7) What are your future plans for Difference Engine?

While the pandemic years were incredibly challenging for a new publishing company, it also pushed us to diversify our skill set, and because of this, the DE team is equipped not just with traditional publishing skills, but also digital and tech knowledge as well. We learnt how to build interactive websites and develop short-form video games. Plus, we’ve brought on team members who specialise in conceptualising multimedia and interdisciplinary experiences and community building. While our core plans are rooted in publishing well-written and beautifully illustrated comics and graphic novels, we want to continue to experiment with the medium and pair it up with other forms of storytelling, and we want to take these experiences to audiences.
In 2024, we’ll be launching our first webcomic, titled Tiger Girls (written by me and illustrated by our in-house designer and illustrator Claire Low), and we’re also exploring how to use audio as part of our storytelling.

8) What has been your experience as a female setting up a publishing company in Singapore?

It was a bit frustrating in the beginning as most people thought that Difference Engine was a company I had set-up with my partner (who is well known as being a huge comic book geek and had worked in comics for many years), and would assume that he was part of the team running the business—he never was. Other than that, people would assume that my boss at Potato would be the final decision maker, and if I disagreed with something, they would say they’d go and talk to him. But to this day, Hans continues to give me a lot of freedom to make decisions and run the company the way I see fit—I really appreciate that support and the trust.

Beyond that, it’s been incredible. My team is inclusive and diverse, and we are trying to create spaces for stories that we feel need to be told by people who might not necessarily have the connections or means to tell them. It’s part of the reason why we conceptualised the DE Shorts imprint, and the first book we published under that imprint was A Drip. A Drop. A Deluge: A Period Tragicomedy by Andeasyand (Nurulhuda Izyan), which focuses on menstruating bodies.

9) What are you most proud of in your career so far? And what are you enjoying most right now?

I’ve spent almost all my career in the book industry, from being a fiction merchandiser in an international bookstore chain, to an author, and now a publisher, and I think I’m most proud of the fact I’ve been able to use my experiences to build a publishing company from scratch and continued to hold it all together during the pandemic years. I am keenly aware that I didn’t do this alone, though—Difference Engine would not be where it is if not for all my team members, past and present, and I am constantly learning from them every day.
I’m really enjoying the rise in popularity and awareness of comics and graphic novels (in English as well as in other languages) because it means that so many more stories will be created and read by audiences around the world!

10) Do you have any advice for women thinking of setting up a publishing company?

I think the best advice I can give to women who are planning to set up a publishing company is to know that you don’t have to do it alone, and you shouldn’t, because having a wide range of ideas and opinions are essential to any publishing house. I would encourage them to work with creators and build teams that share their vision, but at the same time, also challenge them to go beyond their comfort zones. Lastly, keep a lookout for publishing fellowships! I wish someone had told me this when I started Difference Engine. International fellowships are key to building a strong network of like-minded publishing professionals and friends who will help and guide you along the way.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Flavia Alves Bravin

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Flavia Alves Bravin has over 25 years’ experience in publishing and is the Head of Saber Education, in Brazil, with leading imprints and brands that are reference from K-12 to Higher Ed. and part of Cogna Group, one of the largest private educational organizations in the world, where she is also a partner.

Flavia is active within the Brazilian publishing trade associations. She is currently the Vice-President of Abrelivros (Brazilian Association for Educational Content), a Director of SNEL (in the Institutional & Technical Council for the Brazilian Union of Book Publishers) and is a former President of ABDR (Brazilian Association for Copyright). She is also a Board Member of Minha Biblioteca – a consortium of Brazilian publishers offering a digital content platform for universities.

Flavia holds a PhD from the University of Sao Paulo (FEA-USP) and has also attended the Stanford Professional Publishing Course (SPPC) at Stanford University, Leading Change for Organisational Transformations at London Business School. She teaches as a Professor in Leadership and Publishing (FIA Business School and MBA in Book Publishing).

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Gvantsa Jobava

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Gvantsa Jobava is a member of the PublisHer network and at the age of 33 already has an impressive career in publishing. Gvantsa holds 3 major offices; Editor/International Relations Manager, Intelekti Publishing/ Artanuji Publishing, Chairperson, Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association and Executive Committee member, International Publishers Association. She has managed a wealth of projects to promote the Georgian publishing and literary industry including the publishing program of the Guest of Honour at Frankfurt Book Fair (2018) and is one of the managers of Tbilisi – UNESCO World Book Capital (2021). She has participated in book fairs and fellowships programmes around the world and is a champion of women in publishing.

1. What attracted you to the publishing industry and how did you first get started?

I was born to a Georgian philologist father and English language teacher mother and lived in a house full of books. When I was young, I used to play with books, and very soon started reading them. At an early age I started writing poems and loved to create my own handmade books, so books played a major role in my life from early on. While choosing my future profession, I had two alternatives, journalism or literature and book publishing, I chose the latter. As soon as I graduated, I started my first job at a children’s books publishing house and knew immediately that this was going to be my profession forever.

2. What is the principle aims of your role at Intelekti / Artanjui Pubishing?

I started working at Intelekti Publishing and Artanuji Publishing in 2010 and have been there 9 years. These two publishing houses belong to one family and have different profiles. Intelekti is 25 years old and one of the first Georgian private publishing houses founded after the collapse of the Soviet Union, specialising in Georgian literature, classics or contemporary. We also publish translations of world classics and modern bestsellers, textbooks and non-fiction. Artanuji, is mainly focused on non-fiction books, Georgian and translated but does publish some important fiction books. Across both publishing houses we publish nearly 250 titles per year.
I started working in both of publishing houses as a rights manager and am now the International relations manager and an editor. In Georgian publishing it’s normal to double up job functions. I’m involved in creating new publishing series for the publishing house and editing books, but also involved in event management, promotional campaigns, presenting at book launches and through the media. Finally, I am a literary agent for many Georgian authors, selling their copyrights to foreign publishing houses, attending international book fairs to both buy and sell rights. Networking with our foreign colleagues is one of my favourite parts of my job, as well as managing visits of our foreign authors to Georgia. My favourite experience was hosting the 2015 Nobel Prize Winner Belarus writer Svetlana Alexievich in Georgia.

3. What challenges have you encountered in your career and how have you overcome them?

In 2013 I was elected as a deputy chairperson of the Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association (GPBA) at the age of 27 and after two years, at the age of 29 I became the chairperson. The challenge was that unlike previous chairpersons, I was not the founder or director, but the employee of the publishing house. Whilst gender was not an issue, my age was a problem, especially in a country which is still dealing with Soviet traces in ideology, opinions, views; a country full of contrasts and differences in different generations. To gain the respect and trust among members and among partners and in governmental organizations was hard, tiring, stressful.
When I started at the Publishers Association, we faced many complications including difficult relationships among members, financial problems and no recognized authority. The staff and board members had to make changes and unpopular decisions for a better future for our industry. All of us (board members, staff and association member organizations) had to overcome that difficult period.

4. Who has inspired you in the world of global publishing?

It was Carmen Balcells Segala, the famous literary agent of Spanish and Latin American authors, and one of the most powerful and influential women in Spanish publishing. Her story and character, as one of the driving forces behind the 1960s boom of Latin American literature was really inspiring for me, considering that in Georgia we really don’t have literary agents. At the the beginning of my career, when we met foreign publishers in different international book fairs, they were not interested in Georgian literature. Many of them even didn’t have information about our country, language or our authors. Her story influenced my future development and I was lucky to have personal correspondence with her and managed to gain the agreement to be the option publisher of Marquez.

5. What has been the highlight of your career so far?

2018, when Georgia was the guest of honor at Frankfurt Book Fair and I worked on the project as head of the publishing program. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Georgia has essentially risen from the dead, and only 25 years later, we became the Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair. We Georgians used to say that this opportunity was a miracle. We didn’t have any experience doing such a huge international project, it was a big challenge and unbelievably hard, but the results were worth it.
We wanted to declare loudly that we believe that even under current circumstances, with 20% of Georgia occupied by Russia, it is essential for our country, for the people living with democratic values to become a full member of the EU. I can’t say whether we managed to achieve our full aims or not, but in October 2019 Juergen Boos – president of the Frankfurt Book Fair declared that Georgia was one of the most successful “Guest of Honour” in the history of the book fair. We were very happy and proud to hear this.
In the terms of the highlights of my career; at the International Publishers Association general assembly during Frankfurt Book Fair 2018, I was elected as an executive committee member. It is the first time Georgia is on the IPA board and is a huge responsibility.

6. What is the situation like for women in publishing in Georgia? (what is the % of women in the workforce and how many occupy senior positions?)

I’m happy to say that the situation for women in publishing in Georgia is very optimistic. According to the Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association’s statistics, the percentage of men and women directors of the organizations is 50/50, it is like a paradise of gender equality. In the association board we have 6 women and 1 man, in the association staff – only women. In the last 10 years, GPBA chairpersons were 90% women and 10% men. In the Georgian publishing and literary field women are really dominating. Even 90% of the Frankfurt Book Fair Guest of Honor team were women.

7. As chairperson of the Georgian PA, what are your aims and objectives? Do you have any programmes within the PA to help women?

When I became the chairperson of the Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association, we had to work hard to make our association a stronger organization not only locally but internationally as well. Today we are a strong institution to talk to and lobby the Georgian government for the publishing industry, but we still need to work hard to increase our influence.
The political situation inside the country is not easy, and we need a more educated society and better educational system. Together with our partner organizations, we have ensured that education, book reading, and literature, combined with social and political issues are very much supported by the Georgian media. We try to use this situation positively and struggle against the stereotypes which are still strong in parts of our society, like gender equality, violence, freedom of expression, bullying, topics of sexual minorities and many other challenges of the modern world. We know that still there is a gap in the book reading in our country, so reading promotion campaigns and projects are a priority for us.
As for women in publishing, we have many interesting female publishing characters, who are leaders and public persons who are already influencing society positively and giving examples of struggles for success and how to gain the appropriate position in the society. Many people in Georgia are speaking about women power in the Georgian publishing and literary industry. We are very proud of this achievement and we’ll go on supporting especially newcomer females.

8. What do you hope to contribute in your position as Executive Committee Member of the IPA?

Being an IPA Executive member is a huge responsibility for me and I want to be useful and active. The first year of being a member of ExCom was challenging as I had a lot to learn. In April 2019 I took part in the World Intellectual Property Organization’s committee on ‘copyright and neighbouring rights’ in Geneva and we will host the next IPA Educational Publishers Forum meeting in Tbilisi in February 2020. GBPA has many other plans to be an active member of the IPA Executive Committee and I hope we’ll fulfill them. As for the topics I would like to contribute, I’ll underline freedom of expression, human rights, freedom of publishing, accessibility in education – as the issues which are important to my everyday life in Georgia.

9. What are your views of the PublisHer network and how do you think it can help women in publishing?

I think PublisHer network is a brilliant idea. When I attended the first PublisHer networking dinner in London 2019, I met many wonderful female publishing professionals from all around the world sharing their stories and experiences. I realized that it was a start of an amazing movement which will achieve success. I follow the activities of this network and I’m sure this movement will be inspiring for women who are struggling for their rights. A network where you can meet the most successful female publishing professionals is a chance to learn from them and a possibility to be involved in the common projects in the future. I’m happy that the PublisHer network continues to develop I will always be happy to contribute.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Karine Pansa

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Karine Pansa is the owner and Publishing Director at Girassol Brasil Edições – a children’s books publisher in São Paulo Brazil; a board director for the Brazilian Book Chamber (CBL); and a member of the Executive Committee of the International Publishers Association (IPA). Until recently she was on the Board of the National Book and Reading Plan (PNLL), a set of programs in the book industry promoting reading habits, literature and developing libraries in Brazil, and is currently Chair of the Board of Directors at the Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind, facilitating the inclusion of blind and low vision children, youth and adults through free and specialized rehabilitation services, special education, low vision clinic and employability programs.

Q1: How did you get into the publishing industry and what attracted you to publishing?

I was kind of “born” in the publishing industry. Since I was very young my dad worked at one of the major publishing houses in Brazil, so I grew up attending book fairs and book festivals. I remember when I was fifteen and I wanted to do something for my summer vacation and earn my own money, my father offered me a book (a children’s atlas) to be translated from English to Portuguese. I really enjoyed the work and asked for more jobs. When I was sixteen, I visited Frankfurt Book Fair for the first time which feels like a very long time ago! I went on to university to study business administration and started working as a trainee at the publishing company my father worked at and stayed there for 7 years. Together with my father we were then invited by a Spanish company to set up Girassol Brasil Edições which is the publishing company I now own and run and am proud to say we have been in business for 20 years. During my career I’ve also studied for an MBA in Publishing here in Brazil as well as participated in the Yale summer school for publishing.

Q2: As well as running your publishing company, you are extremely active in the associations and in related organisations – what motivates you to be involved in all these initiatives?

Being able to contribute to the broader publishing industry is hugely motivating for me and so being part of the Brazilian Chamber and at the IPA allows me to contribute to the bigger picture. My work with the Foundation also allows me to contribute my time, skills and expertise to a really worthwhile cause.

I also think that personal learning, self-development and having new experiences are big motivations and being able to develop myself. I am curious to understand new ideas, different perspectives and new realities. By dedicating myself and my time in some way, these experiences allow me to both contribute and to learn. This is really exciting for me. Moves me!

I was only the second woman to be the President of the Brazlian Chamber of Publishers. I worked closely with Rosely Boschinim, who was the first female president of the Chamber on a great project called Minha Biblioteca (my own library)– instigated by the mayor of São Paulo, giving books to every child in São Paulo. I continued working with her in her second term as president and became increasingly involved in the association. At the end of her terms she encouraged me to stand for election as the next president and fortunately I was elected.

I think with all these things – improving diversity, improving the industry and the market environment, that if you want to see change, you need to be the change. If I see something that needs doing, I want to pitch in and make it happen. You need to put yourself out there – and enjoy it along the way!

Q3: What do you hope to contribute in your position as an IPA Executive Committee member?

In my role as President of the Book Chamber, I was introduced to the IPA and to YS Chi who was president at the time. He was keen to improve the diversity of the Executive Committee of IPA and again encouraged me to stand for election which again I was fortunately successful in. Now, representing the Latin American publishing market is an honor to me. I’m confident of the power of diversity and the results of collaborative work. As part of IPA’s Executive Committee, I trust that I can contribute to embracing the challenges of the Global Publishing market and work together towards to its development, not only in the field of diversity and inclusion itself but the development of the Global Publishing Market overall.

Q4: What challenges have you faced in your 27-year career in the publishing sector?

I believe challenges are part of our day to day work. Sometimes you have financial problems, other times you have organizational ones. During my time as president of the Brazilian Book Chamber (CBL), I’ve had various difficult times with projects and initiatives where I had to look through the situation and consider both sides before making decisions. The financial situation of our economy is continually presenting challenges which I’ve had to face both as a publisher and in my role with the Chamber – it’s never easy on a daily basis. Fortunately I’ve never faced challenges because of my gender. As a result, having a voice as a woman as never been a challenge or motivation for me in the same way I know it has been for other women in other countries and cultures.

Q5: What have been your proudest moments of your career?

By the time I was elected as President of the Chamber, we had committed to a series of “Guest of Honour” programmes in various book fairs around the world. Actively participating in the Brazilian Guest of Honor programmes in book fairs (Frankfurt, Bogotá, Bologna and Paris) have been some of the proudest moments of my career. And more important than just one moment is making books for children as a career and surviving as a company in these difficult economic conditions. Being able to help kids to build their knowledge is the thing I am most proud of.

Q6: Who has inspired you in your publishing career?

My Dad played a very important role in my career, actively encouraging me from an early age to believe in myself and inspiring me in the publishing industry. He showed me the importance of books in the education of children. It makes me believe that the world can be better with my collaboration.

Q7: What is the environment like for women in publishing in Brazil? Are there any programmes for supporting women in publishing?

The Brazilian publishing industry has historically been a market that has always had women in various positions – publishing is seen as a career for women, but not necessarily in leadership positions, which is a common theme I am hearing from my colleagues around the world. There are a couple of women who have made it to the top, but it’s not very common.
I was the second woman to occupy the presidency of the Brazilian book chamber in 70 years. It is very unfortunate to realize that there is still a lack of balance in leadership positions.

Q8: What do you think of the PublisHer network and what do you think it can achieve?

PublisHer is an amazing initiative that will hopefully encourage women in publishing to aspire to another level. Women face diversity and inclusivity challenges in their lives, and I believe PublisHer will help to improve the situation at a global level. There are new initiatives from PublisHer such as a mentoring programme, guidelines and networking opportunities which I believe will make a difference. As a network we are supporting and encouraging each other to step forward to take up positions of leadership, both in our own countries but also internationally – for example on the FEP and IPA Executive Committees.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Laura Prinsloo

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Laura Prinsloo left her career in finance to become an entrepreneur. She left New Zealand to run Kesaint Blanc Publishing and Printing based in Jakarta, Indonesia. She has also started other businesses in the field of public transportation, logistics and food and beverages.

Laura is part of the Indonesian Chambers of Commerce and was involved in the Indonesian Publishers Association. In 2016, Laura was appointed to be the Chairperson of the Indonesian National Book Committee which was established by the Ministry of Education and Culture following Indonesia’s successful appearance as Guest of Honour Country at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair. She was also head of the organizing committee for Indonesia as the Market Focus country at the London Book Fair 2019. Currently, under the new 17,000 Pulau Imaji (17,000 Islands of Imagination) Foundation, she is working closely with the Jakarta government on various projects.

1) You came into publishing after a career in finance, what attracted you to the publishing industry and how did your career bring you into the industry?

If I look back, I think what made me take this risky move to shift my career from finance to a completely different sector industry was because I had become too comfortable in my position for my young age, and I wanted a new challenge. Before joining the publishing scene in Indonesia, I worked for New Zealand’s biggest bank at that time. There were a handful of us in the corporate strategy department and we had the responsibility to report to the NZ Reserve Bank and the CEO himself. Work became too comfortable and I felt the more I climbed the ladder the further away I would go from my dream of starting my own business.

At the same time, in 2009, my father called asking me to return to Indonesia and take over his publishing and printing business or he would sell the business. He hadn’t been involved in it for a while and wanted to focus on other things. My father started the business in 1979 and I remember growing up around printing machines, book fairs, and editors, however, I didn’t have a specific passion for the industry. I had many good memories and admired his passion for books, which also rubbed off on me. I believed that while we were still young this could be the best time to change the direction of our life to become entrepreneurs. I liked the idea of moving to Jakarta because the city felt more vibrant than Auckland and because Indonesia is an emerging market, we saw a lot of business opportunities that we could do there. After discussing this with my husband, to my surprise he agreed, and we resigned from our jobs to move to Indonesia and revive my family business. The first day at the job was an eye-opener because I was like a fish out of water. I had to learn fast; I read many books, joined the Indonesian Publishers Association, went to many book fairs, seminars, workshops, and built a publishing network. I was on a steep learning curve and I think it was just in my genes, the more time I spent in reviving the publishing business, the more my passion grew for the industry.

2) Over the last 4 years the Indonesian publishing industry has been in the spotlight having been Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair and Market Focus at the London Book Fair, with you heading the National Book Committee organising these events. How did you find this experience? What motivated you to take on this role?

It was such an honour to be trusted to head the National Book Committee (NBC). I would never imagine myself – a triple minority (the youngest person there – at 33 years, a female and a non-muslim), entrusted to lead a government entity in a country with the largest Muslim population in the world. Even though NBC was set up by the Minister of Education and Culture (MoEC), we started with no programme, no allocated budget, and no acknowledgement. No-one took us seriously, especially because the Indonesian Book Council was closed by the President in 2014. We had to make sure this rare opportunity for the book industry given by the government was not wasted. We had to come up with everything, the organizational structure, collaborate with all book stakeholders and come up with programmes that could benefit the country for the long term and look for funding from various sources without relying too much on the MoEC budget.

Luckily, NBC was established largely due to the guest of the honour programme at Frankfurt Book Fair. We believe that our presence in Frankfurt was a huge success, over 200 Indonesians writers/ publishers/ artists/ creative players participated in year-long events. It was very much a collective effort that united all the book stakeholders together, which was also a first. NBC therefore got off to a good start, but we wanted to not only focus on international outreach but also improving literacy in our country. We came up with programmes that were new to our country, such as Translation Funding Programme, Writers Residency Programme, Literary-Action festivals, Industry Database and then there was also the Market Focus Country at the London Book Fair in 2019. The NBC has now been dis-continued but under a newly established foundation, we are continuing programmes that were initiated during NBC periods including the Jakarta Content Festival – a partnership programme with the Frankfurt Book Fair, a 5000 sqm Book Park and Intellectual-exchange hub in central Jakarta, the first literature museum and many more. For me it has been important that everything that we have worked on over the last 5 years was continued especially during this difficult pandemic situation.

3) What have been the biggest challenges you have faced in your career and how have you overcome them?

For me, when dealing with many stakeholders to produce an international programme, managing ego-sectors was a challenge. In every decision made, it was important for me to have a good consensus, to be inclusive and make sure it could benefit the whole industry. Having good and transparent communication was key. Of course, we couldn’t please everyone, but I had learnt to accept that. Two other things that we are facing in Indonesia are improving the reading culture and fighting against book piracy. These two contradict each other, on one hand, we have a low reading habit but at the same time piracy is increasing. Both problems contribute to the decline of our industry and both problems are what our programmes in the foundation have been focused on.

4) How have you found the role of women in your career in finance versus your career in the publishing industry? What is the Indonesia publishing scene like for female leaders and entrepreneurs like yourself?

In my financial career, I rarely see women on top management level. I could say similarly in the publishing industry, especially in Indonesia. The editorial department would be filled with women but for positions that require longer hours and higher commitment, most are led by men. Which, as a woman, a wife and a mother, I can understand – even though growing up I never felt I was unable to do things because of my gender and in New Zealand at that time we had a female Prime Minister. But living in Indonesia I face more challenges from the community, women are expected to manage the household and manage the children more than the men. My biggest struggle has been fighting that stigma. For my position, I have to travel a lot and leave my family for weeks, and there were even times when I had to fly to Europe twice in a month. The problems came not from my husband (who is extremely supportive) but from the society around me that believes mothers should allocate most of their time taking care of the family, and work/ career should come second. In higher positions, juggling this can be very challenging as companies have targets to be delivered and you are competing with men, where for them it is expected that they work longer hours to provide for the family. And in a cultural communal environment such as Indonesia, people can be extremely judgemental and tend to mind other people’s business.

5) Have there been any women that have inspired you in your career in general and in your publishing career?

As far as role models go, there have been several inspirational women in my life. I admire these women not necessarily because of their position but because of their character and their perseverance and compassion. From Indonesia, its Susi Pudjiastuti, former Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the first tattooed female minister that never completed high school education. She is known for her aggressive anti-illegal fishing policies. Another figure I admire is Angela Merkel, from her faith to her bold decisions, and she is also an activist of freedom of speech.

6) What are your proudest moments of your career? And what motivates you now?

When Indonesian books are published overseas, which most people won’t probably have heard of before. Since we started 4 years ago, the National Book Committee has recorded more than 1500 titles sold to foreign publishers. In a way, it has proven that Indonesian content can compete in the global market. Another proudest moment was being able to give the welcoming speech at the Market Focus reception at London Book Fair. That moment symbolizes an accomplishment from what I would say close-to-a-miracle work for being the Market Focus Country. I don’t want to spill the beans on our struggles, but I witnessed everyone in the committee putting their 110% effort to make it happen. What motivated me from both these moments is the fact that what we do changes our nation for the better.

7) In Indonesia are there any programmes to specifically support women in publishing?

Unfortunately, I haven’t heard of one. To be frank, the NBC did not put a large focus on gender but rather on the quality of work. Some of our best-selling rights for Indonesian works came from inspiring Indonesian women and that was seen at many events that we did.

Our foundation is currently developing a programme to nurture literacy skills among women especially mothers. I think mothers have an important role in early literacy. From providing what to read, helping kids to read, as role models for young readers and help to develop their love of books. By equipping mothers with these skills, she could impact the entire family.

8) What do you think of the Global PublisHer network and how do you think it can support women in publishing moving forward?

It’s a great initiative and should include more women from the local markets. Maybe this initiative can be even more inclusive by creating satellite networks like PublisHER Asia or PublisHER Africa…just a thought.

9) Where does your career take you next?

In our publishing company, we are focusing on improving our online platform where we want to reinvent a new publishing process. We want to move towards various media formats while improving the engagement of our content rather than to rely on conventional ways. But for the industry, under the 17000 Pulau Imaji foundation (direct translation is 17,000 Islands of Imagination), we are continuing our efforts in improving literacy in Indonesia by various programmes. One of them is in partnership with Frankfurt Book Fair on setting up a book and creative content hub in Jakarta for the Asia Pacific market. Our first event will be launched this November and it’s called Jakarta Content Week.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Linda Tan Lingard

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Linda Tan Lingard is the founder and publisher of Integra Creative Media Sdn Bhd, a children’s book publisher based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The publishing house’s 10-year old imprint, Oyez!Books, is a leading picture book publisher in the country. Lingard has been in the publishing and communication industry for close to 30 years, with roles in editorial, marketing, and production. Her interest in education, art and licensing led her to found the YGL Management licensing agency in 2009 and the Museum of Picture Book Art, Malaysia in 2021.

How did you start your career in publishing and what attracted you to the publishing industry?

I loved art and reading as a child, and by the time I was in my teens I decided I would be an editor. I majored in economics and statistics at university, which I also enjoyed. For me, publishing was all about organising information. After my graduation I joined a printing factory to learn the production of books. I moved on to an editorial position and found that I was not very good at it so I moved on to various positions but always in the communications industry. I ended up working across public relations in magazines and journals, primarily in the business and technology fields.

You are one of the founders of ICM. How did this come about?

Death, and especially of one close to you, has a way of focusing our minds. and that’s what happened to me when my husband passed away. I had my own small publishing business focusing on coffee table books before I married, and I worked and later did freelance public relations work during my marriage. When my husband died, I decided to go back to the workforce, as I wasn’t sure what else to do. After about three years, I decided it was now or never, and I set up a used books bookshop and later set up ICM for children’s book publishing. Other partners came in, and the firm was incorporated in 2015.

Can you tell us more about the publishing company and about the picture book market in general in Malaysia?

After a few years in science and technical publishing, in the production area, I started thinking about publishing – as in creating books. I wanted to publish children’s books, as books had a great influence on me as a child and the reading habit never left me. Someone told me I must visit the Bologna Book Fair, and so I did. I was very impressed, and realised I could fill a gap and opportunity in Malaysia for beautiful picture books.

The market for children’s books in Malaysia is focused on educational books. Malaysia also imports a lot of children’s books from the UK and US. There is growing awareness and demand for locally authored picture books, but they are not generally suitable for the mass market and are therefore generally avoided by the big publishing houses. This has led to the creation of small publishers who may start their own companies focusing on themes such as the environment.

For a small company like ICM, publishing under the imprint Oyez!Books, our role is wider, as we must work harder to educate consumers on the value of picture books and on how to use picture books.

You are president of the Children’s Picture Book Association and an ex-co member of the Malaysia Book Publishers Association – how gender balanced are these organisations, and what is the situation like for female leaders in Malaysian publishing? What do you think the publishing industry could do to encourage a greater gender balance in leadership positions?

The Children’s Picture Book Association is still new, and was set up after a few enthusiastic discussions with a friend. There are more female than male members. The Malaysia Book Publishers Association has never had a female president, but then most heads of publishing companies are men.

I am not sure that gender balance in leadership positions is especially a priority in the publishing industry here. There are of course women leaders in publishing who have set up their own publishing firms or who head units within large publishing firms. Or the firm started from a family business. Within the publishing industry (not including the press/print media, on which I cannot comment) there are only two publicly listed companies, so the industry comprises many small publishing houses – so the issue of gender balance may not arise in the same way as in larger companies in the West.

You also wear a few other hats – tell us more about them? (Yusof Cajah Lingard Lit Agency / Museum of Picture Book Art?)

The agency (now called YGL Management) was first started as I knew the perils of publishing (ha ha), but I found that it was really tough, as local publishers did not use agents at that time and it was difficult for us to sell overseas, being new. Now the agency primarily represents the books published by Oyez!Books and selected titles from others. I would really like to grow this, but it requires the right partners.
The Museum of Picture Book Art was inspired by the Carle Museum. It is a big dream which is still small and is a retail outlet selling Malaysian picture books with some selected international titles. Through the museum we conduct a variety of workshops and hold exhibitions throughout the year. Currently we are holding our first (and probably the first in the country) picture book festival, running from 18 June to 17 July 2022. We hope this can be done every year, but most likely for a reduced time period.

As a female leader in publishing in Malaysia, have you had to overcome any obstacles, especially related to gender?

All females face obstacles related to gender at work, especially I believe the immediate perception that a man will be more capable. Just being a man gives him that advantage. Running my own business, I’ve had to be practical, so I may ask a male colleague to act where necessary, even though I realise that it is probably avoiding the issue.

What advice would you give to women looking to progress their careers in the publishing sector?

Network widely and take part in projects or associations, because you’ve got to start somewhere and learn the ropes.

What do you think the future holds for children reading, and how can publishers play a role in sustaining and building readers of the future?

In the far far future, I think we will all be using electronic media, and our consumption of knowledge, information and reading for pleasure/entertainment will be very different. But in the not so far off future, I believe the reading habit starts young at home or school. Current situations show that a combination of mediums such as movies and books do not reduce reading but may enhance it, with movies introducing books that are naturally more multi-layered and therefore more pleasurable. Meaning publishers will have to adopt new channels to engage young readers.

At ICM you have signed the Sustainable Development Goals Publishers Compact. What initiatives are you taking to contribute to the SDGs and a carbon net zero goal?

We aim to gradually move towards FSC paper, and in our packaging we are careful to reduce the use of plastic. And of course in educating through our books. With the children’s picture book association, we have also set up an SDG Book Club. We held an exhibition last year and had activities for children on the SDG. This will be an annual programme. We expect these will generate more information, discussions, and interest around the SDGs.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Lisa Lyons Johnston

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

1. How did you start your career in publishing and what attracted you to work in the industry?

My career in publishing was due to serendipity. Early in my career, I worked at an edgy marketing and communications agency, but it closed its doors suddenly because the principal had a health issue. I had been ready for a change, and this actually gave me the space to think and to re-evaluate what I wanted to do next and how I might have impact but differently. By pure luck, HarperCollins was looking for a marketing director from outside the industry who could bring a fresh perspective, and someone who also who knew quite a bit about hockey — they had North American rights to hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky’s first book and other hockey books in the pipeline (hockey books are bestsellers in Canada). So, I was at the right place in my life when the right professional opportunity came along, opening the door to a varied career that has been so incredibly rewarding.

2. How did you progress in your career to become President and Publisher? Did you encounter any obstacles on your career path?

I’ve been asked a version of this question before, and I’ve wished that I could share that my career path was a brilliantly executed master plan. In some ways it was. My strategy when I started in media was to keep searching out opportunities that would challenge me, even scare me out of my comfort zone. But my career has not been a carefully planned road map — more the scenic route than the express! I moved around as a variety of increasingly senior opportunities presented themselves: from agency work to a multinational book publisher to the founding team at Atlantis Broadcasting (a Canadian media company that launched and operated cable channels including HGTV and Food Network), to the new management team through the merger of Alliance and Atlantis, to a start-up college entertainment company in New York. Then to Corus Entertainment, where I began as head of television content distribution and a digital music service, before taking the reins at Kids Can Press. The thread between all of these was driving the business side of creative industries to deliver value and products that I am proud to show off to my family and friends.

In terms of obstacles, when I began working in the world of cable television broadcasting, it was a very male-dominated industry. The environment was fierce, and my role was to negotiate contracts with cable and telecom companies. So, I went beyond professional development and learned how to play golf well enough to tee up with customers at industry tournaments and events! When I moved to New York, I joined the Women in Cable and Telecommunications Board. Even though my schedule was incredibly busy, I got deeply involved through the executive committee. There, I was able to really to contribute and to get to know other senior women working in a male-dominated industry. Learning and sharing knowledge with others across industries is a muscle that should be flexed often. It takes commitment and amazing time management, but it is worth the investment.

3. What are you most proud of in your career? Have you been inspired by anyone in particular?

The enduring impact that Kids Can Press books have made in the lives of children in Canada and around the world makes me fiercely proud. Particularly books that present social justice and environmental issues — like those in our CitizenKid collection — to young readers in such a way that they understand their agency at an early age and feel compelled to action. Currently 25 books strong — with two more in the pipeline — the CitizenKid collection has been translated into 21 languages and sold into 28 territories, making it a global publishing success story. Our hope is that we are inspiring the next generation of leaders and equipping them with the knowledge that starting is the first step to achievement.

I’m also very proud to have led the development and launch of Corus Entertainment’s first company-wide corporate social responsibility initiative. That opportunity was the result of me having completed Harvard’s Corporate Social Responsibility course. At the time, shareholders, customers, and employees were demanding that corporations be transparent and consistent with their social responsibility commitments, and the same is true today. So, a number of years ago, along with colleagues from across all divisions of the company, we established Corus Feeds Kids, a national program designed to raise funds for and awareness of food insecurity facing children and families in Canada.

As to who’s inspired me, I’ve been inspired by so many people along the way and am currently blessed to work with a team and with incredible authors and illustrators who amaze and inspire me every day. But there is one individual who I’m finding particularly inspiring right now. I met the extraordinary Pat Mitchell briefly at her book signing at the International Women’s Forum (IWF) World Leadership Conference in 2019 where she was a speaker. Her book is called Becoming a Dangerous Woman: Embracing Risk to Change the World. Great title, isn’t it?

Pat was the first woman president of PBS, CNN Productions, and the Paley Center for Media, as well as an award-winning producer of documentaries and TV series. She is the cofounder and curator of TEDWomen and the Connected Women Leaders initiatives, chair of Sundance Institute and the Women’s Media Centre, trustee of the Skoll Foundation, and advisor to Participant Media. Quite the CV! In addition to Pat’s book, I am inspired by her newsletters. This is from a recent installment:

“Friends often comment that I don’t look my age, and of course that’s nice to hear … even though I don’t know what almost 80 looks like anymore. But other than possibly good genes when it comes to aging, I always reply that activism is the antidote to aging. Staying active and engaged.
That’s the message of my book … and I try to use all my platforms to make the point that being dangerous — getting off the sidelines to speak up, stand up for justice, and show up for each other everywhere — is a necessary response to these dangerous times and the best way to sustain hope amid all the fears.”
In short, I’ll have what she’s having. Pat Mitchell has provided me with an aspiration — to have impact for the rest of my days.

4. You have also been involved in producing a climate change documentary – is this an expansion of your career beyond traditional publishing?

Having worked on the business side in a variety of entertainment and creative industries, I am always thinking of content in terms of the ways it can be shared, experienced, and monetized. CitizenKid, for example, was always envisioned as a brand with content that could translate to other platforms, including television.

While on a cultural industries mission to China hosted by the Canadian federal government, I met Peter Raymont, the president of White Pine Pictures, one of Canada’s leading documentary film companies. He immediately embraced the potential of CitizenKid and wanted to help develop its ethos to screen. CitizenKid: Earth Comes First, starring four youth activists, debuted a few years later in 2020. It was well received and was selected for a number of festivals. But our collaboration has not stopped there! We are working together and with Barri Cohen, a brilliant woman who’s an International Emmy–nominated producer, on a documentary inspired by In Good Hands, a nonfiction book for young adults that encourages women to run for political office. This development is particularly significant for me because when we launched the book in 2019, we had the honour of co-hosting former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell as part of a panel discussion on women in politics at the International Women’s Forum global summit here in Toronto. At this event, Ms. Campbell thanked the author, Stephanie MacKendrick, and her publisher, for creating a book that will help bring more women into political leadership roles around the world. I look forward to her reaction to the documentary, too!

So, while being an executive producer on these documentaries falls outside the traditional role of a book publisher, it aligns with my continued quest to evolve professionally and to keep pushing the boundaries of content development. In Good Hands is part of Loft, our YA imprint, which currently has five other titles optioned and in development. We’re always looking for stories that have that crossover potential.

5. You have won 2 awards recognizing women in leadership positions in Canada (2015 Leadership Award by Women in Communications and Technology and a 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada award from the Women’s Executive Network in 2018) – what do these awards mean to you and how important do you feel they are for women in industry in general?

Being nominated for these awards by women I greatly admire is a huge boost of self-confidence. Learning about the accomplishments of other nominees and hearing their career stories really inspires me to push and to set new goals for myself.

The profile that awards such as the WXN Top 100 provides its winners is exceptional. Each of the 100 women are featured in a multi-page spread in the Financial Post magazine, which is tremendous national coverage and a great celebration of women’s accomplishments that aren’t often covered editorially.

And an added benefit of being nominated for awards such as these is the expansion of my network of business colleagues, some of whom have become friends. As well, opportunities for board appointments and business partnerships come from being nominated for these awards. It’s a win-win for you and the company your work for, too.

6. Outside of publishing, you are actively involved in encouraging and supporting female entrepreneurship/leadership What do this involve and what difference is this making to the growth of women in business?

I was a Founding Activator of an organization called SheEO, now called Coralus. Founded on the notion of radical generosity, Coralus is a collaborative initiative led by a community of women who champion each other in business ventures, both through a perpetual fund for entrepreneur members and through the support from other executives, who choose which ventures to support with their wallets, both as investors and as consumers. Launched in Canada by Vicki Saunders, Coralus now has chapters and thriving ventures around the globe.

I currently sit on the Emmy Noether Council at the world-class Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. The council works to encourages girls and young women to pursue careers in physics and math and helps to reduce barriers for female researchers. Whether it is visiting fellowships, full support for their families when they come to the institute, an annual Girls Day event through our educational outreach department, and/or providing full funding for their education here (in the master’s program, for example), the council is helping to move the dial. More recently, Perimeter developed the Emmy Noether Emerging Talent Fund, an endowment to support exceptional female PhD students at Perimeter. The three recipients this year are from Poland, Brazil, and Ireland.

The council is named for a brilliant woman who worked alongside other genius mathematicians, including Einstein, but under the radar, of course, because she was a woman. With both science and gender issues under attack these days, it’s important to strongly support both and help advance women and nonbinary folks into careers in STEM. We now have an acclaimed picture book biography about Emmy Noether on our list, too.
And this summer I attended the IWF’s “Canada Connects 2022” summit and AGM in Edmonton, Alberta. IWF is a global network that connects women leaders across every professional sector in support of each other and the common mission of advancing women’s leadership and championing equality worldwide. Similar to being nominated for an award, being invited to become a member has opened many doors and networking opportunities. I liken it to a global sisterhood of extraordinarily accomplished women, providing community, professional development, and the opportunity to learn from members around the world and locally through regular conferences and programming. Of the many benefits to organizations like this, I think one of the most important is their ability to provide a platform to highlight and discuss the important issues of the day with thought leaders in an effort to affect change.

7. What do you think the publishing industry could do to encourage a greater gender balance in leadership positions?

Sadly, this is an issue everywhere. Men in leadership positions in publishing and elsewhere need to step up their support of their female colleagues and emerging leaders by sponsoring, not just mentoring women in their industry. By actively putting them forward for plum assignments and opening doors for them. That is true of diverse voices and representation of all kinds.
Lots of men say that of course they support women advancing to leadership positions, but don’t actively use their influence to move the needle. Thank you to the men that are advocates and that are making real change in their organizations. And we can support those efforts by recognizing and spotlighting the leaders that are doing so. It’s also imperative that women speak up and be clear about our ambitions, regularly point out our achievements, use our networks to our advantage, and advocate for ourselves.

8. What advice would you give to women looking to progress their careers in the publishing sector?

I mentioned in a Publishers Weekly essay a few years ago that I’d challenged myself to a year of saying yes, and how that had opened up a host of opportunities for me and our business. It’s a great attitude for women to have throughout their careers — to be open and eager to try new things, to step outside one’s comfort zone, and to learn about as many aspects of their business as they can.
One of the advantages of our industry is the variety of opportunities that exist within a single publishing house. Be curious about all aspects of the business from editorial to operations. Are you currently in production? Don’t be afraid to apply for an opening in marketing or editorial. You may find a better fit elsewhere in the company where you’ve invested yourself and gained transferable skills. Make it known that you are eager to expand, take on new challenges – especially the most difficult— and it will be noticed. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and become a student.
Don’t underestimate the power of a network. Join professional organizations and non-profit boards or committees in or adjacent to publishing. Be willing to be mentored and actively seek out these opportunities. And then be a mentor. Remember that this is two-way street.

9. What are the most interesting things you are seeing in children’s publishing right now? And what do you think the future holds for kids and reading?

Accessibility is front and centre in children’s publishing, which is tremendous, as we strive to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion for all. We are among a small number of children’s publishers who publish a simultaneous ebook for most of our picture books, many of which have read-along capabilities. In the past year, Kids Can Press worked with the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) to launch a simultaneous braille edition of the children’s book My City Speaks, written by Darren Lebeuf and illustrated by Ashley Barron.

My City Speaks is also available in an accessible ebook version, making the most of standards still being shaped, including alt-text (full descriptions of the artwork) and read-along. Recently My City Speaks won the prestigious American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award, which honours an author and illustrator for the artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. The book’s main character is visually impaired and uses a white cane, but her disability is incidental to the storyline.

On another front, one of the most exciting frontiers in children’s publishing for us has been partnering with new digital platforms that deliver books in a variety of ways. We welcome partnerships with companies that are symbiotic with us, including Epic, a curated ebook subscription service; Vooks, who produce studio-quality animated storybooks from existing titles; and Simbi, based here in Canada, whose mandate, “Read for Good,” aligns with Kids Can Press’s thinking. Simbi is making reading accessible to underserved communities and provides a unique opportunity for new readers to read along with narration from other young readers around the world.

10. At Kid’s Can Press you have signed the Sustainable Development Goals Publishers Compact. What initiatives are you taking to contribute to the SDGs and a Carbon net zero goal?

Kids Can Press was invited to join the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals Publishers Compact in 2021. Our CitizenKid collection has six titles that have been selected for the SDG Book Club, so that independent validation means we are on the right track. As signatories, we are actively acquiring and promoting content that advocates for themes represented by the SDGs, such as equality, sustainability, justice, and safeguarding and strengthening the environment. In fact, our CitizenKid collection of books on global issues uses the SDGs as a publishing lens.
As for our environmental initiative, we have committed to print our books on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper, and in 2022, 90% of our new books will be printed on FSC Mix Paper and will meet the standards and specifications set out by the FSC. We strongly encourage other publishers to sign on, because we all benefit from this alignment.
Thanks for this opportunity to speak to you, Emma. I must also let you know that Kids Can Press will celebrate 50 years in 2023 — we are planning a full year of events and promotions to mark this milestone!

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Andrea Pasion-Flores

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Andrea Pasion-Flores is the owner and publisher of Milflores Publishing in the Philippines. She is a graduate of journalism, creative writing and law, and started her career as a lawyer in 2004. In 2007 she became the executive director of the National Book Development Board in the Philippines, mandated with developing the book publishing industry in the country. She progressed her career by working as a literary agent, and as an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines-Diliman College of Arts and Letters before joining Anvil Publishing, Inc as general manager in 2017. She acquired Milflores Publishing in 2020. Pasion-Flores also holds posts with the Book Development Association of the Philippines and the Filipinas Copyright Licensing Society. She is a regular speaker at industry events, and has represented the country at WIPO copyright industry roundtables.

How did you go from being a lawyer to working in publishing? And why did you choose publishing as your ultimate career?

What has been constant in my life is publishing, books, and reading. My school had a wonderful library, and I would borrow books almost every day. The thrill was filling up my library card as fast as I could.

As an adult I naturally gravitated to jobs that entailed a lot of reading – and writing. Law school was probably the aberration. Going to law school was not the expected step coming from an MA in creative writing, but I still had the mindset that I needed a “real” job, that creative work wasn’t lucrative. I thought then I needed something more solid such asa law degree, which was very different from creative writing and the lovely things I was reading. It entailed a lot of reading difficult texts. But, even when I was in law school, I was attracted to intellectual property, which was only an elective then. I liked how the law applied to creativity. I thought it was something that I could do alongside writing fiction.

Lawyering is a very technical profession. There are set rules of procedure, expected ways of writing contracts, pleadings, and such, which could run counter to the way a creative person works. But what studying law and law practice has taught me is how to think logically, how to approach issues, and solve problems. I’m comfortable with legal language and can navigate my way through a rights contract, which is a useful thing in publishing.

When I started as a lawyer, I knew I was a misfit in a law firm. I missed publishing, and actually called my former boss to get back into magazine publishing. But when I got there, I realised I no longer belonged. It felt too easy for someone who had my kind of training. That’s when the opening for the National Book Development Board turned up. I thought I was perfect for the job at that time, because I was a creative, had a publishing background, and I was a lawyer.

You recently bought Milflores Publishing. Can you tell us more about the company, and what inspired you to buy a publisher?

Milflores was founded by an author by the name of Tony Hidalgo. He had specific ideas of how publishing should be, inspired by Mao Zedong’s saying, “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.” Thus, the name Milflores or, in Spanish, a thousand flowers. The goal was to let many, diverse ideas bloom. I don’t intend to change the philosophy. The vision is to let ideas flourish. I am looking at the formats, design, and distribution.

Tony had a good grasp of the Philippine market, which is a price sensitive market. So his books had a fixed format to reach a particular price point. When I acquired Milflores – a name I found difficult to resist by the way, because of my own name – I knew if there was something I was going to change it would be how the books looked. I like to publish books I’d like to own. A reader who chooses print should be rewarded with a nice print edition of the book. Also, I like to publish books I’d like to read, while trying to reach as many readers as possible. I want to create books that will be around for a long time with this brand. The struggle to bring out a good book and make it known is always a there, but when it happens there aren’t many things that make me feel as satisfied.

What is the publishing landscape like in the Philippines? And how is it for women in publishing?

The Philippines is still a young market. There’s room for more publishers, and certainly there’s room for more books to be created. The Philippines has a long way to go in terms of matching the production of its neighbours. So there’s growth in areas such as translation into the local languages, children’s books, non-fiction, and other categories. The goal, I feel, is to create more.

Distribution has improved due to the pivot of the consumer from bricks and mortar to online shopping, which included the way they purchased books. Quite a few trade publishers say that only 30% of their sales come from bookstores, with 70% coming from online shopping. Filipinos don’t mind paying more for shipping to guarantee their safety and convenience. The opening of many payment gateways made it even easier to purchase books online. Though publishers still distribute in book stores, the purchase of books from outlets that don’t take such huge discounts allowed for some leeway to pass savings to consumers in the form of discounts or reduced shipping. The Philippines does not have a fixed price law, unfortunately.

I would say that the publishing industry in the Philippines is an industry where women flourish. Many publishing houses are headed by women and employ many talented young women in all levels, from editorial to sales. However, as far as I’ve observed over the years I’ve worked in the industry, I would say women create fewer books than men in the Philippines. Men who are able to dedicate more time to creating produce more work, and it’s not because they are better than women; but women are saddled with balancing families and jobs. To help balance this, maybe we need more grants for women, more residencies for women writers. At the moment, I have debut women authors on my list: it’s a conscious choice on our part to give more women a chance.

You have taken part in many copyright initiatives, working closely with WIPO. What interests you when it comes to copyright?

I love how multiple rights spring from a single creative product and become multiple intellectual properties that create several income streams for the author. It’s amazing how the fount from which all these rights are created is comfortably accommodated by copyright law. The Berne Convention, a document adopted in 1886, is, for the most part, still an unchanged, living document, which is amazing.

Many forms of intellectual property, for me, start with the written word. I can’t imagine myself being a champion of any other industry than this one. I feel this is how I’ve put a law degree to good use.

What obstacles have you had to overcome in your career? Particularly in your publishing career?

The Philippines is still a developing publishing market. There are many jobs that aren’t available here still – such as that of a literary agent, for example. In the Philippines, publishers deal directly with authors, which isn’t ideal. Also, because it’s such a small industry, everyone knows everybody, so most everyone are friends with each other, which is good but does not always result in professional transactions between parties. I was the first literary agent in the Philippines, and it seems we’re still waiting for the next literary agent to come forward, not just to sell rights abroad, but to transact business between creator and publisher. There are jobs in the book industry that don’t exist in the Philippines yet.

Ten years ago, when I wanted to be an agent, I needed to get out of my bubble in Manila and learn the ropes elsewhere. I was lucky I was a lawyer because I was comfortable with licensing contracts. So I joined the literary agency Jacaranda, because they had an Asian focus. I wanted to push an Asian agenda. Asia consumes the most Western content, as it is the biggest market in the world, but, in terms of books, it certainly does not sell as much back to the West. I thought a push-back was important. I stayed with the agency for four years. Back then I felt the resistance to an agent among local publishers, who are used to dealing with authors directly. I understand the hesitancy. I learned a lot while I was an agent, including developing the desire for each book I took on to cross borders and formats.

What are you most proud of so far in your career? And what are your publishing ambitions?

I guess I’m most proud of the books I have brought to market. From children’s books to novels, to novels that have become movies or TV series.

Publishing is a long game, so I’ve published books when I was in my former job that are finalists in the local national book awards. I have three babies in this year’s awards: one poetry book that’s also nominated for design, and two collections of stories representing the authors’ life works. It feels like I’m a winner too. But now, I’m in the midst of making the books that hopefully will be the next books people will also love.

I want to make Milflores a publishing company that makes it in the Philippines and carves a niche in the world as well. With this ambition comes an ambition for a country like the Philippines to be able to support a company like mine. Can I achieve my dreams for the company from the Philippines? Or do I have to register the company somewhere else to achieve this goal? It’s one reason why I attend congressional hearings whenever a bill is up for discussion that concerns books. I know that I have to keep at it with other people to be able to achieve our common goals.

You are president of the Book Development Association of the Philippines. What does this role entail?

It’s so busy, it’s a bit crazy. I’ve just organised a pavilion for indie publishers. We want to have a recognisable cluster where indies can be seen. As you know, in a book fair, people will hardly take notice of a small booth (which is what most indies can afford), but if we’re lumped in a singularly-designed booth, I think it would make more of an impact. That’s the new thing in the coming Manila International Book Fair this September.

We’re also putting together a book institute to institutionalise capacity-building seminars for industry stakeholders. We have lots to learn still and, hopefully, this little academy of sorts will help stakeholders professionalise. Within that, we’re putting together a mentor-mentee program where more mature publishers help publishers in the Philippine regions who might need some hand-holding. Part of that programme involves flying the young publishers into Manila to take part in the book fair. In the future, we’d like to institutionalise publishing courses in the universities to guarantee a steady supply of publishing professionals who will already have basic publishing skills before they even enter the workforce.

We’re bringing publishers to the regions as well as looking at local authors to help develop books. Our regional book fair effort is called the Philippine Book Fair (the name is a bit self-explanatory). It’s the book fair that will be going to different places in the country to bring together local government, local schools and universities, the general public to engage with authors, and performers and publishers to celebrate books.

We give a bi-annual publishers’ award called the Gintong Aklat awards (Golden Book awards). There’s another award we’re also looking at reviving, the Filipino Readers’ Choice award – which we hope to do by the end of the year.

What advice would you give to young women looking to a career in publishing? And to those who aspire to be publishing leaders?

There are many opportunities in publishing open to women nowadays; women just have to hone their skills to qualify for the job. That means working very hard. And for those opportunities not yet in existence, women can very well create these opportunities for themselves. If the job you want is not available, there’s the possibility of creating the job you want yourself. I wanted to be an agent in a country that didn’t have agents, so I became one. There are many more jobs in the industry not yet in existence in this nascent industry, such as foreign rights seller, subsidiary rights seller, and many others. Women who know what they want and work hard to get it – just keeping at it every single day because they love it – will get what they want eventually. It can be done, I have no doubt.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Arpita Das

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Arpita Das is the Founder of Yoda Press, an independent academic publisher in India. She recently featured in an article about the Women who have shaped publishing in India, a recognition which she and the other women featured truly deserve.

1. You are a woman with many roles in publishing, alongside running Yoda Press. Could you tell us about them all?

Everything springs from my experience at Yoda Press. I teach a Publishing Seminar at Ashoka University every Spring Semester. I am Course Leader at the SAGE School of Publishing, which is powered by SAGE Publishing, and enables me and my team to travel to universities across the country conducting workshops on academic publishing. I also write considerably on publishing and book culture for various platforms, periodicals and journals. Finally, we run writing workshops for aspiring writers and editorial workshops for publishing editors at Yoda Press, attended by authors associated with and editors working at many different publishing houses in India.

2. How was Yoda Press established and what kind of publishing does it do?

I worked as Commissioning Editor for History, Philosophy and Religion at OUP India back in 2002 and feeling miserable with how boring it all was. I had thought working at OUP India would be the best experience of my working life, but soon found that its halcyon days were long gone, and by then it was all about formulaic, safe, glorified-textbook-like academic publishing. Outside of my job, I was getting to know young writers and scholars working in cutting-edge areas like sexuality and urban studies and popular culture and experimenting with exciting new genres like oral narratives and autoethnography. I could never take these manuscripts back to my publishing managers at OUP, because they were just not interested. So, I decided over a boozy weekend with my partner in a beautiful hill station called Ranikhet in North India, that I would start working towards setting up an indie publishing house which would focus on these alt lists and genres. I thought of the name Yoda Press on that trip and came back to Delhi with a little drawing of how I saw the press. I still have that piece of paper. I gave myself 2 years to get my act together. I started Yoda Press in 2004.

The sort of publishing I wanted to do at Yoda Press? Lists that other, bigger, more mainstream publishers, and even other indies were not interested in at that point (to begin with, the ones I have mentioned above), which brought to the fore exciting, new voices, and to really push the narrative non-fiction genre.

3. How did you get into publishing and why?

The house was full of books. My Mum worked with a government organisation that trained high school teachers and prepared school textbooks. I loved reading; the thought that I could earn my living off reading was heady, to say the least. And my father worked in the publishing industry all his life; he was one of the very few people in the industry who started the ball rolling on the massive book exports we enjoy today, not just to traditional markets like the UK and USA, but to the Anglophone global south. Having a chat with him every day meant learning something new daily. I never worked with my father though. I want to emphasise this because there are so many family businesses in Indian publishing, where daughters have followed in their fathers’ footsteps, or their fathers’ ‘connections’ have actively helped them. That is not my story. My father was a publishing professional in a publishing job all his life. And at some point, I joined the publishing industry as well. And then, some years later, I decided to start my own house.

4.What are you most proud of in your career?

That five books from our Sexualities list were cited in the historic Supreme Court of India judgement in 2018 which decriminalised homosexuality. And another three from the same list had been cited in another landmark judgement by the Supreme Court in 2014 recognising the rights of transgender people in the country. That because of these two moments, Yoda Press titles will always be an inextricable part of gender and sexualities rights history in India and the world.

5. Who do you admire in the publishing industry? Who and what inspires you?

The indies who came before me have inspired me for decades: the publishing visionary Ravi Dayal whom I considered a mentor, and who died much too early in 2006 but left us a legacy which we can learn from for the rest of our lives; Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon, who started Kali for Women, the first feminist publishing house in South Asia; Radhika Menon, who runs a fabulous children’s imprint called Tulika Books. Then there are my contemporaries: Leonard and Queenie Fernandes who, with very little support and resources, keep alive the most important publishing event in the country, Publishing Next in Goa; Meethil Momaya and Ahalya Naidu, who, in these days of online buying leaving offline sales behind, run one of the most intelligently curated and thriving corner bookstores in the country, Trilogy, in Bandra, Mumbai; Mridula Koshy and Michael Creighton who run the Community Library Project in Delhi; and Sudhanva Deshpande, publisher of the radical Left Word books and one of those rare specimens of humanity—a genuinely feminist man. I equally admire the indie publishers who have joined the industry in more recent times, like Ruby Hembrom, who runs Adivaani, and Yogesh Maitreya, who runs Panther’s Paw. For me, being in the publishing industry is having the opportunity to rock the boat in the best possible way.

6. How do independent presses survive in India? What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?

Independent presses survive in India in exactly the same way in which they survive across the global south-against all odds, by dint of hard work, a unique intellectual ability to spot voices and trends way before others, and a commitment to the word and to book culture before all else.
Running an indie press IS the challenge—to keep yourself going every single day, waking up every day and getting excited about the new book you have signed up, or the manuscript you are going to begin editing that day, or how well a cover has turned out for the book on your list you are most excited about right now, or a great Bookstagram review of one of your titles that morning, all of this, WITHOUT the promise of a consistently-sized cheque to take care of all your expenses in either your account or your company’s at the end of the month. That is super hard and I have lived this challenge for the last 16 years.

7. What is the environment for women in publishing in India? Has this changed over the years? Do you see it changing in the near future?

As with many other countries, there have always been many women in publishing in India, and there are even more women in the industry today than 22 years ago. There are many more women publishing directors now, across small and big houses; compared to two decades ago, and there are a couple of women Vice-Presidents and CEOs. There were always more women heading the visionary indie publishing houses, and that has remained constant. What’s nice to see also is traditional male-bastion positions such as marketing and production and even sales are beginning to be peopled by women.

In the future, there need to be many more women CEOs and finance heads because that is where the decision-making happens, and also because it will strengthen the industry’s capacity to be seen and treated as an industry at a policy-making level, with women generally do better at carrying the entire community with them. And yes, in the very near future, we need many, many trans people in this industry.

8. Similar to the UK and USA, most of the multinational publishers in India are run by men. Why do you think this is?

Because that is how the cookie has crumbled historically for women, even in the knowledge industry. Because multinational publishing houses are usually owned by media conglomerates which are run by men. Like in any other traditional industry, it’s the boys’ club that still runs the show.

9. Are there any initiatives to support women in publishing in India? If so, at what level, entry level? Leadership?

Not that I can think of. In an industry such as this, systematic mentoring is the single-most important way of supporting women or any section that has not yet reached positions of leadership, and there is very little systematic mentoring in my industry. There are individual cases, fabulous ones, but that is all.

After the second wave of #MeToo in India in the fall of 2018, I started a Women in Indian Publishing WhatsApp group – there are more than 80 women on it now from across the country, and we talk a lot to each other; we discuss the trade as much as this unique political moment we find ourselves in where women are in the foreground in the country. Being a part of this group has made me feel much more connected to my industry; being an indie publisher can get very isolating at times.

10. What is your view of PublisHer as a global network for women in publishing?

I said this on the PublisHer panel at Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2019 and I can say it again—networks among women peers across the world is one of the most empowering things for women in publishing. Some of my closest friends in publishing are women in Nigeria, Bangladesh, Australia, France and Germany. I reach out to them for professional feedback and emotional sustenance all the time. When I am travelling in their country, they make sure they have my back. These networks make me feel like I am part of a global publishing community, not a mansplained part, but a beloved one. PublisHer, with its fantastic vision and programme of action is making this happen for so many younger women in my industry. These younger women are the ones I am most concerned about in my own country, who, in the absence of systematic and committed mentoring and support systems, will leave the industry more quickly than my peers did, because there are so many more options today. I am hoping that PublishHer will make its presence felt among the young women in the Indian publishing industry as well.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Alīse Nīgale

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Alīse Nīgale is the co-founder and publisher at Liels un Mazs, an independent, award-winning, family-owned publishing house founded in 2004 in Riga, Latvia. Liels un Mazs focuses on publishing contemporary picture books and quality fiction and successfully work in international rights sales. Alīse, the publisher and a mother of three, is passionate about publishing books to develop children’s artistic and literary tastes and enrich their reading experience by combining literature with other media. She is a Latvian Publishers Association board member and IBBY Latvia member.

1. You studied Latvian Language and Literature at university and then started your career as a journalist. What inspired you to change your career to publishing?

I started my studies only after my first few jobs – freelancing for a daily newspaper and then in the television industry working on reality shows. However, both professions are rooted in my family: my parents are writers, journalists and editors, and my brother works as an editor in a national news agency.

2. What attracted you to setting up your own publishing company, and why children’s publishing?

My mother is the beloved Latvian writer Inese Zandere. She won a manuscript competition for children’s poetry in 2000. These were the poems she had written over 20 years (while I was growing up). When I read those, I realised that, at the age of 22 I was still very keen on children’s literature. Her book quickly became popular and won many literature and design awards, resulting in bookshops selling all of their stock. However, shortly after this book was published, the publisher of the book went bankrupt. My mother continued to receive frequent questions about her book, especially whether it would be published again. One friend even rewrote the whole book by hand to give it as a present to someone!

Working in entertainment programs on television did not give me the feeling that I was doing something meaningful, so I quit that job. Then one day, a brilliant idea came to our minds: we could start to publish children’s books ourselves! It was one of those unexpected decisions made in the kitchen after a family dinner. Really, why not? We can do it! That is how the publishing house started. We are three female family members who co-founded the publishing house without any business plan or any startup capital. Our company started as a one-book project and has become one of Latvia’s leading children’s book publishers. We also received the BOP Prize (Bologna Prize for the Best Children’s Publishers) for Europe in 2022. When we started, we knew we were taking a risk, but we did it with great confidence that our ideas and values would have followers. Fortunately, we were right, and our approach has reached many parents and young readers. The books we publish are an excellent way to spend time with children and are like a bridge for family members to discuss serious, complex topics. These are also books that show the variety of different styles and genres in literature and illustration. Many parents find it necessary to broaden their children’s literary and visual tastes.

3. You’ve participated in several invitation and fellowship programmes – how have these programmes helped with your career?

There are no opportunities to study publishing in Latvia. My career has been the process of learning by doing. This requires a lot of energy and sometimes limits growth because the lack of theoretical knowledge does not allow me to see the big picture or trust my own decisions fully. So, every program I have participated in has widened my perspective on publishing, and I have gained new knowledge. They are also crucial for networking between international publishers. What I like most about book fairs and fellowships is that I can meet many like-minded publishers with the same interests and values. Coming from a small country, I sometimes miss more like-minded fellows in the publishing field at home. But I have found many worldwide.

4. As a member of the Latvian Publishers Association and other organisations, why do you feel participating in industry initiatives is important?

In a small country, we are limited in many ways, so being involved in international processes is particularly important to prevent our work from becoming provincial. At the same time, for example, with the current war in Ukraine, it is clear that our contribution internationally is also significant: we have a much clearer understanding of the nature of an aggressor state because we have experienced it in action ourselves and we are able to explain it to the rest of the world and stand up for Ukraine without any compromises.

5. What have been the biggest challenges in your publishing career? Have you experienced any challenges due to your gender?

One of my biggest personal challenges always has been finding a balance between family and work relationships between the three of us (owners of the publishing house: my mother, cousin, and me). However, with the growth of the publishing house, it has become easier and easier, and each of us has learned and accepted our role in the company.

Another challenge has been to start to sell translation rights: learning all aspects of different markets: which formats work in which market, which topics are tabu, which art triggers German, which French publishers’ taste etc. Also, to explain all this to authors and convince them to think of those international aspects when creating a book. But I think I succeeded: we are now the leading publishing house in Latvia for selling rights internationally.

As I already mentioned, the lack of a theoretical basis in publishing has been challenging. I had to use my gut feeling instead, which is hard to explain, but I have followed it. So far, it has always led us in the right direction.

As for gender, yes, I have experienced some attitudes towards me. At the beginning of my career, it was even more connected with my age. Or a combo of gender and age — for example “what can this ‘little girl’ know about publishing books?” Luckily, I don’t face these attitudes any more. I hope a general shift in society is very slowly happening towards the right direction. Or maybe I am just old enough to be taken seriously, finally!!

6. What have been your biggest achievements and proudest moments in your career?

Winning the BOP Prize last spring obviously was THE moment of my recent career. However, I like to celebrate the small steps, too: successful grant project applications, national prizes, a good book review or feedback from readers on how important the book has become to them. Everything counts.

One of the most significant achievements is that we have followed our aim from the beginning — to publish outstanding and important books we love. We do not compromise because it might be too expensive in production or not sell so well. If we find the book important, we publish it in the best possible production quality.

I can illustrate it with an example from those times I worked on TV: the producer argued in some discussions that buying more Hollywood action movies is necessary, as this is what people know and like to watch. This safe model could also be extended to children’s books. We could only publish what people are used to. However, we chose a different approach — people cannot want to read books in genres and styles they do not know simply because they do not know them yet. We chose that for our main aim — to diversify and enrich Latvia’s children’s book publishing field.

Also, I am proud that we have been involved in many cross-culture projects like exhibitions, animation movies and theatre productions. Through this, we show the importance of quality content in children’s culture.

7. What are your future ambitions for your publishing career?

I will illustrate again with an example. When I first visited the London Book Fair, Mexico was the guest of honour country. I walked into a room where a panel discussion was about to end. One of the panelists was Cristina Urrutia from Ediciones Tecolete. She also was addressed with the similar question you ask me now. And she answered that she plans to stay a small publisher. I took her answer as my motto because being small gives you the freedom to experiment, to take a risk with not such high costs, and to be more creative and flexible with whatever comes your way. Even if we have grown, we are still a small publisher, but the influence our books can create is big. By the way, the name of our publishing house — Liels un Mazs — means big and small.

8. Has anyone motivated, inspired or mentored you in your career? How have your children influenced your publishing?

The children’s literature I read as a child has given me a passion for good children’s books, especially Astrid Lindgren’s books. Of course, my mother was an inspiration and mentor for me at the beginning of my career. She has a lifelong experience as an editor and an outstanding literary and language sense. Her children’s poetry is very playful yet philosophical, and she uses musical language. I want to mention my good friend and biggest mentor in selling rights, Lawrence Schimel. He has always been open to explaining, connecting, helping, and suggesting — I am amazed by Lawrence’s energy and knowledge he is ready to share with many in the international publishing field.

My children have been the first audience of many of our books. It has always been interesting to see what they like; however, I always consider that they are my children and can react more complimentary than the general audience. My older son sometimes helps us if we have a pop-up shop during the Christmas season or if we need to pack lots of books to ship to customers after an online promotion.

9. How would you describe the publishing industry in Latvia? How supported are women in leadership in Latvia? Would you like to see any changes in support for women in publishing?

The publishing industry in Latvia is relatively small: we have one large publishing house and many small ones. The average print run is 1000 copies, approx. 1800 new titles are published every year, and from those, around 30% are translations from other languages. Poetry and children’s books are the most vital segments of the field.

However, the publishing industry in Latvia has little money. You can see that fewer men work in publishing and many publishing companies are owned or led by women. That lightens the problem we still face in Latvia, that men are better paid than women. Unfortunately, there are few instruments for supporting women in publishing or business in general. I hope to see it changing soon as we are having more open discussions about these matters.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Lidia Lykhach

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Lidia Lykhach graduated from Kyiv National University (Shevchenko) with a major in journalism. After a period as a correspondent for Ukrainian newspapers, she founded both a periodical dealing with the cultural history of Ukraine and a publishing house, both known as RODOVID. In 2003, she founded the RODOVID art gallery in Kyiv. She has previously been an advisor to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Ukraine.

Questions

1. After studying journalism and working in this field for some years, what inspired you to move into the publishing sector and set up your own publishing house?

I enjoyed journalism and especially my specialism: arts and cultural journalism. My work in the cultural section led me to write about extremely interesting topics such as music, arts education, museum collections, ethnographic or archeological research, and more. With the format of a newspaper, there seemed to always be a lack of space to hold the material we were wanting to share. Naturally, the desire for a larger format grew. As early as 1990, as soon as the communist ban on print, private TV, and publishing houses fell, I immediately founded the magazine RODOVID – Notes on the History of Ukrainian Culture. Before that only the Communist Party or the local Komsomol union could be the founders of publications; there was no private business, only underground.

2. What does the publishing house specialize in and where does the name Rodovid come from?

The closest translation into English for the word RODOVID is perhaps “FAMILY TREE.” We look at the family tree through the lens of culture and arts. We wanted our regional publication to focus on the entire millennial artistic heritage known in Ukraine.

I am very proud of those 10 years of the magazine, which brought together young historians, researchers of art, theater, folklore, archives, archeologists, ethnomusicologists, and more. It was a big deal for everyone, because for the first time they had the opportunity to publish their research, creating personal professional narratives. They had a platform to share their work with the world. But after a few years, journal articles, too, became too small a format for what we were wishing to share. Almost every study required a monographic format. This was because, for so long under Soviet rule, Ukrainian heritage had been repressed and for decades nothing had been allowed to be published unless it followed Soviet ideology. We needed the monograph format to give room for Ukrainian heritage, culture, arts, and individuals to finally be heard.

We began to publish native art, iconography, textiles, and anthropological studies that displayed the structural change in traditional culture because of Soviet rule. We prepared monographs of artists and notable artistic themes in Ukrainian art. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 meant a restoration of Ukrainian statehood and created momentous changes in all spheres of life, ranging from the personal to political to artistic, including the sphere of publishing.

3. Tell us about publishing in Ukraine, and where does your publishing house fit in?

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, new publishing houses immediately began to be established. People had been waiting for a long time to express themselves through print, and with the establishment of Ukraine’s independence they were able to flourish.

Among the private publishers in Ukraine, RODOVID is one of the oldest and to a specific circle of researchers, the most visible. For many years we have been consistent with writing the new history of Ukrainian art, dating from ancient times to present day. We look for innovation in our projects and future paths, regarding tradition and the past.

4. What projects are you most proud of in your career?

Probably a series of publications on Ukrainian Modernism. We printed several important publications that represent this rich, impactful, and vibrant period of Ukrainian art (1910s-1930s.) This includes a study by Vita Susak ‘Ukrainian Artists in Paris. 1900-1939,’ (2010), Jean-Claude Markade’s MALEVICH (2013), Kazimir Malevich. Kyiv Period 1927-1930 (2017), Mudrak, Rudenko, Staging the Ukrainian Avant-Garde of the 1910s and 1920s (in collaboration with the Ukrainian Museum in New York, 2015), modernist design in NARBUT (2020-2021), Georgy Kovalenko’s Alexandra Exter (2021), a limited series of Ukrainian modernism (Alexander Bohomazov, Vasyl Yermilov, Anatol Petrytsky). Also, exhibitions in which I participated of Kharkiv modernism and the staging of Ukrainian theatrical avant-garde in New York, in which I also participated.

5. What challenges have you faced in your career in publishing?

RODOVID’s biggest challenge is financial. It takes approximately one and half years to ten years to prepare a book and costs a lot of money. Due to the weak economy and low financial capacity of buyers, selling our type of books can be difficult.

6. What is the environment like for women in publishing in Ukraine, especially female leaders?

I am proud that a lot of the cultural leaders I know in Ukraine are women, and similarly a lot of the Ukrainian publishers are women. I think Ukrainian women take initiative and risk, they are intuitive, strong, and creative and this leads to our ability to be leaders.

7. You are running 3 different businesses, and you are an author yourself; how do you manage the balance between them?

For me they are all connected. They don’t feel like separate businesses, but one line of work that moves as a cohesive whole. Each one fulfills something different in the context of RODOVID’s overall vision in sharing Ukrainian art.

8. What is next for you and your work life?

At the moment, there are many projects and books awaiting completion. In a long-term sense, my dream is to create a new kind of space that encompasses both publications and a gallery of work from my private collections. I want it to be a gallery that doesn’t only hold artwork or an office that doesn’t only publish, but a creative building housing publications, galleries, events, and offices that people are able to visit. A place where process is not stripped, but the process is unveiled and merged with product. I would love to create a new space through the RODOVID Gallery.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Núria Cabutí

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Núria Cabutí is a native of Barcelona and graduated in Economic Sciences from the UAB. She holds a BA in Business Studies from Oxford Brookes University and an MBA from IESE Business School. She began her career in publishing in 1992 as a financial analyst and in 1998 she was named Director of Marketing at Plaza & Janés. Following the merger that created Random House Mondadori in 2001, she was named Director of Marketing and Communications and in 2003 she was appointed Editorial Director of the Children’s and Young Readers Division, later taking additional responsibility of Debolsillo.

Núria became the CEO of Random House Mondadori in 2010 and in 2013 was appointed CEO of Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial and a member of Penguin Random House International Board. She has been a member of the Supervisory Board of Bertelsmann since 2021.

She is Vice president of Cercle d’Economia and member of the Management Board of AED, is member of the Supervisory Council of Barcelona Global and member of the Advisory Board of José Ortega y Gasset -Gregorio Marañon Foundation.

1. Having been a Business Studies graduate, why did you decide on a career in the publishing sector? What was it about publishing that attracted you?

When I was a child, I was always surrounded by art and literature at home. My grandparents were artist- painters- and my mother was a librarian. I always appreciated creative work and creative minds. When I was about to finish my studies, I saw that the European media company Bertelsmann was looking for new people to join their publishing businesses in Spain and I thought this could be an interesting business to work for. I was attracted from the very beginning as it was the perfect combination of dealing with management and dealing with creativity. I was completely captivated by the possibility of meeting very interesting authors and learn from them and at the same activity apply economics principles to the publishing industry.

2. You took an unusual route in to publishing with a finance role, but then moved into marketing and communications. How did this transition come to be?

I started my career as a business analyst, and I was working close to the management in different projects but from very early on I was attracted to marketing activities. At that point, the company wanted to grow in the paperback business in Spain and I was offered the opportunity to develop a marketing plan for our paperback collections and then I started my development within the marketing department and very soon the communications area where I had the opportunity to prepare press programs for our authors and be in constant communication with media.

3. When you became CEO of Random House Mondadori in 2010, what was the landscape of female CEOs in publishing in your territories at that time? Has it changed much? Did you find any challenges to becoming CEO as a female?

In the publishing industry there have always been many women in key positions especially in the content areas, but it is true that twelve years ago you could not find so many CEOs who were women. The landscape has been changing during these last years and today I can say that there is gender equality running the global PRH companies. In the specific case of PRH Grupo Editorial (our Hispanic companies) we have a diverse top management group with the same number of men and women and diversity in terms of nationalities and educational background.

Work life balance has always been an important challenge to me as I have a family, but I am glad to see that governments and companies are improving in offering life balance measures to their employees and I am sure this is a measure that will keep improving in the years to come.

4. You joined the Supervisory Board of Bertelsmann in 2021. This is very male dominated board. What is your experience of being in such a male dominated environment?

My experience has been positive. I feel respected in my knowledge and expertise, and I have been able to have a transparent and candid relationship with all my colleagues. I think women today need to be more empowered and senior executives in the organisations must support them in their professional development. Top management must have diversity as one their top priorities when executing the strategy.

5. The publishing industry has faced many challenges over the last decade. As a CEO, what are the biggest challenges you have tackled in your territories?

We operate in nine different countries with different macroeconomic and geopolitical situations. One of our challenges has been to overcome the political and economic instability especially in some countries in Latin America and develop the book market, especially for young readers that will be the readers of the future and the ones who will reshape and develop our society.

6. Is there any one person, or any books that have deeply influenced you in your career journey so far? And what are you most proud of in your career?

I have been working with a very stable management team during all these years. We have built strong teamwork and we have learned one of each other and for me, this team has been a guide and influence in my daily work. We have achieved outstanding results together.
I am very proud to have developed our business in different countries and areas through a policy of organic growth and acquisitions and become the Spanish market leader in the trade publishing business. The thing that makes me happiest is that authors want to be published in our catalogues and our employees are committed, proud, and enjoy their daily work.

7. What topics are you most passionate about in the publishing sector right now and why?

The topic that we are all talking about these days is Artificial Intelligence. We know this will have an impact on our business and we shall be able to improve many processes within the publishing industry, but at the same time, generative AI can have a deep impact in the way content is generated and in some way influence creativity. We believe in human creativity as the main driver for literature, but we think creators will use AI in some form in order to improve the quality of their work.

8. What do you think are the key trends for the next 5 years for the broader publishing industry, especially in your territories?

In terms if content, we are seeing an increase in sales on all the topics linked to social media and specifically in the authors that belong to communities such as Wattpad or Tik Tok. We think this will continue, as well as the interest in self-help books especially all that is related with mental health.

Another trend we are seeing is that there will continue to be much conversation about cancel culture and freedom of expression and we as Penguin Random House are committed to hear and publish a wide range of diverse voices.

We think the topic of sustainability will be even more important in the years to come so publishing houses must keep improving in reducing CO2 and find ways to be more effective in distributing books.

Online sales distribution platforms will continue to grow and supply chain will become even more important as readers want to have the content quickly once they have decided to buy books. Finally, I think audiobooks will continue to expand related to the higher demand of podcasts specially among young people.

9. You hold positions outside of your role as CEO of Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial – what are your interests in these?

I am the Vice President of an Economic, Social and Political think tank called Cercle de Economia based in Barcelona where we discuss the future of our society and how politicians and entrepreneurs can shape and influence in the development of society. I also sit on the Board of IESE business school alumni and in AED, the Spanish executives Board. All these institutions give me good insights of what is happening in the business world and main trends that other companies and faculty are envisioning.

10. What advice would you give to young women in publishing aspiring to become the next generation of CEOs?

Have passion in what you do. Any job and daily work can have a great impact in the company where you work. Believe in yourself and look for women role models to inspire you.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Eva Ferri and Sandra Ozzola

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Eva Ferri is the publisher of Europa Editions UK and Edizioni E/O in Italy. After studying Philosophy and Public Policy in Rome and at the London School of Economics, she completed a Masters in Philosophy and Jungian Psychoanalysis in Milan. Eva lives in Rome and London.

Sandra Ozzola is the President and Co-Founder of Europa Editions and Edizioni E/O. Born in Northern Italy in 1949, Sandra Ozzola studied languages and literature both at high school and university, where she majored in Slavic languages. She moved to Rome in 1969 to continue her studies. In 1979, together with Sandro Ferri she founded the Rome-based publishing house Edizioni E/O, where she is now editorial director and manager. In 2005, she and Sandro Ferri founded Europa Editions.

1. Sandra, you founded Edizioni E/O back in 1979. What was the inspiration behind starting the company? Why did you choose publishing as a career and why set up your own business? Was it common in Italy then to launch a new independent publishing company? What challenges did you face launching the company?

When you set up Europa Editions in 2005, what lessons had you learnt from establishing Edizioni E/O that you found were particularly helpful? Why did you choose this business model above all others to bring literature in translation to the UK and US markets?

In my studies I was always focused on languages and literature, especially Slavic literatures (Russian, Czech etc.) and French. When I was very young, I was a translator. In 1979 my partner Sandro, suggested that we should do something together and that we could set up a publishing house. I accepted with enthusiasm. I had always dreamt of working independently, without bosses or working hours and of doing something pragmatic but in a creative industry.

Together, we faced what was then a real challenge. The world was still divided into two worlds, East and West, and not many readers in Italy were familiar with the work of authors from Eastern European countries. We knew that many of those books were important. We gambled on the idea that there might be many readers who would want to read these books in Italian, if translations were made available to them. I think we can say that the gamble paid off. We now publish books from all over the world.

In founding Europa Editions, we followed the same line of thought. In English speaking countries publishers showed little interest for literature in translation, which made up a ridiculously tiny share of the overall market. We thought that beautiful European, African, Asian, South American books would be loved by US and UK readers if only they were made available to them. In general, we were proved correct. We followed the same principles that we had followed at E/O – quality, independence, keeping the size of the company small without limiting our ambitions or the number of projects. We tried to be courageous; but just as importantly, to have fun.

2. Eva, when did you join the family business and what attracted you to both work in publishing and join the family business?

There was never a moment in which I formally joined the family business. I was probably drooling on finished copies of our books at the age of one. Some of my first memories are of my parents bringing books home. Certainly from about the age of six – child labour! – I was helping them with mailouts. From the age of twelve I was going with my parents to bookfairs and hand selling books. At 18, I started working my way through the slush pile. Aged 20 I worked in the US office for a little while, and so on.

There was a time, around 2014, just after I had completed my Masters, when I knew that I had to decide if I was going to work in publishing full-time, or not. I have always had a fierce love for books and publishing, but it took me a while to confirm to myself that this could become my life’s work. I knew I was in a privileged position and did not want to act irresponsibly, doing it “just because”. My parents have always encouraged me to makes my own choices freely. I admire what they (and the rest of the team) have done, and in Italy it is pretty common to join the family business, but I wouldn’t have wanted it to be automatic. I am an only child. I needed time to understand that I could be both respectful of my parents’ approach and, at the same time, have the freedom to do my own thing. In the end, of course, I chose to join.

3. Both: The aim of Europa Editions was to bring fresh international voices to the American and British markets and this appears to be reflected in your international workforce. What are the challenges to international publishing and seeking new writers from all over the word?

Eva: I think in terms of our list, it is a matter of maintaining a balance between the various international voices, exploring new territories and new genres, avoiding publishing the same book over and over again and avoiding the label ‘niche publisher’. Our aim is to be constantly innovating so that we can speak to as many people as possible. It is important to us that our workforce reflects this open approach. We are very proud of the fact that we have such a diverse team in both the US and in the UK, with our staff coming from many different countries and all kinds of backgrounds.

I believe that there are few other publishers – if any – that have similar structures in place. Most of our editorial staff speak several languages. That is generally not true elsewhere, and should be a matter of concern, though obviously it does gives us a strategic advantage!

4. Sandra: One of your many notable writers is Elena Ferrante. What is the back story to becoming her publisher?

The first book by Ferrante that came my way was Troubling Love, sent to me by a mutual friend. It’s a book of great intellectual depth, bold, but also difficult and at times disturbing. It was 1990. I was convinced I was holding in my hands a novel of one of the greatest writers I had ever read. And 30 years later I still think that. The fact that Elena didn’t want to appear in public did not cause me the slightest concern. I thought it was a legitimate request, and perfectly understandable to me given the uncompromising way in which she treated themes and characters. I have acted as her point of contact with the world for all this time. Messenger, ambassador, and friend.
In Italy, Ferrante was loved by readers and critics from the start, even if some critics were obsessed about her identity. But for me it was not enough. I had this desire to see her where, in my opinion, she belonged. And she got there, possibly defying all of our expectations. Now her work is read and loved all over the world. I am so happy about that.

5. Sandra: Europa prides itself on having very high editorial standards. Does being a publisher of international fiction present any editorial challenges?

Sandra: Many. To name one, it is important to keep the bar very high when it comes to the quality of the translations. We work with many excellent translators, turning books written in a vast number of languages into two languages. Translators have been crucial to our success.

6. Both: With three Ferris at the helm of Europa Editions, how do you find working together professionally and as a family unit?

Sandra: I think it is inspiring to see how different our editorial tastes are, but also how we complement each other. We all acquire books and I think it would be fairly easy to work out which books have been acquired by whom. We also read in different languages – apart from Italian, of course. I predominantly read in French, Sandro reads in English, French and Spanish and Eva reads in English, all of which gives us access to different kinds of books.

In terms of our family unit, in Rome Eva and I shared a desk for a couple of years, only just recently moving to her own room. It was nice to work so closely together, as if learning by a process of osmosis, but I do have more space now.

Eva: I must admit that we, “The Ferris”, love each other, are very respectful of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and freedom and are equipped with a good sense of humour. This always helps us navigate any family drama, which obviously occur all the time. I’d be very worried if there were no dramas.

7. Eva: What have you learned from working with your parents and are there things that you hope to change and develop at Europa? How different is working in Italy to working in the UK publishing industry?

Eva: The single most important thing I have learned from my parents is about independence and having the freedom to be truly free to explore both the political landscapes and aesthetic ones. Sandro and Sandra lead by example and I am always impressed by how steady they have been in defence of their values and vision.

Of course, having learned the independence lesson so well, at Europa I am doing things independently – also from them. This has meant that in the past few years I have had to do a lot to listening, adjusting any pre-conceived ideas I may have had, to try and meet the needs of the UK market whilst ensuring that we retain our identity. It is hard work, more than I expected it to be. I have come to understand that the two publishing industries really are radically different, which is in itself a very big topic and perhaps not one we have the space to explore here. A real advantage of working for both companies is that I get to see which practices work better for one country and not the other, sometimes a better practice can be adopted by both countries. It is good fun to try and experiment.

For now, my aim in the UK is, widely speaking, to establish our presence as an international publisher but also as a UK publisher, and to raise awareness about what we do and more importantly, why we do it.

8. Both: Do you have role models in publishing that you admire and who have inspired you (or any people from outside publishing who have inspired you)?

Sandra: I think for me it has always been the French publisher Gallimard for the great quality of their list, for the loyalty of their authors, for the way in which their authors develop over time, and the feeling that they too are part of the publishing house.

Eva: Those who are brilliant at doing their jobs but also human. I admire anyone who challenges conformity. There are a number of people in the UK who do this and to whom I feel grateful. In particular, Jamie Byng, Clare Conville and Stephen Page, who have been really supportive of our vision. Each of them has been extraordinarily sensitive to the strange nature of our project, which has certainly helped me feel less isolated.

In Italy, from the very early days when I was interrogating myself about being the “heir” of Edizioni E/O, Antonio Sellerio (also a second-generation publisher) has been a crucial figure for me. I will never forget his one-liner wise tips murmured at bookfairs, in the midst of the chaos.

9. Both: what is your experience of being a female working in the publishing industry and running your own companies? Both from a personal experience but also what do you observe in Italy and in the UK? Do you think you have had different experiences from each other?

Sandra: For me, running my own company, there has been no real struggle internally. I have never felt disadvantaged or crushed because I was a woman.

Outside, yes. The publishing house has, for many years, been “Sandro Ferri’s publishing house”. Or, from those a little more generous: “Sandro Ferri and his wife’s publishing house”.
In order to be recognized at all, I started adding “Ferri” to my email address. Later, when I tried to get rid of it (because it did not feel right) it was hard. There are still those who call me Sandra Ferri.

Eva: It is a fact that all over the world there are many more women working in publishing than men. And yet if you look at senior level positions the situation is reversed.

In Italy, when we talk about CEOs and Managing Directors, the scenario is discouraging. If I had to sit in a room with a group of publishers of medium or big companies, I’d likely be the only female. I have also been at the receiving end of all sorts of patronizing conversations. Once a very prominent publisher, when I introduced myself to him, asked me: “So, Miss, do you really read books?”. Another time, I was introduced by a man I did not know to an audience of 300 people and publicly congratulated me on my pregnancy, which “would ensure the company’s future”. Only I wasn’t pregnant.

In the UK I would say the picture is a bit better, though not much. Some things simply cannot be said to or about a woman, which is obviously good, even if one sometimes feels like people are terrified of how they should behave for fear of being accused of not being politically correct. But more importantly, there are more women at senior level positions, if still a minority.

I think it’s true that what men say always seems to carry more weight, and that women in positions of power sadly need to be much braver if they don’t want their decisions to be compromised.

10. Eva: You have seen there is a movement in the UK to encourage more women into senior leadership positions in publishing. Is this something you support and see changes happening?

Eva: I’m not sure I know enough about the movement and recent changes, but I do know that whilst being a woman in the UK has its challenges, so does being a foreigner. I feel there are certain publishing discourses in the UK that I’m not included in, not because I’m a woman but because I’m foreign.

But, yes, to answer your question, of course I fully support it. And this is not only because I want to see more women in leadership positions tout-court, but because so many women are brilliant, and they deserve it.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Satinek Anastasian

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Satenik is a Graduate of the Moscow State University of Printing Arts. During her publishing career she has worked as a senior editor at Rosman (children’s literature), managing editor at UMKA (children’s literature), and managing editor at AST (children’s and YA literature). Satenik spent 3 years working as the Head of Content at Bookmate (e-reading service) and in 2018 with financing from Bookmate, launched a print publishing house called Popcorn Books (https://popcornbooks.me/), where she is the Editor-in-Chief.

Popcorn Books became the first diverse and LGBT+ friendly publishing house in Russia. Since the launch Popcorn has published more than 50 titles, including translated bestsellers, such as Call Me By Your Name, Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda, Boy Erased, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, etc. Last year Popcorn started publishing Russian authors as well as translated books. The first Russian author – Mikita Franko and his debut book The Days of Our Lives was shortlisted for some prestigious literary awards (NOS, Litsey), and the film rights for his book have already been sold.

1. Why did you choose a career in children’s and YA Publishing?

As cliché as it sounds, I’ve just always loved YA and children’s books, I never really grew out of them! I also love the way good YA books tackle difficult, adult topics without sugar-coating them but still leave the reader with a sense of hope in the end. To me that’s magical.

I still get the same feelings of excitement reading these books and knowing that the readers will enjoy them. YA audiences are always super responsive and grateful, I’ve received so many messages and emails from readers saying that these books have changed their lives, that’s what makes it so rewarding for me.

2. What was your pathway into the publishing industry?

I first realized that I wanted to go into publishing when I was in high school. I watched a movie called the Suburban Girl that really inspired me, the main character was a book editor and that was really intriguing to me. At the time I was into writing and always edited my own work, I didn’t even know that editing books was a career! That moment was like an eye-opener for me and it just clicked that this is what I want to do. That’s where it all started for me.

I later found out there was a publishing university in Moscow and really wanted to get in. When I first applied, I was rejected – which really disappointed me. I thought I knew everything I needed to know to get on the course. Instead I had to do a year’s work experience at a publishing house before finally being accepted. Although I graduated with a degree, I didn’t end up getting my diploma in publishing because I didn’t need it, I had enough experience to get a career in publishing without it.

3. What roles did you have in the publishing industry before you launched Popcorn books?

I started out at Rosman, which is one of the bigger children’s publishing houses in Russia. I was a secretary for a year and then moved into the editorial team for 3 years. At first the books I worked on were quite simple picture books with not too much text and from there I progressed to much more complicated books.

I then went to Simbat books and made all sorts of branded books with Disney and marvel characters. After that I moved to AST, the biggest publishing house in Russia where I started my journey with YA books. It was important for me to work in a publishing house of this scale as it allowed me to realise the gap in the market for something different, something outside these big publishers’ traditions.

From there I went to Bookmate as Head of Content and mostly worked signing contracts with foreign publishing houses, which was quite sideways and unfamiliar to me, but I quickly came back into the publishing world and launched Popcorn books.

4. Who or what has inspired you in your publishing career?

Harry Potter was my obsession when I was in high school and I still love the books today, they really inspire me. When I realised that I wanted to work in publishing I decided that I would do anything to work at the Russian publishing house that was publishing the Harry Potter books, I would mop the floors if that’s what they wanted me to do! As I was finishing high school, I called the publishing house and it turns out they had an opening and took me in. That’s really where my career began and, here I am thirteen years later.

5. Could you tell us a bit more about Popcorn Books and what inspired you to launch it?

I think the main element of my inspiration for launching Popcorn books was seeing all the big players in the industry filled with bureaucracy and prejudice, preventing their editors from publishing progressive, quality books.

Popcorn was initially launched as part of an e-reading service called Bookmate, where I worked as Head of Content at the time. My boss and I had always thought that we needed to create our own content and a print publishing house was a great way to go about that, considering my previous work background in children’s and YA.

Soon Bookmate acquired a print non-fiction publishing house called Individuum and alongside it we decided to open a fiction imprint. I became chief editor of this fiction imprint, creating the name and concept. I instantly knew we had to publish YA books. In the US and UK, the YA books are exciting, and we needed the same in Russia. Our initial idea was to publish books that other Russian publishers weren’t comfortable publishing.

We then acquired rights for ‘Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda’ and ‘Call Me By Your Name’, both with LGBTQ+ protagonists. We had a huge and very positive reaction from the readers from the get-go and that’s when we knew we had a niche and were doing something nobody in Russia had done before.

Last year we expanded from just translated titles to publishing our own Russian authors, which is very exciting! As Popcorn has grown and evolved, we’ve built an amazing community, our readers love our titles because they trust our taste and judgement in books, and equally, we trust theirs. Our diverse catalogue tackles race, gender, women’s rights, sexuality, mental health. The most important thing to us is that we won’t publish a book just because of the topic it addresses, we ensure all of our books are still captivating and bingeworthy.

What has been the reaction to a publisher launching an LGBTQ+ friendly publishing house in Russia? Were there any specific reactions to being a female launching such a publishing company?

When we first announced the titles that we had acquired, it was quite controversial. The overall reaction was very positive, I think that a lot of readers were excited to see some new and refreshing books being published.

But of course, some people were very angry because of the nature of the publishing house. As you may know, there’s a law in Russia that prohibits ‘homosexual propaganda among teenagers and children’. This law became an opportunity for anyone to bully those who support the LGBTQ+ community. When we launched Popcorn books there were people who tried to bully us as well, but we simply ignored them. In terms of publishing, the law just means that any books with queer characters or narratives must be wrapped in plastic and marked with an Aged 18+ mark.

In terms of being female and launching a progressive publishing house, I think weirdly it might be even a little easier for me that it would be for a man. People have speculated about my sexuality, but I don’t care and just ignore it. For men here that might be tougher to deal with.

6. What has been the biggest challenge of your career?

When we first launched, bookstores believed the books wouldn’t sell. They seemed to have a preconceived notion that queer books would only sell to queer readers and they seemed to think that there were no queer people in Russia. So convincing bookstores that queer books can be very popular too and not only amongst queer readers was a massive challenge.

Another challenge for me was finding a balance between quality and affordability of our books. Our readers are mostly in their late teens/early twenties so most of them don’t have a steady income or an income at all. Finding the price balance was very hard, but I think we got there.

7. What was one proud and defining moment of your career?

As funny as it is, a defining moment that stand out to me is when we started getting into auctions for queer books with other publishing houses. Three years prior, when we launched Popcorn nobody wanted these titles apart from us and when I worked at a large publishing house it was near impossible to convince anyone to buy queer titles for the Russian market. Now we’ve kind of created a trend and open-mindedness, so all the publishers are buying queer books. On one hand it is slightly frustrating because the big guys can always beat us in an auction with more money. But on the other hand, I still feel immensely proud because in the bigger picture, this is very important for a lot of people and for our country.

Another thing I’m extremely proud of is the fact that last year we published our first queer Russian author. The book is selling well and has been shortlisted for multiple awards. We’ve now sold the rights for it to be adapted into a movie and sold translation rights to two territories so I’m very happy about that.

8. What is the landscape like for women in publishing in Russia?

Publishing in Russia is mostly women, I would say 80 percent. But the top management is almost exclusively men. There are a lot of women in the roles of editors, senior editors, chief editors, but almost never CEOs and upper management. I don’t know why that is, to be honest. From what I’ve experienced, the environment in the top layers of the big and old publishing houses in Russia is quite toxic and sexist. A lot of the senior management in publishing comes from the ‘old days’ of publishing in the 90s, and a lot of those people are still behind their desks.

9. After all you’ve achieved, do you have any more ambitions or aspirations you hope to accomplish in your career?

There is one thing that I still dream of and it is to publish Harry Potter, but with a quality translation. As a huge Harry Potter geek, I was disappointed with the translation that was made by Harry Potter’s current Russian publishing house. As a huge fan who knows the books inside out, I would love to have a go at publishing a translation that I know will do the books justice.

10. What advice would you give to other women in the same industry?

My main advice is don’t be afraid to make others uncomfortable. If you know how to do your thing and you believe in it, don’t take no for an answer. Nothing is set in stone. Big publishers are like dinosaurs and if you don’t fight for fresh and progressive ideas nothing will ever change. However, I would also advise you to choose your battles, never spend too much energy on things that don’t matter or that you don’t really believe in.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Sonia Batres

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Sonia Batres is the Founding partner of ‘Caligrama Editores’, a publishing house created to promote the work of Mexican authors dedicated to the production of graphic novels. Since its launch, Caligrama has expanded its business portfolio to mainly provide editorial and localization services internationally, specializing in products related with the entertainment industry (comics, manga, anime, live action movies and series). Caligrama has collaborators in eight countries and clients on three continents.
Sonia is part of the Board of Directors of CANIEM and has been honoured with the CANIEM Award for Trade Union Merit in 2017. She has participated as a lecturer in various training programs for publishers offered by CANIEM (Cámara Nacional de la Industrial Editorial Mexicana), including the “Juan Grijalbo Scholarship” and the “Processes in Book Publishing Diploma”. She is also a teacher in the master’s degree in Editorial Design and Production at the UAM (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana). She was the coordinator of the ITAM’s (Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México) master’s degree in business administration, an institution where she obtained her master’s degree in administration with a specialization in Management and Finance, after obtaining the title of Mechanical Engineer from UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México).

1. How did you get in Book Publishing and what motivated you to join the industry? Especially after qualifying as a Mechanical Engineer?

As they say, sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s the traveller who finds the path, or the path that finds the traveller. After completing my training in Mechanical Engineering, I began my professional journey developing management systems. This work gave me the valuable opportunity to collaborate with companies in diverse sectors such as pharmaceuticals, construction, and tourism. It was through one of these projects that I had the chance to work with a hotel chain, part of a business group that also owned a publishing house. Invited to a new challenge, I transitioned from the hotel to the publishing field, taking charge of a publishing house specializing in comics and manga. This unexpected turn in my career marked the discovery of my true passion: the publishing world. Twenty-five years later, I am still deeply in love with my profession, which combines technology, humanities, creativity, and constant learning.

2. When did you set up ‘Caligrama Editores’ and what was your inspiration and aspiration behind setting up your own publishing company?

After three years of enriching collaboration with the company that introduced me to the publishing world, I felt the desire to create a new space in the sector: a Mexican publishing house dedicated to Mexican graphic novel authors. Until then, most of these talented creators saw their works published by foreign publishers or were forced to self-publish. I felt it was time to offer an alternative, to open a new path in Mexico’s publishing landscape. With this vision and after two years of meticulous planning and development, and with the invaluable support of my partner Antonio Reyes, Caligrama Editores was born in 2006.

3. Since its launch, how have you built up Caligrama?

Our start at Caligrama Editores was with a modest catalogue in quantity but immensely rich in quality, featuring authors such as Edgar Clement, Bachan, Micro, and the internationally acclaimed Tony Sandoval. Our work focused not only on publishing but also on vindicating the graphic novel as a literary genre, achieving its inclusion for the first time in the National Library’s catalogue. We marked another milestone by being the pioneers in introducing graphic novels in several major bookstore chains in the country, complementing our offer with an efficient home delivery service. Since our beginnings, we adopted a remote work model, a decision that initially surprised colleagues who wondered how it was possible to manage everything from a distance. This innovative vision proved particularly advantageous during the COVID-19 pandemic, as our processes were perfectly adapted to the circumstances. Caligrama’s evolution didn’t stop there. Over time, we expanded our activities to the bookstore business and, after seven years of accumulated experience, began offering editorial services to third parties. This sector became our fastest-growing area. Adapting to our clients’ varied needs, we evolved from being exclusively a publishing house to providing content localization services for different media, with a particular focus on entertainment. This journey has been one of constant adaptation and growth, reflecting not only our passion for books but also our ability to evolve, meet the changing needs of the publishing market, and make use of technology.

4. What obstacles have you had to overcome and what you are you now most proud of?

As an organization, one aspect that we are most proud of at Caligrama Editores is our adaptability. Like any other company, we have faced a variety of challenges over the years, encountering moments of both success and failure. However, these obstacles have only strengthened our determination and flexibility. At the core of Caligrama lies an exceptional team of professionals, each with an unwavering passion for their work. Together, we share a willingness to innovate and adapt our methodologies, which has allowed us not only to survive but thrive in this industry we love so much. This ability to continuously evolve and reinvent ourselves is not only a sign of resilience but also a deep commitment to the art and culture we seek to promote and preserve.

5. You are now on the board of the Mexican Book Chamber – CANIEM. What does your role entail and how do you feel you are contributing to Mexican the publishing industry?

Throughout our journey at Caligrama Editores, we have received invaluable support from CANIEM (National Chamber of the Mexican Publishing Industry). Whenever we needed assistance or advice from our industry peers, we always found a helping hand from them. This collaboration ranged from guidance on bureaucratic procedures and consultancy with various sector experts, to access to courses and events that allowed us to establish valuable connections with other companies and government entities involved in book and magazine production. I have had the honour of being part of five CANIEM executive boards, including the current one, led by Eng. Hugo Setzer, whose management in these challenging times has been exceptional. In my role, I contribute as a coordinator on the Data Management Commission, where we strive to develop tools and provide crucial information for our members’ decision-making. Additionally, I actively participate in the Innovation Commission and the Social Responsibility Commission, focusing on current vital issues such as diversity, accessibility, and sustainability. I am firmly convinced that significant change can only be achieved through collective efforts. Therefore, from the beginning, I have sought to have an active participation in the Chamber, believing that it is in unity and collaboration where the real strength lies to drive and sustain change in our industry.

6. What is the Mexican publishing environment like? And what is the role of women in Mexican publishing?

My involvement in CANIEM has afforded me the privilege of establishing friendships with numerous talented women who, like me, have dedicated their professional lives to the world of books. The female presence in Mexican publishing companies is notable, however, there is still a way to go to achieve proportional representation in leadership positions. It is encouraging to see that gender equity is at the centre of all our discussions in the industry, which is clearly evidenced in the composition of the latest CANIEM Executive Board. The Mexican publishing market is quite unique in that half of the books produced are educational texts for basic education, and 35% of these are produced by the government. Driving market growth for other types of content represents a monumental challenge for the private sector, especially considering the scarcity of government support programs. Regarding public preferences, we have noticed an increase in the demand for non-fiction titles. Fortunately, the Mexican publishing market has managed to recover the volume it had in 2019, before the pandemic. Future growth will largely depend on creating an economic and regulatory environment that encourages and supports the expansion and diversification of our industry.

7. You are very involved in teaching the next generation of publishers – how do you see the industry developing over the next 5-10 years and what skills do you think these aspiring publishers will need?

A key pillar for the growth of the publishing sector is the continuous professionalization and updating of those who make it up. Fortunately, we have several entities and institutions dedicated to this vital task. It is essential for sector professionals to be trained to innovate and incorporate new technologies that are transforming our industry. And I am not referring only to popular artificial intelligence, but also to technologies that promote sustainable development, such as the incorporation of new materials in book production, innovative forms of distribution, marketing, and ways of communicating with our audiences. It is crucial to recognize that the publishing industry is, above all, a content industry, regardless of the medium through which it is transmitted. Publishing professionals must also focus on respecting intellectual property, combating illegal content distribution, and fostering education in new generations of readers. It is vital that these readers understand and value the effort of authors and publishers and are aware of the impact books have on society.

8. Has anyone inspired you on your career path? Do you have any role models or mentors?

Our industry must act as an active agent in promoting the aforementioned principles. By assuming these responsibilities and facing these challenges, we are not only strengthening the relevance and sustainability of our sector but also making a significant contribution to the cultural enrichment and intellectual development of our society. A clear example of this contribution is the work of my colleague on the CANIEM Executive Board, Gina Constantinne, a distinguished editor, and specialist in publishing children’s stories in Braille. Her work is one of many inspiring stories of colleagues in the industry whose contributions have been crucial to the advancement of our industry. However, I hold a particularly fond memory of my friend Ángeles Aguilar Zinser, who we sadly lost in 2020. Ángeles was known by many as the director and founder of the famous weekly magazine ‘Tiempo Libre’, but only a few of us had the privilege of receiving her expert guidance in the labyrinth of periodical publications in Mexico. She was a woman of firm character, unbreakable honesty, and inexhaustible generosity, always willing to share her experience and wisdom. Without a doubt, her legacy endures as a beacon of inspiration for editors and publishers alike.

9. How do you see your career developing from here and in the future?

With that same determination and deep understanding of the market, I aspire to continue driving the development of Caligrama Editores, transforming it into an international project. My vision is for Caligrama to become a symbol of the excellence of editorial and localization work done in Mexico, a reflection of the quality and creativity that characterizes our industry.

10. What advice would you give to any young women wanting to enter the publishing industry or set up their own publishing business?

The publishing industry will always be open and willing to support those new members who wish to develop their own publishing initiatives. There is an abundance of training and mentoring programs to join. I have always firmly believed that once you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve, the next step is to figure out how. Fortunately, this is a process that can and should be shared. Results may take time to come, and it will be necessary to adjust the initial vision to changing circumstances, but in the end, it is possible to achieve that successful business model that will become a life project. We await you on this journey with open arms, ready to provide support, knowledge, and above all, inspiration.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Trini Vergara

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Trini Vergara is the founder of newly established Trini Vergara Ediciones based in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Madrid, Spain and Mexico City, Mexico. With a Masters degree in Economics she started her career in her family run publishing company Javier Vergara Editor which she left in 1996 when the company was sold. Together with a business partner she launched V&R Editoras before selling her shares in 2018. She spent 2 years as President of the Argentine Chamber of Publications and founded Entre Editores, an umbrella company which saw the establishment of a national publishing conference, a national training school for publishers and a new subscription service book club called ‘Mujeres que Leen’ – (Women Readers). She founded Trini Vergara Ediciones in 2021 after 2 years of R&D and published the first books in March 2021.

1. You grew up in a publishing family, did you always want to follow the family footsteps and become a publisher?

I grew up in a house with lots of books and lots of chatter about the family publishing company which both of my parents worked at. My parents were hugely passionate about what they did and were natural storytellers; publishing made them happy. Whilst my parents didn’t explicitly encourage me to choose publishing as a career, it was certainly subliminal, I absorbed their passion as I grew up and had a leaning towards being creative. What really struck me was that having a publishing company, you really could publish whatever books you wanted.

This led me towards thinking about studying literature at university, however I knew by thinking about the bigger picture, that publishing was a business and that I would need the skills to think about the business side of things as well as the creative side. The definitive moment came after my studies however, when I took a year off and travelled to Europe. At the beginning of that year I went with my parents to the Frankfurt Book Fair and spent days walking around Hall 4. I realised how global the industry was and how it was a world of people publishing great stories. This was my lightbulb moment and I knew there and then that this would be my career, with or without the family business.

2. Between 1986 and 1996, you worked for your family’s publishing house, Javier Vergara Editor. What did this experience teach you and why did you decide to spread your wings and leave the family business?

Those 10 years were a real education. My first role was in both production and publicity, and as there was no publicity department, I had to launch this function and department to gain exposure for our books. This was in a time before social media, so I made many friends with journalists and people in the media and ran this department for about 3-4 years. I then moved into the editorial department and started a new line of business books and published 50-60 in a series called Business Class. I read a huge number of books about different areas of running businesses which became a good lesson in how to run a company. I joined the board of the company and started to share decisions with my parents and other members of the board which opened my eyes to the international markets. My parents had offices in 7 countries and we regularly brought everyone together for one big meeting which gave me many valuable insights. I learnt that publishing may be very international in the way it works but the rules of the core business are generally the same the world over. I felt like a global player.

The decision to leave came with the decision of my parents to sell the company. My father decided to sell, but for me it was shock and I didn’t agree with the decision. I left their house on the evening they told me and as I walked home, I made my decision to leave and create my own company. I did this in 1996 with a business partner and we had many successful years of running the company together before she sadly passed away in 2011. I eventually made the decision to sell my shares in the business. I then spent 3 years ‘in transition’ where I became the President of the Camara de Argentina de Publicaciones (for 2 years) and founded Entre Editores, an umbrella company which housed a new Escuela de Editores (School Of Publishers) to encourage young people into the industry, a new national conference – the “Colloquium for The Future of Publishing” as well as a new book recommendation platform “Mujeres que Leen” – Women Readers, which led to “Women Readers – the Club” a subscription based literary box book club”. All of this came on the back of conducting major surveys of women who are avid readers in Argentina, Mexico and Spain, which created some interesting datasets about book-buying consumer trends.

3. Has anyone inspired you in the field of publishing?

I have read many biographies of publishers and one which has really stuck in my mind and inspired me is that of Michael Korda and the story of Simon & Schuster. I was struck by his story of leaving Hungary, escaping communism, and travelling to New York, and working extremely hard to build his career. He was a ferocious editor! I also admire Beatriz de Moura who built Tusquets Editores – she is fabulous.

4. What is the proudest moment in your career?

Yesterday! I found out that one of our first books published in Spain a week ago has already sold out and needs to have a new print run.

5. Do you find that being a woman has created barriers in your career? Particularly in reaching senior positions?

Because I worked in the family business and since then have always worked for myself, being a woman has not been a problem. When I became president of the Camara however, I worked with a lot of men who didn’t seem like to have a female boss. This is however an organisation that is more politics than business. Argentina is the most egalitarian country in South America, women are much freer than Chile for example. It’s different.

I do however have a personal theory of the disadvantaged. Being a woman is a disadvantage. I was born in Chile before coming to Argentina, and again living in Spain, I was a foreigner, I felt this too was a disadvantage. Through hard work and a constant will to learn, however, I managed to succeed.

6. Do you believe that the landscape of publishing in Argentina encourages women to become involved in the industry? Do you believe more needs to be done to support women to get into senior positions in the industry?

More needs to be done to get women into senior positions. We need to have more self-belief and confidence to aspire to senior positions. There are few female CEOs in Argentina. The School of Publishing which I established had many women as teachers providing some great role models.

7. Your new publishing house Trini Vergara Ediciones is based in three countries: Spain, Mexico and Argentina, and publishes all its books, in all formats, simultaneously in all three countries. What have been the challenges in starting your own publishing house, especially given that it has bases in 3 different countries?

From an early age I learnt that you must think globally and not just locally. Argentina is an important but complicated country and the Mexican and Spanish markets are the biggest. By having offices in those 3 markets you are covering almost 80% of the Spanish speaking book market.

By having local offices, you can develop local authors, understand local tastes and needs, and react quickly.  I spent 2 years preparing the company to be able to publish simultaneously in all 3 markets in all formats which is definitely a challenge.  I have an experienced team however across all 3 offices and we communicate every day. For me having this programme of simultaneous publishing was extremely important.

We publish commercial fiction under 2 imprints (Motus for thrillers and Gamon for fantasy).

8. What excites you the most about the future of the international publishing industry?

I’m excited about the new opportunities for small publishers and small bookstores. Digital is more egalitarian and provides many more opportunities to reach more readers. Across the industry we have consolidation of the market and we have Amazon but I don’t feel threatened by the big groups and I feel like online bookselling is democratic. I believe we can be successful despite the market being consolidated. Agents and booksellers are paying more attention to new publishers, small publishers that  have  commitment, originality and passion, and renewed ideas.  We are seeing many new authors emerging from many different countries which is exciting and more agents and publishers bringing these voices to the world.

9. Do you have any advice for other women looking to succeed in the industry?

Work hard, be successful and fulfil your goals. I follow 4 rules;

  • Show commitment to your cause or goal. Really go for it and be committed – which will help you all the way.
  • Planning – in the medium term – not short and long term. You must imagine yourself and what you want to do, where you want to be.
  • Adapt, adapt, adapt. Play by the rules but be creative!
  • Educate yourself in your speciality; prepare yourself, take courses, download webinars, speak with colleagues, learn as much as you can.

You are then a warrior.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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Véronique Fontaine

Meeting House: Emma House speaks to inspiring bookwomen from around the world.

Véronique Fontaine has been leading the award-winning publishing house, Fonfon, since it was established in 2010. A digital creation specialist, Véronique is experienced in developing innovative literary projects, such as Fonfon apps and the Curious critters club. Her dedication to the Quebec book industry is well-known and she holds a number of industry positions; vice-president of the Association nationale des éditeurs de livres (ANEL) and president of its digital, technologic and innovation committee and member of the Salon du Livre de Montréal corporation. Véronique is also a collaborator on various projects carried out by two university research chairs.

1. Why did you decide on a career in publishing and what was your pathway into the industry?

This is a long story! It is also a sad story that turned out to be a beautiful one. At first, I wanted to be a classical musician and had no plans to work in publishing. My dream was to play clarinet in a professional orchestra. I studied classical music at university, and achieved a Masters degree in clarinet interpretation. However, in August 2007, three months after I finished, a tragedy happened. My father died from a heart attackwhich was a shock for my family because he was in very good shape and was only 52 years old.

My father was working as a teacher in a college for future policemen and future investigators. He was himself a retired crime scene specialist, and in 2003 created his own publishing house, Les Éditions André Fontaine, to publish reference books. When he suddenly died, his publishing house already had a good reputation in this field. He was the only one working in the business, so when he died, my two sisters and I decided to take it over. I think it was a way to work through our grief, feeling that we could do something for him, keeping him and his name alive in a certain way. This was my introduction into the publishing industry, and I still work with crime scene specialists for Les Éditions André Fontaine today.

The childrens’ books publishing house came about because one of my sisters had the first baby of the family the night before our father died, meaning that they didn’t have the chance to meet. So, my sister decided to write a story for her son, sharing memories of our father with his grandson. We then decided that we would publish this book for our friends and family. Ninon Pelletier, a talented artist, fell in love with the text and agreed to do the artwork. We met significant people working in the industry who helped us, and a few months later, we had a beautiful book in our hands, and 2000 printed copies – way too many for just our friends and family! By March 2010, we had launched ‘Fonfon’ – the new imprint of our publishing house, specializing in picture books for children. A kind of tribute to our father, because Fonfon was his nickname when he was young. From this I discovered my love for working with illustrators, and authors and we continued to publish children’s books.

2. Do you have a career highlight?

I have many accomplishments that I’m quite proud of because I worked so hard to develop the publishing house! But I think that ‘Fonfon Interactive’, a huge digital production that we launched in 2016, is an important moment in my career. We had special funding to develop this experimental project of book apps, which we wanted to develop into something special in digital publishing. We worked with authors, illustrators, musicians, actors and a big team of digital developers and designers to optimize the user experience. I learnt a lot doing this production, it was the first project of this magnitude in the book industry in Québec.

After that, publishers on the board of the association (ANEL) asked me to get involved in the association and proposed I become the president of its digital, technologic and innovation committee. I accepted the offer and I’m still in this role today, and in 2019, I became the vice-president of the association.

3. Who or what have you been inspired by in the publishing industry?

It may sound strange, but my greatest inspiration comes from my musical background. I like to say that working on a text for a picture book is like creating music. Because most of the time, the texts will be read out loud, by the parents or the teachers, the musicality of the text is very important. I’m always looking for good rhythm in a sentence, the good intension, the nuance, and those parameters are also important elements in music. I do the same with illustrations. Are they fluid? Do the illustrations have enough space to breathe? Those are competences from my musical background, and they influence my work each day!

Because I was a musician, I know how it is to live as an artist, I know that it’s not easy and there are a lot of challenges that form your art. As such, the most important part of my work is to be respectful to the vision of the creators and to offer them the best conditions I can to support and recognize them.

4. What have you found to be your biggest challenges in publishing?

The first five years were the most difficult. There were challenges everywhere ! Building the reputation of the publishing house, learning how to do the work, understanding the law and managing the copyrights, and finding my place in the publishing industry. At first, my sisters were working in the publishing house with me, but they left in 2012 to work in other fields, so being alone from 2012 to 2016 was definitely the hardest part. Doing the multiple book fairs in Québec, managing the production of the books, managing the finance, working with the distributor. Sometimes, I look back on this period and I don’t know where I found the energy to do it all! During this time, I was working with freelancers for the production part, and it was only in 2016 that I hired my first employee. Now, we are still a tiny publishing house, but we are a team of five (all women)!

5. Tell us more about Fonfon and the interactive aspect.

The Fonfon series is designed to stimulate a love of reading in children aged 3 to 8, with colourful, engaging books that educate, enrich and entertain, all made entirely in Québec with eco-friendly materials.
Fonfon holds its talented authors and illustrators in high regard and embraces a vision of sustainability, releasing only a limited number of new publications each year to ensure a focus on carefully curated and beautifully crafted stories that will keep appealing to children’s imaginations for years to come. We have three collections:
• Stories for laughing: This collection is all about enabling children to experience the sheer pleasure of diving headfirst into a great story.
• Stories for living: A collection of picture books for children that tackle sensitive topics or address thought-provoking themes – these are the kinds of books every good bookstore needs!
• Stories for reading: Stories for Reading is a collection for early readers designed to spark the joy of reading through short stories that leave ample room for the imagination!

We also have La boîte à pitons, which is the digital part of our production. In this collection, we published Fonfon interactive, these tablet applications immerse children in a story and empower them to try their hand at being an author themselves…The apps are designed to appeal to 3 to 8-year-olds and have been developed for both home and school use. They are available in English and French.

Finally, we publish audiobooks, with well-known actors and composers. This part of my work is an interesting one, for the publisher and musician that I am!

6. Has the pandemic had an impact on Fonfon, have you started doing anything differently?

The main difference is that my team have worked from home since the beginning of the crisis, so I’m the only one at the office. We had to work differently, like every business, and to develop new way to communicate daily. We have created more digital and audio products. We also decided to publish more digital content to promote our new releases, we participated at the book fair on a web platform… Well, as everyone has, I think!

7. What is the situation for women in publishing in Canada? Are there many in senior leadership positions?

I cannot answer for the Canada at large, but for the French part of Canada, the good news is that there are a lot of women in senior leadership positions in our industry. A lot of bright and strong women and I admire them all! Last summer we encountered a crisis of multiple sexual harassment allegations which led to a movement determined to end harassment in all its forms. It was another big challenge to handle and there were a lot of denunciations on social media. Being Vice President of the ANEL I was involved in the creation of a new committee of women. I have the privilege to participate on this committee and I have to say that this group is amazing. We are eleven women from different positions in different publishing houses, and we also work with book industry associations. We discuss solutions to help every French publishing house in Canada to adopt better practices. We have worked on updating the code of ethics, and continuing education programmes, because we want to help every member of the association to be aware and to recognize the wrong comportments more quickly. This group of women is certainly the most inspiring committee I’m involved with. The strength of this group is impressive because it is built on empathy and on respect and because we share the same goal – which is to be part of a systemic change. We are proud of our profession and we want to make sure that people that work in our industry do it well, in the ethical fashion that commands our profession.

8. Do you think there are still barriers for women in the industry?

In Canada, things are getting better for women. It’s not perfect, there is still work to be done, but I think that we almost have equal opportunities for men and women in our industry. However, there still are barriers for women, and I often experience situations where being a woman is a disadvantage to me. Simple things like, being in a meeting, raising a point and feeling like no one heard what I said. A few minutes later, we hear from a man making the exact the same point as I did, and then all the group reacts and agrees with him. It seems like a minor detail, but it affects you. And when that kind of situation that occurs each day, it can make you feel very sad and angry. So, for me, situations like these are barriers. It’s not that you cannot reach your goal as a woman, but it is more difficult to be heard as a woman, so you have to work harder if you want people to recognize your skills and competencies.

9. What advice would you give to women aspiring to become leaders in the publishing world?

I would say that I strongly believe that there is a place for women to take in the publishing world. For me, leading doesn’t mean to take control, it doesn’t mean to impose ourselves. It means seeing things from another perspective, it means listening to other’s ideas and being curious, it means being respectful of every human being, it means trying new things and making mistakes. Follow your own instincts! Then people will look at you as a leader because you’re unique and true, and that is what will inspire writers and publishers to follow you.

10. Having not anticipated going into publishing is it now a lifetime career for you?

Definitely yes! I hope that I continue to work in my Publishing house for the rest of my life. Each day I learn something new and each day I meet new people I didn’t know before and I feel so fulfilled. As with every job some days are more difficult than others, but I am so proud of what I’m doing, and I enjoy it every day.

Emma’s always looking for more Meeting House interviewees. To take part please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or info@womeninpublishing.org.

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