The 2019 Sheikh Zayed Book Award winner in Children’s Literature Hussain Al Mutawaa counsels the publishing industry to promote issue-based children’s books.
By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief
Toward ‘Gentle Resistance’ in Children’s Literature
In the closing event of this year’s Sheikh Zayed Book Award program, the 2019 winners gathered on Thursday evening (April 25 on the main stage of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair).
Moderated by critic, researcher, and translator Khalil Al Sheikh and the prize’s secretary general, Ali Bin Tamim, the session followed the formal prize ceremony at Louvre Abu Dhabi on Thursday (April 24) and introduced the evening’s audience to this year’s group of winning writers, researchers, and language specialists in this program that awards a total of some US$1.9 million annually in prize money.
The program, created in 2006 and administered by Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism, commemorates “the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founding president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, and his pioneering role in promoting national unity and development.”
A Kuwaiti Poet Turns to Children’s Books
As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the children’s literature category is one for which the Zayed program offers translation funding to publishers, to help promote the program’s goal of widening Arabic literature’s reach.
And the winner this year of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award’s prize in children’s literature is the Kuwaiti writer and photographer Husain Al Mutawaa.
Mutawaa’s bachelor’s degree in literature and criticism is from the College of Arabic Language at the University of Kuwait. And while he began work in literature as a poet in 2009, he turned to stories in 2015 and then to novels.
His first book, Turab, was published in late 2017. And the children’s book for which he’s been honored with the Zayed Award is Ahlam An Akoun Khalat Asmant (I Dream of Being a Concrete Mixer), published in 2018 by Al Hadaek Group.
In the book, Al Mutawaa carefully explores parent-child relationships, the issue of family expectations, and factors that go into making a young person into a self-directed responsible personality. This, as readers learn, may involve the dichotomy of what in life is destructive, what is constructive, and when one may be preferable to the other.
In Praise of ‘100 Different Monsters’
Publishing Perspectives had a chance to speak with Al Mutawaa after the session in Abu Dhabi and—with the expert assistance of one of the book fair’s simultaneous interpreters, Tariq Chelmeran—we were able to ask him how he sees the generally accepted problem of a waning interest in reading among children.
First of all, Mutawaa says, the problem of a weakening “habit of reading” in many parts of the world, the Middle East included, “‘is an extension of a problem with many of our adult readers.”
In too much work for adults, he says, “They enjoy reading, but we remove the knowledge aspect of reading,” in favor of entertainment. “And this transfers to the children.”
It’s one reason, he says, that the approach of gamey, playful fun experiences at public-facing book-fair events may not, actually lead children to want to read, but instead to look for other diversions.
A child’s choice, he says, in exercising what she or he wants to read, becomes all the more important when marketing approaches are seen to be “introducing toys into this sector by force”—by the populist peer-pressure of much of modern advertising, for example—can remove the elements of exploration and discovery, let alone imagination.
Al Mutawaa, in looking at children’s books themselves, he says, sees that “The more you add pictures, the more you lessen the impact of text.
“If 100 people are asked to read the word beast or monster,” he says, “the result should be 100 different monsters.” A literature that truly lives in its words should trigger in each imagination something different and personal.
But today, he says, there’s such a major overhang of visual content that each child sees the same monster, “the ‘typical’ monster,” so the imaginations of young minds are never set free to devise beasts of their own making, with personally impactful elements of meaning.
“Our ability to imagine weakens,” he says.
And the key—while it’s hard so far to see the best mechanism for us to use amid so much new and expertly made visual entertainment—is to “Think of a wave. And now think of standing up on it,” surfing. “This is what we’re doing. We’re riding the waves” of popular culture at this period in publishing’s development.
The remedy is? “To face the wave,” he says to take a stand, to resist the impulse to join in on visual and lightweight fun and to write content “that’s very close to the world children know, something that speaks to their reality” rather than simply offering “fun” and light-hearted distraction as so many entertainments do. “We have to find a way around this problem. Children read my material because they find details of their own lives here.” There’s a difference here, Mutawaa says, from his writerly point of view, between communication and entertainment. And the far more important thing to do is to communicate values. He talks of how he’s being told by young readers that they’re inspired when reading his work, prompted by it to read others.
“This isn’t me thanking myself,” he says, “but it’s about a kind of realism, our daily issues, from real lif
And one of his favorite responses from his readership so far, Al Mutawaa says, came from a 6-year-old girl who read I Dream of Being a Concrete Mixer and asked her mother, ‘Why are you trying to force me to be a doctor.'” The girl had found a sense of independence in considering what she might like to do.
And Hussain Al Mutawaa is ready with a phrase to help his colleagues in publishing think of new ways to approach literature, particularly for youngsters in an era of powerful, distracting, imagination-weakening imagery and bombardment: “gentle resistance.”
Resist the temptation to ride the waves of entertainment, he says. Think of resisting, with gentle, supportive treatment of real-world issues and information.
“Start with literature,” he says. “And create ‘gentle resistance’ to what’s all around the popular industry today.
Why should you, as an Indie Author, consider doing a pre-order? Simple - to build the impact of the release of your new book. There are many aspects to consider when doing a pre-sale, and the most important one is getting as many people to know about your new book as you possibly can.
This article will outline the key steps to creating and implementing a Pre-Order Program that helps you to succeed on many levels. This includes:
1 ―Setting a Release Date
2 ― How You Process Pre-Orders
3 ― Advertising the Pre-Order
4 ― Pre-Sale Dates
For you, as an Indie Author, the first and most important one is building a war chest that pays off so you can do more marketing with the least amount of financial impact. Thus, by doing a Pre Order program, you can take your time to create the buzz and hype necessary to build upon your sales; thus, your profit.
Let’s begin with the necessary steps:
1 – Setting a Release Date. Indie Authors tend to rush their book to press and release so they can begin to make money from their investment. This is where 99% of authors fail.
You want to take your time in creating the buzz for your new book. The ideal situation is to get the book done in an ARC (Advance Readers Copy) first. This is done after all the beta testers, and final edits are done. The ARC is what you will use to send out for press reviews, fellow-author reviews, and most importantly to bookstores to get the buzz started on the new book.
The ideal situation is 3 – 6 months before the release date. This should give you enough time to get the reviews back, add them to your new cover and be ready for the release date. Having the reviews will also be critical for readers and bookstores to see the quality of your work and to get excited enough to want to purchase a copy.
Once you have set your release date, move to Step 2
2 - How are You Processing Pre-Orders – Most indie authors want to make as much money as they possibly can. Thus they will process the orders themselves on their website, in person, etc. However, when you do that, you could actually be missing out on the ability to report your sales figures to organizations that matter…Best Seller Lists.
“Oh, I won’t sell enough books to be on that list” is the common response I hear from authors. Ok, so let’s say you don’t sell enough for the NYT or the other big lists. Heck, there have been book releases that haven’t hit those lists when they were first released, but they did months and even years after they were released. While they didn’t hit the big list first, they did hit the local and regional lists which then spurred them on to success and ultimately the big lists.
As an Indie Author, you can’t afford to purchase the membership needed to be able to report to the ‘lists’ but through other organizations, you can then have access to them, plus opportunities you would not otherwise have.
Indie Lector is a member of both the American Booksellers Association (Indie Bookstores) and the Mountain & Plains Indie Bookstores. Between both of these programs, we have the ability to report the numbers for national lists, regional and local. And now, the Indie Authors Top 10 List, which is distributed to Indie Bookstores in Texas. But, in order to qualify for these lists, the Indie Author must have sales processed through the Indie Lector Store.
Step 3 - Advertising the Pre-Order opportunity and what goes into this program.
Yes, we have built a following, small or large, if you have been collecting information from people you meet and have sold some books to, you should have an email list to use, a Facebook following, twitter followers and any other social media outlet you have grown. Each of those people is now a valuable avenue to promote your book and get pre-sales.
Create ad sheets (see samples below) that promote the upcoming release of the new book. Make sure a call-to-action (link or web address) is clearly visible, so people can purchase the book with a simple click.
Then give dates that the pre-sale is valid for. During this time, you are also offering something special for the buyers. An autographed copy is the most common, but what about SWAG, or a special gift, or discount that will not be available to anyone else on any site anywhere?
Make this promotion special for one main reason, to create a bigger desire to buy your book. Anyone can buy your book. Anyone can get an autographed copy of the book. But, what can they get that others can’t?
Do you know what SWAG stands for? Sales Will Accelerate with Goodies. These goodies can range from bookmarks, buttons, posters, or anything that you can create and be clever with. But whatever it is, it must be unique to the Pre-Sale only. Don’t give away something during the Pre-Order that will be given away at another time. Make it special in some way.
This step can be done while you are waiting on the reviews. Plan it out and know exactly what you want to give away with the book during Pre-Orders. Then create your ad images that relate to this. You can also create a web page, so people will see what they are getting in the pre-order. But, use SWAG as part of the advertisement program.
You have your SWAG in hand, and you have ordered the special edition copies for the Pre-Order.
Please review other articles about Social Media use and best practices.
Wait, what was that – Special Edition?
Yes, the ARCs are not considered as a general public release copy of the book, so they are not sellable and do not count as your first print. Thus, you want to add something special to the Pre-order by having a First Edition of the book just for the pre-orders.
You should print out 100 copies of the book with your new cover design (reviews added). Then go into the interior of the book and add the line – Second Printing and the month and year you are doing it. Example: Second Printing April 2019 or Second Printing 2019. This simple act now confirms that your first print is exactly that ― a First Edition, limited edition of your book. This book now has more value than any book that is printed after it. You can also cut down the number of first prints to 50 if you want, but 100 is the ideal number. You can then also number the books as you autograph them and sell them so people can see how special their copy of the book is.
Let’s Recap - You have the ARC done, and it is out for circulation. You have your SWAG selected, and your advertising is ready to go. You know the release date of the final copy. Now you need to select the dates for the Pre-Order Sale.
4 – Pre-Sale Dates – Let’s say you have an April 1st release date planned. You sent your ARCs out in January so the reviews should be coming in by March, if not sooner. If those are on time, you now can re-create your cover to include the best reviews. You can also now begin to use the reviews in your advertisements.
If you have tied in with a bookseller to get the pre-sales counted, then they will know how to add the sales into the calculation for the first week of actual general public sales. Thus, you can set the pre-sales to end about two weeks before the general public sales so that those who purchased the books will have a chance to read it, and if all is good, talk about it.
This ‘talk’ is one of the critical aspects of getting additional sales in the first week of release. Combine that will the pre-sales, and you could end up with a huge number that moves you to the Top 10 of some list. This increases your exposure even more. All of this can be that one combination of events and programs that move your book much further ahead than just a simple release.
How long should the Pre-Sale be? I recommend that the sales period should fall over at least two basic pay-days. For example, the 1st or 15th, and two Fridays. This covers the basic pay-days and gives you a greater opportunity for sales. Keep this in mind as you set the dates and still allow for a couple of weeks of reading time for those who pre-order the book.
No book is ever guaranteed success, but when you work the system in the proper way, your chances of success increases. Even if it is not with the first book, the second, sixth or twelfth book can be that break-out book. Dedication, great writing and planning ahead make a world of difference for all successful books.
Once your Pre-Order is done, then make sure you follow through and get the books out to the buyers fast. Don’t delay the delivery. The sooner they get the book and SWAG, the happier they are. Delays only frustrate and can turn them against you. So, you want to have the books on hand by the end of the sales dates, envelopes ready to ship them in, etc. If you planned it out, you should be ready to take advantage of a great opportunity and momentum!
What about other opportunities to help make the Pre-Sales great?
Publishers have the money to do a lot of extra special events and programs. Indie Authors, most of the time, simply can’t afford to compete. Indie Lector, Texas Authors, and Indie Beacon gets that. After all, that is why these programs were created ― to help even out the playing field for Indie Authors.
To that point, Indie Lector is networking with other organizations to create opportunities for Indie Authors to present their books to bookstore buyers. Those listed with the Indie Lector Store will be kept abreast of these opportunities.
One additional item for Pre-Orders done through the Indie Lector Store is the opportunity to have a free Library Notice sent out about the new book. This gives the librarians an opportunity to learn about the book and to be a part of the Pre-Order program. It is another way to increase the ‘talk’ about the book.
As an Indie Author myself, I fully understand the need to watch every penny while trying to get the most out of opportunities for exposure. When I started out with my books in 2006, none of these types of programs were available to me. If they had been, I know my books sales would have been much better, and my income level much higher. Don’t miss out on using these tools as outlined here as a solid way to increase your success!
It's important for authors to hold themselves in high esteem, by making comparisons of their writing to success stories. That is why I like to sit down with the writers I work with and nail down what the comparative or competitive book titles to their manuscript might be, before making a submission to editors at publishing houses. We in the industry casually refer to this as asking what the "comps" are (short for comparative or competitive book titles). These are books in the current publishing marketplace that are similar and successful. It's not just about simply saying that a book or author is not unique—it's about celebrating how great a potential publication could be...
Why are comp titles important?
A literary agency receiving a query letter or submission from an author, or an editor at a publishing house receiving a pitch and manuscript from a literary agent, will need to know what the comps are. The literary agent and the editor will be trying to figure out where that particular book/author would fit within their list of authors: is it commercial fiction, literary fiction, or upmarket fiction? If it's nonfiction, then which category of nonfiction? A literary agent or book editor will ask themselves where the book/author would be shelved in a bookstore: is it mystery/crime, romance, science fiction & fantasy, or something else? Most important of all, an agent or editor will be asking themselves how well that book/author would perform in the marketplace: will this book go on the become a mega bestseller or garner highly prestigious awards?
In fully comparing apples to apples, a book editor at a publishing house will try to base their potential offer to publish, on the sales performance of the comp titles. They do this by running a profit & loss statement, or what we in the publishing industry call a "P&L" or "P&L sheet." Plugged into the P&L, which also accounts for the costs associated with printing and publishing a book, will be the sales numbers on the comp titles. A publisher can look up the sales numbers of a given comp title on Nielsen BookScan, where some of the most accurate reporting of sales numbers are given, so there's no lack of transparency there. That's why an author is a in a far better position by having their literary agent offer the author's successful comps to the publisher, over allowing the book publisher to come up with accurate comps of their own. This is especially the case if the publisher's comps haven't been all that successful. Then the publisher might not want to publish the book, or they might make a smaller offer.
An author that has assembled a good list of two to three comp titles will be miles ahead in the publishing process. When a book publisher is in the stage of getting their salesforce to place copies of the book among retailers, guess what question the publisher will be asked by the retailer: What are the similar books to this one? Having the comps handy can therefore help the book publisher in the actual publication process, by raising a book retailer's expectations. Maybe the book retailer decides to order more copies of a book for their stores, or they decide to recommend and prominently display the book, if they think the book will be a success.
What's a good comp title?
As much as possible, an author should make literary agents and editors think that their book has a good-looking, smart and athletic "twin" in each of its comps. A good comp title is a bestselling or major award-winning book. It's easy to know if the comp title is one of those two things by simply looking at the cover of a comp. If the cover states, "New York Times bestseller" or "National bestseller" then you know you probably have a bestseller on your hands. The same goes for major awards featured on the cover. If it says, "National Book Award-winner" or "Man Booker Prize-winner," then the same would be true. Looking at the number of reviews on Amazon (hundreds or thousands is impressive), and the overall Amazon sales ranking (the closer to the Top 100 the better), are other ways to know how well the comp title has been performing.
The comps should have been published within the last five years. Outside of five years, book publishing will have been a different industry, with books written and published in different ways. What is popular reading among book lovers also changes quite a bit over the years. Those are a few of the reasons why classic novel comps are not good comparisons, and will often garner eye rolls from editors. When a fantasy author tries to comp to J.R.R. Tolkien, or a mystery/crime writer tries to comp to Edgar Allen Poe, it also begins to look self-aggrandizing.
It's important to keep the comps accurate. We are comparing apples to apples here, rather than apples to oranges. So a comp title should also be of the reading age range and of the book genre. If an author wrote a young adult novel, then they shouldn't go and compare it to an adult romance novel; or if an author of wrote a nonfiction work of history/politics/current affairs then they obviously shouldn't refer to it a science/technology book. At the same time, only books make for good comparisons, since we're trying to figure out where a book belongs in a bookstore, rather than where a movie or a TV show fits on the shelf.
The process of assembling comp titles may seem small or insignificant at first glance, but it is actually a huge part of the publishing process and a key player in a book's success. The comp process ultimately helps readers find their way to an author's book.
Mark Gottlieb has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on Publishers Marketplace in Overall Deals and other individual categories. Using that same initiative and insight for identifying talented writers, he is actively building his own client list of authors of fiction and nonfiction. Mark is excited to work directly with authors, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available at book publishing’s leading literary agency, Trident Media Group. Since his time at Trident, he has represented numerous New York Times bestselling authors, as well as award-winning authors, and has optioned and sold numerous books to film and TV production companies. Mark is actively seeking submissions in all categories and genres.