Friday, 18 November 2011

How To Self-Publish In The UAE

United Arab Emirates
Image by saraab™ via Flickr
Here's your own guide to the process, just in case you decide to write and self publish your own book. And before you start with all yer 'yeah, right, like that's going to happen', don't write the idea off. It can all be quite cathartic, believe me.

1) Write a book.
This is generally considered to be a good first step in self publishing. Of course, if you're self publishing a picture book, or a collection of your watercolours you'll have to approach things slightly differently but I'm going to concentrate on the novel form for now.

2) Get a professional editor. 
I use Robb Grindstaff. I've always heard good things about UK based Bubblecow but have never used 'em. Update. Worked with them and they're good/recommended. You need a professional edit for two things - a structural edit and a line edit. The structural edit looks at your story and how you've put it together, aiming to cut redundancies, tighten things up and keep you basically on the straight and narrow. The line edit gets rid of all those stupid little errors that litter every manuscript, no matter how hard you search for 'em. People like Robb are born with strange compound eyes that pick these up in a way we normal mortals can't aspire to emulate.

3) Make sure you understand what you've written.
That sounds daft, doesn't it? But you're going to have to sell the thing all by yourself, so you'd better have properly scoped out the subjects, topics and characters of your book and sifted through them to find the best angles to promote, the things that are going to engage people. You'll need a strong blurb, too. More posts on this later, I'm sure. (Are you guys okay with all this book talk or are you longing for me to go back to whining about HSBC and stuff?)

4) Decide on your platforms.
It's essential to be on Amazon's Kindle and for that I used Kindle Direct Publishing. To support other e-reader formats, I went to Smashwords. I also put together an edition using CreateSpace, which lets me offer a printed book through Of course, e-reader adoption in the Middle East is still low because Amazon doesn't sell either Kindle or content to the region, which really doesn't help us writers, I can tell you. Because of this, you're going to have to print your own booky book for the Middle East market.

5) Apply for permission to print from the National Media Council.
In order to print a booky book in the UAE, you have to have permission. Importing a book is different and requires a different level of permission, which any distributor will sort out. But printing one here means you have to get this permission. How? By going to the NMC in Qusais (behind the Ministry of Culture building) and lodging two full printouts of the MS. One of these will stay in Dubai as a reference copy and one will go to Abu Dhabi to the Media Control Department, where it will be read and approved or not for production in the UAE.

6) Realise that Dubai is going to take its sweet time over this and send another copy direct to Abu Dhabi yourself by bike.
I am so very glad I did this.

7) Obtain your permission to print
I got mine in an unreasonably short time thanks to a very nice man at the NMC taking pity on me and accelerating his reading of my book. It helped that he loved the book, which delighted me more than you could possibly imagine.

Update here - getting the actual document was a tad harder than getting the verbal go ahead!

8) Get an ISBN
This is actually a doddle. You nip down to the Ministry of Youth and Culture in Qusais and give 'em Dhs200 and a filled out form that gives the title of your book and some other details and they send you a fax (A fax! How quaint!) with your UAE ISBN number. By the way, ISBN numbers mean very little, they're a stock code and do not have any relationship to copyright or any such stuff. You need one to sell books, but that's as far as it goes.

9) Go mad trying to find novel paper, then give up and go to Lebanon.
By now you will have already got a quote from a printing press - all they need to actually print the thing now is that little docket. It's about here you'll finally make the decision that you don't want to use the 'wood-free' paper all the UAE's printers want to print your book on, but to actually use real book paper. It's actually called, wait for it, 'novel paper' and is a very bulky, lightweight paper. Pick up a book by the spine and it will tend not to 'flop', while a book printed on wood-free stock will.

Nobody's got it. It's as if nobody in the UAE has ever published a 'real' book, just books printed on copier paper. I'm not having it - I'm going to all the trouble and expense of producing my own book, it had better look like a book, feel like a book and, when you pinch its ear, squeal 'I'm a book!'.

So one goes to Lebanon - or Egypt, or Jordan. People write and publish books there all the time, so you'll find printers and novel paper abounds. Which means you never needed that permission to print at all, as now you're importing a book. Bang head repeatedly against brick wall and do Quasimodo impersonations.

10) Delay the UAE edition launch to the TwingeDXB Urban Festival, taking place on the 10th December 2011, where you're doing a reading and stuff.
I could have made it in time for the Sharjah International Book Festival if I'd settled for the other paper, but I decided to delay instead and get it done properly. So we're launching the online edition at Sharjah, with an open mic session where I and self-published Emirati author Sultan Darmaki will be doing readings and Q&A and stuff. That takes place this Sunday, the 20th November, at the SHJIBF 'Community Corner'.

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Suhail said...

Whining about HSBC! :-) I've been spreading yr HSBC rants here in India at every available opportunity.

On a more serious note though: All the best on your self-publishing. I hope it becomes a raging success!

Are you aware, Penguin has also moved into self-publishing?

I can't make up, how is it different than the path you took?

Or is it the case that if it's UAE, then you still have to do bits-n-pieces of both?

alexander... said...

Thanks, Suhail. Yes, I saw the Penguin story - they're essentially doing the same as Lulu or CreateSpace, offering a print on demand (POD) service.

But, yes, you still have to do bits and pieces of both because Amazon doesn't support the Middle East so, although I have opened up all international rights to Olives on Kindle, people in the Middle East get a nice 'not you' notice.

So it's Kindle and e-readers; CreateSpace for print books on (should go live early next week) and a print edition for Middle East bookshops - focusing on UAE, Lebanon and Jordan.

Suhail said...

Thanks for the explanation. It's all so convoluted.

This and your follow-up posts suggest that maybe there is an opportunity for someone, to write a "How To Self-publish For XYZ[Insert yr niche] Markets: A Step by Step Plan To Navigate e-book 2.0 publishing"

Moreover the above bk idea is by definition, impregnated with revised future editions, since no doubt the ext env. will keep on changing so much :-)

Anyways, enough of the derail. I still like most of my books paperbk (except tech stuff which I can deal in pdfs) so no option to read bookybook in India at-least yet. And don't hv a Kindle yet.

Oussama said...

Fascinating stuff and very informative.
A rant about HSBC every now and then would be nice, like maybe comic relief.

Assistant Editor said...

I actually like that article

Farah Wehbe said...

Thank you. Im completely oblivious on the whole matter. Its like my book doesnt WANT to see the light. Im in Abu Dhabi though so can I skip the whold Dubai thing?? And will this cost me an arm and a leg? Oh, and are there more constraints content-wise when publishing rather than importing a book

Alexander McNabb said...

Farah - you can go directly to the NMC in Abu Dhabi for 'permission to publish' and then the Ministry of Youth and Culture for your ISBN - not sure where they are in Abu Dhabi.

I don't know of a printing press in AUH that stocks 'novel paper' so you might end up printing in Dubai.

Printing in Lebanon, say (Or China, which is of course cheaper) would notionally mean you don't have to get 'permission to publish' but you still have to get permission to distribute. Practically, these days, neither is lightly withheld.

It'll cost you about Dhs 10-12,000 to print a thousand or so books. If you go POD with Createspace, it'll cost you not one penny...

Hope that helps! :)

Ahlaam Ali said...

Very useful information

Monika A-A said...

Finally!!!!! Thank you for such sane advice. I am so glad I found this post on google before going all the way to Ghusais for meeting with the printer. I didn't know you need a different ISBN for UAE- isn't it standard, and global once you have paid for it? I also didn't know the problem of wood-free and novel paper although a publisher sent me a quote for 'art paper'! I am even more convinced now that it will be far more easier and better quality to just get it printed in India. But what about Distribution then? How do you convince Jashanmal or Kinkoniya or Borders to keep your book? and how do you fulfill those orders from India e.g., or even egypt for that matter? Bring them in a suitcase? Gosh! never knew selling could be so much harder than actual writing!!!! But thanks for guidance and wonderful advice...regards. P.S.: Wish I had read this post before going on KDP- then i would have known that the book will not be available in Dubai! BTW, are you based in Dubai? Aha! and on more thing- you do mention that with CreateSpace printing a book costs nothing- but then the cost of the book itself is so forbidding, it feels criminal to sell my book at that money. Any thoughts on that?

Dina said...

Please help, I live in Dubai and for now I decided to publish my book as an e book only, do I have to buy an ISBNs from here or can I buy it from Bowker direct? Many thanks xx

Alexander McNabb said...

Hey, Dina.

You can buy a UAE ISBN from the Ministry of Youth and Culture in Qusais. It costs Dhs200 (paid for with an e-Dirham card) and you should submit five copies of your published book with the ISBN back to them when you've published it.

Clearly, with a UAE ISBN and printing in the UAE, you'll need to submit the manuscript to the National Media Council. Alternatively, if you publish with Createspace, they can assign an ISBN number for you.

Don't forget, it confers no rights or any other lien over your work, it's purely a stocking code like you'd use to identify a tin of beans!


Camelad said...

Very interesting and thanks for the useful info! Don't you need to register a company of some sorts in the UAE to be able to get paid when your books are purchased ? thanks

Alexander McNabb said...

No, distributors will make payments to individuals and the NMC will likewise deal with you as an individual without asking for trade licenses etc.

As for printers, as long as you have a 'permission to print', they'll gladly take your money!

The only issue with payments from disties is it takes an age for them to reconcile and make payments. Olives and Beirut sold out over a year ago and I have yet to have my final reconciliation!!!

Irene Sarah said...

but which NMC are u talkin bout.Is it the hospital???

Alexander McNabb said...

NMC = National Media Council. Have offices in Qusais and main office in Abu Dhabi.

Yasser said...

Can't thank you enough for this. my writing partner and I are trying to get approval to distribute a comic. We were scratching our heads on how to go about it. This definitely helps. I'm not sure if you will have the answer to this, but if you have a series of books you want to publish like a 6 series comic book, do you need to submit each one individually? or is there another process. I checked out the NMC site. It's confusing.

Alexander McNabb said...

Hi Yasser

Truth is, I don't know (so when you find out, do tell!) - it would make sense that a magazine or series get approval in advance, but I really don't know. I'd suggest putting in a call to the NMC in Abu Dhabi...

Sadia Anwar said...

Hi There.

This Article has been a treasure chest of information. May I ask. What payment option you choose in Createspace for UAE? And how long it took to reach you ??



Alexander McNabb said...

Hi Mehnaz

Do you mean delivery option? I use the expedited delivery, which costs little more than express but usually gets books to me within 1-2 weeks from order and is delivered to your doorstep.

Jordanian bookseller Jamalon is opening up a POD operation here in the UAE, which will mean Createspace service and quality with local free delivery, which will up the ante somewhat as, unless you're selling direct, the delivery charge plus 50% local bookseller commissions mean selling POD books in the UAE costs more than the cover price!

Zainab Mansoor said...

Really useful post. Could be a slightly redundant question but what is the average cost of printing a fiction book in collaboration with a printing house? What's the total cost of publishing a 1,000 copies?

Alexander McNabb said...

Hey Zainab

It's a moveable feast - depends on page count 'pagination', paper quality, print type (mono, colour), binding and more. For a 250 page novel on novel paper with a colour cover, laminated, you're looking at around Dhs15 per copy for a 1,000 run. That could be Dhs12 or Dhs18 depending on specification and your negotiating prowess!!! :)

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