Nadia Naqib is senior commissioning editor at AUC Press, where she acquires and develops scholarly and general books in Middle East Studies.
She holds a BA degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from the University of Oxford and an MA in Economic Development and History from SOAS, London. Before moving into acquisitions, she was managing editor at AUC Press.
She has lived in Cairo for 13 years.
Here is what she thinks about commisioning manuscripts, meeting authors, and working in a fascinating city.
What’s a ‘normal’ day in the office for the AUC Press senior commissioning editor?
No one day is ever the same! Submissions probably take up most of my time. I’ll read parts of an unsolicited manuscript, look for peer reviewers for scholarly manuscripts, discuss new book proposals with my colleagues, and talk to authors about ways in which they can shape or refine a proposal or manuscript.
I also spend a lot of time on written correspondence, researching and pitching new book ideas to authors or colleagues, briefing the managing editor on contracted manuscripts, drafting rejection letters, and writing to authors to convey my colleagues’ or our academic review board’s feedback to their book proposals. At catalog time, I start pressing authors for jacket copy and biographical data as well as book cover ideas and pictures. I often draft copy myself, which is fun.
Conference planning and follow-up soak up time at key points in the year (just try wading through a MESA program!) and I often attend talks or lectures on campus or elsewhere. And I read, read, read—books, journal articles, other publishers’ catalogs, online articles, social media, anything that might identify new book ideas or authors as well as keep me in touch with trends in Middle East Studies book publishing.
How important is it to listen to the author’s sales pitch?
Authors usually approach us for the first time in writing rather than in person—with a book proposal and one or two sample chapters. A pitch, in the form of a covering letter and/or outline proposal is a useful hook and way into a book’s structure, but it’s the writing and substantive content which count the most.
Plus authors’ ideas of who will actually buy their book are often quite different, at least in my experience, from those of my sales & marketing colleagues; or let’s just say that authors tend to cast the net a little wider! The first question our sales & marketing director always asks when someone presents a new book to the in-house publishing team is, “Where in the bookshop do you see this going?” Sales folk have to sell a book, hence the question.
Are there elements in a submitted manuscript that can really seduce an editor?
Good writing grabs an editor right away. If text has pace and flair, is persuasive, well-structured, and flows easily from paragraph to paragraph and chapter to chapter, then I’m likely to want to read on and find out more. With other manuscripts, the writing may not sparkle but if the content holds ground-breaking scholarship or adds new knowledge to a field, then it’s going to get noticed.
Do you ever get attached to a manuscript to the point where you feel almost sad to hand it over to the managing editor for copy-editing?
Yes, particularly if I enjoyed shaping a book idea or proposal with an author in the early stages and developed a real rapport with them. I try to manage just one manuscript per publishing season (we have two: Fall and Spring) from copy-editing through to design and final published book. It means I keep a hand in the book production side of things, which feeds back into my acquisitions work in all sorts of useful ways. In any case, I try to stay involved in the production and marketing of all the books I contract.
Nadia Naqib in a meeting with editorial intern Catherine Holland
Always. If it’s a scholarly manuscript, I assess the broad subject matter to see if it fits with our publishing list and try to find out more about the author. If the proposal or manuscript looks good, I immediately start thinking of potential peer reviewers or of people in my network who might be able to suggest reviewers to me. Review work can take months, and the reviews are shared and discussed with our editorial review board so I’ll want to keep this process going reasonably quickly in case the author gets discouraged.
If it’s a proposal or manuscript for a trade or illustrated book and I think it looks exciting I start thinking of how I’m going to present it to my colleagues in-house and the key people I need to bring on board to support it. If there are a lot of illustrations I might start thinking right away about permissions and potential book covers, how much the book will cost to produce, and the likely readership. I’ll want to make sure the proposal is as complete as possible before I pitch it to my colleagues so I may write back to the author in the first instance or set up a meeting with them to ask them questions before I take things further.
What is the biggest challenge in a publishing editor’s job?
Because we’re based in Cairo, the perception that we’re a publisher with visibility and distribution in Egypt and parts of the Arab world alone persists—and that very persistence both fascinates and frustrates me. One of my challenges, I think, is making authors aware of the fact that AUC Press is an international publisher, with outreach and distribution in North America, Europe and the rest of the world, as well as in the Middle East. All our books are available through Amazon, and our non-illustrated scholarly and trade titles are available as e-books. We’re also in the unique position of being able to tap into the enormous wealth of talent in Egypt and the region and to bring that to the outside world.
Have you ever been taken by surprise by how well a book sold?
Yes. I think dark horses lurk about in most publishers’ lists and it always comes as a pleasant surprise when numbers of a book sold exceed all our sales and marketing department’s expectations.
What do you like most about your job?
The fact that I get the chance to meet so many talented, creative people and that there is no one way of finding new books and authors. And I love working in Cairo because it’s an endlessly fascinating place to be.
What are your favorite things to do in Cairo?
I love Ibn Tulun and wandering around downtown and the City of the Dead when the weather is nice; coffee at Fishawi in Khan al-Khalili and mezze at Estoril with friends; and strolling along the Nile near Maadi.
Egyptologist and AUC Press author Dr. Wafaa El Saddik was among the 10 Egyptian women congratulated for their exceptional achievements and exemplary contributions in a wide array of fields at last night’s ‘Women of Substance’ reception held at the India House in Cairo.
“Women are the pillar of any society and they have to prove themselves through competing with men,”...
The Open Door
By Latifa al-Zayyat
Volume 1: 1964–66
Translated by Marilyn Booth
Published by Hoopoe, an imprint of AUC Press (2017)
The author, Latifa al-Zayyat (1923–96), struggled all her life to uphold just causes—national integrity...
Join our mailing list for a chance to win a free book.
Receive news of our books events and promotions.