Welcome to a new series of articles the Alliance of Independent Authors AskALLi team is running: ALLi Out and About. We're asking members who attend book fairs, conferences or industry events (be they in-person or online) to share the lessons they've learned attending the events. This is ALLi Out and About: Jeddah International Book Fair.
If you'd like to participate, and you've attended a book event, fair, conference or something else you think members would benefit from hearing about, please reach out to Sacha on sacha @ allianceindependentauthors.org.
The Jeddah International Book Fair
The Jeddah International Book Fair, also known as the JIBF, is a cultural event that takes place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The fair is organized by the Saudi Ministry of Culture and is one of the largest and most prestigious book fairs in the Middle East (Jeddah is the second-largest city in Saudi Arabia after the capital Riyadh).
The JIBF is not only a marketplace for books but also a platform for cultural exchange and a celebration of the written word. The fair features a wide variety of exhibitors from all over the world, including major publishing houses, independent authors and publishers, and cultural organizations. The fair also features a variety of events such as lectures, panel discussions, and workshops, as well as a children's section with games, activities, and storytime. There is even a vibrant cosplay scene.
The JIBF is attended by a diverse group of people, including book lovers, authors, publishers, educators, and students. The fair is also popular among families, as there are many activities and events for children and young adults. The fair is also an important event for the local community in Jeddah and an opportunity for the city to showcase its cultural heritage and promote the importance of reading and education.
I was pleased to receive an invitation to speak at the 2022 JIBF. I was asked to share my experience as a self-publishing author in the west. When you consider that Saudi Arabia didn’t open to tourism until 2019, this was an amazing opportunity to learn about publishing in an area of the world that few people have visited until recently.
My Takeaways About Self-Publishing in the Middle East
Self-publishing has seen a significant rise in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in recent years. This trend is being driven by several factors.
The first is technology. With more and more people in the region gaining access to the internet and smartphones, it is becoming easier and more affordable for authors to publish their work online. This has led to the emergence of online platforms and services that allow authors to upload their work and make it available to readers around the world.
One such service is Print.SA, a startup offering print on-demand services for authors that functions similarly to KDP Print and IngramSpark. Print.SA had its machines on display at the fair. The quality of the books was almost indistinguishable from KDP Print and IngramSpark.
The second factor that has contributed to the rise of self-publishing in the MENA region is the growing number of authors who are choosing to bypass traditional publishing channels. Many authors in the region have found it difficult to get their work published by traditional publishers due to cultural or language barriers. As a result, many have turned to self-publishing as a way to share their work with the world.
Even with these tailwinds, there is still a stigma around self-publishing. Talking to people at JIBF, I heard many comments and arguments that we settled in other parts of the world ten years ago. I’m encouraged by the authors leading the charge to prove that self-publishing is just as viable of a publishing option—if not more in many cases—than traditional publishing.
Despite these challenges, self-publishing authors in the MENA region have been able to find success. Many have built a strong following of readers and have been able to connect with other authors and literary professionals. Some have even been able to land traditional publishing deals after self-publishing their work.
While the self-publishing industry in the MENA region is still in its infancy, the future looks bright. As technology continues to evolve and more authors turn to self-publishing, we can expect to see an even greater diversity of voices and stories coming from the Middle East and North Africa.
What I’m Going to Do Differently
Before attending the JIBF, I never considered the Middle East and North Africa when considering my readership. I think many in the West are guilty of that. After all, there is a significant language barrier.
However, I learned that the region loves science fiction and fantasy like everyone else. There is censorship, to be sure, but the region is changing. Tourists couldn’t easily visit Saudi Arabia before 2019, women couldn’t drive, dancing was banned. Now, all of those things are legal. It’s proof that the times are a-changin’.
An easy to-do item was to adjust my book prices in countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey to make them “pretty” and more attractive to local buyers. I also researched the selling prices of ebooks and paperbacks in the region.
Most importantly, I am fortunate to have spoken with some MENA readers and authors to learn about their preferences. This will help me think more globally as an author when making marketing decisions.
Visiting Saudi Arabia
I had an amazing time in Jeddah. Visiting Saudi Arabia was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The country has so much to see—history, architecture, food, and geography.
The people were friendly and warm, and I experienced world-famous Arab hospitality first-hand several times per day.
From the beautiful beach walks along the Red Sea, to the historic neighborhood of Al Balad, where the homes are made from coral and sand, to great music festivals everywhere I turned (DJ Khaled was in Jeddah when I was there. Way cool!), I saw so much. I even visited a mega mall that was so luxurious it would make American malls blush.
But the biggest highlight of the trip? Saudi Arabian fried chicken. The fast food chain Albaik is on every corner, and their fried chicken is seasoned with ginger, saffron, and various other spices. I’ve never had anything like it, and it was fantastic.
I am grateful for my visit to the JIBF, and I hope to visit the Middle East in the future.