The Sharjah Publishers Conference, which preceded the ongoing Sharjah International Book Fair, wrapped up last week, having attracted 971 publishing houses, literary agents, and rights professionals from 92 countries.

“It is the second year we have reached nearly 1,000 people, and this now makes us the biggest rights fair in the publishing world,” Ahmed Al Ameri, chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, said.

Of course, the Frankfurt Book Fair can easily contest Al Ameri's claim, particularly as hundreds, if not thousands, of publishers and rights professionals in Frankfurt don’t register for tables at Frankfurt’s LitAg, and the number that matters most to the majority of people—the total financial value of rights deals made—is in the tens of millions of dollars, well beyond anything transacted in Sharjah. That said, Al Ameri has every right to be proud of his fair and the vast array of talent it has attracted.

Part of the appeal for traveling to Sharjah is the ability to network with a wide range of professionals that who might attend Frankfurt or London book fairs. Attendees come from countries big—the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany—and small, such as Georgia, Lebanon, New Zealand, and Senegal. The fair facilitates matchmaking among publishers with three days of an on-site rights center with several hundred tables. It is not uncommon to find a Palestinian meeting with an Indian publisher, next to a table with a Ukrainian meeting with a Mexican.

Sulaiman Adebowale, publisher of Amalion Editions in Dakkar, Senegal, was attending the SIBF for the first time. "I like the atmosphere here, as opposed to a place like Frankfurt," he said. "The interactions are more relaxed—it's less American or European, where you get five minutes in a meeting and you must immediately get to the point. Things here are more leisurely." He described it as "less of a rights center, than a rights souk."

Aoife Lennon-Ritchie traveled from South Africa, where she is the foreign rights agent for Penguin Random House South Africa and Macmillan. "The first time I came was in 2020 and there were not that many people here, and we did a lot of rights deals. Then I returned last year and did a few more. And now, this year, I have existing relationships that I have been able to do business with," she said. The result is that her entire catalog was sold out of Arab-language rights.

It's also not always about selling rights exclusively. Jorge Gutierrez Brianza, commercial and operations director, for the Buenos Aires Book Fair attended the fair on behalf of Argentine publishers. "My job is to set the table so my publishers later can eat," he explained.

Fatimah Abbas, a literary agent from Egypt, relocated to Abu Dhabi to work in the artificial intelligence industry and sees opportunities for tech and publishing to collaborate.

Like many agents, Benas Bérantas of the Book Smugglers Literary Agency in Vilnius, Lithuania, was at the Frankfurt Book Fair in mid-October and used his attendance in Sharjah as an opportunity to follow up on meetings he had in Germany. “It’s a good opportunity to turn around and close a deal that was started just a little while ago,” he said.

Inaugural Sharjah Rights Connection Awards

Both Bérantas and Lennon-Ritchie were both finalists for the inaugural Sharjah Rights Connection Award in the category for independent literary agents. The award, established this year, also gave an award for rights professionals working in a publishing house. Each prize offered a cash award of $2,500.

The winner of the award for independent agents went to Mauro Spagnol of U.K. literary agency Books-Everywhere. On winning the award, he told Gulf News, “I have been an agent for 20-plus years, mainly in the UK, and still after so many years I am passionate about selling rights. The secret is—always be curious… curious about what the new trends are, but most importantly, curious about people, cultures and the publisher you work with. The curiosity to know, understand and discover more will take you very far in this business.”

Finalists in the category for rights professionals working in a company included Elle Brenton-Rounding of Bonnier Books UK LTD and Ahmed Mohamed Mohamed Rashad from Al Dar Al Masriah Al Lubnaniah, Egypt. The winner was Gabriel Nieto from Editorial Planeta in Mexico. “I am deeply grateful for this recognition as it is very valuable for my region—Latin America. The award has opened new borders and new opportunities to learn from the Arabic world," he said. "The award gives visibility to the authors we represent and highlights the challenges they face, some of which are quite similar to those faced by this region.”