An Interview with Oneworld Publications

Co-founders of Oneworld Publications husband and wife team Novin Doostar and Juliet Mabey.

Oneworld is an independent publisher focusing on non-fiction and was founded in 1986 by husband and wife team Juliet Mabey and Novin Doostdar. Oneworld now publishes around sixty books a year and works with authors, literary agents and publishing partners around the world.

I decided to catch up with Oneworld co-founder Juliet Mabey to find out more about the work they’re doing to bring quality, consciousness-raising books to as many people around the world as possible.

Baha’i Blog: Can you tell me why you decided to start Oneworld?

We felt that there should be a readership for books that presented interfaith and global perspectives on many social and spiritual issues of the time. Obviously, this was very much inspired by an inclusive Baha’i worldview on many current issues, but we didn’t set out to be a Baha’i publishing company, since this was well looked after by other Baha’i-owned publishers.

Baha’i Blog: What does the company aim to achieve?

Our books are largely written by experts and academics, but for a broad audience, across a wide range of subjects, including current affairs, history, philosophy, psychology, popular science and fiction. We aim to publish what we like to think of as “useful” books – basically books with a consciousness-raising angle that inform readers about the world around them and/or change the way they think about that world and their place in it. Hopefully, they also inspire readers or help promote social justice or tackle important global concerns. Even in our fiction list, which we launched in 2009, we look for novels that provide readers with insight into a social, cultural or historical issue or event. Our by-line says “Books for Thoughtful People”, and we do our best to live up to this.

Even though we are a general trade publisher, one of our strengths is our academic list in Religious Studies and the Middle East, especially Islam, which includes some of the world’s leading scholars and thinkers. We find Islam particularly interesting given its impact on the world in general and the way it has come under such close scrutiny, especially the intellectual and modernist approaches to understanding Islam.

We have also worked hard to build a substantial network of high quality distributors and agents around the world who sell or represent our books in their local markets or sell rights to our books in many different languages.

Baha’i Blog: How is Oneworld different from other Publishers out there?

There are plenty of good publishers whose goals would overlap with ours; I think the main difference is that being privately owned, we can stick more closely to our goal of producing books of value. As a result, we are very content-oriented in an industry that is often more focused on sales and giving their shareholders a good return on their investment. If a book or a particular genre will sell well but is not something we would feel proud to publish, then we don’t.

As a small independent publisher, we also spend a lot of time and resources on the editorial quality and aesthetic appeal of our books to make sure they stand out in the crowd.

Baha’i Blog: Do you think it’s important for us as a Baha’i community to engage more actively in the discourse happening in the wider community?

If we want to be taken seriously by the skeptical world around us, we certainly need to engage with its dilemmas and concerns. For many of us, a very important feature of the Baha’i Faith is its engagement with the social issues of our times, especially issues of social justice, unity and reconciliation of religious traditions. At Oneworld we like to think that we make a very tiny contribution towards these ideals.

But in order for Baha’is to really contribute to important debates, we need a good grounding in our own faith, of course, but also a very thorough familiarity with issues and concerns facing our world and the current ideas and debates on those issues by experts or academics in many fields. If we neglect the latter, our views and insights are not likely to be taken seriously.

And we must acknowledge that in some fields of interest to the Baha’i community, substantial work has already been carried out by other faith communities. One example of this would be in inter-religious dialogue, where major work has been done by Christian thinkers; another example would be the work Muslim thinkers have undertaken in grappling with issues of equality, justice, democracy, understanding scripture etc.

Baha’i Blog: How well have your books been received by the public?

Of course, this varies enormously across our list and from year to year, but this year, for example, quite a few of our books have received or been nominated for awards, starting with the longlisting for A Cupboard Full of Coats for the prestigious Booker Prize (along with a shortlisting for the UK Writers’ Guild Best Fiction Award and its selection as one of the “Best Novels of 2011” by Kirkus Reviews in America).

On the non-fiction front, Houshang Asadi’s hard-hitting memoir of life in an Iranian prison, Letters to my Torturer won the International Human Rights Award. Bernie Madoff: The Wizard of Lies by Diana Henrqiues, a forensic examination of his $65bn swindle, was picked for the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year longlist. And the brilliantly inventive Packing for Mars by Mary Roach was long-listed for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.

But at the end of the day, some of the books we have been most proud of over the years might not have featured on bestseller lists or won prizes, but introduced new ideas or initiated dialogue.

Baha’i Blog: What are some of the challenges you face when deciding which titles to publish?

The most important challenge is to find books that meet our selection criteria – it has to be on an area of interest, be either educational or consciousness-raising, and of course be well-written. Ideally, the author should also be well established in his or her field, which is a huge advantage when it comes to sales and marketing. We research university departments, talk to literary agents, and also liaise with authors direct, so the biggest challenges can be the time it takes to research the subject and read proposals and manuscripts.

Baha’i Blog: As Baha’i’s, what are some of the lessons you’ve learned from working in the publishing industry?

We can’t think of any specific lessons we’ve learned in publishing that bear on our beliefs, but issues like treating your staff and authors with respect, striving for the highest standard of ethics in your business dealings, and being conscientious in everything you do are principles that stand any business in good stead.

Baha’i Blog: Where do you hope to see Oneworld in the future?

We would like to continue to grow a dynamic publishing company, nurturing the talent of our staff, and successfully publishing great books that reflect our philosophy.

Baha’i Blog: Thanks so much Juliet for taking the time to do the interview and we hope to see the continued success of Oneworld Publications!

You can purchase or browse through Oneworld’s extensive selection of books on their website, or you can find their titles in bookshops and online retailers around the world.

About the Author

Naysan is the editor of Baha'i Blog and he has worked in various avenues of media for two decades. He’s passionate about using the arts and media to support and explore the teachings of the Baha’i Faith and he has produced and collaborated on popular music projects like the "DawnBreaker Collective" and the successful Ruhi-inspired sequence of "MANA" albums. His experience as a producer for CNN was invaluable while working on a number of special projects for the Baha’i World Centre, including the "Building Momentum" and "Pilgrimage: A Sacred Experience" videos. If there’s a media-related Baha’i project out there, chances are that Naysan was involved with it somehow!

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Discussion 2 Comments

  1. my favorite comment is
    “If we want to be taken seriously by the skeptical world around us, we certainly need to engage with its dilemmas and concerns”
    being labelled as Utopian sometimes fustrates me!

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