When we decided on the ‘Young Business’ segment, we had a vague blueprint for the kind of people that we’d feature. They had to be young, of course, and they had to be dabbling in some kind of business. Beyond that, everything was fair game.
Perhaps subconsciously, we were also hoping to uncover some exciting and unexpected stories, that would question the many stereotypes that Pakistan and its people are often shrouded in.
“I feel that publishing in Pakistan should be well guided and friendly,” – Irum Zahra
Irum Zahra’s story is as unexpected as it is refreshing; and a reminder of why we started this series. We wanted to support and document young people who were pushing boundaries and twenty something Irum has pushed them beyond limitations, beyond obstacles, and dare I say beyond sanity. A talented writer herself, Irum launched her publishing house ‘Beyond Sanity Publishing’ and has had a successful and steady ascension with seven published books and an ambitious anthology combining the works of over a hundred authors in the pipeline.
When asked about why she decided on this career path, she chalks it down a childhood spent in the company of books. “My mom is a librarian,” she says, “and that factor explains fifty percent of my career choices and my passions,” going on to describes trips where she accompanied her mother, how she would arrange shelves stocked with fascinating volumes, and the one aspect that set her apart from most avid readers, “I wished that my name would magically appear on book covers.”
Her love for literature and entrepreneurial spirit are both a snapshot of the times. The number of local start-ups is steadily growing, as is our collective liaison with books. Everyday Facebook declares the arrival of another reader’s circle or bookstore.
But Publishing is still uncharted territory. Few have made the leap from writing to publishing, and Irum has no qualms about how daunting the literature world is. To get her first book, ‘Psychaotic’ published, she faced every trial that a budding writer could expect. “Thank God Google exists” she says recalling the ordeal, “and a few internationally published writers in my friend’s circle know what to do. They guided me. As for the rest, I asked and asked and asked till I found the right people at the right places.” But turbulent as it was, the journey paid off as her book sold more than 2000 copies worldwide and earned her a semi-finalist spot for the Good Reads choice award.
“No one actually thinks that as writers we need authenticity…” – Irum Zahra
But the dearth of mentorship struck a chord with the young CEO. When asked about why she chose to start a publishing house, her answer is pointed, “try Googling ‘Publishers in Pakistan’ and you’ll get half the answer. The other half you’ll get when you actually talk to them.”
If there is one thing that up-and-coming entrepreneurs are bringing to the table it is their unapologetic questioning of the status quo, and Irum channels this zeal. She is quick to call out the bias amongst Pakistani publishers that tend to favour prominent, published writers as opposed to harnessing new talent. “No one actually thinks that as writers we need authenticity,” she says, “And what can be worse than knowing that no publisher is there to help you because you are not a big name…?”
This cemented her transition from writer to publisher, and gave her a clear end goal, “I feel that publishing in Pakistan should be well guided and friendly,” noting that a more welcoming publishing scene will help local writers and in doing so help the literary industry itself.
But the business world brought its own set of problems, and true to form Irum is ever-ready to call out the hypocrisy, stating, “people don’t respond well to new ‘business women’ to be honest. The idea fascinates and annoys them at the same time,” adding that, “I had to find distributors, learn social media tactics, I had to socialize, A lot!” Yet again, the labor of love paid off as soon after its inception Beyond Sanity caught the media’s attention. Her enthusiasm shines through when she lists down all the names that gave her initiative coverage, “Beyond Sanity Publishing has been covered by PTV, PTV World, Samaa, Dawn, The News, Khabrain, Humans of Pakistan, Parhlo.com, Mizlink, Kay2, News Pakistan and so many others Masha’Allah!”
It is interesting that despite being novices to the business world, yet Irum and her team have made some really exciting decisions. “Social media and socializing are very important tools for marketing,” she says, and her team clearly follows this mantra. From partnering with The Nomads for a “book club on wheels”, to reaching out to and having a diligent circle of book reviewers, to using every social media site imaginable to push their publications, it is clear that they intend on leaving no stone unturned in their quest. They have generated a loyal following, and ensure that their authors get all the attention that they can muster.
Her team’s dedication is undoubtedly an extension of what she set out to achieve, in her own words, “I don’t want writers to think that there is no one in Pakistan that would work on their book. I want them to understand that there are people out there who guide them and help them and stand by them no matter what.”
Above all else, Beyond Sanity Publishing has certainly accomplished this goal.
“As long as there is one person out there to read your work or listen to you read, that is reason enough for you to write. Literature will make you immortal.” – Irum Zahra
Perhaps the fact that she is an avid reader, an enthusiastic writer and has experienced both the excitement and difficulties of publishing is what makes her story truly appealing.
As literature turns into a global business, one can’t help but feel that it has lost its identity, and perhaps more importantly its soul. Publishing houses today are more focused on corporate gain than in preserving the legacy of the written word.
So, the fact that the CEO of a publishing business can truly empathize with her clients is both uncanny and promising.
The rectitude of her plight is best demonstrated with how she ends this interview. Speaking to others like her, who want to venture into the world of books but are intimidated by how daunting it looks to an outsider, she says, “whatever happens in your life, please never stop writing. As long as there is one person out there to read your work or listen to you read, that is reason enough for you to write. Literature will make you immortal.”