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Sanna Zahoor, Associate Publisher at Emerald Publishing

Sanna speaks to The Publishing Profile about reading only non-fiction in 2018 and learning to read in Urdu.

Hi! My name is (Adeeba) Sanna Zahoor - everyone either calls me Sanna or San though! A fun fact I learnt a few years ago was that my first name Adeeba is Arabic for ‘literary woman’! I come from a family of bookworms, although as a child I wasn’t much of a reader and I actually had additional help at school with my reading. I’ve always loved words in some capacity though and the first job I remember aspiring to was a poet - at the ripe old age of about 9. I remember stapling a bunch of my ‘best’ poems together and making a book. Now I publish journals and books for a living at Emerald Publishing, in my role as Associate Publisher!

How did you get into publishing?

I got into publishing by accident. I considered it as a career option when I was younger due to my love of words and writing, but changed my mind as I didn’t fancy moving to London. Coming from a working-class background, I couldn’t afford the travel, accommodation and the often unpaid internships. I pursued a degree in English and followed this with a Masters in Management. Initially, I ended up in Emerald Publishing’s Marketing department in the Brand team. It was a temporary position and I loved working there, so when a permanent position came up in the Publishing department, I jumped on it! I have been in publishing for 4 years now, with most of that time being spent as a Publishing Assistant until this year when I was promoted to Associate Publisher. I now manage my own portfolio in the Humanities and Social Sciences team, looking after titles across Education, Sociology and Public Policy.

What do you love the most about publishing?

There are lots of things I love about publishing. My favourite thing though is the social/people element of the role. I love speaking with editors and authors and the people I work with. It’s quite a social job and building relationships is key. Don’t worry if you’re not an extrovert though, because neither am I. I had the misconception that being an extrovert was a prerequisite for the Publisher role, but this isn’t the case. So long as you can build strong relationships with people, you’re good! Another social aspect of the job is travelling to conferences to engage with the research community. Some of the places I have been to so far include Texas, Ohio, Toronto and Amsterdam, which has been pretty cool. COVID-19 has put travel on hold of course but I am definitely looking forward to being able to attend conferences again and meeting people face to face.

What reading formats do you prefer? Do you prefer hardbacks, paperbacks, eBooks, audiobooks, library books, or a mixture?

I’m definitely a paperback kinda girl! However, to my surprise, I have found myself opening up to audiobook formats more recently which I must say initially felt like cheating! I am really passionate about personal development but prefer to consume literature on this topic as audio. With fiction, however, I love feverishly turning the pages of a book, you can’t quite do that with digital formats - feverishly swiping through a Kindle is not the same in my opinion. I also love the smell of books…is that weird?!

Is there a book that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that?

I have only just recently started working on books but have just commissioned a volume on Systemic Inequality as part of the series, Research in Political Sociology, which I think will be great. At Emerald Publishing we are really keen on commissioning and publishing multiple format types including blogs and podcasts. Recently I commissioned a podcast on the topic of BAME exclusion during COVID19, which will be released later this summer. You can listen to the ‘Emerald Podcast Series’ on Spotify or similar platforms from 9 July 2020 – shameless plug!

What is your most-read genre?

For me, the main draw in a book is a nuanced exploration of the human condition/human relationships. Somebody who I think does this brilliantly is Sally Rooney; whose work I quickly devour. I also love books where there is a real sense of place and identity. Sebastian Faulks does this brilliantly with the French city of Amiens in his novel, Birdsong – one of my favourites.

What childhood books have you kept on your shelves?

I have all of Roald Dahl’s books, The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. During my English degree, there was a module on Children’s Literature and it was really interesting to read some of these from an adult’s perspective.

What’s the most beautiful book you own?

The most beautiful book I own has to be a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, which I picked up from an independent book shop in London. This is the book that made me fall in love with reading at the age of 17, and I have multiple copies.

What are your favourite books of 2020 so far?

One of my favourite reads of 2020 has got to be The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I love a campus novel and this, coupled with Tartt’s gorgeous, suspenseful writing, had me hooked. Conversations with Friends is another 2020 favourite. I am not a very fast reader but I gobbled this up in a couple of days. Such a resonant and exciting read on what it means to be human and the complexities of navigating relationships in the modern day.


How have your reading habits changed?

In 2018 I decided to do a year of reading non-fiction literature only. Reading more non-fiction was something I had wanted to do for a while but I always found myself opting for fiction instead. During my year of non-fiction (which I loved), I tried multiple genres, from autobiography, to diary entries, to essays and more. Since then non-fiction has integrated itself into my regular reading repertoire, where almost every other book I now read is non-fiction.

What have you not read that you would like to read?

I have started learning Urdu which is the national language of Pakistan where I am from - a culture rich in the most gorgeous literature. My dad says the English translations don’t come close to the original pieces and so I hope to reconnect with my linguistic roots and be able to read some Pakistani literature in its original form someday.

Readers can find Sanna on Twitter, @sanna_zahoor, on LinkedIn, @Sanna Zahoor, or on her bookstagram @begin_with_a_book.


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