By Olivia Snaije
Undeterred by lean and shaky times, British-born journalist, writer and editor Helena Cobban recently founded Just World Books in the US where she has lived for 30-odd years. Following her son’s advice to look into print-on-demand (POD) publishing, Cobban was able to launch her company without any heavy financial commitments. Just World’s focus is on the Middle East (but not only) as Cobban has extensive experience in the region. Her idea for content was to “curate” people’s blogs on current international affairs that she had enjoyed reading over the years and transform them into books. POD publishing enables her to give readers “immediacy” on pertinent international themes.
“Blogs have an ephemeral quality to them yet some of the best writing is on blogs. Blog archives are organized in a reverse chronological order, which is chaotic, but as soon as you arrange the pieces in a forward chronology they make sense. It implies choice, arrangement, thought and framing.”
Most authors are happy to see their work reincarnated and forego an advance; Cobban said she helps here and there when necessary for translation work.
Just World has so far published seven non-fiction titles including a Pakistani-American historian on the US-Pakistan entanglement in the first decade of this century, a Norwegian academic on the United States and the Iraqi transition, and former Ambassador Chas W. Freeman Jr.’s America’s Misadventures in the Middle East for which Cobban has sold the rights to China.
Just World’s books are printed in the US and the UK and Cobban works primarily with Ingram’s POD company; Lightning Source. She recently concluded a partnership agreement with OR books, co-founded by John Oakes formerly of Grove Press and Four Walls Eight Windows. OR will print Just World’s paperbacks and eventually e-books, which Cobban is still struggling with due to the amount of photographs in her publications.
Just World’s list for 2012 includes Cairo-based analyst Issandr El Amrani’s thoughts on events leading up to Tahrir Square, Israeli-American Miko Peled’s exploration of Palestine in The General’s Son (with a foreword by Alice Walker), Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt’s cookbook entitled Gaza Kitchen, a re-edition of former Washington Post veteran Jon Randal’s classic 1983 study of the extremist Maronite militias in Lebanon, a collection of best posts by Illinois-based social activist Rabbi Brant Rosen from his “Shalom Rav” blog, and an intimate account by former congressional candidate Matt Zeller of his time with the U.S. military in Afghanistan.