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Muslim Bookstagram Awards 2021 – What Makes A Winning Story?

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The Muslim Bookstagram Awards 2021 are in full swing! We have had an incredible response from publishers, authors and book lovers who have nominated 2021 releases for the Muslim Bookstagram Awards.

This is what our community is all about! We’ve received board books, picture books, novels, memoirs, and much more.

But what does it take to make a winning Muslim story?

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Authentic Islamic content

The first thing the judges will be looking for is authentic Islamic content! Whether the book is fiction or non-fiction, are the details mentioned about Islam correct?

It might seem like no big deal, but it matters a lot – in order to claim that Islam teaches something, or that Muslims believe in something, there better be some strong Islamic textual sources for it!

We recommend having your book fact-checked by a qualified Islamic source; ideally, more than one! Ensure that their names are included in the book so that readers can also do their own research into the veracity of these individuals.

Teach, Don’t Preach

The top mistake that Muslim writers make when trying to write Islamic content is making the story preachy instead of gently teaching through the story.

Use your story to explore a theme or introduce an Islamic concept via the character’s development and the plot. Islamic content can and should be presented in a creative way that is relatable to readers, age-appropriate, and demonstrates the moral of the story without lecturing about it.

Kids of all ages are smarter than we think – and adults appreciate and benefit from creative messaging too!

Know Your Audience

Who is your target demographic? Are you creating your story as a toddler’s board pic, a picture book for very young children, or early readers? Is the plot and language used appropriate for older middle grade, or for lower young adult readers?

“It’s just a kid’s book, how hard could it be?” That’s just it – a lot more knowledge and effort is required for children’s literature than you think!

No matter what age group your book is targeting, make sure that you’ve done your research. Consider elements such as what is developmentally appropriate, what industry standards have been set for each demographic, and whether your work matches the quality of successful books already out there.

Avoiding Getting Lost… in Translation

A common tactic amongst Muslim publishers is to directly translate a book from Arabic, or another language, into English – and then publish it as is.

Do not do this!

Books written in different eras, different cultures, and different languages are simply not a one-size-fits-all. Western, English-language readers have a very different cultural context than someone living in Pakistan, Egypt, or Indonesia.

Unless one is writing a non-fiction Islamic book – actually, even then! – one must think about whether it is culturally relevant and appropriate to the readership. Even if the language is technically correct, and even if the fiqhi content itself is accurate, one must keep in mind the fact that the diversity of cultural realities and nuances means that what may be appropriate for one setting or demographic is not necessarily applicable to all.

The Secret Ingredients

Relatable characters, a well-developed plot, and emotional connection: these are all the (now, not-so) secret ingredients behind a genuinely good story!

Too many Muslim books feature stagnant characters, flat plots, and a sense of disconnect between the reader and the story. Having a child character go to the masjid, learn an Islamic phrase or two, and then go home is not an interesting story! But having a character encounter a challenge, or make a mistake, and then learn a lesson and genuinely grow as a person… that sounds more promising.

Emotional connection doesn’t require a heavy topic or a full length novel; skilled writers know how to create emotional investment even with a handful of simple words.

Editing, Editing, Editing!

As reviewers, nothing gets under our skin more than a poorly edited book! If you have spelling issues, grammatical errors sprinkled throughout, and your sentence structure would make your high school English teacher flinch… you need to hit pause on the publishing process immediately.

Copy editing is not the only kind of editing that concerns us. A story editor is extremely important: someone who can guide you through the rougher points of your story, tighten things up, and push you to strengthen your work in every way.

Pro tip: a writing coach is not an editor!

It may seem time consuming, and even financially costly at times – but solid editing can make or break your book! The investment is absolutely worth it.

Presentation is Everything

In addition to editing, visual presentation matters!

This includes eye-catching cover art, font styles/size that don’t strain the eyes, good quality paper, and illustrations that are actually visually appealing (not something that was thrown together from stock images).

These technical details together make a significant impact on the reader. We want to see books with high physical and visual quality, and within Islamic protocols (e.g. no depictions of prophets and/or the Unseen). For those avoiding tasweer (images of animate objects), you can do so without rendering the characters creepily faceless or utterly bland!

At the Muslim Bookstagram Awards, we don’t judge books solely by their covers… but it certainly is a factor!

Do You Have a Winner?

In the end, the Muslim Bookstagram Awards exists to highlight those books that really got it right. Our goal is to encourage Muslim writers to produce truly amazing work and to elevate the quality of Muslim literature put out into the world.

While mainstream publishing has the advantage of being long-established, Muslim literature is a fast-growing niche, and Muslim publishers need to raise their standards. Muslim writers and publishers can no longer expect Muslim readers to settle for subpar quality. As with all other things, we should be striving for a standard of Ihsaan (excellence).

While we never want to discourage Muslim writers, we do want to push each other to really do our best! Muslim readers deserve to receive books by us, for us, that are just as interesting and engaging as what we find in mainstream bookstores.

Are you ready for the challenge?

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of MuslimMatters.org.

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