The editorial team behind the increasingly prominent Serbian publisher No Rules Publishing was officially established in 2020 after years of active work on numerous literary publications. Focused on publishing both Serbian and foreign authors who are “below the radar of mainstream culture”, No Rules has brought out over thirty thematically and genre-diverse titles over the past few years. These include some forgotten works of significant Serbian authors, first-time or refreshed translations of various foreign books, and many sharp new voices that are likely to shape the Serbian literary scene in the coming years.

The company’s unconventional approach to selecting titles is based on the desire to provide as much freedom and enjoyment to the author, rather than focusing on commercial success. As such, No Rules has differentiated itself through high-quality editing work and unique themes that would have otherwise been overlooked. Our team particularly recommends Dragana V. Todoreskov’s short story collection that deals with female psychological disorders (freely translated as In Waiting Rooms*), as well as a novel by Nikola Radić (A String of Fractures*), whose topics could be seen as typically millennial and whose language is exceptionally well-developed.

Until we read some of their other titles, we invited the owner of No Rules Publishing, Sofija Živković to tell us more about her work and her company’s ambitions in the United Arab Emirates.  

1. Why No Rules? Which literary, paraliterary, or publishing rules do not apply to your house?

A colleague from the association called Anarchy once said that we are “a publisher with a radical name”. I think this is an interesting reference and it gives me the opportunity to elaborate – we are radical in a sense, but not as much when you take into account the actual background of our name. In my circle of friends, different personal discussions are often concluded with the thought that “there are no rules”, meaning that life doesn’t play by the rules, offering no guarantees or accurate predictions. Hence No Rules. Not particularly rebellious, right? 

As for the literary rules we don’t follow, they are mostly related to mainstream practices. More specifically, I avoid working with well-known and established writers because I know they won’t be neglected by other publishing houses who will compete over them. I am rather curious about good books whose authors may not be as popular, but that are interesting, less visible, poorly promoted (e.g., they don’t deal with predominant socio-political motifs or are not applicable to a particular socio-political moment), or even written by authors with a limited oeuvre. I’m also curious about literary enclaves, i.e. authors who write in Italian but who are originally from Tessin, and not from Italy; authors who write in French but are from Belgium (so, not the language’s native country); or those who write in Chinese but are from Taiwan. I also explore the literature of the Arabian Gulf. I think that Serbian readers know very little, if anything at all, about writers from UAE, Oman, or Saudi Arabia. No Rules has started a separate edition called ORIENTation, which will be dedicated to such books, and the first in line is the novel titled The Piano Tuner by Taiwanese writer Chiang-Sheng Kuo, translated by Vladimir Živković (the main culprit for our translations of Frederick Marryat 😊)

2. Was there a particular title or a translation gap that inspired you to start a publishing house?

I was in fact under lockdown for 28 days after arriving from my scholarship residence in Austria, which was at the time the red COVID-19 zone. I spent those 28 days mastering InDesign and German, etc., because I wasn’t allowed to see anyone or leave the house. At that point I realized I had five manuscripts that my friends had asked me to review and that had never generated a particular interest among publishers. I guess the reasons for this were either a sales-driven focus or a lack of interest in those particular topics. These manuscripts turned out to be our first publications: Goran Novaković’s A Little Glossary of the 21st-Century Belgrade* and Vienna for Yugos** (City Usage Manual); a short story collection titled Karapazar, which is set in an urban neighborhood of Belgrade called Dorćol; Serbian translation of Frederick Marryat’s satirical works (How to Write a Fashionable Novel, How to Write a Book of Travels, How to Write a Romance, and On Writers and Writing) – whose previous translation dates back to the pre-WWII times when the famous Serbian publisher Gaetz Kohn was still alive!; as well as the works of the provocative early 20th-century French author Renne Vivien, who is often considered a female counterpart of Oscar Wilde, and whose stories are collected in the book titled Sapho and Other Works. As I mentioned, Marryat was translated by Vladimir Živanović, a sinologist and the co-founder of No Rules, while Renee was translated by Dejan Acović, our well-known translator from Latin, Greek (classical and modern), and French.

* NOTE: None of these titles should be considered official translations as they are created solely for the purpose of this article.

** NOTE: Due to the lack of the full context of the book, this translation uses the word Yugo, which is a slang word used in Austria to refer to Austrian citizens with ex-Yugoslavia origins. The word has a pejorative meaning so it might not be the best fit in this context, but hopefully serves the purpose.  

3. You published the first Serbian crime novel. How did you discover this manuscript?

We had great help from our friend Bojana Antonić, who works at the library of the Philological Faculty of the University of Belgrade. She literally dug Tasa Milenković up, and she also found Leposava Mijušković for whose book she also wrote an epilogue. We were the first to publish Tasa Milenković and then our colleagues from the Portalibris Publishing House soon released their own edition. Now the readers can choose between two versions of Milenković’s Midnight or the Terrible Murder in Dorćol! Both Leposava’s Tales of Soul and Tasa’s crime novel are historically very significant because they represent an entirely different era with its distinctive language use. For example, the novel Midnight mentions that every house in Belgrade used to have Gobelin tapestries with rural motifs of the Tirolian Alps; he also touches on the topic of the growing number of Nazarenes and deals with fortune tellers and different rituals (such as the one suggesting you should never drink from the glass placed first on the right of a tray); he uses some archaic Serbian words as well. Leposava is, however, subtly Sufistic, but her stories are much more diverse than that.

4. What are some of your most widely read books?

Pesoa’s Lisbon is quite popular. Dragana V. Todoreskov’s stories are also widely read, which is the case with Vienna for Yugos by Goran Novaković as well. We had positive feedback from our Instagram followers, especially regarding Nenad Baraković’s Pulpless Fiction* and Losertown Live*. I honestly don’t focus on sales as much because I think there are different factors determining how well the book will sell, many of which are beyond literature and thus of no interest to me. I guarantee that all these books are great, and this is good enough for me.

5. You often work with new and emerging authors. How do you find and choose them? Or is it them who find you?

It goes both ways. Short and sweet 😊

6. You’ve been involved in a project aiming to promote the linguistic and cultural diversity of the Serbian town of Pančevo. Do you feel minority languages are properly represented on Serbia’s literary scene?

I love Pančevo because I see it as the perfect gateway from the big city, only a 20-minute drive from Belgrade. It is still a city on its own, with its distinct, and even vibrant ambiance, Austria-Hungary style architecture, good restaurants, and excellent cultural programs. I have a lot of very close friends there. I am one of those rare people who don’t particularly enjoy nature because I don’t understand its language. That’s why I don’t like vacations in nature, I even find them boring, whereas the change of town, streets, cafes, and urban views relaxes me. With Pančevo I have a special connection since primary school because a part of my education took place there. Since then, I am always coming back to it for personal reasons, so I know the town and its history, especially concerning its multilingual nature. This multilingual aspect has always fascinated me because it was real and ordinary (at least it used to be), so our publication intends to remind the citizens of it. On our website, you can also watch the conversations recorded with people belonging to minority groups. I think the literature written in the language of the minorities is underrepresented in our literary scene, except for rare cases such as Rende Publishing House’s edition of a Hungarian writer from the Serbian town of Senta. I might be wrong, and I hope I am, but I don’t think I’ve seen many such books. We also discussed publishing some works suggested by Kristina Orovec, a translator from Novi Sad.

7. You recently opened an office in UAE with a goal to promote Serbian authors in the Middle East and vice versa. Do you feel there is already a degree of interest in Serbian literature in this part of the world or is it yet to be generated? Who are your key collaborators in this endeavor?

It is a standalone company in fact, rather than just an office. It is not a branch of No Rules although it has the same name spelled together as Norules publishing, but a part of the Sharjah Publishing City company. For me it is a new adventure and I love adventures! I enjoy being in the flow and I think this will be a nice voyage into the exotic, with great people for support. Our publications are in English, but we will have Arabic translations as well. We will first publish three British writers – a book of literary travelogues about South Africa, another one about Dubai and the lost Emirates cities, as well as one novel from Gibraltar. There will also be several Serbian writers translated into English: a children’s book, a short story collection (Public Transport Entries by Nenad Milenković Pantić), and a novel by Milica Radovančev. They are garnering attention abroad, at least by what I have seen on book fairs hosted in those countries – A Little Glossary of the 21st-Century Belgrade has its Arabic edition in Kario. We are negotiating some other translations as well. Now that we have our own legal entity there, we can publish works in Arabic and English, which opens a lot of great new opportunities for us. We are also members of EPA (Emirates Publishers Association) and as such can have a booth on all tradeshows where EPA exhibits – from London and Kairo to Gulf countries and elsewhere. This can significantly improve the visibility of our titles.

8. You are currently preparing several interesting titles. Can you tell us more about them?

They are nearly off the press… It took a while due to technical challenges, but we are almost there. We are preparing The Happy Valley by Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Stars up Close (Le Stelle Vicine) by Massimo Gezzi, a collection of essays by Matteo Terzaghi, a novel by Belgian author Geneviève Damas titled Si tu passes la rivière (If you Cross the River*), a lyrical novel The Piano Tuner* by a Taiwanese author, Lu Xun’s On Class in Literature. There are also two novels by a Serbian author Ivana Radojčić and a travel literature book by a Croatian author. Additionally, we plan to publish Tasa Milenković’s comrade in crime literature – a novel of an older Agatha Christie-like tradition written by a contemporary author Ivan Stanković Zuckerow. After that, we will release Borges’ lectures on English literature, a new Serbian author with a novel titled Tangled*, a poetry book by Goran Lončarević, as well as a novel by Nikola Lekić.

9. Who are the key persons on your team who help you bring your ideas to life?

Everyone I work with, no exaggeration! Vladimir Živanović is certainly the right hand of No Rules publishing, while the equally vital parts of our team are Dejan Acović and Milena Ilić Mladenović, the editor of Libartes magazine. I mentioned only some of them, but the truth is everyone is highly important.  As for the UAE company, I have been very lucky to establish a contact with Fatma from Dubai. She owns a publishing house herself and is an active translator as well as a passionate reader. All her editions are based on great passion, versatility, and love. Thank you, Fatma! 😊 We’re preparing the UAE release of a book about Dubai in English, as well as a Serbian translation here. It should inshallah also be published in Arabic under the auspices of her publishing house.

10. How will No Rules change the world in five years?

I don’t like to get carried away by the ideas of changing the world or people 😀

All joking aside, I believe in changes. I think they’re happening gradually, but that they are possible; I believe that No Rules will continue to complement the literary world with new titles and create beautiful things in collaboration with other publishers and people who share a similar mindset, who are open-minded, curious, and willing. Some of the requirements that publishers place before today’s readers are unrealistic, or quasirealistic, because they assume people will only read high literature to grow culturally and spiritually. We, however, think that people deserve some “lighter notes” as well, especially to encourage them to build their journey towards high literature. Here, of course, I don’t mean trash literature and pulp fiction that is devoid of any aesthetics, but some works that can be very charming, jovial, and unburdening, while giving some aesthetic pleasure. Our edition Intimate Guide deals precisely with such diary-like books.

I am personally a very picky reader. I own thousands of books and I’m obsessed with antiquities that were left to me as family heritage. I like challenging and heavy topics, as well as light reads; frustratingly difficult language, as well as smooth, swift sentences. I’m not only looking for masterpieces, novels of an era, or works that are supposed to explain the essence of whatever (the list of global and social issues is too long), novels that make you smarter in the eyes of other people, those that automatically help you grow personally. Or make you more prestigious if you are a publisher. I am exaggerating and generalizing a bit, but this is not far from the truth. No Rules will continue to travel the world, meet nice and kind people, publish interesting books, and this is my whole philosophy 😉

Some of the requirements that publishers place before today’s readers are unrealistic, or quasirealistic, because they assume people will only read high literature to grow culturally and spiritually.

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