This post originally appeared on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog. I highly recommend visiting the official blog for interesting posts from Richard Nash, Alex Hippisley-Cox, and Arun Wolf
After a while, all of the various “book market” presentations from the various countries start to sound the same . . . I know that’s a jaded, semi-ignorant thing to say, but there are only so many times one can here about the average number of books printed per inhabitant, or the total number of copies sold in a given year before all the numbers blur together into some meaningless mess of abstract geometry. (Was it Estonia that produced 27million books in 1991? Or was that 27 thousand? Or . . . )
I’m not trying to imply this info isn’t useful, and it is great when people hand out brochures afterward with all these stats in black-and-white, but what really sticks out to me are the activities various countries are undertaking to get the info about their books out to other editors and publishers. Like the Lithuanian/Latvian/Estonian 300 Baltic Authors presentation, or all the materials from Fundacion TyPA, or, in the case of the Czech Republic, the Czech Literature Portal, which is loaded with all the information a prospective foreign publisher might want.
The site hosts tons of profiles and excerpts from Czech authors, longer essays on Czech literature (such as this one about Czech lit since 1945), author interviews, info on literary periodicals, and, well, information about the Czech book market.
I truly believe that face-to-face meetings are still the best way for publishers to find out about books they should translate, but in the other 300-and-some-odd days in which an international book fair isn’t taking place, sites like these can be extremely useful in promoting a country’s literature and presenting their book scene to the rest of the world.
Now if only all the eBook proponents and new digital media people would hook up with these various foreign agencies . . . Although most of these sites are filled with great content, they tend to be pretty static and traditional. And there are a lot of techies out there who aren’t just interested in the production of e-content, but are looking at ways of using new technologies to engage with readers in exciting ways. I may be typing out of turn here, but it seems like these two groups (foreign literary agencies and new tech people) could benefit from each other . . .
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Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .