Right now I should be getting on a plane in Cape Town to head back home after the 29th International Publishers Congress. UNFORTUNATELY, the
jags employees at Delta’s ticket counter in Atlanta refused to let me board the plane since my passport doesn’t contain a complete blank page. OK, I get it, I get in, countries have laws and those laws must be obeyed, but eff you ATL airport for not having extra visa pages to stick into my passport, and eff you South Africa for being so strict (supposedly Delta gets fine $10,000 for every passenger arriving there without a blank passport page).
So after spending 13 hours flying to and from Atlanta (WHERE THEY LOST MY BAG), I came back home to Rochester and wrote this speech which Jens Bammel, Secretary General of the International Publishers Association, read on my behalf.
It’s really cool that he was able to do this—I felt horrible for having to miss the conference—and also cool that Ed Nawotka ran it in Publishing Perspectives. You can read the whole thing at the link above, but here’s a bit from the end, where I tried to tie everything together into some points of advice for everyone:
The Long Term Is the Only Race Worth Winning
We have entered a confusing age in the evolution of books and publishing. After ages of conglomerations conglomerating and other inward mingling trends (e.g., B&N making the same books available everywhere in the country, like McDonalds hamburgers), the world has suddenly fragmented. Certain books are only available on Amazon, there are 10,000 for every sub-genre of a sub-genre, and readers live everywhere, accessing it all in a plethora of ways.
This is daunting to some, exciting to others. For a small press looking to do books that fit a particular niche (a la Open Letter), this is a fantastic situation. Unlike years past when we fought for space in the same five review outlets and tried to convince the same booksellers to handsell our books, we can now go directly to our customers, and can cultivate an audience in ways that never existed before.
So, to sum this all up into one list of tips and anecdotes, here are some thoughts on how authors, translators, agents, and publishers can take advantage of this situation:
Agents: Quit screwing around with e-book rights. I know that for some, this is the touchiest of touchy subjects, but when an agent doesn’t sell us the e-book rights to a translation we’re publishing, I want to condemn them to a dark circle of hell. Audiences are diverse, readers like to read in all formats, why would anyone stop the momentum a publisher might have with a book in the hopes you can sell these later to some larger company? This is ridiculous and my experiences with Zone and Children in Reindeer Woods—which sold out quickly and were unavailable while we reprinted and sat around NOT having the e-book rights—point out the stupidity of this agenting policy.
Translators: Community is your greatest hope. Most everyone in the book industry is whiny. And underpaid. And underappreciated. Translators more than most. But in a world in which expertise exists outside of the conventional outlets (newspapers, magazines, radio shows), translators can be extremely valuable in cultivating a community of readers interested in a particular book/set of books. Make all the connections you can—books aren’t sold through reviews or advertisements anymore, they’re sold when one reader talks to another reader.
There are also bits for Publishers, Authors, and Everyone, but you have to visit Publishing Perspectives to read those . . .
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .
The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .
Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .
It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .