Michele Hutchison, Editor De Arbeiderspers
"In the era of browsing, we provide reading"
‘In the era of browsing, we provide reading.’ - Slogan seen hanging at the fair.
On the bus back from the opening ceremony yesterday, Eva Cossee (publisher of Uitgeverij Cossee) showed me her new Chinese language business cards. ‘After all,’ she said, ‘in China, without a business card, you’re no one.’ This was exactly what I’d been worrying about. We’re moving offices to Utrecht at Christmas so when my cards ran out last week I decided to wait for the new address before getting new ones printed. Our publisher, Elik Lettinga, has plenty of cards so I was wondering how my meetings would go. Silly gift - yes. Business card - er no, contact details on the rights guide.
If it sells that will be a fantastic hit rate.
I needn’t have worried. This morning a Beijing publisher showed up to ask for a novel he’d read about in the mailing we’d sent out last week to all the Chinese publishers on Letterenfonds’s list of contacts. He asked how much we wanted for the rights and I tried to explain about projected royalties on the first print run. He asked whether we offered discounts. Enquiring further (all of this via the interpreter) he did seem to have a suitable list for the book in question, they published European literature in translation and books on classical antiquity. Abandoning the concept of discounts on advances, we settled on me sending him a sample contract upon return to Amsterdam. He didn’t ask for my card but left his.
The second Chinese publisher who turned up began a conversation with my colleague so by the time I joined in cards had already been swapped. She was interested in books on ‘European history in general - not just the Netherlands’, popular philosophy and Latin and Greek classics. We pitched Joke Hermsen, Paul Cliteur and Ilja Pfeijffer’s De Antieken - een korte literatuur geschiedenis, this latter for the second time that day. I’d only ever pitched this particular title once before in my career, if it sells that will be a fantastic hit rate.
That was that for the Chinese publishers, no more came by alas, and our appointments didn’t show up, but we did see two agents. Marleen Seegers who has experience of selling French rights to the Chinese has set up an agency, 2 Seas, for international representation. We exchanged notes on typical advances and I was glad to hear that French books go for similar advances here as Dutch ones. One of the biggest surprises of the day was the size of the international hall at the fair. I’d expected the Dutch to be pretty much the only foreigners present but various other countries were out in force - namely the Germans, French and Koreans. Apparently the French have been coming to the fair since 2005 and in recent years have bought and published a great number of Chinese books and the Chinese have bought French titles in return. The relationship is now firmly established.
The book fair moved to a new site this year and the international hall has been greatly expanded. Discussing this with other foreign publishers, it does seem that China is becoming an international player and that things have changed enormously over the past five years. Having expected to be wildly out of place, I was pleasantly surprised by the setting. I even felt the traditional first-day-of-a-book-fair heady rush. But that was in the morning before our entire section got cordoned off by armed police and was laid waste for hours because a senior Chinese official was due to meet Prinses Laurentien and somehow got delayed.