Michele Hutchison, Editor De Arbeiderspers
The traffic in Beijing is horrendous, I’m sure the other bloggers have mentioned it already. It takes an hour to get to the fair and most of that is limping along a clogged up motorway through the low-lying smog. We thought we were being clever by missing the 8am bus and the rush hour, and opting for a taxi later. This resulted in a tense 50 minutes in the traffic, the invocation of Tony the Swan God of Travel and still arriving too late for our first meeting. Luckily the editor we’d missed returned to the stand so my colleague met with her while I took meeting number two. It turned into a comic wrestle for the Maarten ‘t Hart books on the stand, both publishers showing properly keen.
The invocation of Tony the Swan God of Travel.
My colleague’s editor was also keen on the novel our first friend had tried to buy yesterday, the man with the discounts. The interpreters told us he’d turned at the stand first thing to try to appropriate the English edition and when they failed to give it to him, he’d ordered them to put it under lock and key so that no one else could take it. By the time we went to a meet and greet with Chinese publishers in the press centre at lunchtime, so many people had attempted to borrow the book, Elik had to take it with her to keep it safe. The discounts man had a point, English language editions were gold dust here.
A rather awkward experience in the press centre was followed by a trip to the rights centre which was revelatory and more in line with what I’d expected originally. A shabbily sectioned-off area of just a few metres, it contained around ten tables and was clearly not Frankfurt. The agent I met there told me it was the worst book fair he’d ever been to. He had been required to check in two days ahead of the fair to collect his free pass and when he failed to do that he was barred entry. Day two was his first day at the fair. He’d ended having to buy a ticket from an illegal tout at the entrance.
I got some figures on Chinese publishing: a successful domestic title might sell 100,000 copies, bestselling foreign literary fiction might make it to 30,000 copies and a regular print run could be 8,000 copies. At the very top end: Da Vinci Code sold 1.8 million copies, The Kite Runner 700,000, Water for Elephants 200,000. But none of these was as big as a Japanese memoir that had sold 3.3 million copies. It was published by Thinkingdom, a publishing house I immediately tried and failed to locate at the fair. Mysterious stealth players? Rumour had it they’d paid agent Carmen Balcells a million dollars for the rights to One Hundred Years of Solitude, and had published the first non-pirated edition last year. They’d also paid a million for Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. But where were they? Nowhere to be seen on the Letterenfond’s list of contacts, that’s for sure. I will continue to search.
Oh and not having a business card today was embarrassing.