Last year, our first Bologna, we had five books to sell on the international rights front – not bad for a launch list of nine. It was exhilarating, scary, sobering, surprising – and enormous fun. And now here we were again, one year on, with our shelves stacked with real finished books and with a few prizes and rights sales too.
What happened in the interim? Let’s take MAGGOT MOON. We reckoned we had a bit of a winner there, but markets can be fickle (and the mood was pretty cautious) so you can never be quite sure. That’s one of the thrills of the business – no two books work in the same way. It’s a statement of the obvious, I know, but it makes life challenging and just a little bit dangerous. The fair just reminds you of the amazing diversity of tastes (sometimes surprising, sometimes downright confounding), of ways of publishing, of national and cultural conventions.
MAGGOT MOON went down brilliantly at that first fair and has now sold in seventeen countries (it’s only the beginning) and has been published in three so far. So, in seventeen places, the book has been similarly appreciated, loved and bought but just take a look at the jackets and differences immediately emerge.
American booksellers are colour-prejudiced – they abhor white jackets – so for the US edition our image has been cast on a cool shade of midnight blue. In both the Italian and Spanish editions the title has changed (it is a bit of a difficult one) so it becomes THE THREE FACES OF THE MOON and STANDISH’S PLANET. Take a look at the treatment – graphic and photographic – reflecting what the publisher feels will make it work in the local market. Of course if you were to give the book to a handful of UK publishers you would get as many and various jackets but with translation you have the originating publisher’s vision first and foremost – to reject, accept or adapt. I can’t wait to see the Chinese, Japanese and Thai versions…
Interestingly the book has sold in southern European countries, the far east too, but NOT in Scandinavia. It’s just a matter of time but it’s still curious – is it because of the subject, the politics, the genre, the state of the market, the fact that there are more books being published by local authors at the moment? Hmmmmm. I’ll let you know.
When we’re offering for a book, we consider what we think we can sell in translation, and it’s tricky. Say we have a book on wrestling trolls, for instance. Trolls are from Scandinavia so that should be fertile territory, although one Norwegian editor told me that her publisher absolutely hated trolls.
And what about wrestling? It’s hugely popular in Japan, Korea, the USA and of course Turkey where oil wrestling (when the participants are covered in olive oil…) is a national sport, but in Japan they are not so fond of huge hairy trolls (Moomintrolls are quite another matter). There again the combination of the two is perhaps more than the sum of its parts. Basically, there is no science in this, no easy formula that can be worked out with a bit of research on google. All I can say is that the mood of the fair was definitely receptive to the idea of wrestling trolls. Hooray! It’s all about the magic of the writing and the spell it casts over the reader. And that’s the thrill of a book fair. There’s nothing quite like seeing that glimmer in an editor’s eye – the excitement of a new idea, a challenging concept… a wrestling troll.