jeudi 13 octobre 2011

Buchmesse Day Three - Second Day of Trading

Things I love about Europe:
1.       When parallel parking, you can park in any direction you like. You don’t have to face the same way as all of the other cars.
2.       After work, everyone goes out for a pint, bier, vin, and debates the state of the world with their neighbours. In person. With actual, live humans.
3.       Fresh, local food markets are still available in central, pedestrian-only streets.
4.       The coffee tastes rich and creamy.
5.       People don’t automatically assume you speak English.
6.       The transportation systems are so advanced you do not need a car. Trains, buses, trams, subways run frequently, cheaply everywhere.
7.       And the women (well, okay, not Parisienne women perhaps) really look like strong, healthy women. I think this is what always impresses me most about Germany. The women look healthy. They have strong athletic bodies. They are not taken in by fashion extremes. They look like they could be sisters or best friends of mine. I feel like I fit in there. They are real women.

Things I don’t like about about large cities: why do all of the subways/metros/undergrounds always have that slightly warm smell of oil, dust and day-old urine? It’s disgusting.

This second day of trading, especially the morning, was much quieter. People were out late the night before at the Frankfurter Hof party celebrating deals and award winners. In the central part of Frankfurt, at the ‘Willy-Brandt Platz’ stop, is the ridiculously expensive Steinberger Frankfurter Hof hotel. It looks like a palace. Maybe it was! Think of the Chateau Laurier, but much more upscale! Gold-leaf gates, lush sculpted halls and carpeting, and a thousand Buchmesse traders rolled into one room networking. One of the fair’s journalist tweeters @bondnic said, “a rogues gallery of international publishing”, and there they are. Most of the people in the Hof’s lobby are not staying there; they are simply there to be seen.

I am at the fair to learn, however, and on this day I learn a little bit more about what Howard does between his frequent meetings with old and new colleagues in the business. Now, I feel like I have answered most of those questions I had for him on the first day:

How much does he sell his foreign rights for? I know that the selling of foreign rights is what helps his company break even, but is that enough?

30 years ago when Howard first began publishing as an independent, he was still working in Political Science at McMaster University. There were certain books, ideas people had written that he “just felt should be heard,” Howard’s wife Jeannette said. He always felt strongly that good books should be published no matter the cost. At that time, there were grants for publishing in certain fields and for independent publishers, but as the Canadian government became increasingly conservative, the grants dried up. It was then that Howard started selling more foreign rights and even ‘brokering’ the rights for others when possible. Some years the press breaks even. Some years it doesn’t. “It’s very hard,” Howard says. Most of his authors only make a small profit after a couple of printings, and only then off of the list price. The foreign right to a book depends on the book, the foreign market, and what the publisher is willing, or in most cases, able to pay.

In the Frankfurt Book Fair daily newsletter (p.4), Brian Murray, the CEO of HarperCollins, said that he pays “an e-book royalty rate of 25% of net receipts”, and that print royalties “averaged 16-18%”. That seems really high to me, being an author, but perhaps that is for the publisher, and the author receives a [very] small percentage of that afterwards.

Does he have his meetings right at his booth?
Does he always meet with the same people? Does he contact people more than he is contacted?
Howard sits in the Mosaic Press booth from the opening bell to the closing bell, well, okay, it’s not actually a bell, more like an announcement, but I like to think of these traders out on the ‘stock market floor selling shares’.
He only has a few meetings booked throughout the day today, but people he has known from the fair and through publishing over the years stop by his booth and take a seat as soon as he is free. Most of the people he speaks with, he has known from years of work at the fair, and any new traders who come by, stop because they have noticed a book or flyer that catches their interest. They want to know more about the book, and a relationship begins.

Who does he do business with most, and where did he first meet this contact?
Howard’s oldest contact he met right here in Frankfurt, a Mexican publisher named Raoul. Usually, the publishers just meet to discuss an idea or the possibility of a plan, and to talk about the books. It is afterwards that the real business work begins. Following up on queries, emailing copies of books to look over, and then exchanging signed contracts, and finally soliciting printers. Frankfurt is the catalyst for the working relationships in a book.

And does he buy anything? If not (as Noble suggested), why? And if so, what and why?
Not really because he just can’t afford it as an independent, but he may ‘broker’ or act as the liaison between one publisher and another.
While I am there today, for instance, Howard is meeting with the publishers from Oakville’s children’s press, ‘Flowerpot Press’. They are trying to find quotes for getting a softcover with sound and a hardcover children’s book printed, and they have come to Howard to see if he can get the printing quotes for them. They expect to be able to reproduce the hardcover for about $1.27, and expect the same thing to sell at WalMart® for $17.10.

Flowerpot Press has also brought the coloured drawings of a North Parade illustrator they have just found and love. They want to get Howard’s advice on the contract language. “We would like to just buy it outright,” the publishers say, “because it would save us a lot of trouble.”
 “I can see it being made into a series of books because this one character is just wonderful, but the story needs a lot of work.”
They discuss how to word the contract for the illustrator. Should the percentage be on the list or on the net sales figures? What if there are going to be subsequent books in the series? What percentage should the paper or hardcover be?

I leave all of this to Howard, and go to hear this year’s winner of the German Book Prize, the 37,500 uro equivalent of Canada’s Giller.
Prize-winning novelist Eugen Ruge reminds me a little of M.G. Vassanji, that same East to West struggle of immigration and adaptation. He is a very personable speaker, and although I could only understand about ten percent of what he was saying, the crowd loved him. Ruge is from the ‘Eastern side of the wall’ and so are his characters in In Zeiten des Abnehmenden Lichts (In Times of Fading Light) by Rowohlt Verlag press.  The novel covers three generations of struggle in Eastern Germany, then the Soviet Union, and finally in America. It may be possible to find this volume on the shelves in North America in a couple of years because the author himself speaks English and has worked in the film industry in the West for a number of years. Also, many European countries like Germany, France, and the Netherlands, provide 20,000 or more in funding for authors for translations of their countries’ novels. This way, the ideas and work of great European literati can be read by countries outside of the EC.

Next to the site of the reading, and in the same building as “Storydrive” was the “Antiquariatsmesse”. (Remind me to thank Germany for all of our compound words!) This was a collection of vendors displaying rare and ancient German books for sale. Inside, there were bindings of gold and leather and iron and wood carvings, and bibles with medieval ‘book of hour’ colour illustrations. There were ancient illustrations of plants and animals which look slightly altered from our 21st century versions of the same. Have you ever seen Napoleon’s stuffed dog and horse in Paris? When I first saw it, I wondered if the animal was simply deteriorating over time, or if the species had really just evolved that much without us realizing it. In the Antiquariatsmesse, I was looking at a very detailed drawing of a dandelion, and to me, it did look quite distinct. The leaf and stem were the same, but the shape and depth of the flower and seeds were much smaller in length and diameter (in context). So, has the flower evolved? Has the artist evolved? Or is the artistic perception different today? Whatever the case, these are wonderful historical records of how people either saw, described and interpreted the same plants and animals five centuries ago, or how our biological world has evolved over this period.

Every year, my sons have to get dividers for their binders in school. You know the coloured, red, blue, pink, yellow, and green sheets that go in between the lined binder sheets to separate the different subjects? I always thought this was a contemporary stationary product sold at Staples® in the “school supply” section. Turns out, nope -15th century! Eberhard Talke of the Antiquariat Aix-la-chapelle store in Aachen showed me three versions of the 15-16th century divider, or in Deutsche, Blattweiser/n. Because printed text was so rare (and often written by hand), people use to buy one page (Seïtenwiser) at a time. Once they had collected all of the pages in a volume, a process that might take years, they would take the pages to a book ‘binder’ (yes, same word as our ‘3-holed’ version!) and have them bound in leather or wood or precious metals, and sometimes, they would have the binder add dividers. Only these dividers weren’t in colour or plastic. There were some made of rope, and others made of small origami paper with letters of the alphabet on them (and the letters were shaped just like they are in grade one!). I was thrilled to learn this. We often say that Shakespeare marked the beginning of ‘modern English’. Well, in Germany anyway, the Blattweisen mark the beginning of modern book publishing for me.

I hope Staples® has bought the foreign rights for those things! J

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