After making the rounds at Bologna and London, some international publishers and agents are choosing to give their expense accounts a rest and opt out of this year’s BEA. “I remember the good old times when there was just…Frankfurt!” says Marie Louise Zarmanian, translation rights manager at Editoriale Mauri Spagnol, who blames Guadalajara, Turin, and Mantua (never mind the recently launched Abu Dhabi, Leipzig, and Cape Town) for her fair fatigue. But neither the economy nor swine flu will deter others from attending BEA this year.
Joakim Hansson, agent and director of the Nordin Agency in Stockholm, recently returned from London riding high on the crime wave that has helped him make the second largest book deal in Sweden’s history. Mons Kallentoft is still reaping the benefits of his switch from award-winning literary author to writing what Hansson describes as “literary crime” novels. The Nordin Agency enjoyed successful U.S. sales of other Swedish crime writers, including Christian Moerk to Henry Holt and Camilla Läckberg to Pegasus.
The first title in Kallentoft’s series, Midwinter Sacrifice, has so far sold more than 220,000 copies in Sweden, and the second title, Summertime Death, has also appeared on Swedish bestseller lists. While at LBF, Natur & Kultur bought the rights to the next three books in the series for an amount rumored to be around $1 million, a hefty sum for a country with a population around nine million. The murder mysteries follow Molin Fors, a single mother and investigator. The series spans three different violent crimes that Fors must unravel while battling not only frozen plains and deadly wildfires, but also those who eventually pursue both her and her daughter.
It only takes one small sale to make up for expenses incurred by attending BEA, Hansson points out, and the agency hopes to replicate the success it saw in London in New York. “Stieg Larsson has paved the way,” says Hansson. “In southern Europe people are crazy about European crime, and it is finally catching on in the U.S.” The first excerpts of Kallentoft’s trilogy translated into English were, according to Hansson, “quirky” and did not fit the original style of the book. New translations are in the works and so far offers from the U.S. and UK have been rejected for being insufficient. Rights have been sold to Norway, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, and Italy. For more information, contact joakim [at] nordinagency.com.
Oya Alpar of the Turkish publishing house Altin Kitaplar is also returning from LBF, only to do it all over again for BEA. Alpar’s company publishes many bestselling foreign authors including Stephen King, Christopher Paolini, Patricia Cornwell, and soon, Dan Brown. Aside from those commercial mega-bestsellers, though, even popular titles see relatively low sales figures. The absence of a substantial book-buying community means that “in Turkey, the biggest books sell only 5,000 copies or so,” Alpar says. Like their U.S. counterparts, Turkish publishers are responding to the economy by being more cautious in choosing which books to publish, which can put Turkish writers at an even greater disadvantage—and when publishers are looking for commercial sure bets, local writers are usually the first to get passed up. This month, only one of the top five bestselling authors, Canan Tan, is Turkish. Elif Safak, a French woman of Turkish descent, who—much like Pulitzer Prize winner Orhan Pamuk—was accused and later acquitted of insulting Turkish national identity, is back on the bestseller list with her newest title, Love.
Despite the absence of chain bookstores, independent booksellers in Turkey are still in a fierce battle for survival. Comparatively high rents for storefronts force sellers into smaller spaces with little room for displays, and larger spaces are rare. The move to online purchasing has been slow, and although almost everyone in major cities has internet access, most books are still bought in brick-and-mortar stores.
One author to recently hit Turkish bookstores is Hakan Yel, whose debut thriller, Touching the Sultan (Altin Kitaplar) came out in 2006. Despite the success of that and his second thriller, Restaurant, Yel made the switch to historical fiction for his new novel, Sowers of the Wind. The tale begins in 1915 with the Ottoman Empire on the verge of collapse. Taking advantage of wartime conditions, partisan gangs have launched attacks throughout the Turkish and Armenian communities, robbing caravans and burning down villages. But an Armenian village and a Turkish village located near each other manage to maintain a cordial relationship. However, when one of the villages is found in flames, members of the surviving village turn against one another, in blame and in fear that their village will be next. Yel’s first two titles were published in Bulgaria and Romania and will soon be published in Poland and Japan. For
rights information, contact Nermin Mollaoglu at the Kalem Literary Agency at nerminmollaoglu [at] gmail.com.
Relatively new to the scene, and so far without an agent to call his own (he’s still in negotiations), Czech author Tomáš Zmeškal won’t have representation at BEA. But if he did, editors, you might take note. It took Zmeškal five years to land a publisher for his debut novel, Love Letter in Cuneiform Script. But after a prominent Czech critic known for his less than complimentary reviews praised him and compared him to famous authors including Josef Škvorecký, Bohumil Hrabal, and Salman Rushdie, he became an overnight success, five years in the making.
When asked by Radio Prague how he felt about the sudden attention the review earned his book, Zmeškal admitted he didn’t even know about it at first. “[My friends] didn’t want to bother me with that review because they thought I knew about it, but I didn’t,” he said. Love Letter is the story of a couple who meet before WWII, and it follows them into the post-war communist era. Each chapter tells the story from the perspective of a different character. One of the characters is an Englishman who witnesses a gory Czech tradition of killing and eating carp at Christmas. Like an anthropologist studying a strange tribe, he walks out onto the street in late December to watch in disgust as men in strange outfits kill, clean, and eat the fish, horrifying the observer.
Zmeškal’s father was from the Congo but moved to the Czech Republic, where the author was born and raised. Zmeškal
studied English literature at Cambridge and later taught literature at Charles University in Prague.
Love Letter in Cuneiform Script, published by Czech publisher Torst, was nominated for the prestigious
Magnesia Litera Prize and has already sold 7,000 copies in the Czech Republic. For foreign rights information, contact Edgar de Bruin at ejdb [at] planet.nl.