If you love books, I can’t recommend highly enough that you become an international bestseller. Really. There’s no better way to get a tour of how manuscripts become novels. For nearly two years now, I’ve felt like one of the kids who found Wonka’s golden ticket. I’ve been inside the major publishing houses in New York (I’m sure the people who work there can’t imagine the thrill this brings an outsider). I’ve worked with some of the top agents in the industry. I’ve met with Hollywood people and been given a peek at how novels are adapted to film. But nothing beats a tour of foreign publishers and bookstores.
So many things are done differently overseas. The Frankfurt Book Fair sizzled my little brain. It was eight times the size of BEA, the American equivalent. I’ve spent the last three days with my French publisher, Actes Sud, and seeing how they operate has been a blast (they have tiny spiral staircases in their offices that lead up to where I interview. How apt!)
One of the things I discovered today is that authors here rarely have agents. Writers submit their manuscripts directly to publishers! My acquiring editor receives dozens a week out of the 400 or so that arrive to the publisher. That’s 400 a WEEK. Normally, agents perform this job, but not in France. I find it fascinating. It makes the role of publisher as curator of talent even more arduous and important.
Another big surprise today is that French bookshops have the same hesitation about signed books as German bookshops. You would never drop into a bookstore here and sign whatever books of yours they have in stock. (My German editor said that bookstore workers would assume you were crazy. My reply was that these are authors we’re talking about; so, of course!)
Naturally, after learning this, I went to a bookshop to find out more. I spoke with a bookseller in the SF area and one of their most loyal customers (who was wearing a Celtics jacket and lived in Boston when he was young). They confirmed what I’d been told and seemed confused about why an author would sign books in a bookstore unless the customer was there to buy them. It’s just not done here. Makes me wonder how much trouble my mother and I are going to cause in Italy in a few weeks! :)