Publishers are quietly disposing of around 77million unsold books a year, it has emerged.
Celebrity works are some of the lowest sellers -- including Cherie Blair who is said to have received a £1million advance for her autobiography.
But the book has sold only 23,412 hardbacks and 10,240 paperbacks since 2008.
I'm also not surprised by some of the numbers for 'literary' authors:
Some big-name literary novels also have low sales.
Martin Amis's The Second Plane sold 4,493 paperbacks from January, while Will Self's Butt sold 8,200 from May.
(I'm interested in all of Amis' works, and read every new one, but have long suspected that he gets far more (in advances from his publishers) than he's worth.)
Some of the statistics are presented a bit dubiously:
Nielsen Bookscan has found that of 86,000 new titles published in the UK in 2009, 59,000 sold an average of 18 copies.
('Average' is way too loose a term with that large a sample .....)
But it's hard to disagree with:
Another publishing insider said: 'Literary publishers and reviewers are patronising, all in bed together.
They think they know what sells, but their sales are little better than self-published books.
(Well, I don't know about the patronisingly being in bed together, but the sales-accusations sound about right.)
Alternative publishing houses such as Uyirmai have triggered a never-before-seen publishing boom of content that first appeared in cyberspace, a move that is attracting both attention and criticism from writers.
While some may claim that Uyirmai and Kalachuvadu publishing 90 and 50 books respectively are a boon to readers, a few are questioning the rapid expansion of the publishing industry at the cost of quality.
"The market for serious books is limited," said D I Aravindan, who is on the editorial board of Kalachuvadu.
"From 2,000 to 3,000 readers, it has recently increased to about 7,000.
Even assuming that 10,000 readers buy serious literature, such a huge proliferation of books will present the reader with too much choice," he said.
Publishers should be more discerning about the writing they pick off the internet, he added.
Of 108 international guests from over 30 countries, only eight publishing houses will send representatives.
Some large publication houses in Vietnam will not participate and book distributors seem overlooked by the organizing board.
In an analysis of the guest list for the upcoming conference of the Vietnam Writers' Association, this event seems more like a meeting of translators than an event to market Vietnamese literature globally.
At Eurozine Almantas Samalavicius offers Literary perspectives: Lithuania, looking at the post-Soviet scene and situation there.
Things have changed rapidly, as:
Barely twenty years have passed, and the Lithuanian writers who once proclaimed the truth to thousands of their fellow citizens crowded into parks and squares, who once prophesized freedom to their country, now find themselves on the margins of public life.
Among the stand-outs in and from this tiny country:
Ricardas Gavelis' novel Vilniaus pokeris (Vilnius poker) was published in Lithuanian in 1989 with a print run of one hundred thousand copies -- a precedent most unlikely to be matched in forthcoming decades.
Open Letter brought out Vilnius Poker a year ago; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
It's a fascinating book (I'll get around to reviewing it eventually ...), but seems to have made only a limited impact in translation so far.
Also of interest:
Urban Lithuanian fiction lacks older and stronger roots, and only a handful of writers have dealt in any significant way with the influence of contemporary urban realities on the lives of men and women.
And yet, the urban code is becoming more pronounced in the articulation of writers of the younger and youngest generations.
Beyond the fact that there is a generational shift taking place in Lithuanian fiction, it is also clear that new existential problems pertinent to urban life are becoming more and more important.
The city is not only a background for a story, it is also a spiritual state of the contemporary individual.
Caricaturist David Levine, best known for his work in The New York Review of Books (some 3800 illustrations !), has passed away; see, for example, Bruce Weber's obituary in The New York Times.
See also -- or especially -- the David Levine Gallery at The New York Review of Books, where you can find over 2,500 of his illustrations.
There are still fairly few 'best books of the year'-lists to be found outside the English-speaking world, but Les Inrockuptibles do offer their Livres, le top 25 de l'année passée (lots of familiar names, but a fairly interesting selection).
Just like previous years, publishers as agents to drive Nigeria's literary activities have continued to suffer decline.
Literary activities among publishers have been minimal as they continue to cite poor patronage of literary texts as principal reason.
Among the big publishers it is even worse. While admitting to making so much from sales of school textbooks, they are largely unwilling to ploy back a part of that sum to literary texts as ought to be the standard practice.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mekkawi Said's Cairo Swan Song.
As I've mentioned often before, the Arabic literary community has to get its act together re. transliteration of author-names.
This book is at least being published under the same name ('Mekkawi Said') by both American University in Cairo Press and (in the UK) Arabia Books -- but the information-page at his 'literary' agent's site has him as 'Makkawi Said'.
And when this book was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, they had his name as 'Mekkaoui Said' .....
In The Philippine Star F. Sionil Jose takes something of a look at the year that was in Filipino books, in A rich harvest of books.
Good to hear that:
The university presses -- particularly Ateneo, the University of Santo Tomas, and the University of the Philippines — are producing an avalanche of excellent titles.
And so are the commercial presses -- Anvil, New Day, and individual authors who are publishing their own manuscripts.
And most importantly, so many young writers are coming up to assure us that, indeed, our literature is very much alive and well.
But he adds:
Unfortunately for all of us, this cultural bonanza will not be appreciated because Filipinos don’t read and, worse, those who do are often shackled by colonized minds and they snub our writers, even the very best.
They will certainly miss this good harvest for the year.
According to YES 24, an online bookstore, the number of literary works increased by 30 - 40 percent from January to November this year, compared to the same period last year.
The rise in the popularity of literary books has mostly been driven by the enormous acclaim of new works by high-profile writers such as Shin Kyung-sook and Haruki Murakami.
And impressive to see that after its success in Japan:
Murakami's 1Q84 jumped into the bestseller race. After being released here in late August, it swiftly swept the top of the best-seller list, selling more than 680,000 copies in just three months.
(Note also how quickly they got a Korean translation, while we wait and wait and will have to wait a good while longer until an English version is available.)
Interesting also to see that:
The total annual sales of the online bookshops amounted to 822.5 billion won last year, more than 30 percent for the whole industry.
The rise in sales is expected to reach to one trillion won by the end of the year at this pace, according to the Korean Publishers' Association.
However, the number of small-and medium-sized bookstores has declined from 2,103 in 2005 to 2,065 in 2006, 2,042 in 2007 and below 2,000 last year.
The 52-year-old Daehoon Bookstore recently went bankrupt in Daejeon, indicative of a "doomed industry" in the digital era.
And there are some things to look forward to in the coming year (well, for English-reading readers: maybe the coming century ...).
Ko Un's 만인보 (Ten Thousand Lives) has been completed 23 years after he started writing the popular historical poem in 1986.
It will be published early next year over 30 volumes.
Also, Yi Mun-yul's 불멸 (Immortality), which was inspired by the life of Korean independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun, will be published in print.
(Yi Mun-yol is 'represented' by Andrew Wylie.
Mr.Wylie may be a famous dealmaker, but as far as I can tell -- and Yi seems a prime example -- getting his clients into print in the US and UK does not always seem a particularly high priority for him (as he presumably continues to hold out for more cash), so I'm not holding my breath waiting for the next Yi title to appear in English.)
"If you're publishing authors whose names aren't known, you have to give readers a reason to pick up a book and to get excited about your press," Martin Riker, associate director of Dalkey, said.
"There's a branding going on, and Chad is definitely trying that."
And Paul Yamazaki, lead buyer at City Lights, makes a similar point:
"Their books really stand out.
They're creating a house identity with visual cues, and with all the choices that readers have these days, that helps, especially when most of what you're doing is introducing writers new to Americans."
Also good to see the special mention for the weblog:
Though it might have initially been conceived as a marketing device, Three Percent has turned into a lively clearing house for everything related to literature in translation, and logs more than two million page views a year, with obvious commercial benefits for Open Letter.
Readers can post their own reviews and learn what foreign publishing houses are up to, and translators can discuss their craft and check to see which works are available and which have already been snatched up by colleagues.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jacqueline Stevens' work on Citizenship for Mortals, States without Nations.
I found it quite fascinating (and, indeed, worth considerably more attention than I paid to it in the relatively cursory review) -- and I'm disappointed that it doesn't seem to have received any review coverage at all yet -- or any sales of note (considering its woeful Amazon.com-sales-ranking [Updated - 27 December: now much improved -- perhaps in part due to my mention/review ?]).
(While it comes with a 2010 copyright date it has been available for over a month.)
I figure her controversial (if not entirely unfamiliar) proposals and arguments could engender quite some debate in the 'blogosphere'; I'd love to see it.
One of the less-read Vladimir Nabokov works is his idiosyncratic translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (see the Princeton University Press publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) and especially the 1000+ page companion commentary volume
(see the Princeton University Press publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Amazingly, a German publisher has now come out with a translation of these in a 1600+ page boxed set; see also the Stroemfeld Verlag publicity page.
(This is, by the way, the publishing house run by KD Wolff, the 'subversive' who was denied entry to the US a few months ago -- put back on the plane at JFK -- for his political views (from way back when) (not that the American media touched that story ....).)
The NZZ is among those with a (German) review (by Felix Philipp Ingold) of this odd undertaking.
At L'Express you can see about six minutes of Vladimir Nabokov's (in)famous 1975 appearance on Bernard Pivot's TV show, Apostrophes.
The reason for the pile of books on the table is apparently to hide the notecards from which Nabokov read his prepared answers.
As online and big-box retailers hustle to outdo themselves in discounts, The Red Book by Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, has surprised booksellers and its publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, by bucking the economy and becoming difficult, and in some cases impossible, to find in bookstores around the country.
It's sold 13,000 copies, reached nr. 18 on The New York Times hardcover nonfiction extended best-seller list, and ranks in the top-100 at Amazon.com (last I checked) -- despite not being readily available there.
See also the Rubin Museum of Art exhibition page, the W.W.Norton publicity page, or get your copy (eventually) at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
One of the most eagerly anticipated books of 2010 should be Archipelago Books' translation of Ernst Weiss' classic Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer (see their publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
A longtime Weiss fan -- and great admirer of this book -- I've long been touting this as one of the great untranslated German novels of the twentieth century -- and now it's finally here !
(I've been remiss in not putting up a review, but one will be forthcoming.)
Good to see it getting some early attention, too: see Joshua Cohen's review at Tablet, as well as the review at Salonica.
See also my piece, Ernst Weiß: A Preliminary Survey (which I'll have to revise and update in light of some of the translations that have come out in the meantime; Pushkin Press has also brought out two titles).
Moleskine ® Literario points me to El País' Los libros del año-special -- their top ten of the year, as selected by their critics and writers, with a full rundown of how everyone voted here (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) (particularly useful, because it gives a good idea of what has been published in -- and translated into -- Spanish in the past year).
A Javier Cercas came out on top, but I'm more interested in runner-up Antonio Muñoz Molina's La noche de los tiempos.
But it's an impressive list that includes poetry -- Szymborska and Dickinson -- and ranges from Casanova to Michon.
The individual top-ten choices are also interesting, with authors like Heimito von Doderer or Multatuli's Max Havelaar listed as the top choice by some critics.
At The Rumpus Michael Zelenko offers the first of four installments of the 'International Rivers Interview series', György Dragomán on the Danube
I'm looking forward to the rest, which will include conversations with Dumitru Tsepeneag and Dubravka Ugrešić.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Dag Solstad's Professor Andersens natt.
Appropriately enough, too, since the opening of the book is set on Christmas eve !
Great to see that Solstad's Armand V. is being translated, but I can't believe so little of his work is available in English (that'll be the third book ...).
Definitely an author in the grab-everything-you-can-get-your-hands-on category -- and I'm particularly curious about his football ('soccer') books .....
So while I wasn't that taken by Jorge Volpi's Season of Ash, I'm very intrigued by his new non-fiction work, El insomnio de Bolívar: Cuatro consideraciones intempestivas sobre América Latina en el siglo XXI, just out in Spanish.
The Antonia Kerrigan Literary Agency information page has an (English) summary, and what I'm particularly curious about is this section of the book:
the third meditation tackles recent Latin American literature: the problems of the divergent expectations of the editorial market and criticism, as well as the expectations of the new Latin American writers -- all help Volpi to expose the end of a model of identity imposed from the outside.
Here the figure of Roberto Bolaño, "the last Latin American writer", stands out.
I was pointed to the book by Iván Thays' mention at his Moleskine ® Literario weblog, where he offers an amusing excerpt: Volpi's before-and-now comparison, Evolución del escritor latinoamericano (del Boom a nuestros días)
-- highly recommended !
(Thays also adds his own parenthetical remarks for good measure.)
Everything from the favoured foreign-language writers (previously: Faulkner, Dos Pasos, Camus, Sartre, Mann, Mailer; now:
Auster, Amis, Sebald, Tabucchi, Magris, Murakami) to politics and publishers.
I'd love to see this out in English soon -- and I'd be surprised if some American literary periodical doesn't at least pick up a good chunk of this third meditation forthwith (i.e. all you editors: check it out).
At Publishing Perspectives Tolu Ogunlesi reports on a panel discussion on the African publishing industry from last month, in The Internet is Africa's "Gutenberg Moment".
Both African publishing and the publishing of African works abroad (specifically Norway) were covered.
Muhtar Bakare's historical overview of publishing in Africa -- at least as summarized here -- does seem a bit over-simplified, especially in his finding that:
Post independence, Bakare said, the publishing industry on the continent was destroyed by the "ascendancy of IMF and structural adjustments."
These questionable economic policies were adopted wholesale by African governments.
The fallout was currency devaluations and significant economic failure.
To adapt, foreign publishing companies (like Macmillan and Longman) began "focusing entirely on textbooks and totally neglecting literary fiction."
Even Heinemann's African Writers' Series, which had succeeded in "[introducing] some seeds of subversion" to the colonial domination of African publishing, did not survive the onslaught.
But it's also the Norwegian experience with African literature that is interesting:
Janicken von der Fehr, editor at publishing house Pax, Norwegian publishers of Alain Mabanckou's Broken Glass (in Norwegian translation, it is known as as Knust Glass), said Mabanckou was brought to their attention by an English scout at the 2005 Frankfurt Book Fair.
The novel was published in September 2008, to disturbing and inexplicable silence from critics and reviewers.
"No reviews, no press, nothing in the whole of October," she said.
After a series of reminders, a handful of reviews appeared in December, but "were very low."
Asbjørn Øverås, publisher, Aschehoug (which publishes thirty titles a year from all over the world) lamented that "there is too little African literature translated into Norwegian."
The remedy for this, according to him, is to find "door-openers" -- translated books that succeed (commercially) in previously uncharted (i.e. foreign) publishing territory, and therefore compel publishers to pay more attention to other books emerging from similar traditions.
I'm not too sure about that "door-openers"-theory -- which is what American publishers seem especially fond of: if it's successful elsewhere (especially a lot of elsewheres ...) then, maybe, they'll take it on.
How about trying to open the door yourself ?
(The Mabanckou seems a worthy try at that (though he's fairly well-established by now).)
A variety of UK bestseller lists recently appeared:
The most interesting one is at The Telegraph, where Brian MacArthur runs down the top 100 Bestselling authors of the decade -- with both number of copies shifted and cash earned given.
No surprise that J.K.Rowling comes out tops -- 29,084,999 copies sold, for a cool £225.9 million.
Ian McEwan is the sole Booker winner on the list, and Sebastian Faulks and Louis de Bernières are the only other representatives of the literary novel.
Shakespeare is at 45 and Dickens at 78.
And at The Bookseller they go with a highly misleading headline, as Philip Stone claims: Wolf Hall becomes top Booker winner.
What they mean, of course, is that it is the most successful in: "comparative sales-since-win terms" -- and, as they admit, "it still has some way to go to catch up with the 1.2 million life sales of The Life of Pi".
But at least some hard (and fairly impressive) numbers on offer: "According to Nielsen BookScan data, Wolf Hall has sold 137,150 copies since its win 10 weeks ago"
Xinhua report that Martin Walser was awarded the '21st Century Annual Best Foreign Novel award' in China last week, for his 2008 Goethe-novel Ein liebender Mann ('A Man in Love', or 'A Loving Man'), which: "is about the relationship between 73-year-old German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and 19-year-old countess Ulrike von Levetzow".
Here's what I find interesting about this: Walser is a fairly well-known German author, and he's even had a few works translated into English.
Nothing recently, as best I can tell -- certainly not this.
But go to the Rowohlt foreign rights page (ironically: written in English) and you can see where the rights have been sold.
It's worth listing the languages alone that this book has or will appear in:
Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, Georgian (!), Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbo- and Croatian, Slovenian, Spanish, and Swedish
Nineteen or twenty (depending on how you want to count Serbian and Croatian) -- and it's already available in languages such as Chinese, Korean, and Arabic.
Conspicuously absent ?
Admittedly, American and British publishers are often laggards, waiting to make sure a book has done well in a variety of markets before buying the rights, and it seems likely that sooner or later this one will appear in English.
For a book to be translated into some twenty language before it is made available in what is supposedly the leading one suggests to me that, in literary matters, English remains far from leading .....
(Yes, French is also conspicuously absent; still, with their long term much worse track record English-language publishers have a lot more to prove.)
The Saudi government has come out in support of Saudi writers and intellectuals and has pledged to create more opportunities for their development and training.
(Which is presumably better than the alternatives.)
Minister of Culture and Information Abdul Aziz Khoja explained some of that support:
Khoja said it was important for writers in the Kingdom to be familiar with new technology, particularly in the area of "Internet Literature", and remarked that he would support training courses for this.
As widely reported, American book review coverage in newspaper continues to shrivel, as The Los Angeles Times has now lost (or booted out) assistant book editor Orli Low and Susan Salter Reynolds, not leaving much to their book section (at least in terms of in-house manpower); see, for example, Kevin Roderick's report at LA Observed.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Lucian Dan Teodorovici's Our Circus Presents ....
This recent Romanian novel is not set under the big top (the possibility of which had initially scared me off: I'm not a fan of circus novels); unfortunately, that's not enough to redeem it.
Nigeria's prose fiction has been at its lowest ebb this year.
There is hardly a work one could point to that made a definitive statement in the novel category.
There were a few works here and there but they were caught up in the nagging problems associated with a pauperised publishing environment.
Where they exist, either they were poorly edited or poorly packaged such that they do not recommend themselves to any reader with taste.
The difference ?
Ajeluorou's focus is domestic, while Habila admits all the writers who are having such success can (must ?) "be put [...] all into one broad category: they all live permanently or partially outside Nigeria."
On the one hand, this shouldn't make too much of a difference -- what counts are the words, not where the author writes them.
Yet this very marked separation is disturbing.
Nigeria is by far the most populous African nation, and has fostered both many writers and a sometimes strong publishing industry.
But the current "pauperised publishing environment" Ajeluorou mentions limits the extent to which literary culture can be sustained there.
I'd love to see more attention paid to these issues and problems.
As Helsingin Sanomat reports, Sofi Oksanen named Person of the Year in Estonia.
Yes, Estonian newspaper "Postimees named Sofi Oksanen Person of the Year 2009. The choice was unanimous."
As editor in chief Merit Kopli says: "Sofi Oksanen is Estonia’s unofficial cultural ambassador".
Oksanen's novel, Purge, is set (or being set up) to be a big international sensation (translated into some two dozen languages), though one has to wonder how it will be received in the US.
We'll see soon enough: it's coming out in April: pre-order your copy at Amazon.com; see also the Salomonsson Agency information page, the Grove/Atlantic publicity page, and translator Lola Rogers' weblog.
I've added a Roberto Bolaño author-page to the site.
Not that there isn't enough information about him, but given how quickly the books are coming out in translation, and given that most of them are (or will be) under review at the complete review, I figure it might be useful.