Taking Greek books to London and Paris

March is the first of the two major book fair seasons each year. Among the most influential are the London Book Fair, an enormously influential rights market, and the Salon du Livre in Paris, which is also open to the public. What do such events have to offer book people in a country like Greece with a small population and a language that is not widely spoken? Kathimerini English Edition went to the London Fair, where the Greek presence was modest but effective. In addition to individual participants, the Panhellenic Federation of Publishers and Booksellers (POEB) had a stand which acted as an umbrella for several Greek publishers. Annie Ragia of Melissa publishers, who held the fort at the POEB stand, told Kathimerini English Edition that there was constant interest from foreign distributors and agents who expressed an interest in Greek books, discussed cooperation, and asked for information about the Thessaloniki Book Fair in May 2005. «The information they requested (especially the Chinese and other Asians) was what sold before, during and after the Olympic Games,» said Ragia. Some countries band together to get their message across, and the Scandinavians have proved masters of the art, sharing a stand and running popular collective events. Their seminar on the Nordic Council’s literary prize was packed. Other organizations are striving to break down the language barrier. Kathimerini English Edition talked to Alexandra Buchler, director of Language across Frontiers (LAF), a program of literary exchange and promotion operating through partnership with a network of European national literature and book centers. International book fairs are «the key meeting places and must-visit events for anyone working in the book industry,» she said, «but it can be costly, and participating in a collective stand is an effective and efficient way of being present. This is the first year we had a stand at the London Book Fair and we were pleased with how things went.» Double effort Buchler’s long experience in the field is pertinent to the Greek situation. English-language publishing is notoriously «self-sufficient» and has the lowest output of translations in Europe, some 3 percent in comparison with the 64 percent of fiction in translation published in Greece, according to EKEBI. This means that organizations promoting contemporary writing have to double their efforts in English-speaking countries and in addition to their more general cultural activities act as literary agents, targeting literary presses with specific title offers. «To be able to do that effectively, they first have to develop a personal relationship with the handful of UK and US publishers who specialize in translations, find out what they are looking for and match them with suitable authors and books. It is a long-term effort which will hopefully bring results in time, but much is also down to sheer luck and coincidence and the success of a single author or book can have an enormous effect on subsequent demand: The success of Panos Karnezis, for example, has probably done more to get UK publishers interested in Greek writing than years of promotional work. «Still, the work of the national book centers is essential. The Internet has fortunately helped a great deal and the gap has been recently filled by online publications and websites.» Paris The Greek national stand at this year’s Paris Salon du Livre succeeded in promoting the upcoming Thessaloniki Book Fair. «It went very well,» EKEBI Director Catherine Velissaris told Kathimerini English Edition. «The fair is in its first year and more than 20 foreign publishers (from Germany, Britain, France, Finland, Slovakia, Serbia, Turkey, Russia, Israel, Palestine and Algeria) said they would participate.»

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