Was ich noch zu sagen hätte

16 March 2016

„Duitsland - Was ich noch zu sagen hätte“ is the motto of the 81st Boekenweek with Germany as its theme, and „Gute Nacht, Freunde“ the title of Christoph Buchwald’s recent publication about 25 German books that belong on every beside table - all linked to the Gastlandauftritt of Flanders and the Netherlands in Frankfurt this year. An excellent occasion to accept the invitation of the indefatigable Nederlands Letterenfonds and spend a few days discovering the literary scene in Amsterdam.

Nederland - Was ich noch zu sagen hätte, dauert (länger als) eine Zigarette - it is a challenge to condense into a few lines the impact of three intense days. The task was: to dive into the Dutch book market. To meet the Dutch and Flemish authors we will publish at btb this year. To hear what the Foundation and the publishing houses have planned for the market focus, and how we can cooperate. To get insider information about new authors to watch, favorite books (and bestsellers) to come – and yes, also to promote German authors I believe should soon be found on every Dutch beside table.

Habt Dank für die Freiheit, die als steter Gast bei euch wohnt. Für die Zeit, die ich mit euch verplaudert hab

But first things first: the authors and their work. With our sales conference at Random House just behind us and the plans for the market focus getting more concrete, the timing to meet the writers in their publishing houses, together with their publishers, their editors, the foreign rights and PR people, could not have been better. Not only to discuss in advance publication plans, reading tours, marketing ideas, but also to have the chance to meet in person with the people whose books we at btb all fell in love with.

Ronit Palache and Griet Op de Beeck

Ronit Palache and Griet Op de Beeck

At Prometheus I met – together with Ronit Palache and Job Lisman – Griet Op de Beeck, who will be part of the official delegation in Frankfurt and whose immense presence and charisma will sweep everyone off their feet in Germany. Just a few days ago she had been the first guest in Ernest van der Kwast’s new literary program „Boek & Meester“. It must have been a dream team. I met Ernest van der Kwast a day later. A person so full of stories, so interested in individual human stories – and so capable of showing what is special and magical about them. „Die Eismacher“ will be published at btb in May, there is already a lot of attention for it amongst German booksellers, various reading events have been scheduled – a lot to discuss with Ernest van der Kwast, Marijke Nagtegaal, Uta Matten and Suzanne Holtzer over lunch at the charming offices of De Bezige Bij. At Singel Uitgeverijen I had the pleasure to talk to Olga Majeau, her dedicated German translator Thomas Hauth and Josje Kraamer, and to hear how she – for her book “Een schitterend isolement” – went on a quest for the entangled European family stories of her ancestors, starting with Bettina von Arnim. What a rich story, what an impressive woman! And at Atlas Contact Mizzi van der Pluijm and Hayo Deinum shared their experience as well as intriguing ideas for the German publication of Bert Wagendorp’s “Ventoux”, which will be one of our lead titles this summer.

Vielleicht liegt es daran, dass man von draußen meint,
Dass in euren Fenstern das Licht wärmer scheint.

The wide-ranging schedule the Letterenfonds set up gave me the chance to meet colleagues from various publishing houses, amongst them Merijn Hollestelle at Podium, Tanja Hendriks, Wanda Gloude and Christel Meijer at Ambo Anthos, Jolijn Spooren at Singel Uitgeverijen, Peter Nijssen at De Arbeiderspers, Paloma Sanchez at Meulenhoff De Boekerij, Melissa van der Wagt at Cargo, and Oscar van Gelderen at Lebowski. It is always enlightening to perceive that there are common trends and hypes, like the success of non-fiction titles on the bestseller lists, a comeback of family (hi)stories and historical novels, the chance to promote even voluminous literary novels, the shift of focus in self-help books. We shared ideas for new imprints, for marketing co-operations and tailoring individual und multi-layered campaigns. Other topics were questions of format, the pricing for books, and the different reading habits of the Dutch and the German audience.

I got a sneak preview of some London rights guides and – thanks to Peter Nijssen – saw first drafts of the new brochures of De Arbeiderspers (and stole them; they are beautiful!). I was impressed by Eric Visser’s English edition of “Ventoux” at World Editions, which resulted in a wonderful review in the Guardian. And by Oscar van Gelderen’s task to acquire world rights for various titles he (re)discovered.

And I learnt a lot from the agencies, not only advising me on authors and lists and trends, but giving me a feel for the publishing houses and their philosophy: Willem Bisseling, who had just returned from a work trip to New York, and Marianne Schönbach, who also represents the whole Random House Germany list in the Netherlands. So Marianne and I also spent time raving about German authors we both believe would perfectly fit every Dutch beside table.

Apart form that, I started to muse about publishing and architecture and how they interact – thanks to the Harry Potter staircase and the open rooms upstairs at Ambo Anthos, the incredible wide view on the Prinsengracht from Atlas Contact, or the generous meeting room at the Letterenfonds. Oscar van Gelderen gave me a tour through the publishing house with its distinctive artworks, reflecting, it seems, the idea of his list. How great to have an authors’ room, where authors can work and meet. Shouldn’t every publishing house offer one?

I have only been in Amsterdam for three days, but words that come to my mind in connection with the Dutch publishing world are: dynamic, non-hierarchical, based on personal interaction, international.

Habt Dank für den Platz an eurem Tisch, für jedes Glas, das ich trank.

With the Boekenweek about to start, I had the pleasure of being invited to a dinner hosted by the Collective Promotion for the Dutch Book (CPNB at the Hotel de l’Europe, sitting next to Geneviève Waldmann and Lucie Vermij from the Boekblad, who shared their profound knowledge of the trade market and the publishing industry, and to Marlene Müller-Haas, who translated Arjen Lubach and Stefan Brijs into German for btb. With Germany being the theme of the Boekenweek, there were authors present from a new, highly successful generation of writers like Kristine Bilkau, who wrote the Generationenroman “De gelukkigen” (published at Cossee), the bestselling crime author Nele Neuhaus (Uitgeverij Q), Karen Köhler, with her short story collection “Vuurpijlen vangen”, and Jan Wagner with his poetry collection “Regentonvariaties” (both published at Podium).

Ursula Bergenthal and Geneviève Waldmann Ursula Bergenthal and Geneviève Waldmann

The day after, Geneviève Waldmann opened the legendary Boekenbal. I cannot say how jealous I am that the Dutch publishing world has such a prestigious annual event. A striking programme, red carpets, extensive media coverage (even the German “Süddeutsche Zeitung” wrote a report) – and all this inspired by literature. Enthused by the spirit, I observed our authors Arjen Lubach and Dimitri Verhulst being chased by fans at the red carpet (and did the same!).

Habt Dank für den Tag, für die Nacht unter eurem Dach.
Für die stets offene Tür.

Frankfurt Book Fair is just around the corner. The team with Judith Uyterlinde and Melle van Loenen have plans for an extensive range of literary programmes, and I sense that we can expect quite some surprises and new concepts at Frankfurt this year. It was great to see – and I think this was not just in my imagination – the sparkle in their eyes. On the day I visited them in the Foundation, Connie Palmen and Saskia de Coster had just made the kick-off for the guest of honour programme on the literatureship “MS RheinEnergie” at the prestigious Lit-Cologne festival.

Ursula Bergenthal and Victor Schiferli Ursula Bergenthal and Victor Schiferli

In between all these meetings, there was the chance to filter my impressions with the people from the Letterenfonds, who made this whole trip possible – with their Managing Director Tiziano Perez, with Bas Pauw, Barbara den Ouden, Alexandra Koch with her recommendations of unknown books of world literature (“Schwob”), Mireille Bermann and her knowledge on non-fiction titles that have the potential to travel to Germany, and especially with Reintje Gianotten and Victor Schiferli, who not only recommend books that suit our list at btb, but also the right translator for each individual title, who help with translation subsidies, but most of all by giving the best overview of the Dutch book market. The program they set up for me proofed once more that they truly know our list and philosophy at btb, and which author might match it and why.

How many days until Frankfurt book fair?

Actually, it does not matter so much. It has all started already. And it will continue.

In the meantime, I am waiting for the galleys of a book written by our German author Tilmann Bünz. The title is: Fünf Meter unter dem Meer: Niederlande für Anfänger …

Gute Nacht, Freunde,

see you in Frankfurt (and Munich?)


Ursula Bergenthal

Ursula Bergenthal is the editor-in-chief of btb (Random House München), which has translations in preparation of work by Dutch authors such as Ernest van der Kwast, Arjen Lubach, Bert Wagendorp, Griet Op de Beeck, Stefan Brijs, and Olga Majeau.

See all weblogs by Ursula Bergenthal