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Ten Questions about 10 Books

28 May 2014

The Dutch Foundation for Literature promotes Dutch and Flemish literature nationally and internationally. Brochures are a vital part of this work. What do they contain and how is this selection made? Getting to know 10 Books in ten questions.

1. 10 Books from Holland, that’s what they’re called, right?

Well, one of our series of brochures, 10 Books from Holland which covers fiction, is, but we also publish English brochures annually on non-fiction (Quality Non-Fiction from Holland) and children’s books (Children’s Books from Holland). We occasionally issue specialized brochures, such as the one on graphic novelists (10 Graphic Novelists from Holland), another on poetry (11 Poets from Holland) and one on Frisian literature (10 Books from Friesland). The Foundation also visits international events and book fairs and publishes bilingual brochures under the title of Panorama Holland. These are geared towards the growing international markets of China, Brazil, the Arab world.

2. We live in the digital age. Is this paperwork really necessary?

The brochures are directed at international publishers, who of course get them sent to them digitally too. Our publications can also be found on, and downloaded from our website. Yet experience shows that digital post is read little and that publishers still appreciate booklets, which provide overview and are more easily saved than PDFs or loose A4s. The look and feel of a well-designed colour brochure is an unrivalled eye catcher.

3. And 10 Books from Holland is your showpiece?

We love kid A as much as B, but 10 Books is our oldest promotional brochure and it’s the only one issued twice a year: before the London Book Fair and before the Frankfurter Buchmesse, the two most important book fairs. Publications included in 10 Books are often reissued in our Panorama Holland­ brochures, as are previous titles from children’s books and non-fiction issues.

4. What does the brochure include? Information on ten works of fiction presumably?

10 Books offers a range of Dutch literary novels of the previous half year; sometimes nine titles, sometimes eleven, but basically seven novels or anthologies, one literary thriller, one graphic novel and one older classic. It’s a small selection, considering the large numbers of recently published contenders. Every title gets its own page which includes a synopsis and the book’s main selling points, as well as a short biography of the author.

5. So exciting recommendations mainly?

Of course; you didn’t think we’d send our international promoters off to fairs with books no one is interested in? You have to realize that the Foundation operates independently, does not hang on Dutch publishers’ lips. We try to arouse the interest of international publishers in Dutch literature and we offer support towards publication: a maximum of 70 percent of the translation costs of recent literature may be covered and 100 percent in the case of old classics (i.e., books which the author themselves can no longer promote). But however much promotion, information and support we offer, it comes down to whether the international publisher decides they see a chance for the book or author in ‘their’ market and so go on to buy the rights to a title.

6. An average of fifteen novels a year, isn’t that an overly modest selection?

Perhaps, but at book fairs we discuss more than just the titles in 10 Books; when talking to interested publishers we also recommend older novels or ones we couldn’t fit into the brochure. Some years will produce a richer crop of literary novels than others so not all books that might deserve to be included will be.

Novels mentioned in 10 Books are regularly translated, but the rights to other Dutch novels are also sold and the Foundation may support these. Over 200 translation grants are awarded to international publishers annually; more than 60 of these are intended for novels. Sadly there will always be novels or stories in 10 Books that may not get a foreign publisher and be translated.

7. Speaking of some not being included, how do publications get selected?

Straightforwardly; we look at reviews, literary prizes and nominations and also at numbers of sold copies. Sales carry a lot of weight with foreign publishers. Before we decide on anything we talk things through with our partners in the literary world: we consult Dutch publishers, translators, critics and book dealers, all in order to reach a well considered choice. ‘Does it travel?’ is the essential question: does the publication have international potential and will it complement the different foreign markets?

The quality of the literary works is of prime importance, difficult though it is to determine this objectively. As with awarding project grants, 10 Books is the result of carefully sifting through the opinions of many readers. It’s not a question of taste, but one of value judgement; the taste of one Foundation’s employee is never decisive.

8. So the choice lies with the Foundation. But with whom exactly?

The editorial panel of 10 Books consists of three foreign fiction specialists working at the Foundation (the director is one). They are experts at assessing which books have international potential , they are also the ones who will be using 10 Books in promotion. The panel members are replaced every few years and the director, who is ultimately responsible for the brochure’s selection, is on a fixed-term contract of five years. Right now, only one member of the panel was on it five years ago.

9. Do different kinds of writers really have an equal chance at making it into the 10 Books brochure?

Yes. Changes in the panel’s composition and the method of decision-making ensure that there is no monopoly on taste. Since 2000, 228 different authors of fiction have been published in 10 Books.

10. And that’s how you set about making the other brochures?

No, it depends on the genre. We have a limited number of specialists for non-fiction, children’s books, graphic novels and poetry so they consult a number of critics and specialists in order to compose their brochures. For 10 Books from Friesland we took someone on specially and she made her selection on the basis of informed conversations. The Panorama Holland brochures are a sort of greatest hits of 10 Books, the QNF, the Children’s Books and our Dutch Classics brochures. The last one of these is issued every four or five years.

Covers brochures

Pieter Steinz

Director

bureau

Pieter Steinz (1963-2016) studied History as well as English Language and Literature at the University of Amsterdam and at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, USA. After working for several years at the History faculty of the UvA, he joined NRC Handelsblad in late 1989, where he worked as an editor in the field of art and books, and as manager of a number of editorial teams. Pieter Steinz was director of the Dutch Foundation for Literature from March 2012 to August 2013.

p.steinz@letterenfonds.nl

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