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Friday, 19 May | De Rode Hoed | Keizersgracht 102 | Phone 638 56 06

Friday morning, 9.30 - 12.30 am

Commercial pressure: anathema to good publishing or essential to it?

Moderator Maarten Asscher former publisher of J.M. Meulenhoff and up to 2003 a cultural policy advisor at the Dutch Ministry of Culture, is managing director of Athenaeum Booksellers in Amsterdam and Haarlem. He is also a writer and a literary critic.


Minka Nijhuis journalist for the Dutch daily Trouw and various national radio stations. Her work has also been published in a variety of magazines. Over the last 15 years she covered conflicts in Cambodia, Burma, Kosovo, Afghanistan, East-Timor and Iraq. She is the author of two books on Burma and one about East Timor which was awarded The Prix des Ambassadeurs. Her latest book on Iraq, Khala's House, was recently nominated for the Best Journalistic Book of the Year Award.

If I was not writing non fiction books I would not be able to keep my sanity in the all too often superficial world of journalism.

By flooding the market with easy to consume infotainment the media and publishers are grossly underestimating the publics hunger for in depth stories and quality non fiction.

It is one of the few positive developments in reporting on Iraq that the foreign media will be forced to accept a larger role for Iraqi journalists.

Mauricio Bach acquiring non-fiction editor Ediciones Destino (Spain) since 2003, wrote some books for children, worked as a translator and literary critic (in La Vanguardia, El País, El Mundo), and also as a cultural reporter and interviewer for La Vanguardia.

Is it possible to publish critical non-fiction when you are working for a big conglomerate? Is there any kind of censorship involved? Or are the economic results a kind of censorship?

What can one offer to critical non-fiction as a publisher who works for a big company? A better position in the bookshops? A better treatment in the press? A better cover and printing? A larger edition? In Spain the concentration of the publishing houses in big conglomerates is the tendency and the future. So we have to learn to work with this reality, and try to use the advantages of a big company. I used to work as a literary critic and reporter, so I saw the publishing business from the other side. I’m now on the side of the publisher so I can see the business from the two points of view.

Olivier Rubinstein head of Editions Denoël (France) since 1998. He co-founded his first publishing house Le Dilettante in 1984, then Climats in 1987. In 1990 he became managing director of Editions Quai Voltaire, and between 1993-1998 he was co-founder and Editorial Director of Editions Mille et Une Nuits.

The consequence of the growing judiciarisation of publishing in France, is that self-censorship in publishing houses is becoming the knee-jerk reaction of non-fiction editors.

As regards libel, the whole case rests on the way the information is presented. This is why we find ourselves amongst books written in the conditional, which take stylistic precautions and use evasive phrasing.

Moreover, the novelisation of news is becoming more and more common.

It is sad to see that in a country which claims to have founded the Rights of Man, freedom of expression is under threat from those who are responsible for upholding justice, and that we are forced to depend on European institutions.

Wolfgang Hörner publisher at Eichborn Berlin (Germany) since 1998. In 1990 he started working for Eichborn in Frankfurt, where he became press officer in 1996.

Financial and inhouse pressure is a boon for publishing. Relying on subsidies tends to make people lazy and rather rely on getting money than in believing in the importance of the books they make and develop the appropriate form for getting it to a public.

A good and important book will make it’s way, or has the potential for a publisher to make something out of it. If you have pressure to be inventive, you are. But every single case needs it’s own treatment. My experience is that some books go with, some against the market, some with, some against the press – and that you have to find an appropriate form of presentation for every single book. Financial pressure helps you to think hard if you really want to publish the book and helps to prepare the presentation of it very well.

12.30 – 2 Lunch

Friday afternoon, 2 - 5 pm

Creative publishing

Marjon van Royen worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent for the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, covering Italy, the Balkans, Mexico and Latin America, and after for Dutch radio. Her first book, Italy on a Monday (1998), sold over 50.000 copies. In 2004 she published The Night of the Scream on her time as a correspondent in Mexico. She now lives in Rio de Janeiro, where she is working on a third book, this time about Brazil.

Today, non-fiction writers have to be storytellers, and master the tools of literature. If not, they better start a web-site. Modern non-fiction must read as a novel, if not it will not be read at all. Like a good novel, a non-fiction book must go further than a mere ‘portrait’ or ‘documentation’. It must deal with universal themes. But: all the facts in a non-fiction book must remain true and checkable. And all the characters must really exist. If not, non-fiction, as a superior weapon in truth-finding and sensibility, will die.

A mere journalist can not write a non-fiction book. For a real book the author has to immerse in the culture or group he describes. Time is over that journalists gather their articles, rewrite them a little and publish the bundle as a ‘book’. To tell a good story, you have to go beyond mere registration and objective aloofness. The rules of journalism are not good enough. Only by full immersion in the world of the characters a story can be told. The mechanism of identification with the subject is necessary.

Writers coming from obscure little countries are better equipped to write non-fiction. If you come from famous countries like the US or Great Britain, people will be more cautious to let you wander around in their world. ‘Obscure writers’ can melt better and obtain more insight. Therefore they are better non-fiction writers.

Hans Petter Bakketeig senior editor general non-fiction at Gyldendal Norsk Forlag (Norway), where he started working in 1992.

Critical non-fiction books acquired, written and published in Norway tend to focus on the lives of influential personalities in current and recent history. It is beyond doubt that the biography dominates the non-fiction market as does the novel rule the fiction market. Publishers can therefore best challenge power (institutions within politics, bureaucracy, business, culture, media and universities) by commissioning independent writers to investigate and write critical biographies on key persons within all these areas.

The opportunities for commissioning critical non-fiction books (biographies and other documentary genres) in the Norwegian market are almost infinite. It is not a matter of not having the qualified and motivated authors, but rather a question of the right attitude and journalistic courage of the publisher. The talented journalists and writers are available, ready to be engaged, but more ideas and initiatives to such projects must come from the publishers in future time.

Mary Mount editor at Viking/Penguin. She has worked in publishing for just over ten years, six at Picador, a little over four in Viking/Penguin.

Should an editor play devil's advocate? Should an editor publish books he/she disagrees with? Is there a danger of an editor not allowing a range of voices to be heard on a number of subjects? Should the editor be thinking first about the market and then about his/her own political views or is it impossible to publish a book well if you disagree with its argument ie is it like trying to publish fiction that you don't like but see its commercial potential? Should an editor also take into account the views of the authors on his/her list?

Jan Mets publisher since 1981 and leads, together with his partner Maarten Schilt, the independent house Mets & Schilt.

Try to define ‘against the grain’. Is it meant as opposed to ‘the powers that be’ or, rather, as opposed to the mainstream? Sometimes there is an obvious incongruity between these. But, ‘against the grain’ also contains a psychological component, including Schadenfreude about the anger a publication can cause.

Saturday, 20 May | De Rode Hoed | Keizersgracht 102 | Phone 638 56 06

Saturday morning, 9.30 am - 1 pm

Translating against the current

Toby Eady agent since 1967, running a small independent agency. He has worked in London, New York, China, Middle East representing a small group of writers.

Why are publishers more interested in voices from the outside than the inside? The arrogance/complacency of ones own language, in particular English. Is what we don't publish from a foreign language a form of unwitting censorship, or that we should believe in the ultimate truths of our own languages?

Obstacles to translation: where did the translator learn the language? In a laboratory, or on the street? In bed, or at a table? By reading contemporary works?

Dan Simon worked for several publishing houses (Harper & Row, W.W. Norton, The Sheep Meadow Press) before founding Four Walls Eight Windows in 1986. In 1995 he founded Seven Stories Press.

The big booksellers in the U.S. are willing to look at commercial fiction but they are a bit less open to literary (non-)fiction in translation, so you have to find ways around that, but it is very difficult. The media in the U.S. will not cover an author from another country, especially one that doesn't speak English.

Reaching out to our international colleagues is one of the healthiest things we do, both spiritually and commercially. But at the moment I have to admit that we are not succeeding in going in the other direction, taking European (non-)fiction and getting attention for it here. I put my trust in the quality of the relationships between us and the more we can build on that the more we can be successful as conduits in the U.S. for European literature.

Jutta Chorus journalist, wrote (together with Menno de Galan) for NRC Handelsblad on the secret world of Leefbaar Nederland and the List Pim Fortuyn, after which Chorus and De Galan published Under the Spell of Fortuyn; reconstruction of a political earthquake. In 2005 she published together with Ahmet Olgun In God’s Name. The Year of Theo van Gogh on the murder of Van Gogh and the psychological development of Mohammed B. and his sympathizers.

There is a lack of critical non-fiction on politics in The Netherlands. Hardly any revealing portraits of political parties are written from the inside. There is not enough investigative journalism into political or governmental faults. While the political battlefield has all the characteristics a journalist could wish for to write a classic drama or a classic comedy: power, revenge, jealousy, and all imaginable human weaknesses.

Newspapers and television programmes are interested in daily politics, incidents, rows caused by politicians or by the media. Short cuts. A journalist has to be long-winded to fathom politicians, governors and their surroundings.

Following a political party or an institution from the inside delivers clear insights on politicians, the social and cultural structure of a party, the balance of power, opportunism, altruism. Political parties, ministers, their spokesmen, ministries all know strict codes of conduct. They only show the world outside what they want the world outside to see. A writer of critical non-fiction should be energetic and detached at the same time.

1 pm Lunch

Conference organizers:

Jaja Holisova, John Müller, Maarten Valken Foundation Phone: +31 (0)20 620 62 61