Readers are all that matters

By A.G.Billig
In Events
May 26th, 2015
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Bookfest 2015

Bookfest 2015

Three years ago, I came to the London Book Fair with a couple of short stories and a suitcase full of confidence. I went to see the Romanian stand to introduce myself as an aspiring author. I admit although my aim was to get published on the English market, I had a soft spot for the country where I have spent almost all my life. A big shot (you know the guy or lady who gets to say yes or no to  a manuscript) at a big publishing house told me they were not interested in short stories. ‘Only novels’, he said. ‘Short stories don’t sell’, he added. I looked at his protuberant belly, his sagging cheeks, his crinkled vest and I told myself: “They don’t sell, my ass!”

Fast forward a couple of months later, while “4 Doors and Other Stories” was in editing process by MP Publishing, I met another famous guy, a critic. I told him that my manuscript had been accepted by a British publishing house and that I would make my literary debut in English. Awesome, wasn’t it? I mean all Romanian writers, even established ones, dream about hitting it big in Shakespeare’s language. And here I was, a young – out- of- nowhere female  getting published in UK without being a member of the Romanian Writers’ Unions. ‘Not interested’, he whispered and looked through me.  I also had tea with the manager of an important Romanian publishing house. I knew him since high school and e-mailed him some of the stories. He asked me if we could meet. ‘There are well written”, he told me, “but there is nothing really striking about them. They are not located in Romania, they are not about communism and sex – well, The Return is, and I wouldn’t know how to market such a product.’ I tried not to take it personal- after all he had been recently through a terrible divorce after finding out from a pop up Facebook message that  his wife was cheating on him and probably love was a banned word in his vocabulary (along with trust and joy).

It took a new publishing house, located in Timisoara – one of Romania’s fast growing cities and a courageous owner with a vision

Bookfest 2015

Bookfest 2015

to launch the Romanian version of ‘ Four Doors and Other Stories’ both in print and digital. The book has a lovely cover and good quality paper and a I also got a generous non refundable advance on royalties. I was super happy. But being published, as I was soon to find out, was not the end but just the beginning of the road enough.  The book had many typing errors. The publishing house had zero distribution and zero awareness. Readers had no idea we existed. This challenge made me creative. I had to use all my PR knowledge and imagine new ways of interacting with people. I took some acting classes and performed on stage The Summer Story, something I never imagined I would ever do. But still, I dreamed of the day when my book will be on the shelves of an important book fair.

This year, it finally was. The publishing house took two years to grease the wheels for it. The books in their catalogue – including mine, now distributed in bookstores across the country, were officially presented during The International Book Fair –  Bookfest 2015, a five day event which deserves its name because, unlike The London Book Fair, everything revolves around selling books – sometimes at a discount, to the general audience.  That’s because although Romanians read and buy books, there is no proper book publishing industry. Not yet. There are no literary agents and just a few cultural managers (who will not do authors anyhow). There is little to zero self-publishing – except for the 10 year old girl who wants to give her class mates a birthday present. There are no book launch events where people queue outside the bookstore for hours just to get an autograph- except when Paula Coelho comes. There are no big marketing and promotional campaigns that would turn a writer into an icon. The public readings are scarce. Televisions and filmmakers rarely buy TV or film rights for Romanian authors books. Authors expect everything from their editors and when they fail, they blame their misfortune of being born in Romania (while rambling on about the same, old and dusty topics – communism and the Romanians working abroad or adding lots of sex and obscenity in their texts). To tell you the truth, it felt awkward at the Bookfest. Almost empty on Thursday evening, packed with people rushing around to buy books, to be seen, or heard, or praised on Saturday. Almost everyone had a book to launch, an event to attend, a sausage to buy from the cafeteria. On top of all,  was Mr Iohannis, the new president, who launched a new book – written as always by a ghost writer, I presume, with the most catchy and original title – The First Step (the first one was called Step By Step). Everybody had something to say or to show and almost nobody wanted to listen.

So, I sticked with my flock, the other authors signed by Data Group Publishing House. Had a beer and felt really happy when someone entered the stand and bought the book. After all, readers are all that matters.

Data Group Publishing House group of authors

Data Group Publishing House group of authors

2 Responses to “Readers are all that matters”

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