LOCUS ARTICLE: My European Summer
The latest Locus includes my article on publishing in Europe, and a little local color as well. Now's as good a time as ever to subscribe to Locus if you don't already.
Here's a taste of the article. To read the rest, pick up the January Locus, also available on newsstands.
"In 1989, after the fall of Ceausescu, ten thousand publishing houses sprang up in Romania," Bogdan Hrib, the founder of Tritonic Publishing, told me as we roared down the main highway toward the mountains during our first hours in Romania. "Everyone wanted to tell their story and they thought the best way was to start a publishing house." Six years later, that number was down to around 500, and today there are around 300 publishers in Romania, of which Tritonic is in the top 20. It's not the only publishing tale we heard while in Europe, but it is a dramatic one, and a testament to what happens when the sudden absence of the state-controlled system allows thousands of suppressed voices to be heard suddenly and without censorship.
Everyone wanted to tell their story...
A tour of six European countries centering around one’s own publisher or editor and associated confidantes, protectors, and adversaries can only provide a subjective story about the SF/F scene in each. However, a few things are clearly the same everywhere you go: the economies of scale are vastly different because most of the markets are much smaller than the United States, and the local writers on the ground continue to be shafted by a combination of factors, including the imperialism of the English language.
The fate of your average non-bestselling non-English-writing SF/F author in Europe is cause for sobering contemplation. There is a vast difference between being a fluent English speaker and actually being able to translate your own work into English. Thus, a writer can spend literally thousands of dollars trying to get work translated into English and then spend years trying to get English-language publishers interested in that work, spending even more money in the process. Not to mention, this is the only way to get interest from other countries in Europe. In most cases, a Romanian editor cannot read a Portuguese manuscript and vice versa. Both of them probably read in English, however.
At the same time, other things appear to be changing.
What is different? It depends on the country, but on the whole the idea of "cross-genre" work has clearly penetrated into European markets to various degrees, generally in two forms: the infiltration of "fantasy" into the mainstream under non-SF/F imprints or the codification of such work under a term like "New Weird". What struck me most of all, however, was that in each country we visited, editors and publishers were industriously and creatively finding ways around the drawbacks and limitations of their particular market.