Monday, January 05, 2009

German Book Office's 10th Anniversary

December was a busy month for the German Book Office in New York.

First, the organization celebrated its 10th anniversary with a lunch on December 5—unfortunately timed for Black Wednesday; guest of honor Random House CEO Markus Dohle sent his regrets. Eleven days later, it hosted its second “buzz panel” to promote new German-language titles to potential editors. The biannual event, which was inaugurated in May, drew 40 people to listen as translators and scouts pitched books at Deutsches Haus on the New York University campus. Finally, the GBO began serving as the official, rather than de facto, New York office for the Frankfurt Book Fair. Hannah Johnson is the new liaison assisting U.S. publishers with their arrangements for the annual fair.

The GBO, which is a public/private partnership supported by the German Foreign Office, the Goethe-Institut and the Frankfurt Book Fair, has been “instrumental in bringing hundreds of book titles to the attention of American publishers,” said Riky Stock, GBO New York's director since 2002. A recent example of a book published with the help of the GBO, Stock noted, is Fred Wander's novel The Seventh Well, released by W.W. Norton. Stock emphasized that the GBO does not sell rights, but assists with logistics and bringing attention to German authors who haven't hit the bestsellers list. “A popular writer like Cornelia Funke might not need our help, but there are plenty more who do,” Stock said. Over a calendar year, the GBO promotes as many as 40 fiction titles, 40 children's books and 80 nonfiction titles, which are divided into spring and fall lists and published as catalogues.

Looking forward, Stock said that GBO's attention is turning increasingly toward working with university presses, which have been especially receptive to publishing German nonfiction, and she cited recent sales to Stanford and Princeton University presses; Stanford has signed Violence as Worship by Hans G. Kippenberg, while Princeton has acquired Trust in Violence by Jan Philipp Reemtsma. In 2009 the GBO's 10th annual “editor's trip,” which takes a group of overseas editors to visit German publishers and editors, will focus on nonfiction books.

“People always say that Americans aren't interested in translated literature or books from foreign countries,” said Stock. “Our experience at the German Book Office has proven that not to be true. We wouldn't be here after 10 years if they weren't.”

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