Have English Books Lost their Flare?

I found this article and I didn’t even think about this issue. If you write books in the English language, are you prepared to lose your place to novels written in other languages?

“It’s the calm before the storm for Barcelona-based French agent Véronique Kirchhoff, who has 70 meetings spread over four days at the upcoming Bologna Children’s Book Fair. And that doesn’t include her French and Spanish clients who she sees independently from the fair. A one-woman show, Kirchhoff has been running her literary agency, which specializes in illustrated children’s books, for seven years, the last three of which have been from Barcelona. She is quick to point out that, “I’m not a French agent selling worldwide, I’m an agent from everywhere selling everywhere. Otherwise I couldn’t make a living.”

Later…

“There is another change Kirchhoff has noticed recently at the Bologna Book Fair where she has a stand in the English-speaking halls.

“There are more and more stands from publishers I’ve never seen before from all around the world. More people are going to Asian, French, Italian, Portuguese or Eastern European stands and the English stands are not as busy. The English are losing their supremacy in terms of selling rights because others have books that are so much more interesting. It’s a question of creativity. People are tired of the same style coming from Anglo-Saxon countries. In the texts as well, I see more narrative in other books. English books are sweeter, but so what? What publishers want is an original story.”

As far as digital books are concerned, “we were told digital is the next big thing. It’s definitely growing in fiction but this is not happening at all in illustrated children’s books. As agents we are asked to grant ebook rights, but publishers usually don’t use them. Now I only grant ebook rights if the publisher can tell me how they can use them. So the market hasn’t developed as was announced—it might, but I don’t think so. Most e-books for children are not books but games. You give a child an iPad in a car during a trip, but you give a child a book before he goes to bed.”

Kirchhoff is upbeat about the future: “I think the children’s book market is coming back to life and I can’t explain why. Although pop ups (novelties) are a harder sell because manufacturing prices keep rising, there is an amazing revival of storyboard books that began one or two years ago. I’m selling picture books really well. There is a focus on beautiful illustrations. A lot of my fellow agents say the same thing. I’m super happy because it was very hard there for a while…”

First off, this isn’t a surprise. There are very few things with global popularity. Only a select few books can have mass appear worldwide. Just because you have a novel in ten languages doesn’t mean it will have equal appeal everywhere. It’s only reasonable that each country has its own local celebrities and local literary culture. Why get a foreigner’s book when you may have your own version from a local person who speaks your language and knows your culture?

However, does this mean foreign book-buyers will turn away from English-language books. I hope not. Because if they do, I’m going to be in trouble, particularly with books aimed at kids and teens (debut YA novel expected Fall 2015). Granted, I won’t focus immediately on foreign-language sales right away, but it’s something to keep in mind.

It’s interesting how children’s books are making a comeback even though the number of new kids born every years has been in overall decline for a long time. Of course, we need to separate “Young Adult” Novels with a huge adult following from kid’s picture or middle-grade books.

B&B: English-language books are still in vogue, but it is true there’s been a lot of repetitiveness coming from the market. It’s far easier to publish a book which is a different take on an already successful idea rather than explore or experiment with new concepts.

This brings us to the next allegation: There are not enough books aimed at children from diverse (read: non-Caucasian) backgrounds. Is this a legitimate problem? Or just griping from people who can’t “make it”? I’ll explore this topic very soon.

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