‘‘We have a have a long history of bringing foreign literary works to the U.S.,’’ says CLMP executive director Jeffrey Lependorf about the publishers of the Council for Literary Magazines and Presses while sitting in a booth at the Frankfurt Book Fair donated to CLMP by the fair to encourage more U.S. indies to make the trip. “And our presses have books that foreign publishers know about and want.”
This year CLMP is sponsoring an independent publisher’s booth that includes indie presses like Akashic Books and Archipelago, indie houses experienced in coming to Frankfurt and buying and selling rights, and many others—Siglio, Bellevue Press, Fence and Red Hen—who have never attended.
“Our publishers excel in translations and they’re here looking for new works,” he said. Lependorf cites the work of Riky Stock, from the German Book Office in New York, and Thomas Minkus, from the Frankfurt Book Fair office, who works out of New York, for “getting us set up here, for free.” Lependorf moderated two panels on Wednesday aimed at showing off the reach and marketing savvy of independent U.S. publishers. "Big publishers are scrambling to identify verticals—that’s another way of saying focused audiences—the irony is that that’s what small presses do all the time. They offer a focused sensibility. We not only know our readers,”Lependorf joked, “we know them by name!” Lependorf’s point is that CLMP members are “mission driven, not bottom line driven, they have to make money but that’s not why they do this. Since they often only have one or two editors, one of which is usually the publisher, they offer a focused sensibility and if someone buys one book, they’ll probably like others on the list.” And CLMP publishers work on a different scale, he said, “selling 5,000 copies would be a disaster at a big house, but that’s big for our publishers.” In addition, indie houses like Bellevue Press—Bellevue’s The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak was an National Book Award finalist—have been snagging big time literary prizes.
CLMP members Open Letter and Archipelago Books (both only publish translations) are Frankfurt veterans and Ugly Duckling Presse, which specializes in Eastern European lit, “are having important meetings here,” said Lependorf, “and even if they aren’t buying or selling, small press publishers are part of a world community of readers who care about certain kinds of publishers.” Also on hand in the booth and a CLMP member, is Akashic publisher Johnny Temple, a small press veteran of Frankfurt, who says he is always here, this year selling rights to his popular and internationally focused Noir series, a 60 volume anthology series of crime fiction set in about 52 cities around the world. Boston Noir 2, edited by Dennis Lehane, is coming out now and Temple is at Frankfurt shopping the rights. Temple says the new booth is ideal for small presses, because translation rights offers a “level playing field,” for independent publishers.
Whether buying or selling, Temple explains, publishers looking at foreign rights know there’s a big expense included for translation, “so licensing fees, advances and royalties are low.” A small house, he says, can get a top Italian, French or Japanese author for $1,000 or $2,000. “We can get a book from a giant foreign publisher and when you sell across languages there’s a specific interest in that book or author, rather than some sort of vague buzz about the book,” he says. “We’d be here regardless, but because of the expense to exhibit, its an untapped source by most small houses. We hope to use the booth to seduce more small publishers to get here.”
Lependorf said that back in New York, Stock and Minkus, along with more experienced CLMP publishers, set up a series of meetings and workshops to teach rookie CLMP publishers what they needed to know about the foreign rights market. “You have to have meetings set up before you get here, we teach them how to buy rights, when to talk about money and when not too,” Lependorf said, “and our publishers arrived here feeling like veterans even when for most of them it’s their first time.”
Also sitting in the CLMP booth, Bellevue Press’ Erika Goldman agreed and says she’s had lots of meetings with foreign publishers with more to come. “We’re so small and so isolated, it can seem Sisyphean. It’s great to talk to other publishers that are out there pushing that same boulder up the hill. It helps it all make sense and you never know what a meeting will lead to down the road.”