Last week, Penguin author Linda Olsson was something of an international celebrity. After being honored at a party in New York Thursday night by the general consul of New Zealand, she was at a breakfast the next morning hosted by the Swedish ambassador. Olsson, who was born in Sweden and now lives in New Zealand, was given the VIP treatment because she’s a foreign author published in the U.S.
While translation grants continue to be the most significant way foreign governments encourage U.S. houses to publish their country’s literature, many embassies are eager to help promote authors in other ways. With funds and party space at their disposal, cultural centers and other foreign organizations love book events. While some publishers are taking advantage of this, foreign agencies are willing to do more... if only American publicists would make the call.
Olsson’s events, for example, came about serendipitously. Her book, Astrid & Veronika, published by Penguin Books in the U.S. in early February, isn’t the kind of title you would think is ripe for foreign support. But v-p and director of publicity Maureen Donnelly started e-mailing consulates back in December, hoping someone might foot the bill for Olsson to come to the States. Although travel money never materialized, the New Zealand consulate did offer to throw the New York party as well as fund a luncheon in Los Angeles and a reading in San Francisco at Books & Books.
As one of the coordinators of the translation-support program Reading the World, Chad Post, now with the University of Rochester and formerly with the nonprofit press Dalkey Archive, knows about the myriad ways foreign embassies will help promote a book, having worked with many authors on a shoestring budget.
At last year’s BEA, for example, he managed to get the Reading the World party almost entirely funded by foreign countries. “Space, booze and food” were donated by various countries, he said, for the event at the French consulate in Washington, D.C. This year’s Reading the World party—featuring books from Picador, Knopf, Harcourt and other houses—also has a foreign benefactor: the German Book Office, which is hosting the May 31 soiree at the German House in New York.
Post said France and Germany are two of the most aggressive and visible countries on the U.S. publishing scene. Riky Stok at the German Book Office is well known at most U.S. houses, as is Fabrice Rozie, who heads the book division of the French Cultural Services. Other countries have a more under-the-radar presence and it can take work to find the person who deals with literary events. But almost all countries have, through their embassies, cultural attachés; some focus expressly on books and others support literature as part of the arts at large. Amaury Laporte, the press attaché for the French Cultural Services, noted that Rozie’s position as book office attaché was created in 2004, making publishers more aware of everything the organization can do. “There is still work to do to get the message out, but the buzz is there,” he said.
There are also misconceptions about the lengths these organizations will go. “To some extent, publishers don’t know how much they can ask of a government embassy,” said Violaine Huisman, an agent at Charlotte Sheedy who works with a number of French authors. “In fact, many embassies are willing to do more than you’d expect because, for them, it’s a way to promote their own mission.”