June 2003, No 13
Editor: Hella Rottenberg
Aware of a lack of professional training for publishers and editors in their countries, two experienced publishers – Vladimír Pistorius in the Czech Republic and Gábor Csordás in Hungary – set up their own course of education. It is worth noting that both teach at university, not within the system of vocational schools.
Pistorius’s interesting career started in 1978 when he printed samizdat manuscripts, which were renowned for their high quality in content as well as graphic design and layout. After the Velvet Revolution, Pistorius was asked to become the director of the state-owned publishing house Mladá Fronta. In the privatization tangle he lost his hold on Mladá Fronta, left and founded his own publishing house Paseka.
Recently Paseka published a hard-back manual ‘How to make a book’, in which Pistorius systematically explains the ins and outs of the trade, such as the structure and problems of the local book-market, the basics of editing and typography, the organization and running of a publishing house, marketing strategy, legal conditions and electronic publishing. The manual is used when he teaches and gives practical workshops at the department of Czech literature at Charles University in Prague, to students – he stresses – alas, not to professionals in the field, who could certainly use some extra education.
“Inexperienced editors”, Pistorius says, “frequently do not consider book publishing as a complex technological process. They see it only as manuscript preparing or proof reading.” The course he teaches cannot do much about the structural difficulties of the Czech book market. “The most serious obstacles for publishers”, says Pistorius, “are the high printing costs and low average income, the ineffective wholesaling system, the lack of reliable statistical data and of good literary magazines and critics.” But what he can do is to introduce and spread know-how of a high professional standard.
His Hungarian colleague Gábor Csordás has actually been teaching since 1989, when the state-owned publishing industry collapsed and he began to produce a journal and books as an independent firm. “I employed university students as editors”, he tells, “and had to teach them everything from scratch. They come from an educational system where practical knowledge is underrated. They tend to think that a text is nothing more than its intellectual content. They neglect the importance of choice of words, text division, title hierarchy etcetera. When they write a book review or promotional text they usually refer to the latest fashions in literary theory and use words like deconstruction or velleity.”
Csordás, who lives and works in the southwestern town of Pécs, started his career in 1980 as an editor of the literary monthly Jelenkor and was its editor-in-chief when state support was withdrawn overnight. In order to survive he started publishing books by contributors to the journal. “I had to learn almost everything by trial and error. My colleagues, even the younger ones, resisted using modern technique, such as desk-top publishing. They thought computerized text setting was undignified slave labour.”
In 1997 Csordás launched a two-semester course of book editing at Pécs university. Lack of financing forced him to give up this program, but he managed to revive the course at another department. Each year more than forty students want to follow the program, but the available facilities mean that only twenty students can be accepted, while no more than twelve can continue for the second semester when they learn in practice the whole cycle of publishing a book, starting with a manuscript and ending with producing marketing materials. “At first”, Csordás recalls, “it was very hard to convince university people that the whole thing makes sense. Most people think that book publishing is some dirty trick to make money. The book is ready when it has been written, they assume, it only has to be reproduced by a printing house. Besides, this kind of education needs technical support, like computers, and it costs money. That is why the university is not enthusiastic about including such a program.”
Nonetheless, Cordas recently developed in cooperation with the communication department of Pécs university a two-year postgraduate course, which now awaits official accredition. “If this happens it will solve many of our present problems. Once you can give a grant or degree, the program has official status.”
In Poland Czarne published a translation of Steffie Speck in the Jaws of Life by Dubravka Ugrešić. The original, Štefica Cvek u raljama života, was issued jointly by Konzor in Zagreb, and Samizdat B92 in Belgrade in 2001. Steffie Speck is a nice, ordinary girl from Zagreb, trapped within the clichés of Lonely Hearts and advice columns in women’s magazines. She is a typist, but the good advice she types up is in marked contrast to her own unfocussed life. Steffie’s attempts to find Mr. Right invariably end in calamitous mishaps. She seeks advice from her (female) friends and aunt, dates various men without much success, tries to concentrate more on herself instead of on looking for a boyfriend, and finally finds one where she least expects it.
Subtitled “A Patchwork Novel”, the book starts off with a set of pattern instructions for sewing, and the reader is invited to “sew” or stitch together the text, to intervene in the story as he/she wishes. In place of a conclusion, the novel offers the reader the option of different possible endings, ranging from happy to sad.
As she takes the reader through typically “female” situations in this witty pastiche of dime novels, Dubravka Ugrešić shows us the extent to which our everyday lives are shaped by stereotypes. This is a hilariously funny book, which gives serious pause for thought.
In Bosnia Buybook has published a translation of Brendan Simms’s book Unfinest Hour. As the subtitle “Britain and the destruction of Bosnia” clearly indicates, the book is a critical analysis of British policy towards Bosnia. In his book Simms, who is a historian at Cambridge University, attacks British behaviour during the conflict. According to the official explanation, the war in Bosnia was a complex ethnic war, in which wild emotions and hostile traditions raged. Bad guys and good guys did not exist, all parties were equally guilty, all sides were victims as well. Maintaining an arms embargo and a policy of non-intervention was therefore the wisest choice for the international community.
It was, maintains Simms, a completely distorted view, but it served its purpose for the government of John Major, namely not to engage British troops in a war and to sit out the conflict to what was perceived as its natural end, the victory of Serb troops. The author describes in often painful detail the way the main British policy-makers – Hurd, Rifkind, Owen, General Michael Rose – acted. They did their best not to see Serb responsibility for the atrocities and opposed all plans, especially of the ‘naive’ Americans, for outside intervention. Simms finds the British role even more destructive than that of France. He attributes British policy to what he calls the “conservative pessimism” of the government at the time. Its controversial content notwithstanding, the book received many positive reviews in the British press. According to Noel Malcolm the study is a lesson in “how false analyses and bad policy-making go hand in hand”. “Every Foreign Office official”, he continues, “every MP and every media pundit should be obliged to read it.” Buybook is convinced that the Bosnian public will read with great interest this “first book that fully lays bare the hypocrisy and incompetence of British policy towards Bosnia”.
The Romanian publisher Est has produce a translation of Juifs des Balkans: espaces judéo-ibériques, XIVe-XXe siècles, by Esther Benbassa and Aron Rodrigue, both professors in Jewish history. It is a comprehensive, but at the same time not very lengthy history of the Judeo-Spanish diaspora in the Balkans and Asia Minor (today’s Turkey), encompassing the period after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (in 1492) until the annihilation of most Jewish communities in World War II and the emigration to Israel of the remainder. According to the authors, the story of Eastern Sephardi Jews has been distorted since the nineteenth century, as it was seen mainly through the prism of the nation-state. The quintessence of the world of this diaspora, best expressed by the term “Levantine”, acquired a negative connotation, being multilingual, multicultural and certainly not stereotypical “native”. Later, in Israeli historiography, the Sephardi Jewish legacy was neglected by the dominant force of the Ashkenazi’s (Jews from western descent). “For ideological reasons”, the authors write in their introduction, “the voice of so-called ‘oriental’ Jews has been silenced.”
The Sephardi communities in the Ottoman empire formed a unity for more than four centuries, sharing language, religion, customs and communal life, with only slight regional variations. The book illuminates the religious , economic, political and cultural life of those communities, which enjoyed autonomy in exchange for taxes paid to the Ottoman authorities. It also describes the process of modernization, the influence of zionism and socialism, the destructive impact of the end of the Ottoman civilization and the following fragmentation into nation-states.
The history of the Sephardi Jews is rife with blank spots and myths. The wide-spread idea that after the so-called Golden Age under Arab rule in Spain, when Jews lived harmoniously with Christians and Muslims, Sephardi culture declined rapidly, is much too simple. With their book, which has also been translated into English under the title Sephardi Jewry, the authors try to show that the Sephardi diaspora was a rich and very lively culture, that should be studied much more than has been done until now.
In April 2003, the CEEBP awarded thirteen grants for books, two grants for journals, and six other grants. The grants for books were awarded for nine West – East translations and four East –East translations.
Matching funds were provided for the Book Review of Transitions Online, and for the participation of Central and East European publishers in the Rights Catalogue, the Rights managers meeting, and e-Stands at the Frankfurter Buchmesse.
The Association of Literary Translators of Serbia received a grant for a website, the Association of Publishers and Booksellers in Vojvodina a grant for computer equipment, while the National Library of Serbia obtained a special grant for the website of the Serbian & Montenegrin Book Market Project. Other special grant was awarded for equipment for publishers’ training in Hungary.
- Raymond Detrez, Kosovo: de uitgestelde oorlog (Kosovo: The delayed war), Dutch – Albanian translation by Mirela Shuteriqi, Skanderbeg, Tirana
- Angus Fraser, The Gypsies, English – Macedonian translation by Margarita Buzalkova, Slovo, Skopje
- Aleksandar Hemon, The Question of Bruno, English – Serbian translation by Dejan Stanković, Lingva Franka, Belgrade
- Gustav Herling- Grudziński, Biała noc miłosci; Dziennik pisany noca (Selection from his works), Polish – Belarussian translation by Sviatlana Kurs, Kovcheg, Minsk
- Danilo Kiš, Rani jadi (Early Sorrows), Serbian – Polish translation by Danuta Cirlić-Straszyńska,Czarne, Wołowiec
- William McCagg Jr., A History of Habsburg Jews. 1670-1918, English – Romanian translation, Odeon, Bucharest
- Chantal Mouffe (ed.), Dimensions of Radical Democracy, English – Bulgarian translation by Kapka Gerganova, Critique & Humanism, Sofia
- Robert Perišić, Užas i veliki troškovi (Horror and Big Expenses), Croatian – Slovenian translation by Dušan Čater, Študentska založba, Ljubljana
- Radoslav Petković, Sudbina i komentari, Serbian – Hungarian translation by Gábor Csordás, Jelenkor, Pécs
- Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading, English – Czech translation by Anna Kareninová, Atlantis, Brno
- Joseph Rothschild, East Central Europe between the Two World Wars, English-Albanian translation by Kujtim Ymeri, Dituria, Tirana
- Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Les assassins de la mémoire: “un Eichmann de papier” et autres essais sur le révisionnisme, French – Bulgarian translation by Galja Ivanova Valtchinova, Dr. Ivan Bogorov, Sofia
- Pierre Vidal-Naquet, La démocratie grècque vue d’ailleurs, French – Serbian translation by Frano Cetinić, Gradac, Čačak
- Arche, political and cultural bi-monthly, Minsk
- Revista 22, political and cultural weekly, Bucharest
- Association of Literary Translators of Serbia – website
- APBV, Association of Publishers and Booksellers of Vojvodina, Novi Sad – graphic & design software
- Frankfurter Buchmesse – matching funds for Central and East European publishers’ e-Stands, Rights Catalogue entries and Rights Directors Meeting
- Jelenkor Publishing House, Pécs – equipment for publishers education program
- National Library of Serbia -Yugoslav Book Market Project website
- Transitions On Line (http://culture.tol.cz) – matching funds for the Book Review 2003/2004
The project, launched in April 2000 on the initiative of the Index Association of Independent Publishers, was successfully completed in December 2002. By opening its activities to all quality publishers as well as distributors and booksellers and by involving both professional and general press, the project was able to function as a catalyst of favourable changes on the Slovak book market. It significantly improved the book-trade infrastructure by enhancing joint efforts of publishers, distributors and booksellers, and the creation of a number of institutions that have earned a solid reputation in the book-trade, cultural circles, professional and general press, as well as the wider public.
Index Book Club and its quarterly catalogue, launched in September 2000, has become a self-sustaining well-established source of information, book promotion, and a supplementary distribution channel for quality publications in a wide variety of genres. Initially launched by the Index Association as a service for seven publishers, the Book Club has become a regular supplementary outlet for more than fifty publishers, enabling them to make their publications available to thousands of readers even in places which do not have a bookshop. Since its launch in the autumn of 2000, the Book Club has sold more than 53.000 books. According to publishers and booksellers, the sale of books through the Book Club did not lead to a decrease in sales via other distribution channels, which indicates that the Book Club has filled an existing gap in the market. Although the Book Club has achieved a break-even point, it has not yet reached its full potential regarding the number of members and turnover.
Literary Club, launched in February 2002 and held regularly on the occasion of the quarterly publication of the Index catalogue, has become a tradition that attracts many visitors and generates a vivid media attention for new books.
Regional promotion of books and reading, organised by the regional representative of Index in schools, clubs, and libraries across the country has developed into a successful programme. Regional promotional activities have spread both across the country and across age categories. Author readings and presentations have stimulated interest in books where it was not observed before and generated new individual and institutional Book Club membership.
Library program is well established and has become a regular and important part of the Book Club activities, and of the schedule of schools, cultural clubs and libraries. The program will continue with the policy of special discounts for the libraries financed by the Book Club.
Weekly Literary supplement in a large circulation quality daily, initiated by members of Index, has become a regular and indispensable source of information on new books for a wide public, published both on paper and Internet, and highly valued by readers and professionals alike. It is financed by the newspaper and run by its editorial staff. The newspaper is very much satisfied with the result and plans further development of the supplement.
Training programme, which consisted of fifteen workshops for publishers, booksellers and distributors, has become a regular feature of life of the Slovak book trade held in high esteem by the professional community. According to the participants, the training improved general professional standards, enabled many of them to significantly raise their professional level and effectiveness, and greatly improved the cooperation between publishers, booksellers and distributors.
The transfer of Dutch expertise through meetings of the Slovak project management with experts from various book trade institutions in The Netherlands (The Royal Book Trade Association KVB, Stichting Speurwerk, Book Trade Training VOB, Centraal Boekhuis, Flevo Druk, Gopher publishers, and the Foundation for Collective Promotion of the Dutch Book CPNB) was invaluable.
The CEEBP also arranged for publishers and project coordinators from Croatia and Yugoslavia could participate in seminars in Slovakia and make use of the experience of their Slovak colleagues.
The project was implemented under the auspices of the Slovak Milan Šimečka Foundation in close cooperation with the CEEBP, and was financed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CEEBP, OSI Budapest and Slovakia, the Slovak Ministry of Culture, the Slovak Foundation for Civic Initiatives, and Index.
- European Cultural Foundation
- Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
- Salomon von Oppenheim Stiftung
- Stichting Het Parool
- Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, The Netherlands
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands