Sitting in a café in Istanbul, eating baklava and drinking coffee whilst reading Orhan Pamuk. I am, as a tourist, distinctly unimaginative. But that is how I chose to spend my days off, having spent three days meeting publishers and visiting the İstanbul Kitap Fuarı, or Istanbul Book Fair, on my very first sales trip.
Before leaving, I was fairly convinced that no amount of preparation would be enough. Reading profiles, looking at past submissions and trying to become fluent enough in Turkish to be able to understand publisher’s websites (Google translate only goes so far) somehow didn’t seem enough. It turns out however that one of the greatest pleasures when meeting foreign publishers is not wowing them with what you do know, but rather admitting what you don’t. This gives the publishers – the obvious experts in the field – the chance to tell you about their market. And the picture painted by the Turkish editors I met was a refreshingly positive one.
The Turkish market is growing. According to some, it has quadrupled in the last five or six years. New publishing companies are springing up and building their lists. Book shops with floor to ceiling shelves, wooden floors and a healthy supply of interested customers are open until late. The number of foreign publishers visiting the yearly book fair in Istanbul is growing and grants are on offer from the Turkish government to help agencies cover the cost of making more international trips.
There is also however a fair amount of trepidation. While publishers such as CAN, Siren, Yapı Kredi and Everest are producing literary fiction, historical romance remains the most popular genre by far. One editor speaks of a disparity between what editors will buy and what sells, suggesting that not everything in the book shops is to the public’s taste. There also appears to be a lack of a Young Adult market, although Twilight and before that Harry Potter managed to overcome the competition from video games and other media to go on to sell well. Time will tell how the new publishers will fair. As one editor from an established house put it, ‘we’re all in the same boat.'
The ebook market in Turkey is still small but people appear confident that it will grow here as it has done elsewhere. The despondency of one non-fiction editor who told me that this meant that in ten years we’d all be out of the job was tempered only by his editor/translator colleague chiming in that he’d been hoping to retire to a small place by the coast anyway.
Lots of the people I’ve met seem to have come to publishing after working somewhere else first. Working in a bank, for the government or as a translator, the effect is one of perspective –publishing doesn’t feel like an isolated industry but rather part of the country’s identity, its history and its language. Academics edit, editors translate, banks own publishing houses and literary agents study for Masters Degrees in their spare time. A history editor happily translated my name into Ottoman Turkish, whilst chain smoking and discussing which of our titles might work for their list.
If Turkish publishers are all in the same boat, then it certainly seems that the waters they’re sailing on are calmer than our own, for the time being at least. While publishers in the UK nervously watch to see whether arrows will be green or red, pointing upwards or downwards, talk in Turkey is of growth. Visiting a new publisher in an office consisting of five chairs and three desks and discussing their vision for their list gives the impression that something exciting is going on; long may it continue.
Ansa Khan Khattak
Penguin Rights Executive