By Daniel Kalder
In part two of Publishing Perspectives’ series on publishing professionals working abroad, Daniel Kalder, himself a Scot transplanted to Texas via Moscow — talks to two Americans who discuss their experiences working in publishing abroad and how it has enhanced their careers.
Walnut Liquor to Warm You Up
Erin Ferretti Slattery is managing editor at Channel V Media, a new media marketing agency in New York City. Between 2007 and 2008 she cut her publishing teeth working at Rebo Publishers in Prague:
“I was working as an English instructor at Charles University in Prague when I was recruited by Rebo as their English Editor. Each year they publish 100 books for the American market, coffee table books on cookery, travel, “the 100 Loveliest Castles in Europe,’ that sort of thing.
“Rebo buy books from other houses, and translates them into English — it was my job to align the text, ‘Americanizing’ the translations and making sure they were correct for the US market…ever since the 1980s there’s always been one person on staff, either an American or Canadian assigned this responsibility. But because there’s a large population of expats in Prague who just blow into town and then leave a short while later, a lot of my predecessors hadn’t really owned the job, and so my Czech colleagues were perhaps surprised by the degree of my commitment. I wanted to integrate myself into Czech society properly. I also wanted to take on more, so I gave input from the editorial side — in terms of how a title worked — the cover copy, the jacket copy, bringing it in line with what sells in the big chains.
“It’s difficult to generalize about cultural differences: I felt I was working with serious professionals who cared passionately about books. The majority of the staff were Czech; they all spoke multiple languages. As a rule the Czechs are a stoic people so they don’t come unglued under pressure, and maybe that’s a bit different from the US. I also remember little differences — once it was so cold in our offices that the lead Czech editor brought in some home-made walnut liqueur. We all did a shot to warm up, and then carried on working. The Czechs also had their own stereotypes about the super-charged American work ethic and expected me to be in at 6 a.m. every morning and working until 8 p.m. at night!
“If anything I suffered “future shock” when I returned to the States. Here everybody is excited about digital publishing, but in Prague nobody talked about e-books or digital anything. Even so, the Czechs are keen to catch up — many feel that the rest of the world has had a chance at a nice life while they labored under communism, so they have an appetite for nice things…”
Living Wild in West Australia
Frané Lesac is a children’s book author and illustrator with over thirty-five picture books published worldwide. She was born in New Jersey and moved to the small 7 x 11 mile island of Montserrat in the Caribbean in the 70’s where she started her career as a painter. She currently resides in West Australia:
“Having a home computer or fax machine, email, Skype, or SMS was unheard of when I started out. All I had was a dodgy telephone. I wrote my first book about Montserrat and went to find a publisher in London and stayed seven years. I didn’t know one thing about getting a book published and thought I needed to live near the publisher. In reality, having a face-to-face meeting was helpful as I was able to plead my case when they hummed and hawed about publishing my first book. I promised if they went ahead, my mom would buy every single copy. I was paid a £100 advance, and now My Little Island has sold over 300,000 copies and is still in print 27 years on — by the way, my Mom only bought about a dozen.
“I’ve lived in West Australia for the past twenty years — the state of Texas can fit into West Australia five times. But living remotely in one of the most isolated places in the world has its advantages. I live a day ahead of the USA. I can send my illustrations to New York by courier and they’ll arrive before it’s even left Australian time. For example: I might send it 10 a.m. Monday morning West Australia time and because of the International Date Line, it will arrive by 9 a.m. New York time Monday morning — that’s quicker than sending something cross-town.
“Technology has changed everything when it comes to publishing and living abroad. I recently had to create an illustration for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. The production was created across 7 countries -– in just a few hours. The publisher was in the US, the editor in France, the designer in Japan, myself in Australia, and it was printed in China for an event in Italy.
“Fortunately, I have a dynamic agent in New York who knows what manuscripts will suit my style. I live over 16,000 miles from most of my publishers so it’s good to have someone batting for me in the big smoke. We try to have a Skype meeting at least once a week. I have a fantastic rapport with my editors and know what’s appropriate for their lists. I’m constantly meeting new publishers and have a healthy backlist.
“I frequently visit remote communities in Australia, one of the oldest living cultures in the world, to help the adults and children make their own books. One needs to be invited and obtain permits to go out to these places. Sometimes I drive for nine hours on dirt tracks not passing one other car. If an emu gets in front, they just plod and plod for maybe hours. You have to carry enough water and supplies and multiple spare tires.
“What I love about being a children’s book author and illustrator is that I can be anywhere in the world, do what I love best and still keep my finger on the publishing pulse.”
READ: More about Channel V media.
VISIT: Frané Lesac online.
DISCUSS: Did working in publishing abroad help your career at home?