Book fair horror

Carole Cadwalladr writes very entertainingly about the Frankfurt book fair. Especially about all the gossip. One of my favourite bits is her glancing mention of inflated print runs.1 Apparently this goes back much further than I’d realised:

For as long as people have written books, people have sold them too, and this involves a certain amount of talking things up. Erasmus, in the 15th century, is said to have drummed up business here (the fair’s been going for 800-odd years) by claiming the first print run of his Colloquies was 24,000. And this in an age when the average number of copies produced was around 50.

That wily Erasmus, eh? Though I don’t know what he expected to achieve when it was going to become clear that he was a bit of a fibber almost as soon as the words left his mouth.

Publishing is a strange business. Read the whole article. It’s my favourite on publishing in ages.

  1. For those who don’t know publishers almost never release the true print run. They always exaggarrate the number. Sometimes by margins almost as crazy as Erasmus. []


  1. jennifer, aka literaticat on #

    this might be my favorite part:

    Pat Kavanagh—or Pat, as I’ll call her rather inappropriately, since she expressly said in an email she didn’t want to talk to me

    nono i like the whole thing.

  2. Justine on #

    Yeah, the whole article is packed full of excellence. I laughed and laughed.

  3. Nicholas Waller on #

    I used to go to Frankfurt in my publishing days and it is colossal but it is worth pointing out that fiction is only a small part of it. I was in college textbook publishing with Prentice Hall and Frankfurt was a convenient one-stop-shop to meet those of my more obscure Middle East and Africa customers it was not economic to travel any further to see (though it would have been more fun).

    The story in the article about “The Lord of the Rings” and Faber’s slush pile can’t be right as LotR was famously published by Allen and Unwin, who had published The Hobbit, and involved a reader’s report by Unwin’s young son Rayner.

    The “oddest title” prize mentioned is known as the Diagram Prize and is presented by UK trade mag The Bookseller. Prentice Hall had the honour of snaffling one of the earliest with “The Joy of Chickens” in 1980.

    Some winning titles may be a bit too self-consciously contrived, but you can find a list by googling/wikipedia “diagram prize”. My favourites include “How to Avoid Huge Ships”, “Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice” and “Reusing Old Graves: A Report on Popular British Attitudes”.

  4. Kadie-Wa on #

    i love that! it’s so cool!!

  5. Lizzy-wa on #

    hehe. arent frankfurters like…hot dogs or something? hey Justine-la, i just finished EXTRAS and started Magic or Madness. im on the part where Reason is exploring the witches castle. spooky-making…like it so far! gotta go read now.

    -Lizzy-wa OUT! 😛

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