Last month I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the Belgrade Book Fair.
I have been to quite a few Book festivals in Australia and Asia; and of course I’ve heard about the book fairs in Frankfurt, London and Bologna – but they are mainly for publishers and agents.
But I’d never seen anything quite like this.
It’s like a massive growers’ market – only for selling books. It is publishing in its purest form and it attracts 200,000 readers from all over Serbia in the space of just 8 hectic days.
The publishers each have a stand; they consider their house a brand and they guard their reputation jealously; where do readers elsewhere in the world know which publishing house publishes which writers and what genres? In Serbia they do!
I didn’t know much about Serbia, or about Belgrade, before I arrived there. I knew they had been involved in a brutal war in the nineties and that NATO bombed the city in 1999. The scars on some of the buildings are still evident.
Somehow, Serbs have a reputation in Australia for being hard working and dour. Hard working; absolutely. Dour? Not a bit of it. These were some of the warmest and funniest people I have ever met; I didn’t stop laughing the whole week. Their sense of hospitality was only rivaled by their sense of fun.
But it wasn’t a junket; selling books in Serbia is a serious business. HAREM did well here; Turkish television made a hugely successful TV series on Suleyman the Great that was compulsive viewing for everyone in the Balkans for the last two years. It gave HAREM a big boost.
So when they bought ANASTASIA, they decided to feature it prominently at the Fair.
The publisher – that is, the main guy, the one right at the top of the company – spends twelve hours a day at the Fair, watching what happens. He sees how people buy, and he listens to what they are saying: it’s pure market research. He makes sure the sellers on each table – and there’s about a dozen on each stand – oversees the same few books and knows them all intimately so that when a reader asks about a book, the seller can answer the questions and make recommendations.
It’s like Amazon, only with real people instead of algorithms.
It’s also brutal; you can argue all you want about the editing methods of agents and publishers but judgment here comes right to the table, literally. Readers look at the cover and read the back copy; that’s it. Buyers know what they want and they’re not going to waste their money. They can’t afford to. Life is still pretty tough here in the Balkans.
The Fair is an amazing experience. What did I learn? Three things. One – write a bad book and they won’t be back. Two – readers know exactly what they want – the reader is God. And three – you should know what your reader looks like, what they want, what they don’t want, what they had for breakfast and what they’d like for lunch – and their favorite colour as well.
I’m happy to say that in the first five days we sold the entire first printing of Anastasia. There was not a book left unsigned in all Serbia.
Well maybe one. At the airport I was stopped by security. A woman in a blue uniform and wearing a firearm came over and I assumed I was to be searched. Instead she grinned at me and said: ‘Are you Kolin Falkoner?’
I admitted to it, mentally ticking off drug and alcohol violations in my mind, but surely they had all taken place in other countries?
Then she mimed signing a book.
So the plane was delayed while she had a colleague fetch a copy of ‘Anastasia’ for me to sign at the boarding gate.
My moment of fame had arrived. Then I got on the plane and when I got to London I was just me again. But it was a fantastic experience and it taught me so much; I’ll never forget it.
Thank you, Belgrade. You were just great.
To see ANASTASIA on Slideshare click here.
For ANASTASIA on Kindle, go here
For ANASTASIA on all other formats.
To read more about ANASTASIA click here
For HAREM on Slideshare click here
For HAREM on Kindle go here
For HAREM on all other formats
To read more about HAREM go here.