CERTAIN authors travel well across national borders. United
States writers Stephen King and Jean M. Auel are international
publishing industries in and of themselves. They occupy high rungs
on the bestseller lists in multiple countries. Alvin Toffler's books
go around the world. The Italian Umberto Ecco is one of the few
non-American authors in the same class as King and Auel.
But there is no simple way to describe the influence on popular
culture of individual books sold internationally. The challenge is
being able to say how a book, after it has taken on a life of its
own in its own land, shares that life with readers in another land.
In global publishing, nonfiction clearly predominates.
Transnational publishing is easiest in nonfiction, where nuance and
tone - all the squirm and subtlety of literature - are absent, says
Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's Magazine and host of the weekly PBS
TV book-discussion show, "Bookmark."
When it comes to the export of ideas, says Mary Warner Marien,
who teaches fine arts at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y.,
"Nonfiction is like technology, it can be used anywhere." Fiction,
on the other hand, travels like food, "not very well - people prefer
their own fiction the way they prefer local dishes," she says.
And what cross-cultural traveling there is tends to be one way -
with point of origin the US.
Katerina Czarnecki, vice president and director of international
rights sales in New York City for the British publisher Macmillan,
echoes Ms. Marien. American publishers excel in printing readable
books and manuals on complex and technically demanding subjects, she
The management manual with its rational development of marketing
strategies; the detailed but lucid instructions in a how-to,
general-interest gardening or auto-maintenance manual; the palatable
rendition of mathematical logic in user-friendly computer manuals:
Each is part of an American publishing epistemology that simplifies
complex issues without overly distorting them, Ms. Czarnecki says.
With 19 years in the international book business, Czarnecki gives
the example of how a book about marketing by a professor from
Harvard University's Business School is different from that of a
German professor at a leading German university. The Harvard
professor automatically assumes a businessperson as part of the
intended audience. In Germany, the target audience is another
There is no mass market of American proportions for the
German-authored book, while there is one for the American book, she
says. The result: American business practices travel to Germany in a
way that German practices don't travel back.
Juan Garcia, publisher of Eradnos Press in Boston, knows all too
well the one-way direction of much international publishing. He
recently bought the rights to a German novel that sold more than a
million copies in Germany. He will publish 2,000 copies of its
English-language translation in the US. The German publisher is
speechless at the small production run, Mr. …