For a week in May, the literary landscape could be seen in microcosm along the shore of Walsh Bay. Local and international authors and publishers were put to work on the wharves as part of Sydney Writers’ Festival, bringing thoughts of reading, writing, books and publishing to the fore. Running alongside this better known relative was the Visiting International Publishers Program (VIPs), an initiative run by the Australia Council.
Since 1998 the VIPs program has existed to promote the rights and sales of Australian titles into international markets, and to strengthen relationships between Australian and international publishers and literary agencies. With such critical aims one might suspect this program of being the boring cousin to the glamorous Writers’ Festival, however, first-hand experience revealed a distinctly different picture.
This year the program brought an impressive array of visitors, with thirteen publishers from across the globe, representing the markets of nine countries. The five-day program was packed with opportunities for the VIPs to meet – and be met by – Australian representatives: from the buzz of industry conversations over High Tea, tours with local publishers, and forum style panel discussions, to dedicated Sydney Writers’ Festival events. However, the core of the program is comprised of nuts-and-bolts discussions, with over 350 dedicated one-to-one industry meetings taking place. During these sessions Australian publishers meet with the invited guests – a kind of lucrative speed dating that has generated over $2 million in foreign rights sales in the past two years alone. From this flurry of activity emerged the true portrait of VIPs: a truly sociable sort, generous and with an abundance of conversation.
Beyond the professional relationships forged through the program, perhaps the most invaluable aspect of VIPs is its creation of a space in which an international industry can assess its nuances and exchange vital information, as well as products. The wealth of information shared across the events offered a clear view of the issues at play in the publishing world today and how they differ between countries, be they trends in children’s publishing, translation, the ‘Amazon effect’, the changing role of booksellers or decisions about formats and design. A more thorough view of the issues can be gleaned from the short interviews with a selection of the visiting publishers below.
Helen Boyle on bringing Australian voices to UK readers:
Paul Whitlatch on the current landscape of American publishing:
Michael Zöllner on the German publishing market:
The VIPS program is managed by the Market Development section of the Australia Council and is an annual program. The next VIPS program will take place alongside Adelaide Writers’ Week 2014.