Observations on the Dutch SFF market

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(Image because no post about anything to do with the Netherlands can get away with not having a totally cliche tourist shot)

Last week, Amazon announced the creation of Amazon.nl, the Dutch store. Previously, people in the Netherlands were buying at either the US or UK Amazon stores and paying a $2 “delivery charge” (pleaseplease don’t get me started on this BULLSHIT).

It’s quite a coincidence, because just last month I published a Dutch version of This Peaceful State of War, just for fun (see here on Amazon.nl or Kobo. Also on Google Play).

Anyway, as you may remember, I was there last year, and I thought to scope out a few bookshops to see what was on offer in SF/F. I was shocked. SHOCKED. The offerings in SF/F in Dutch bookshops are SO EYEBLEEDINGLY APPALLING, the only time I found a locally-published book, I bought it. ONE FRAKKING BOOK*. Most of the stuff (I mean–the other three books on the shelf) was translated George R R Martin and Robert Jordan. Holy crap, what was going on there?

So I decided to poke around a bit, to see why this is.

I came across Theo, a SFF fan in the Netherlands on Twitter (@uitgeverijmacc) and he was kind enough to answer some questions.

First, his comments about the “scene”:

SF in Holland…

Well, we used to have very good SF writers in Holland in the seventies and Eighties. We had Felix Thijssen, who wrote a series of books for young boys about an astronaut who was trying to find a new place to live for humankind, because the earth was heading towards the sun. The Adventures of Mark Stevens. Really enjoyed those books. In Belgium there still is (it’s almost Holland) a very good SF writer, Eddy Bertin. A very nice man. But he doesn’t write much anymore.

At the moment there is not much SF in the Dutch bookstores. Tais Teng is one of the few who really writes very good SF novels. The man has such a vivid imagination and is a fantastic artist. He made the cover of some of our SF novels (http://www.uitgeverijmacc.nl/index.php?page=science-fiction) the Perry Rhodan novel Groeten van het Sterrenbeest is from his hand.

Perry Rhodan is the longest running SF book series in the world. A pulp series which started in 1961 in Germany and its still running. The first Dutch translation dates from 1971.

Thomas (Olde Heuvelt) is also a very good writer indeed. He earned his success in the USA and England. But he writes mainly fantasy/thriller with a bit of horror.

On the other hand, there are a few small publishing companies in Holland that start to make a difference. The big companies don’t do a lot of SF anymore, but the costs for the smaller companies are a bit different and modern techniques make it easier to publish for those companies.

We, (Macc Publications, http://www.uitgeverijmacc.nl) have several new SF writers. Peter van Oosterum wrote a very good medical SF novel, het Rupert Jones experiment (The Rupert Jones Experiment) and we translated Jeff Carlson Plague Year in Dutch (Het Jaar van de Plaag)

And there are a few new SF authors coming up.

I myself wrote a few short Perry Rhodan SF stories. One of them is published in Terraanse Vertellingen (Stories from Terra). This novel contains a collections of original Dutch short SF stories. And within a few months there will be another collection of short Perry Rhodan SF stories published in a, for Holland unique, fanbook.

So there is a lot going on, but it is sad that we have to work hard to get them into the bookshops, because there are some very good novels on the market who deserve more attention.

OK, so obviously there is plenty going on. But then why are the bookshop SFF shelves so incredibly sad?

I asked him some further questions:

It would seem to me that POD technology could make small print runs profitable which would benefit local writers over foreign ones. So why all the translated bestsellers and no local talent?

Local talent is mainly for the smaller publishers in Holland, yes. A bit like I do. The bigger company’s just want to do the big ones, but they are beginning to feel the heat.

Also, POD is getting a problem over here. There are POD publishers who benefit from the lack of knowledge. They ask a lot of money, and make books that are to expensive and with no editing at all. So a lot of those writers are very disappointed and did not have a fair chance. The books could have been a success if they would have went to a decent publisher.

Yup. Vanity presses are a problem here, too

Small presses could do very well in this environment. We have a similar situation in Australia, and small press is doing quite well. Why is there none of this fiction in bookshops?

The distribution in Holland is a bit expensive. There is one company left who takes care of everything, so it is a monopoly really. So it is not that easy to be distributed when you start your business. On the other hand, the bookshops must notice you. Because a lot of readers buy there books online, the bookshops are going through a difficult time. They just don’t have the money to buy new books for their shops.

This looks like distribution is a killjoy. I don’t know what their returns system is, but since the shelf stock is so terribly conservative, I bet the conditions for shops are terrible.

Why do bookshops keep so little SF/F on their shelves full stop? Either English or Dutch, there just isn’t any on the shelves.

Some of them do. There are shops that are specialized in SF/F, but not many. If they want to survive, they must have what they sure they will sell. And that is not SF. On the other hand, if you give it no attention, you won’t sell it.

Where do Dutch genre readers buy these books?

On the internet (www.bol.com) And there are quite a lot of SF and Fantasy conventions throughout the year with thousands of visitors. (Elf Fantasy Fair, Castlefest, keltfest etc…) Every big and small publisher is there with his books.

Is the book trade somehow so stifling that nothing gets through?

Yes, it is a bit. Well, The internet is killing the normal bookshop, and that’s a shame.

That’s a problem worldwide.

So it seems that there is a small industry, that SFF gets sold online and at cons. A lot of fans read in English and get books in the same places everyone else does. It seems to me that the self-publishing movement is yet to really take off, but maybe the presence of Amazon will make that easier. I don’t know. If you’re familiar with some other issues that stop SFF being sold in shops in the Netherlands, please let me know in the comments.

* The ONE locally-published book I found was Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. He also writes in English and is a Hugo nominee. I saw on his website that this book will be out in English in 2015.

Observations on the Dutch SFF market was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

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