A good crime story isn’t just about suspense: it portrays a society. The protagonist in Moses and the Ship of the Dead, which Jung is to publish in 2019, is a thoroughly German chief inspector: well-educated, meticulous, and punctual and polite to the point of being boring. Yet on arrival at a crime scene he is repeatedly mistaken for an assistant – because he is black. And with that particular perspective and an intriguing crime to solve, the novel shows there are subtler forms of racism than violence and abuse.
Hideo Yokoyama’s 64 sounds like exactly the kind of book Germans aren’t keen on: long, slow and full of foreign names. No other publisher would touch it, but Jung added a stunning cover and sold the book as a window on contemporary Japanese society. In doing so he created a much-discussed success which spent four months on Germany’s crime bestselling list and was hailed by critics as “doing something no other crime novel has done.”
After the success of 64, many people asking Jung when he’d decided to jump on the Asian crime bandwagon. He struggles to answer – as far as he is concerned, he did no such thing. It was only after the success of 64 that bookstores started to dedicate sections to “Asian Crime Fiction” – the trend didn’t exist when he bought it. “To force books on the public which they don’t want is the publisher’s most important and most wonderful mission,” said Jung, quoting another German publisher.
And once a publisher decides what type of book to publish, how are the actual books found? Jung stressed again and again the importance of partnerships – in this case, partners in “crime”. It was US literary scout Kelly Farber who first recommended 64.
Kelly Farber, often mentioned by Jung, finally had the opportunity to talk about her own work as a literary scout. It’s not a common job in Taiwan, but she summed it up as a form of consultancy. Her publisher clients, hailing from various time-zones and cultural backgrounds, look to her for the latest intelligence on the US book market, recommendations and market analysis, and help reaching out to rights holders and closing deals.
The need to stay on top of the latest first-hand info mean literary scouts spend much of their time talking to editors, trying to figure out what manuscripts are being considered. Sometimes an editor will voluntarily send over a manuscript he or she would like a scout’s opinion on, and a nod of approval from a scout can be an important indicator of potential success internationally and help rights sales.
A literary scout’s job is not, as some people think, to read all day. Most of their working day is spent on the phone and replying to emails. At most they read short outlines of non-fiction books, with novels read at home in the evenings. Four manuscripts a week is the norm.
Kelly also pointed out that book markets are becoming polarized – well-known authors with a clear political stance are more popular. Fiction is becoming harder to sell, but in Spain fiction sells twice as much as non-fiction. So don’t give up, she says: it’s a tough market, but there can be good news where you least expect it.