Good morning from Amsterdam

Tuesday, Nov 3rd, 2009 @ 04:44 am

It’s the last day of my Holland/Belgium visit, and I’m sitting in my room at the charming Ambassade Hotel, overlooking the Herengracht canal. This is the hotel where many visiting authors stay, and their library has a vast collection of signed copies, many of them by familiar American names. I’m here because my recent books sales in Holland have taken a sharp upswing and my publisher here, the House of Books, wanted to give my profile an extra push.

It’s taken a while to find success in Holland, and a large part of the reason is my last name. Yes, Gerritsen is a Dutch name — which seems to be a disadvantage when you’re trying to sell thrillers in Holland. (David Baldacci had the same problem in Italy. It seems writers are never respected in their own countries.) So it’s been a slow start, but my books are finally starting to sell well here.

My visit has been busy. The night I arrived, we had an elegant meet-and-greet with readers from around the country, some of whom traveled for hours to attend. Then it was on to the Antwerp Book Fair, which was packed with thousands of attendees browsing and buying books. Finally, it was back to Amsterdam for interviews with magazine, newspaper, and online reporters.

One question that almost every one of the journalists asked was about fictional violence against women, a topic that’s been burning up online discussion sites around the web. “Why do so many women authors write about crimes against women?” they asked. “How do you feel about it?” I don’t think I could give a better answer than Steve Mosby did on his blog site, except to add that male writers have been writing such books for decades, and isn’t it odd that only now, after women writers started doing it, it’s become controversial?

I love discovering the differences in bookselling around the world, and one of the surprising things I learned while here is the Dutch and Belgian indifference to autographed copies. Bookstores really don’t want authors to drop in and sign books, because an autograph may actually diminish the book’s value! I heard one story about a customer who bought a book, discovered it was autographed, and returned it to the store. “But it’s signed by the author,” the bookstore told her.

“I don’t want it. I want a clean copy!” the customer answered.

So if you’re an author, don’t expect to do drop-in signings in Holland.

17 Responses to “Good morning from Amsterdam”

  1. Abe says:

    Hi Tess,

    I guess the people of Holland are not as sophisticated as we are here in the States. Here we can and will wait on long lines to get an author to sign a book, or even to get a glimpse of the author.
    I, too,wondered why women authors wrote about violence against women. Is it because it is of epidemic proportions, that by writing about it would bring forth some sort of awareness about it? Why does Stephen King write about the macabre? Why does Nora Roberts write about romance? Don’t writers write what they know? What they think will sell? You’re proof that not only do you write what you know and have researched, but your books sell.
    One question….if a coule go to dinner in Holland, do they go Dutch? (sorry…couldn’t resist)
    Have a wonderful and safe flight back, and continue to have success in all that you do. Can’t wait for that series on TV. You should do cameo appearences.
    Abe

  2. Lisa G says:

    Go Figure??? I don’t understand some foreigners. For us, just to get a glimpse of someone famous is such a treat. I would take a signed copy of your books, clean or dirty!!! Lol

  3. Mary Duncan says:

    I think women write about violence against women for a few reasons. 1) They write what they know, and perhaps putting it to paper alleviates some deep-seeded fears; 2) There is usually a woman investigator who puts her life on the line to catch the perpetrator who has done the deeds; and 3) There’s a certain empowerment that comes from a woman solving the case, letting those out there know that they can run but they can’t hide, and they will be caught.
    I don’t condone it, but I understand it, especially as one who writes about some of that violence.

  4. Rikkesoft says:

    As I was in the line waiting for Tess to sign my Dutch copy of The keepsake at The Antwerp book fair, I know in Belgium many people want their books signed too.

    But indeed, You will never find signed copies in the piles at the stores over here. Maybe that is because we see a signed copy more as a personal message from author to reader: “the author wrote this only for me” and the signed copy is only some kind of proof that we did met the author in person.

    PS Loved your haircut, Tess

  5. Iona says:

    I’m Dutch myself and I think in Holland the whole “book signing” thing has never really caught on. It just doesn’t happen that often as it does in the States (though getting more popular). It’s not promoted the way it is in the US. Growing up in Holland, I’ve never been to any book signing… though I would have come to yours, Tess!

    And about writing about violent crimes against women… I think women authors write about that, because it concerns them. I write crime stories myself and my lead characters are also women who experience the most gruesome things. It’s not that I “like” writing those kind of things, but I do like making my leads mentally and emotionally strong women, who will survive everything that gets thrown at them and live to be even stronger. (Stronger than the men responsible for the crimes.)

    Perhaps you feel the same, Tess? You write about these topics, because they concern you?

  6. Tess says:

    Rikeesoft, thank you so much for waiting in line at the book fair! I was happy to see so many readers wanting to meet me. Yes, it’s interesting, isn’t it, how few signed copies you find in bookshops? But before I left, I signed quite a few copies for the book fair display, and I just heard that they almost all sold out — so maybe there is a desire for signed copies, but the bookshops don’t realize it yet.

    And glad you liked my new haircut!

  7. Tess says:

    Iona,
    the issue of writing about violence against women is certainly driving a lot of controversy. I write about female victims because I find that I identify (as a reader) with the victims. And every time I try to write about male victims, I just don’t find myself as intensely involved in the story. If I can’t get involved in the story, then it’s far harder to write.

    But I also like really strong women characters, and I love how Jane Rizzoli is very much like a “woman warrior”, who acts the heroic role that men used to play in the old fashioned crime novels.

  8. Iona says:

    Yes, I see what you mean about identifying and that it makes writing easier.
    Jane Rizzoli indeed seems like a woman warrior. I have only just “met” her as I just finished The Keepsake (great story, couldn’t put it down!). As I just “discovered” you and your books, I unfortunately haven’t read any of your other Maura/Jane stories … yet. I’m looking forward to get to know Jane as well as Maura better, despite me reading your books in the wrong order.

  9. Ginger says:

    Tess – I hope you managed some sightseeing during your visit to the beautiful city of Amsterdam.
    Can’t understand the lack of interest there to queue to see your favourite author, or indeed to have a book endorsed by the same. As you say, maybe it is the fault of the stores and not the readers and it is hoped that this will change.
    Here in Great Britain, we are well known for “patiently” queuing and would certainly do it, given the opportunity to see someone we greatly admire.
    Question for you – have you considered, or been asked to consider writing your autobiography? I’m sure it would be greatly received by your fans and be another bestseller – but please don’t let it interfere with the writing of your other great works (especially Jane Rizzoli / Maura Isles thrillers.
    Best wishes – Goron Brice

  10. Tess says:

    Ginger,
    I did have a nice queue at the Book Fair, and I got the chance to meet some wonderful readers in Amsterdam who all wanted their books signed at the meet-and-greet. What I meant is that bookstores report that displays of autographed books don’t seem to sell any faster than do the books without autographs.

    I’ve heard that in the US, autographed books sell five times faster than unsigned books if they’re merely displayed in bookstores.

  11. GerritsenFever10 says:

    I special-ordered The Keepsake from the Owl and Turtle book shop you told me about just because I wanted an authentic signed copy. I think it’s true in the U.S. at least.

  12. demeter94 says:

    The ‘violence against women’ question is a puzzling one, or maybe not so much. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as my personal library has all the tough women detectives you can find. There is something very satisfying about a female cop taking on the evil serial killer in the ultimate showdown, and winning.

    Wow, but I would have loved to have an autographed copy. People can be strange sometimes.

    Barb

  13. linney says:

    I read “In Their Footsteps” and “Theif of Hearts” and I thought they were both good. I don’t think you could write a bad thing!

  14. PackingPadre says:

    Tess,

    Jesus is quoted in the Bible as saying, and I’m paraphrasing, a prophet is never respected in his home town.

    I know it’s true of clergy as well from my own experience, and I’m not surprised it’s true for authors as well.

    Daniel

  15. ragmannv says:

    Hi Tess – Ik ben Nederlands geboren (lost most of my Dutch since I was 5 when emigrating to the US)- in Amsterdam – a naturalized American since 1957 – and my wife and I travel back as often as we can – will be going back in May of 2010. We have enjoyed all your works and have always looked for them in Holland (to enhance our collection) and glad to see they’re now actively sold and available. We will visit the Ambassador library to see the collection as we have a fairly large one of mystery authors ourselves.

    We look forward to your next work(s)

    Mike

  16. eminecakirsen says:

    Why not blog Turkish translation. : (((
    By I do not understand most things. Being very upset. : ‘((

  17. joe bernstein says:

    Did you ever get to see the “Alibi” bookshop on Nieuw Willemstraat?Inez Abell is the owner and all they sell is mysteries and thrillers.Matter of fact the whole name is “Thrillerwinkel Alibi”.

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