Funny, You Don’t Look Dutch

I got home from Amsterdam late last night, and I have to leave tomorrow for NYC and Edgars week, but I thought I’d pop onto the blog just to say something about the state of bookselling in the Netherlands. Although I’ve been to Holland several times, visiting family, this was the first time I’d been invited for a book tour. I discovered a few interesting quirks in the Dutch book market.

First, that it’s NOT a good thing to have a name like Gerritsen.

This is a typical Dutch name — something I was reminded of from the moment I checked in for my flight at Logan Airport in Boston. The Northwest ticket agent looked at me in puzzlement and said, “You have such a Dutch name.” The journalists I met in Amsterdam also commented on my “typically Dutch name.” It’s the equivalent of, say, Smith in the U.S. You’d think that’d be an advantage in Holland, right? That Dutch readers would flock to an author who was “one of them”?

Not a chance.

In fact, a few years ago, someone in my Dutch publishing house suggested, gently, that I use my maiden name for my Dutch translation. “Dutch thriller authors,” he said, “get no respect in their home country.” Which strikes me as really sad for those poor Dutch authors, being so discriminated against by their own countrymen. I heard that claim repeated several times, by different people, so that I have to think it must be true: that foreigners have an easier time making the Dutch bestseller lists than local authors. If I wasn’t so jet-lagged at the moment, I’d be able to dredge up the appropriate saying about a prophet getting no respect in his home town. Or something about familiarity breeding contempt.

(And if you think Dutch authors have it bad in Holland, said one journalist, just try publishing there under a German name. WWII memories are still strong there.)

I’ve heard that David Baldacci faced the same dilemma when he was published in Italy. He was told that he should change his name to something “less Italian”, since Italian authors didn’t sell as well in Italy. Baldacci complied, and initially published his book under a veddy British name, so I was told. I don’t know if it helped his sales any, but his situation certainly mirrored what I’ve faced in Holland.

I, however, refused to change my name. And up till now, I think it may have hurt my sales.

So part of the reason for going to Holland, oddly enough, was to show my face and prove to Dutch book buyers that I’m not Dutch. It may be one of the first times in my life when being obviously Asian is a distinct advantage.

The Netherlands, with a population of 17 million, is a relatively small book market But if you add in the population of Belgium (10 million) which is also part of the Dutch language market, then it does start to look significant, with one quirk: many of them prefer to read books in their original English version. Yes, the Dutch and Belgians are THAT fluent and comfortable in English. I was impressed by that again and again whenever I’d speak to someone — anyone — on the street. Most Dutch people can flip right over to perfect English, at the drop of a hat.

Another unique aspect of bookselling there is the lack of discounting. Books are sold at cover price — NO discounting allowed — for at least a few months. Then, after the book has had its run, the books can be discounted as book club editions. Which means that bookstores there aren’t suffering through the crisis that so many book chains in the UK are facing, with deep discounts leading to slimmmer and slimmer profits.

My book ZUSTER MOORD (Body Double) goes on sale this week in Holland. I had interviews with several Dutch and Belgian newspapers, plus four photo sessions. It will be interesting to see if sales bump up as a result.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply