Norwegian book publishing business

This text is meant to provide some background information for my Anglo-American readers. It is written from an author’s perspective with focus on poetry. It applies to books written originally in Norwegian.

Norwegian is a small language compared to English. In 2009 the market value of all books (fiction, non-fiction, poetry etc. with exception of school books and other teaching material) were ca. 720 million US$. A survey showed that 93% (of Norwegians older than 15) had read at least one book in 2009, placing Norway among the most reading nations. The same year, more than 300 new titles of original Norwegian literary fiction and poetry for adults were published.

Unlike countries with larger languages, Norway has no culture for literary agents. All deals are made directly between author and publisher. One reason for this is probably the strict regulations and benefits, either from the State or as bi-lateral agreements between organisations. Almost all publishers are bound to a set of standard agreements, leaving very little room for negotiation. And then we have the State Purchasing Programme:

«The Arts Council’s primary form of funding to the literary field consists of the State Purchasing Programme for Contemporary Norwegian Fiction and Non-fiction. The programme is designed to fulfill three objectives:

  • Ensure publication. Norwegian publishers are guaranteed a minimum sale of books, and thus are able to publish literature that might otherwise be difficult to sell.
  • Enhance accessibility. The contemporary literature that is purchased is donated to public and school libraries throughout the country.
  • Promote recruitment. The purchasing programme ensures that authors receive royalties, which helps to promote new recruitment. The world of Norwegian literature is undergoing rapid change, and efforts are underway to adapt the current support programme to emerging trends in technology, new genres, new financial interests and new channels of distribution.

Read more about the purchasing programme here.» (Source)

Without this programme, I don’t think any publisher would take on fresh poetry, as it would ruin them. In Norway, an author gets an advance of royalties of anticipated sale at the time of signing the contract. This includes payment for books bought through the State Purchasing Programme (and most literary books published by the established publishers gets into the programme) plus 1/3 of the remaining copies. The rejection of the few «not worthy» is called «zeroing» and may be a literary scandal if the author is well known or the publisher has spent a lot on marketing.

My books (poetry) were both printed in 1800 copies, where 1000 goes into the State Purchasing Programme. The first book sold ca. 400 copies in the first year, which is a lot for a debut book of poetry. Royalties that exceeds the advance payment is paid out at the end of the year. For my last book, my advance payment was just above 11 000 $. Better than in other countries, but you can’t make a living out of it alone in Norway, one of the most expencive countries to live in.

The State has some awards and scholarships to provide for authors and other artists. There are also scholarships from private funds and literary organisations. I’ve gotten two scholarships to travel, but I hope to get one to subsistence.

If you have any questions; please ask!


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