Bookselling is bigger than just America

Most of the time, I feel like a reclusive clockmaker who painstakingly crafts gears and chains and sprockets and weaves together intricate bits of machinery.  Since I toil in solitude, I often forget there are real readers out there who buy my creations, readers who actually know my name.

Then I go someplace like Switzerland and Germany, and I’m totally amazed by how many readers I have.

My book tour last week started in Zurich and moved on to Munich, Berlin, Hannover, and Hamburg.  My publisher Limes toured me with a gorgeous German-speaking actress, Marie-Lou Sellem, and at the book events, we took turns reading from BLUTMALE (the German version of THE MEPHISTO CLUB.)  In just about every town, I had interviews with radio stations, newspapers, and I even managed to get onto TV in Berlin.  I also (as you might expect!) sampled the wonderful local beers, dined on curry wurst and schnitzel, and stayed up way too late every night with my willowy companion Inge and my event moderators Gunter and Margarete.

 With every stop, the crowds grew larger until, on the last night, I gazed in awe at a sold-out auditorium.  (And yes, the readers had to pay to attend.)  Despite heavy rains and gale-force winds, hundreds of readers came to hear me speak in Hamburg — and afterwards they stood in an endless line, some of them carrying armloads of books to be autographed.  (“Next time she comes here, we’ll have to get a bigger space,” was the organizer’s comment.)  Here in the U.S., I’m ecstatic if 30 people turn up at one of my booksignings.  In Germany, I felt like a rock star.

While the huge crowds were astonishing, it was a random encounter with a stranger in Berlin that sticks most vividly in my mind.  It happened at the plush Regent Hotel, which was swarming with police because some of the Saudi royal family was staying there.  I was sitting at the bar, having a late-night supper, and when the server took my tab, she said “Thank you, Ms. Gerritsen.”  A table away, a well-dressed German businessman suddenly snapped to attention and stared at me.  “Are you Tess Gerritsen, the author?” he asked.  He told me his job keeps him too busy to read more than one book a year “but it’s always one of yours!”

That’s the kind of encounter that makes a writer giddy.   

Success in America doesn’t always translate to success abroad.  And the opposite is true as well — an obscure author in the U.S. can achieve astonishing success in Europe.  American author Jilliane Hoffman is hugely popular in Europe, but I don’t think she’s found nearly as big an American audience.  Two of my favorite authors, Nicci French and Linwood Barclay, are big names in Germany but for some reason they haven’t yet gained traction in the U.S., although I hope they will one of these days.  In German bookstores, I found many prominently displayed books by American authors whose names I rarely see here at home, but who are clearly doing well abroad.

Foreign markets give a writer a whole different audience and another chance at success. You don’t need to be an American bestseller to make a good living as an author.  Selling well just in Germany and the UK alone could keep a writer prosperous. 

And with the dollar crashing, it doesn’t hurt to get paid in Euros.

15 replies
  1. knaster
    knaster says:

    Willkommen Ahaym, Tess

    (for all those that don’t know, that means “Welcome Home, Tess”)

    I’m glad you’re back in the good old USA, and that you had a great time overseas. As per your response to my email, thanks for the go ahead on the fan club. I already have 17 applicants and more to follow. You must have done something right.
    Thanks for the opportunity. You’re the best.
    Have a gutten avend (good evening).

  2. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    i read the weather reports from europe and i thought”wow,tess sure runs into all the monster storms”(remembering your last uk adventure)-maybe you’re being told something,such as put a big storm scene in your next book :)-getting paid in euros at this time is very nice-glad to hear that you are popular in europe-how about asia?that is a huge market!!

  3. T.Jones
    T.Jones says:

    Glad to hear that your book tour went off great in Europe! I just started the Bone Garden during my vacation…had a hard time putting it down! Keep on writing!

  4. WJS
    WJS says:

    Well, Tess, here in United States, all of us have personal relationship with you as readers because there are less of us that know about you. There over Europe, there are less people who read books than Americans, so they may have treated you like a rock star. LOL How cool is that!?

    I am so proud of your achievements and what you have done for all of us and yourself the last decade.

    You truly deserve it! ^_^

    -Josh Simpson

  5. Eileen
    Eileen says:

    I love N. French’s books! She writes a great psychological thriller- I always end up staying late to finish them because I can’t put them down. I’ll check out the others you recommended because I can always use a larger to be read pile.

  6. tuttle
    tuttle says:

    Sigh…the sad state of literature in America.

    My friends tell me I should add sex and blood into my writing and it will sell better.

    But then, YOU do that and you still have less numbers in America then overseas….maybe you should try throwing some football into a story? (grin)

  7. Lorra Laven
    Lorra Laven says:

    The first thought that comes to mind, with respect to European vs. American interests, is the plight of classical music in this country. (One of my sons has a masters from Juilliard so I know of what I speak.) For every opening in an American orchestra, there are at least 200 well qualified applicants. Why? Because many symphony orchestras, both large and small, have folded here in the good old USA. Whereas in Europe, classical music is still revered, even by the young.

    Is literature another victim of what seems like a downward trend in intelligent entertainment in the United States?

    As for your readings: were they done in English or German?

  8. Tess
    Tess says:

    ah yes, I completely agree about the sorry state of classical music in this country. In Europe, many of the orchestras are supported by public funds. In the U.S., many orchestras are forced to survive on ticket sales alone. Europeans seem to agree that art needs public support — and that its benefits are universal.

    My readings were done half in English, half in German. Most of the audience seemed to understand English perfectly well — another detail that so impressed me.

  9. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    Hi Tess,

    I’m so sorry I missed your Germany-Tour, but since you weren’t in Cologne (or somewhere near) and I head a reading myself in eastern Germany, that was impossible. But maybe next time. 🙂

    What you said about American authors and their success in Germany is true. Germans generally love American thrillers or romances. Sadly it is very difficult for a German (thriller) author to be that successful in Germany. Of course there are some, but not that many. And it’s also common for a German author in Germany that there are 10 to 30 people at a reading. And more sadly, it is nearly impossible for a German author to get published in the US.

    On another note, some of my readers compared my new book ‘Perfektion’ with your books, that was such an honor for me. 🙂


  10. clare
    clare says:

    Welcome back.
    Sounds like it’s been a wonderful tour, really pleased it’s gone well for you.

    Talking about book tours any idea when you’ll be coming to the UK or where you’ll be visiting?

    Nicci French is popular here not heard of Linwood Barclay though will have to have look up.

  11. Tess
    Tess says:

    I’m sorry not to have met you!
    Yes, it’s sad that German thriller authors have such a hard time in their own country. It seems to be universal that local authors are seldom appreciated in their home towns. And it’s also sad that so few European authors are able to get published here in the U.S. — American readers, unfortunately, don’t seem to buy much fiction set outside the U.S.

  12. Julia Talvitie
    Julia Talvitie says:

    So German authors have problems in Germany?
    Imagine how it is here in Finland! We have about 5 million citizens here. Talking about markets…I honetly don´t understand how Finnish authors survive. (I´m glad we have free education and helthcare 😉
    And it´s extremely hard for finnish author to get published anywhere else.
    And we do BUY fiction from all over the world… So you don´t get big bucks, even when you are famous finnis author.

  13. Michelle
    Michelle says:


    the next time you come to Germany please include Cologne in your schedule, I’ll be there. 🙂

    I’ve heard that American readers prefer settings in the U.S. My books are set in the U.S. so that wouldn’t be the problem. But of course they are written in German and that could/would present a problem in finding a publisher. But that is not something I’m really actively pursuing, I know there’s nearly no chance to get into the American market.

    German readers love American settings. But German publishers don’t love German authors that write something other than German settings and in a genre that is totally American: romanic suspense. So I’m in the middle and try to somehow convince everyone that I really CAN write storys – no matter the setting or my nationality.

    @Julia: I can imagine it’s that much harder for Finnish authors. In Germany northern authors (Norway/Sweden) are really successful. Maybe someday in the near future Finnish authors will be translated, too. 🙂


  14. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    Yeah, the reason why they were ecstatic that you came to see them was that they are smarter over there than most of us here in the states. Probably because they like to read! A lot of Americans have no interest in reading anymore and that is really sad because books are extremely more stimulating than watching television nonstop! Hope you had a great trip!

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