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Canongate’s Helena Gonda specializes in acquiring narrative nonfiction that might ‘help us understand ourselves or the world.’
By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
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Gonda became a senior commissioning editor at Edinburgh’s Canongate only in March and already is fluent with her upcoming journey, saying that she commissions narrative nonfiction for Jamie Byng’s industry-prominent publishing house, “with a focus on books that capture the zeitgeist.”
As our regular readers know, the Frankfurt Fellows are publishers, editors, rights directors, and literary agents from many parts of the world.
Each year they arrive in Germany ahead of the trade show, and in specially arranged events and travel are introduced to German publishing houses as well as to literary agencies and bookstores, while engaging in market presentations, matchmaking events, and networking sessions in Berlin and Frankfurt.
Before taking up her role at Canongate in the spring, Gonda had spent seven years with Penguin Random House UK’s Transworld, “where I acquired titles like The Authority Gap; Block, Delete, Move On; The Sober Girl Society Handbook and The Wild Track for both Doubleday and Bantam imprints.”
Gonda is also one of the co-founders of the Flip, an online community that offers career advice and support for women in publishing, not unlike the international PublisHer initiative created by Bodour Al Qasimi, president of the International Publishers Association (IPA).
“I love getting under the skin of stories that feel too unique to be fiction,” Gonda says, “the ones you can’t wait to discuss animatedly with friends or colleagues.
“My interest is primarily in platforming experiences that might be unfamiliar than the lives we ourselves are accustomed to and I’m also very passionate about seeking out female perspectives, as well as works that can help us understand ourselves or the world in a new light. I love books that think deeply about the contemporary world and the human condition.”
Mostly, she says, she likes books that tempt their readers “to think deeply about the contemporary world and the human condition.”
In terms of challenges that Gonda is encountering in her work these days, she’s looking at a growing problem for books’ chances at world-market visibility.
“I’d say the main challenge tends to be the increasing lead times,” she says, “which can sometimes prohibit certain titles from achieving their full international potential with coordinated publication.
“Nonfiction is obviously often acquired on proposal, and deliveries can slip because of unforeseen circumstances during the writing process. Coupled with the increases on production lead times, that often makes timing a challenge for international publishers.
“It’s something I think a lot of editors are keen to address, to ensure their authors and their books are given a fair shot.”
And when we ask Gonda what about her work may be going better than she might have foreseen, she says, “It’s been particularly interesting to see TikTok communities driving new interest in books, particularly in fiction and self-help titles.
“At Canongate, we aren’t afraid to take a risk on something that crosses genre or that feels difficult to easily categorize—we want to lead the market with exciting publications that challenge readers with things they haven’t seen before—so it’s been refreshing to see some of our titles reach new audiences in this way.”
While in Frankfurt in October, Gonda says, “I’m looking forward to learning about writers from all markets whose thoughts and ideas have resonance for the UK, although I’m especially looking forward to visiting some of the German publishing houses during our time here and hearing more about what’s working for them.
I noted from the most recent Publisher’s Association report that UK export to Germany is down slightly, so I’d love to hear about what isn’t working so well, too.
This year at Frankfurter Buchmesse, join us for special programming with influential professionals in the international publishing industry in our new Publishing Perspectives Forum. More information, updating as we announce new features, is here.
More from Publishing Perspectives on Frankfurter Buchmesse and the 2022 edition of the trade show is here. More on the Frankfurt Fellows program is here, more on international fellowship programs in publishing more broadly is here, more on the British market is here, and more on the German market is here.
Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s global media partner.
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.
Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London’s The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.
Tags: Audio, Audiobooks, Book Fairs, Canongate, Fellowships, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Fellows, Germany, Independent Publishers, Rights, Scotland, Trade Publishing, Translation, United Kingdom
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