Interview with Seid Serdarević

A house without books is like a room without a window

20 MARCH 2016,
A house with many books
A house with many books

Fraktura started publishing books in 2002. Their main goal was to offer Croatian readers the best works from international authors. Today, Fraktura’s success makes it one of the most important publishing houses in Croatia, strongly geared toward international markets where it is achieving noticeable results. Here is a conversation with Fraktura’s owner, Seid Serdarević.

Where does your love for literature stem from?

This love has always been present. There was a lot of reading going on in the family; daily and weekly newspapers, and many books. I remember an anecdote from childhood, I was maybe four years old, when my Aunt didn’t want to buy me Calimero, a picture book. We were somewhere around the centre of Zagreb, and I cried until we got home. I continued to whine, and she was left with no choice but to register me at the Vladimir Nazor Library in Vodovodna Street, and I haven’t stopped reading since.

How did Fraktura come about?

My wife Sibila and I decided to start a business in 2002. Before that I was head editor in Hena Com, and she was a culture journalist. We thought it would be a good idea to publish serious and quality works, and that there was a market for them in Croatia.

What are Fraktura’s biggest successes?

We’ve had many. The authors we publish have won numerous local and regional awards, and we were selected as the best international publisher at the London Book Fair last year, which is a big honour and acknowledgement. We also organize the World Literature Festival, with many international and local guests, and which was well-received by Zagreb’s public. But I think our biggest success is that we sustain a high level of quality; that we have great relationships with our authors and that readers have recognised that we, as a publisher, know how to select excellent books and publish them to the highest standards, from editing to design to print. Content is very important, but also the physical; design, paper quality, everything that makes books attractive in this digital world.

What’s it like to be a businessman in publishing? You’ve also stepped out onto international markets…

Publishing is a tricky process everywhere around the world, and it depends on many factors which cannot be reduced to Excel tables or PowerPoint presentations. Publishing is a complicated business which forces you to continually learn, not only from the books you publish but from all other aspects of doing business, and that is why it is so fun and challenging. It is not something that will make you materially rich, but publishing does enrich you spiritually on a daily basis. It is a job that encourages curiosity, an exploratory spirit and tolerance, so being a business man in this field can sometimes be arduous, but often fun. As for international markets, we are talking about a minor language with good writers, which somehow makes that the most difficult part of the job. You need to know a lot of people, offer themes they are interested in and convince them that in the sea of books published every day they need to read yours. That is the first, small step, and when they publish those books, and those books are critically well-received and awarded, then you know you’ve done a good job.

I know that publishers don’t like to be asked about their favourite authors, but are there exceptions, and if so, who?

My list of favourite authors is long and impossible to name. Those who were important to me in my formative years were Kafka and Bulgakov, local writers include Kiš and Krleža, and especially Mirko Kovač, who was more than just an author and friend.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Every day we are met with numerous challenges. The biggest challenge is how to present a good book to the wider public, convince them to buy it, secure visibility and, in times of other forms of entertainment, convince people that reading, reading books, is still a fun activity that opens windows to an array of worlds.

How do you see books in the next five to ten years? What do you think about writers today, has the quality of writing and the works themselves increased or have you seen changes?

Quality books will become more important in the next few years and price will not play a significant role, instead the focus will be on how the book is made. Furthermore, proper book stores and book experts will again be important because book stores will remain one of the rare places where you can talk with sellers who are familiar with their product. As for today’s writers, there are many, more than ever in world history. Many are good, but there are very few excellent writers. The books we read today are technically ok – thanks to creative writing schools – but works from exceptional artists who write because they have to, because they are driven by some higher force, are still relatively rare, as has always been the case.

How would you like to end this interview?

I think a fitting end would be a quote from Heinrich Mann, who once said that “a house without books is like a room without a window”. So don’t deprive your home of books, the right ones.

God bless you all!