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From pencil to e-book

· Interview with Benedict XVI’s publisherFrom pencil to e-book ·

Seven first editions for a total of 1,200,000 copies, contracts signed with 22 publishing houses across the world. These are the initial figures of Benedict XVI’s book: Jesus of Nazareth. From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection . The volume was presented at the Holy See Press Office on Thursday afternoon, 10 March. The following is a translation of the interview that Fr Giuseppe Costa, sdb, Director of the Libreria Editrice Vaticana (lev), the Vatican Publishing House, gave the Italian daily edition of L’Osservatore Romano. The topics discussed were the birth of the book, the background that accompanied its production and, especially, the complex editorial process at its origin.

In an interview with our newspaper on 20 January, you announced in advance the March release of the book. Who can we thank for this punctuality?

The credit goes to many people, but above all to the author who handed it in well before the deadline. Then there was a long translation process into the various languages and since February the printing and organization have truly required a lot of work.

What was the publishing story of this book?

Almost one and a half years ago, Mons. Georg Gänswein delivered the pen drive and the manuscript to me. The Pope wrote the text in pencil with his unmistakable minute handwriting which, as always, Birgit Wansing transcribed on to the computer.

In Italy the first book [Part One] was published by Rizzoli, while the current edition is being published by lev . This is a significant change.

I would say so. The book, printed by the Vatican Press, is distributed by rcs Media Group, which with its excellent organization, guaranteed the distribution of 300,000 copies in three days.

One difficult aspect must have been the translation.

The translation into Italian in particular was far from easy because in recent decades Joseph Ratzinger’s books have been translated by various hands, the challenge was to find a certain congruity in the language. It was also essential to avoid the risk that the translation into various languages might fail preserve or might even betray the author’s thought. Fidelity to the original was guaranteed by the attention and commitment of the Secretariat of State’s translators.

Were there translation problems in the first book?

Yes. For example, the Chinese translation was not perfect and others did not take the theological language into account.

Were there more requests for translations of this book than there were for Part One?

Yes, there is greater interest and consequently the number of publishing houses has increased. We are only in the early stages: we have signed contracts with 22 publishers around the world but are in negotiation with others.

How are publishing houses chosen?

When it becomes known that the Pope is working on a book, requests arrive from various countries so that ultimately the publishing houses accounted for only a part of those who had come forward. In the U.S. for example, Ignatius Press seemed to us the most appropriate, although other important publishing houses such as Doubleday and Our Sunday Visitor had also requested the rights. For the edition in French we chose Parole et Silence, a growing publishing house deeply involved in the distribution of the Papal Magisterium; and in Spain, Encuentro was chosen.

Has the change been completed...?

Almost. Not all the publishers of Part One also printed Part Two. The decision was dictated by several criteria: editorial and organizational seriousness of course, but also reliability. We chose publishers capable of promoting not merely the book but also its content.

What figures are you predicting?

On 10 March seven editions come out — in German, Italian, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish — for a total of 1,200,000 copies. The German edition originally printed 150,000 copies but Herder has already printed another 50,000 and is prepared for further print runs. Three hundred thousand copies of the Italian edition have already been distributed and we are reprinting another 100,000. While in France 100,000 copies are ready, Portugal has begun with 20,000. At the end of March an edition in Croatian will be coming out.

Will it also be available on the e-book?

Yes, of course and in several languages, and so will the first volume.

And for the future?

In the preface to this book, the Pope himself has announced a third book dedicated to the infancy Gospels. Then there is the idea for lev to produce all three books in a single volume. We are convinced that Benedict XVI’s new book will sell for a long time. As such it will also be properly promoted with presentations, meetings and other initiatives.

The book is dedicated to the last days of Jesus’ life. Is its release close to Easter a coincidence?

No, this was the best moment without a doubt. It could have been published earlier but the interview book was published in November.

Benedict XVI ’s signature must surely save on advertising...

That is not all, but as the publisher I have to say that the Pope helped lev to develop since we have had to adapt the structures and organization, demonstrating skills we did not previously possess. The Pope also stimulates us in the cultural dimension so that we may offer essays that comment on his works and books that popularize his Magisterium for everyone.

An author does not exist without readers. Is this also the case for Benedict XVI ?

The Pope is read constantly, as are even his most complicated points. Benedict XVI is a sophisticated theologian and at times he also penetrates other aspects that concern methods of research. But those who are interested in the account of the faith, the spiritual dimension or even simply human communication, will always find his pages very easy to understand. And absorbing.




St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 21, 2019