Okay, so in this second part of my translated fiction post, I will be looking at what publishers, agents and translators can do to bring foreign fiction to us English-speaking readers. Let’s hope it’s something, because things weren’t looking too good in part 1!
So, publishers. They are tricky because they are to be credited with publishing all the translations that are out there, but at the same time they are largely responsible for the lack of translations on the market. According to the Three Percent article I referenced in part 1, the real reason we don’t get foreign fiction in English is because foreign rights cost very little, which means publishers’ marketing departments don’t spend time or money on translations (as they need to focus their efforts and cash on the big fish), which means their translations don’t sell, which makes publishers reluctant to buy them in the first place. Do you see the vicious circle spiralling here?
Enter And Other Stories and a few other publishers who are focussing on publishing translations, which handily allows their marketing departments to focus on translations, leading to greater public awareness of foreign fiction. Translations published by And Other Stories have been recommended as best books of the year and shortlisted for prizes. I think the future of English translations is in good hands if these companies can keep doing what they are doing, and if we as readers can help by supporting them. That doesn’t just mean buying their books; readers can support And Other Stories, for example, by suggesting books for translation, or by reviewing books they are considering publishing.
Now how about those agents? As authors’ representatives, they sell book rights to publishers and should be perfectly placed to get their clients’ books translated. These guys may be fighting a losing battle giving the publishers’ mindset, but if they represent the translation rights, it is their job to get translations out there. I found one agent who charges a higher commission on foreign sales; if this is the norm it should be a reasonable incentive to agents to get their authors translated. I don’t know enough about the industry to understand where this process falls down, unless it’s simply that agents don’t have enough clout with publishers. A hopeful sign is new company Two Seas Agency. While not a traditional agency per se, Two Seas sells book rights and is helping connect translators, authors and publishers in order to boost publication of translations, particularly in the US market.
Lastly, there is the group with perhaps the most interest in getting translated fiction on the market, the translators themselves. Historically, translators have played a large role in publishing translations (aside from the obvious production of the translation itself), as they often suggest foreign books to English-speaking publishers, and sometimes provide reviews or sample translations to encourage publication. I think translators are well positioned to serve as ambassadors for foreign authors, but their ability to influence publishers may be quite limited. The rapid growth of self-publishing may help here, as translators can work directly with authors and publish translations themselves.
There you have it, my thoughts on the various players in the translated fiction arena and what each can do to help get more foreign authors to us English-speaking folks. Hopefully this gives you an idea of what you can do if you want to either publish or read translated work. However, I’m far from an expert on this subject and any corrections or points I may have missed are more than welcome. And if you fit into any of the categories discussed I would love to hear your view of the situation, so please leave a comment below!
Next time: how to work in a temporary/makeshift home office.