How 9/11, the economic crisis of 2008 and the Internet conspired to re-invent the business of books in translation. Part01
May 29, 2014 by ruediger

A summary of the BookExpo America Global Market Forum 2014: Books in Translation. Wanderlust for the Written Word. (Disclosure: The event was curated by RĂ¼diger Wischenbart for BEA)

Everybody agreed that at once, books in translation found a way out of their obscure niche. But the question as to how, and why, was already widely debated.

It was an incremental process, as we became more cosmopolitan, found Grand Dame of US international publishing, Carol Brown Janeway of Knopf Doubleday, quoting on the late pioneer Alfred Knopf who had introduced her to the magic of books in translation.

It was 9/11, argued translator Esther Allen, as Americans had to find out more, and more truthful accounts on that wide world that they could not grasp, or even less understand, anymore. So paradoxically, that traumatic event had led to new openings, as the wonderful WordsWithoutBorders initiative, whose Susan Harris reported the why and how details.

BEA_Translation_panel

Or was it rather the economic crisis of 2008, asked literary scout Maria Campbell, as people were looking beyond the rim of their plate, for stuff that was – not the least argument – also more affordable than a US star author system that had become more and more unaffordable, in terms of extremely high advances – while a similar international talent.

Also the context is helping, we found out, as authors could socialize internationally, helped by a boom of hugely successful literary festivals in many countries. And even editions of classics became more international, and help their publisher’s bottom line as well, as John Siciliano said, as both Penguin’s editor of Classics, and as the one who had acquired a stunningly bold, and young Swiss writer, Joel Dicker, to introduce him as a new rising star to American readers.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair” is a wildly successful and acclaimed novel launched in the US only the day previous to that debate at the BEA Global Market Forum: Books in Translation.

Co-published initially by a legendary Swiss small press, L’Age d’Homme, together with a tiny Paris boutique publisher, Bernard de Fallois, is the Wunderkind of the season: A 600+ page thriller and a page turner, backed up by intellectual reflections on the art of writing, and in an about-face, a satire of New York’s machinery of buzz around books, star authors and their vanity.

Joel Dicker, age 28, politely explained at the opening panel of the forum how he crafted this piece, and how important it was to him that this book would be both entertaining and light, and yet stand up to big American contemporary classics such as Philip Roth.

Translations are a growth segment in the publishing business, clearly, which is clearly highlighted by the news of a stunning, yet also somehow logical merger, which was broken at the event by Maria Campbell: Two internationally leading literary agencies join forces, to dwell and develop the resulting opportunities. The Spanish agent Carmen Balcells and London based Andrew Wylie have announced that they are joining forces, creating an international agency, called Balcells & Wylie.

Still, these are yet the conventional elements of how books in translation are currently re-invented. The wide range of innovative initiatives will be documented here shortly in a separate post.

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