A cohort of DELT translators and English language publishing professionals met at the Danish Embassy in London on 20th April 2023 for pastries, networking, and a panel discussion on publishing – specifically, publishing translations. The event was arranged to coincide with London Book Fair.
We were welcomed by Lone Britt Christensen, the Cultural Attaché at Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and enjoyed an informal coffee, fika and introduction round, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Martin Aitken.
Jay Millar, Co-Publisher at Book*hug Press
Book*hug (previously, BookThug) began as a poetry press in 2004 and fell almost accidentally into publishing translated literature, when a festival in Toronto, encouraged Canadian publishers to apply for sample grants from the Danish Arts Foundation in order to be able to present various Danish authors to Canadian readers. This led to Book*hug’s first Danish-in-translation title, Pencil of Rays and Spiked Mace by Niels Lyngsø (tr. Gregory Pardlo). Since then, they have published Danish authors such as Niels Frank, Karen Fastrup and Olga Ravn.
Aina Martí-Balcells, Publisher at Héloïse Press
Héloïse Press is a relatively new, one-woman press that publishes approximately four fiction titles a year. Aina focusses on female narratives in translation as well as ones originally written in English. So far, the press has mostly published Western European writers, but is interested in branching out to Eastern Europe and further afield. Héloïse’s titles include PEN Translates winner, The Memory of the Air by Caroline Lamarche (tr. Katherine Gregor) and What Concerns Us by Laura Vogt (tr. DELT member Caroline Waight).
Clare Bogen, Publicity Director at Fitzcarraldo Editions
Fitzcarraldo Editions has shot to literary fame within a mere nine years since their inception, largely due to their uncanny ability to publish Nobel prize-winning authors. Their fiction and non-fiction titles are easily recognisable by their iconic blue and white covers, and they publish roughly half original English language works and half literature in translation. Authors include Annie Ernaux, Jon Fosse and Agustín Fernández Mallo.
Cath Jenkins, Assistant Editor at Norvik Press
Norvik Press was established in 1986 as part of UEA. They are now based at UCL, and publish a wide range of fiction, poetry and literary criticism – all in some way related to the Nordic countries, now branching out into the wider Baltic region. They are a non-profit organisation and therefore rely on funding and crowdfunding. Norvik Press has published many prominent Nordic authors such as Herman Bang, Vigdis Hjorth and Klaus Rifbjerg.
Our discussion covered everything from the differences between the Danish and English editing process, to the evolving social media book review landscape. Here in summary:
How a book reaches its reading public
Depending on the book, this is a combination of traditional publicist activities such as sending out proof copies for reviews and author talks, to “BookTok”, to more innovative methods such as collaborating with other artists in order to stage theatre reenactments, visual representations etc. There is a general consensus that smaller presses tend to be more creative with their publicity, and this is perhaps especially the case when it comes to translated literature, which the mainstream British media is still largely resistant to.
A younger audience for translation literature
In terms of publicity, there has been a power shift from reviewers working for mainstream media, who used to be literature’s gatekeepers – able to make or break a book – to incredibly influential, young people on social media, able to make books go viral. A more democratic conversation around books has emerged. These younger readers’ world is global, they’re connected to the internet, and that perhaps explains why they are less adverse to translations than reviewers and readers of previous generations.
Translating with author involvement
Translating to one of the world’s most spoken languages often involves authors, especially when translating from a language such as Danish, where most authors have a very high level of English. We discuss the pros and cons of being able to work closely with authors: close collaboration vs. the author perhaps not even reading the English result.
A brief discussion about the difference between editing translations as opposed to editing original English language texts. We also talk about the more involved process of editing in the English publishing industry, and the shorter process in Denmark, and what kind of literature that tends to result in. Again, pros and cons.
Generally, English language publishers want to buy World English Rights. If based in the UK, they may then go on to sell the North American rights to a US publisher, who might then go on to license the Canadian rights to a publisher in Canada. Sometimes, two or more English language publishers from different territories will buy the rights together, splitting the cost, as well as the cost of translation. The sale of Danish rights is usually – but not always – facilitated by agents.
All four publishers – particularly the more recently established ones – rely heavily on translators to tip them off about authors and books in languages they don’t understand. Many have translators they already work with and trust, many also work with foreign agents.
Generally, a good pitch from a translator should include a sample that can’t be turned down! The pitch, synopsis, comparable titles, reviews, prizes, etc. is a nice-to-have and gives good context to the sample, but the publishers’ decision generally rests on the quality and relevance of the sample. The experience of the translator may also be a factor. Other considerations – like funding and promotion possibilities, tend to come later. It is, however, good to make things as easy as possible for the publisher, eg. by ensuring before pitching that the English rights are available.
And a final tip: Always research the publisher you’re pitching to, that makes the best impression, even if the specific book you’re pitching isn’t quite right for them, it’s good for them to know that you understand what they’re into!
A huge thank you to The Danish Arts Foundation for making this event possible through its ‘Literary Events and Projects’ fund, the Danish Embassy for hosting us, and, of course, our panellists, moderator and translators for participating.
Report by DELT member and event attendee Hazel Evans.
Additional photos by Ian Giles.