Thursday, January 23, 2014

Small Presses and Translated Fiction

Lately there have been a few articles floating around on the difficulty and importance of promoting and reading translated fiction. Jhumpa Lahiri made some well-publicized comments about this and the over-hyping of American ficiton, and the Guardian ran an article about what small presses are doing to promote their offerings of translated fiction.

Both articles discuss the overcrowding of the marketplace and the stiff competition for readers, but I like the solution that's offered by Pereine and the other presses mentioned in the second Guardian article, the pro-active things that small presses are doing to promote themselves. We already know that authors have to work harder than ever on self-promotion; there are books written nowadays just for authors on how to promote books and how to do a successful launch; writers have to be fluent in social media and project a personality to match. They have to do readings, often traveling at their own expense if they're not A-listers who get ever-rarer sponsored tours. They have to cozy up to bloggers, booksellers, book clubs, and libraries. Winning an award or too doesn't hurt either. It's not just about writing the book anymore.

Now let's say you're a writer who doesn't live in the UK or the US and you don't write in or speak English. You don't have many connections in the literary world, but because you wrote a particularly arresting book you are very lucky and you get translated. But then what? How do you reach that readership of English-speaking readers if you're unable to do any self-promotion? Well, that's where your publisher comes in if they are able and willing to do some innovative work like subscription services, pop-up stores and other things mentioned in the Guardian article.

Now go back to being a reader. Do you read small presses? Do you seek them out? Have you ever subscribed? I have been tempted to subscribe to the Persephone and Pereine services, and I have wished Europa Editions would offer such a service. It hasn't really been in my budget and I'm a little nervous about accepting books sight unseen; I have so many TBRs already. So I love the idea of it, but loving the idea doesn't do them any good if I don't subscribe.  I think my ideal subscription service would allow me to choose a year's worth of books from a catalog of upcoming releases. I like the idea of getting a book every month, but I'm not big on surprises!

Which is not to say I don't read, and review, and promote, small press books, all the time. I do. I love them. I love traveling the world through reading and the best way to do that is with books that come from all over the world, written by people from all over the world. Those books don't always appeal; over the years I've found out there are certain styles of writing I enjoy more than others, certain places I like to read about and other places in which I'm less interested.

What about you? Do you treat translated books like any others- you'll read if you're interested, or not if you're not? Do you avoid them? Do you have positive, or negative, associations with them? Why? When you read comments like Lahiri's how do you respond? What are your thoughts on the changing marketplace demands on writers and publishers? As bloggers and people who work in the book industry, we are both audience and producer in different ways. We're readers, and we actively promote books to other readers. We buy books and sell them. So I'm wondering how we're impacted, and what impact we can have too.