Looking for the Lingo
The first thing Bloomberg News’ Allesandro Speciale wanted to know when he sat down to interview me here at Frankfurt Book Fair’s Business Club is: “Is translation as big an issue this year as it seems?”
Answer: yes. As the glut of content in the book marketplace deepens, what could be more natural than to look to distant readerships for new sales?
There are too many books.
He’s right. The digital dynamic, in both the traditional and self-publishing sectors, has created an historically unprecedented level of competition among titles, among authors, among publishers. While the number of titles out there has exploded (with nothing going out of print nowadays, “digital is forever”), the audience size has not. For the most part, we’re producing exponentially more material for a readership that largely has stayed the same size and is being wooed by other electronic entertainment media.
Nowhere is the pressure of oversupply felt more keenly than in the strongest centers of self-publishing, the US and UK and, to a lesser degree, here in Germany.
The subject of how independent authors might go about finding affordable and reliable translation was big in our First Word day on international outreach at the Novelists Inc. conference earlier this month in St. Pete Beach. There, Jane Friedman focused on input from LiteraryTranslations’ Athina Papa, something Friedman and I returned to in The Hot Sheet on the topic.
Even for publishers, translation is no walk through the park. And for many independent authors, the $10,000 price tag that Papa quotes as the ballpark rate for a good translation is impossibly steep.
No wonder, then, that the news from AmazonCrossing has been so well received, and particularly by authors.
AmazonCrossing is the translation imprint of the Amazon Publishing wing—not self-publishing but contracted authors and translators (all of whom are paid royalties and on a monthly schedule, by the way, reflecting one way in which “APub” is not entirely traditional in its approach).
As I wrote at The Bookseller’s The FutureBook earlier in the week ahead of my onstage interview with AmazonCrossing chief Sarah Jane Gunter, the company has announced a $10 million commitment to translation.
A part of that allocation goes to the production in early 2016 of English translations of Indonesian writers, including (from the AmazonCrossing statement):
- Nirzona, a love story by Abidah El Khalieqy, set against the backdrop of the Aceh tsunami, a rare moment in recent history when the world’s eyes turned to Indonesia
- English-language originals The Oddfits and The More Known World, the first two titles in the Oddfits series from Indonesia-born Tiffany Tsao, a translator and past Indonesia editor at large for Asymptote Journal
- Paper Boats, a new adult love story from popular novelist, actress, and singer Dee Lestari
- A new edition of Laksmi Pamuntjak’s acclaimed A Question of Red and her latest, Aruna and Her Palate, which follows a food writer’s travels through Indonesia
- Hummingbird, a work of magical realism from Nukila Amal
Indonesia is the Guest of Honour at this year’s Buchmesse, of course, and the more widely talked about point coming from Gunter’s team this week has been the opening of the AmazonCrossing process to submissions.
Is this, then, suddenly the preferred avenue for authors to offshore markets?
My provocation for you: It’s all very well to say that authors are not in competition with each other, as many indies like to assure us in that community-forever way. Unfortunately, it’s not true. Everyone is locked in a rising siege of competition. And when trying to break open new territory to get a leg up on that battle, translation may be the one area in which independent authors really aren’t as effective, on the whole.
Lots of horror stories are out there about bad translations bought by indies at ridiculous prices, only to have to be done over at more cost and with dubious results.
And once you’ve had a book translated, even beautifully, can you market it in another nation?
Giving AmazonCrossing a good, hard look may be the smartest move you could make, if you’re contemplating crossing the linguistic frontiers of bookselling today.