Martin Riker thinks a lot about translations. The associate director at Dalkey Archive Press, which devotes roughly 90% of its 40–50 books a year to literature in translation, is constantly looking for new ways to bring books by foreign authors to American readers. Riker's latest idea seems to be working.
After Dalkey successfully launched an anthology series last year called Best European Fiction, Riker became fixated on innovative ways to package and present Dalkey literature in translation. That line, which collects pieces from international writers into an anthology introduced by a well-known author who writes in English—Zadie Smith wrote the preface for one volume and Colum McCann is handling the 2010 edition—helped Dalkey, Riker said, publish other stand-alone translations more effectively.
His new effort in publishing foreign literature has been focused on bundling—doing series on authors from a specific region. This year, the Hebrew Literature Series began with the April 2010 publication of Eshkol Nevo's Homesick. That book, the first of thr Lee titles originally published in Hebrew that Dalkey is releasing, has drawn notable press attention in both reviews and feature coverage and, Riker thinks, offers a smarter, more affordable way for Dalkey to keep its focus on translations.
Although translations have drawn quite a bit of press in recent years—what with one of the top-selling authors in America right now being Stieg Larsson—Riker said that for presses like Dalkey the difficulty of publishing literature in translation remains the same. "The translation movement, such as it is or has been, was supposed to be about expanding our culture, not just getting books that look a lot like the books we already have but that happen to be written in another language."
Homesick, Riker estimates, sold about a third more than Dalkey's average translations—in the 4,000 to 5,000–copy range—but it also paved the way for the other titles in the series. Dolly City by Orly Castel-Bloom was published by Dalkey last month, and the outlets that covered Homesick, Riker said, came back right away to cover Dolly City. Not only has the series idea allowed Dalkey to get more traction in the way of features—the series gives journalists a topic/event to cover instead of simply a book—but Riker thinks it also makes it easier to publicize each successive title. "With a series, you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time you publish a book," he explained. "You can get to know the constituencies [you're working with]," making it easier to both manage a book's press and set up author events.
Dalkey is now planning to do about 10 series every year, each featuring two to four books. Already the press has launched two other series, one for Catalan literature and another for Slovenian books, and its third title in the Hebrew Literature Series, Life on Sandpaper by Yoram Kaniuk, is scheduled for February 2011.
So how does Dalkey pick its areas of focus? A number of factors are considered, Riker said, chiefly the quality of the books in question. There's also the financial factor. One linchpin of the series model is getting more support from foreign governments and/or cultural agencies up front. "Whether foreign agencies will provide funding comes into play," Riker said. He then added: "We can't do it without funding."