According to the University of Rochester’s translation database, 413 translated works of fiction and poetry were released in 2012, up from 370 the previous year. And while 413 is not a huge number, the growth in translations, combined with new opportunities afforded by digital, illustrate the possibilities of U.S. readers beginning to embrace books from overseas.
“With the advent of e-books and instantaneous worldwide distribution, it only makes sense that international publishers would redirect their financial resources from trying to court reluctant U.S./U.K. publishers and instead get the books translated themselves and sell them directly throughout the world,” said Chad Post of Open Letter, the literary publishing house dedicated to international works at the University of Rochester. “It may be cheaper, and it monetizes a lot of books that otherwise are just sitting there. And if one takes off... you may have a situation like with HMH and The Hangman’s Daughter,” which turned into a bestseller.
The shift toward publishing international works in the U.S. is as broad as the territories being represented, especially in digital. Anne Kubek of digital distributor INscribe said her company had very few international-to-U.S. publishers as clients two years ago, but now, “we typically have at least a couple international publishers hitting our top-20 in revenue at any given time.”
Major publishers are releasing digital editions of international works: just last week HarperCollins said that some of the books in its new digital-original Witness line will be international bestsellers, and Amazon Publishing acquired two British series—the Saint by Leslie Charteris and Mrs. Bradly by Gladys Mitchell, which it will release first in digital and then possibly in print. But there are a growing number of new international companies that specialize in bringing titles from their home countries into the U.S. Le French Book was founded in December 2011 by Anne Trager for the purpose of publishing English translations of French mysteries and thrillers. It recently signed another two novels in the Winemaker Detective series by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen; the first in the series, Treachery in Bordeaux, is already available from the company. Le French Book also recently added the next two titles in the Paris police procedural series by Frédérique Molay, after The 7th Woman, released in October.
Spain-based Hispabooks, another company targeting the U.S. market, will release its first two titles—Nothing Ever Happens by Jose Ovejero and The Faint-hearted Bolshevik by Lorenzo Silva—this month in both digital and print formats via Ingram. An additional company following that model, U.K.’s Greatest Guides, was founded two years ago and is presently focusing on bringing its catalogue of 18 self-help print titles, including The Greatest Guide to Sex by Julie Peasgood, to digital.
Two other companies with plans to publish books from their home territories in the U.S. are Stockholm Text (Sweden) and Text Publishing (Australia). September 2013 will mark the first time Stockholm Text brings its titles to bookstores in the U.S., a move made possible by its recent agreement with Perseus. The expansion to print is an important step for the publisher, which launched its first digital titles in the U.S. in the summer of 2012. “I think we have been successful in reaching through the noise and creating a demand for our books,” said Stockholm Text’s Claes Ericson, who reported the publisher has sold well over 70,000 e-books and brought in over $1 million since its inception.
Though Stockholm Text aims to publish across multiple genres, its bestselling books are crime/mystery and romance titles. Crime writers Mari Jungstedt and Anna Jansson have produced big hits for the publisher, as has Kajsa Ingemarsson (Ericson called her “Sweden’s most popular noncrime author”), whose Yesterday’s News sold more than 20,000 copies in the U.S. New titles from Jungstedt and Jansson, Killer’s Art and Strange Bird, respectively, will be published by Stockholm Text this fall.
“We saw how the interest for mysteries is even stronger among e-book readers,” said Ericson, “and how mystery is one of the few genres where there is a great appetite for foreign literature.” Stockholm Text had three titles that hit the #1 spot on the e-book bestseller lists of both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com in 2012—The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen, The Dead of Summer by Jungstedt, and Killer’s Island by Jansson.
Stockholm Text acquires most of its rights through Scandinavian agents and splits revenue 50/50 with authors. Contracts have recently been amended to include print and audio rights. In 2013, Ericson estimates that the publisher will release around 10 titles, down from 15 in 2012, so every title can get a stronger, more concentrated marketing and publicity effort.
It’s not only foreign-language publishers that are using technology to publish books in the American market. Believing that Australian books have long been overlooked in the U.S., independent Aussie publisher Text Publishing is coming to America in a big way with Text Classics, a series of Australian classics spanning more than 200 years; it began marketing these books in the U.S. in April using Consortium as its distributor. “Many of these books are lost gems. They might be set in Australia or New Zealand, but the stories they tell, the fears and desires they dramatize, are universal,” said publisher Michael Heyward.
To overcome the distance between Australia and the U.S., which Heyward believes has contributed to the lack of success of Aussie authors in America, Text Publishing is relying on a combination of digital, traditional print, and print-on-demand formats. By the end of 2013 the company will have around 70 Text Classics in print. All but two of them are, or will also be, published as e-books. “Availability is a key issue for us,” said Heyward. “While it was hugely important that we make these books available in collectable and affordable print form, we also want to give readers a choice about how they can read the Text Classics, and so digital is an essential publishing format for us.” The majority of books will be printed in Australia and shipped to the U.S., but from time to time, Heyward said, when it sees demand or opportunity, Text will print in the U.S.—as it did for one of the first books on its list, Elizabeth Harrower’s The Watch Tower.
Though this marks the first direct-publishing venture in the U.S. for Text, the publisher has been trading rights with U.S. presses for years. In Australia, its list includes Barack Obama, Ron Rash, David Vann, and Lionel Shriver; to U.S. publishers, it has sold rights on behalf of Australian writers like Tim Flannery, Peter Temple, and Helen Garner.
“The impediments for a publisher like Text to have a presence in foreign markets have been dissolving now for several decades,” Heyward said, adding, “Text was created in a time of astounding possibilities in publishing, and the arrival of the Text Classics in the U.S. is testament to that.”