Europa Editions, the New York–based publisher of international literature best known for bringing the work of Italian author Elena Ferrante to the U.S., is no stranger to crossing cultural borders through translation. This fall, Europa will make its first foray into the YA landscape with the publication of A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos, translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle. Belgium-based author Dabos’s debut fantasy novel, first in the Mirror Visitor quartet, was originally published in France in 2013; the book is due out in the U.S. on September 25, with a first printing of 50,000 copies. Michael Reynolds, editor-in-chief of Europa, told PW, “It’s a number that’s pretty big for us. We’re a little nervous, but mostly excited.”
The series opener introduces a world that has been fragmented by a cataclysm into floating islands known as arks. Ophelia, an inhabitant of Anima, possesses the ability to read the histories of objects through touch, as well as to travel through mirrors. To her despair, the teen is forced to leave home and her work as an archivist when she is forced to marry Thorn, a powerful man from a remote ark—though the motive for the arrangement remains mysterious.
Reynolds said the manuscript’s arrival at Europa was a bit of a surprise: “The book came to us through a French publisher, Gallimard Jeunesse. It was first pitched to our parent company in Italy, Edizioni E/O, and they were so enamored that they sent it our way. I have to admit that I was a little bit skeptical at first,” he said. “We’ve had a few changes in the past year or so, and it didn’t seem like the best time for a new endeavor.” (As of February, Europa left Penguin Random House Publisher Services and signed a multi-year distribution deal with Publishers Group West.)
But any reservations about entering a new market turned to excitement when Reynolds began to read the manuscript, which came in its original French. “The worldbuilding Dabos does is fascinating, drawing from a number of different genres: from steampunk to Edwardian to futuristic,” he said. The strength of the main character further hooked him. “At the center of this story is a compelling, endearing, and somewhat goofy heroine. I couldn’t forget it.”
The book was read with enthusiasm by the rest of Europa’s editorial team, and the acquisition was made by publisher and cofounder Sandro Ferri. Dabos’s “pedigree and success abroad” helped seal the deal, Reynolds said. The series has generated a significant amount of buzz abroad, having won the Gallimard Jeunesse-RTL-Télérama First Novel Competition and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire, and is a bestseller in France, where the third book debuted at number one. To date, sales in that country have reached 358,000 copies.
A Book Without Borders
Reynolds predicts the series will have appeal for adult readers of YA as well. “We’re publishing it as 14 and up. It seems to me there’s great crossover potential here,” he said. “It’s the story of a teenage girl and her betrothal and her adventure, and it’s also very much about politics, diplomacy, and duplicity.” Reynolds cited comp titles including Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens, and N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy—books that have captured the interest of teen and adult readers alike.
The crucial next step in bringing A Winter’s Promise to U.S. readers was carrying it across the language barrier. Hildegarde Serle, a first-time translator for Europa, emerged as the ideal fit for the project after submitting a sample to the publisher. “She seemed to have the right connection to the book and the right sensibility,” Reynolds said. “And when she handed in the completed translation, we were all very pleased to see our instinct had been correct.”
Reynolds said that the process of rendering international literature into English forms a key piece of Europa’s editorial mission. “We have been working now for 15 years in the American market, and much of what we do is work in translation,” he explained. “The idea has always been that translation shouldn’t be treated as off-putting or scary. There are great stories everywhere, and our mission is to bring those stories to American readers.”
Alluding to the dearth of works in translation—an estimated 3% of books published in the U.S.—he said, “However dramatic this situation is in the adult market, it’s even more dramatic for young readers. I think if we want engaged and passionate and open readers as adults, we need to get to them young and introduce them to voices abroad. When I started thinking of A Winter’s Promise in those terms, publishing it made perfect sense to me.”
The book also came to resonate with Reynolds’ role as a father. “When I was evaluating the submission for this book, I was looking for works in translation for my 12-year-old daughter,” he said. As an editor of international literature, Reynolds had been feeling uneasy about the lack of foreign stories in her reading list: “I thought, ‘I’ve got to correct this before anyone finds out!’ ”
Rachael Small, director of publicity at Europa, sees a number of promising opportunities for entering the YA scene. “It’s really exciting to see nontraditional types of media galvanized around YA and children’s lit,” Small said. “Bookstagrammers and bloggers have a huge impact on sales in the YA market, which has been eye-opening for us.” Europa has also brought on freelance publicist Beth Parker to help get the word out about the book.
One of the team’s goals in introducing English-speaking readers to Dabos’s story has been to build on the existing buzz and acclaim for her series. The books have “spawned a whole bunch of fan art and cosplay and fanfiction," Reynolds said. “All publishers are thinking about connecting a writer with his or her readers. We’re also connecting readerships all over the world.” Citing such examples as Neapolitan author Elena Ferrante’s books and French author Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Europa, 2008), he stated, “We’ve heard stories of people traveling in Vietnam, seeing someone reading the Vietnamese edition of a Ferrante novel, and striking up a conversation with them. It’s an extraordinary thing to be a part of.”
Small said that plans are in the works for “a lot of social media campaigns and ways to bring the book into the classroom.” A website is also currently under development, with the aim of fostering conversation and community among readers worldwide. Small said, “When I was younger, I remember I was always looking for ways to use my French with people my own age. So we’re asking ourselves, how do we have these conversations about books?” One idea is to launch an international pen pal program for readers of the Mirror Visitor quartet. “Even if the level of French in this book is sophisticated for a high school student [in the U.S.], they can read it in translation and then write to a French or Italian or Hungarian reader,” she suggested.
Translation rights are continuing to sell widely, with the book due to be published in the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand this fall. Rights have also been sold in China (simplified Chinese), Germany, Hungary, Italy, Korea, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, and elsewhere. The book is currently under consideration with several publishers in Norway and Sweden.
Bookseller and librarian outreach are also integral to Europa’s publicity efforts. Small said, “We’re seeing, here and there, librarians are looking for more of this [type of book]. We’re excited to be filling a request and a need that many of them have.” Galleys were available at ALA Annual and at Children’s Institute in New Orleans, which marked Europa’s first time at the ABA conference.
Publishing a work in translation also brings its share of obstacles when it comes to publicity efforts. “One of the challenges we may have is with the author’s availability,” Reynolds said. “Major success in YA fiction—and we hope this will be one—has a lot to do with the presence and profile of the author. For this book, that will not be something we can work with. But we’ve done that before!” In the case of Elena Ferrante, for example, unavailability and anonymity have proven to be part of the allure.
In Reynolds’s view, however, “The challenge is part of the fun of it. A new market brings new faces—thank goodness this is still a people business. In learning a new market, we work very closely with booksellers; we know hundreds, even thousands of booksellers who are passionate about translating literary fiction, and we’re now making contact with booksellers who are passionate about YA.”
Reynolds reported that Serle has turned in her translation of the second book in the series for editing. He expects the sequel to publish in the early spring of 2019, most likely in March.
On the potential for expanding Europa’s YA publishing program beyond the Mirror Visitor series, Reynolds said, “I didn’t see any, and now I do! I think going back to what we see as our purpose and our role—to bring great stories to this market and to make translated literature more approachable for a general readership—it would be a mistake not to continue in this direction with YA stories. There are so many talented authors out there, and I think it could be extremely appealing. So we’re looking.”
A Winter’s Promise (The Mirror Visitor, Book One) by Christelle Dabos, trans. by Hildegarde Serle. Europa, hardcover $19.95 Sept. 25, ISBN 978-1-60945-483-8