Kensington Publishing isn’t known for translations, but that may soon change. Next summer the indie house will enter new territory by publishing its first romance in translation, a book which will also be the first Swedish romance to hit American shores.
Simona Ahrnstedt’s All In, the first in a trilogy, was acquired earlier this summer by Kensington editorial director Alicia Condon, after it sold 70,000 copies in Sweden. The book has emerged as something of a trailblazer. Not only is it upending standards in the author’s home country—where homegrown romance authors are virtually unheard of—but it’s proving that there may be a market for foreign romance in the States.
An oft-discussed topic in the publishing business is the dearth of literature in translation released in the U.S.; it’s estimated that about 3% of the work published here is translated. One exception has been Scandinavian thrillers. Since 2008, when The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was published by Knopf, a steady stream of Nordic thriller writers (from Camilla Lackberg to Jo Nesbo) have become mainstays on U.S. bestseller lists.
But the crop of Scandinavian thrillers that have become U.S. hits remain exceptions to the rule. And, in the romance category, translations are seemingly nonexistent. Jackie Dinas, subsidiary rights director at Kensington, could not think, offhand, of a single foreign romance published in the U.S. She feels this is due, in part, to the fact that romance books have always been a major focus for American houses.
In Sweden, according to Ahrnstedt, romance is more of a fringe genre—and business. She explained that, with the exception of books by a few international bestsellers — Nora Roberts, Sylvia Day, and E.L. James—romance books are not sold in bookstores, or widely read. “I still have to start every [Swedish] interview with an explanation of what romance is,” she told PW.
Tove Leffler, editor-in-chief of Swedish Bookseller (a trade magazine about the Swedish publishing industry), said that, aside from Ahrnstedt, “we basically don’t have another Swedish romance author.” Leffler noted that though Harlequin maintains a notable presence in Sweden, their books are available in supermarkets and gas stations, and their sales are not counted as book sales—they’re tracked, instead, as magazine sales.
Leffler thinks one reason the romance genre has long been avoided by Swedish publishers is because they consider themselves “too highbrow” to publish these titles.
Even though a steady stream of romance titles may not be available in Sweden through traditional channels, that doesn’t mean there aren’t Swedish romance fans. As Dinas pointed out, the international romance community is growing online, which is “allowing more writers to be exposed to the genre.”
Ahrnstedt also believes that misperceptions about romance books continue to abound in Sweden. She thinks many people in her country hold on to an outdated idea that romance books only feature “very macho men” and propagate “stale gender roles.” For this reason, Ahrnstedt wanted to build her series around a strong heroine. All In’s Natalia De la Grip is a successful businesswoman who happens to fall for the wrong man. De la Grip begins bedding a venture capitalist who is unfortunately plotting to bring down her wealthy family. “I wanted my heroines to be hardworking women, with interesting careers that they love,” Ahrnstedt said. “Love may conquer all, but having your own income makes you equal, independent and satisfied.”
Ahrnstedt’s agent, Anna Frankl of the Nordin Agency, feels that gender issues, as well as the commercial label, play a role in Sweden’s view of romance. “Despite being a progressive country, female writers have a harder time being taken seriously in Sweden. This is true for all genres, whether literary or commercial.”
Condon appreciates that All In is also putting a new spin on a current trend in romance books about millionaire characters. Condon felt it was refreshing that Ahrnstedt’s series puts “a twist on that now-familiar trope” by featuring a “refreshingly strong female character.” She also thinks the series offers “a lovingly painted vision of Sweden in the summer.”
Kensington acquired all three volumes in the series and plans to market the novels to mainstream readers, while also extensively promoting the books within the romance community.