Back in 2008, I created the Translation Database on the Three Percent website at the University of Rochester with one goal—to get a more complete accounting of how many works in translation were being published in the United States. And now, 10 years later, the database has gone from a series of Excel spreadsheets (which were updated whenever I had a spare day or two) to an interactive, web-based database hosted on the Publishers Weekly’s website, where anyone can search it, add to it, and have constant access to the most up-to-date information.
Making the Translation Database available in partnership with Publishers Weekly is a huge boon for the translation community. It’s now much easier for rights holders to figure out which publishers are most interested in foreign works (and from what regions). The same goes for translators, who can use it to better hone their submission processes. Journalists and researchers now can get answers to any number of questions about international literature: Since 2008, how many books have been translated from Spanish? How many of those were from Argentina? And how many of those were written by women?
For years, institutions including the National Endowment for the Arts, and Bowker, had estimated that approximately 3% of titles published in the U.S. in a given year were translated into English, including everything from cookbooks to academic works, novels, and computer manuals. This was a powerful statistic—one that emphasized how removed the American publishing scene was from international voices. But it was also a very imprecise one. What were these translated books? From which languages and countries? Who was publishing them? The Translation Database was the first serious attempt to try and answer those questions.
Looking back at my initial posts about the Translation Database, back in January of 2008, it’s clear that I grossly underestimated the amount of work necessary to maintain such a database, and little idea of how important this data truly is. The project started as a way of creating preview posts of forthcoming titles (which I still write for Three Percent) but the database quickly developed into a frequently referenced source by those interested in international literature.
Enter Publishers Weekly, who recognizing the value of the database to so many constituencies, were eager to help improve and maintain it.
We officially launched on the Publishers Weekly website last September, users can now search by author or translator name, publisher, year, genre (fiction, poetry, children’s, and nonfiction), language, country, and author or translator gender. And once you’ve run one of these queries, you can even access the data in “tab delimited” format and copy it into a spreadsheet for further manipulation. (And when you access this version of the data, you get all the information, including pub month, pub year, price, etc.)
As it is, the database is an incredibly useful resource—and the only resource of its kind in the world. But to ensure that it remains as up-to-date and robust as possible, we need something more: your participation. We’ve now added the ability for database users to add missing titles and correct inaccurate information.
When adding records to the database, there are a few things to keep in mind. First off, we’re only tracking the first-ever instance of a book in English translation. New translations of books by Tolstoy or Goethe, for example, are not tracked here. Also, the data only goes back to 2008 (for the time being). And, after you add a title, the record has to be reviewed and approved before it appears in the database, so don’t be alarmed if your contribution does not show up immediately .
You may also notice that the listings for children’s books and nonfiction are relatively thin compared to those for fiction and poetry. These categories were closely tracked between 2012-2014 as part of a special project, and we’re in the process of filling in the missing data now. In the meantime, we encourage anyone who has translated, published, sold rights to, or otherwise was involved with a children’s book or work of nonfiction in translation from 2008 onward should head over to Publishers Weekly and add them to the database.
And while you’re there, play around with the database and see what you uncover. And if you have any suggestions of improvements, please free to email them to me.