By a wide margin, general fiction is the most popular fiction subject translated from Spanish into English, according to data drawn from the Translation Database, which collects information about languages and countries from which books are most often translated into English. Conversely, the database also shows which languages and parts of the globe are woefully underrepresented in English.
For the most part, the breakdown of Spanish-language literature in translation matches the overall translation trends—with a few minor exceptions. The lasting influence of Borges and Cortázar on Spanish-language writers may, for example, account for the prevalence of short story collections published in translation, while the effort of Restless Books to uncover great works of Spanish-language science fiction accounts for the larger proportion of speculative fiction being translated from Spanish than from other languages.
Below is the breakdown by category for Spanish-language fiction published in translation (or set to be published) between 2016 and 2018, with the figures for all other languages in parentheses. (To add this bit of granularity to the Translation Database, I used the BISAC codes for every work of fiction published in translation from 2016 to 2018, assigning a single category to each title. When a book included BISAC codes for more than one category, I assigned the book to the first one listed, with the exception that books categorized as historical and romance were always filed under romance.)
General 51.8% (45.7%)
Crime 18.1% (30.0%)
Historical 7.5% (9.7%)
Short Stories 7.5% (5.2%)
Speculative 7.0% (4.5%)
Romance 3.5% (3.4%)
Anthologies 2.5% (2.2%)
Horror 1.5% (1.2%)
Young Adult 0.5% (1.0%)
Western 0% (0.1%)
The biggest variation in the categories listed above is the nearly twelve-point gap between Spanish-language crime books and those of all other languages. In terms of actual numbers, Spanish (36 crime novels in translation) trails French (52), Swedish (44), and German (43), but is slightly ahead of Norwegian (33).
One thing that sets Spanish-language crime novels apart from those in other languages is the lack of sustained series. Although 2016–2018 is a small sample, there were no Spanish crime authors with more than two titles released or coming out in translation during this time, whereas there are three French authors with two titles, and three Norwegian writers with three-plus books. Given the general appeal of Spanish-language fiction in the U.S., it stands to reason that a multivolume crime/thriller/detective series could do quite well, and perhaps have an impact on American publishing similar to that of Nordic crime over the past decade plus.
In general, though, the number of Spanish-language books translated into English is fairly impressive. According to the Translation Database, which was started in 2008 and is now hosted by PW, since 2008, 565 works of Spanish-language fiction have been translated into English and published in the United States. Looking at this by year, it’s clear that Spanish-language literature is becoming more popular, going from 36 works of
fiction published in translation in 2008 to a high mark of 73 in 2016. Even though there has been a slight drop-off over the past two years (63 in 2017 and 65 in 2018), there are far more Spanish-language books coming out in English translations now than a decade ago.
Spanish fiction has been the third-most-translated language over the past 11 years. It ranks behind German (568 titles) and French (789 titles) for fiction translations and is far ahead of Italian (262 titles). Since 2008, Spanish, German, and French literature have combined for 43% of all works of fiction translated into English for the first time, with 67 other languages making up the remaining 57%.
Here are a few final statistics about Spanish-language fiction in translation since 2008:
• The top three countries of origin for Spanish-language fiction are Spain (186 titles), Argentina (123), and Mexico (86).
• Books from 24 Spanish-speaking countries have been translated into English over this time.
• 137 U.S. presses have published at least one work of Spanish-language fiction in translation since 2008; the top three are AmazonCrossing (51), New Directions (46), and Dalkey Archive (31).