There's a widely held assumption that both short story collections and works in translation by contemporary authors have little chance of receiving media attention, and, thus, no chance of picking up any significant traction in the marketplace. The Dalkey Archive is hoping to turn that thinking on its head for the just released Best European Fiction 2010, which is already receiving the kind of attention typically paid to New York Times bestsellers rather than an anthology of short stories from writers unfamiliar to American readers.
Best European Fiction 2010 is, as its title and price in four different currencies suggest ($15.95; C$20; £11.99; 12.50 euros), a truly international effort, a collaboration between Dalkey and Arts Council England, with additional support provided by organizations in 22 countries. The collection of 35 short stories written by 35 authors from 30 countries and regions is edited by Bosnian fiction writer Aleksandar Hemon, with a preface by British novelist Zadie Smith. Best European Fiction 2010 is the inaugural volume in what Dalkey Archive intends to be an annual series of anthologies of short fiction by contemporary European writers from a rotating roster of countries. Next year's volume, Best European Fiction 2011, which will also be edited by Hemon, will include a preface by Irish author Colum McCann.
Among the numerous major media hits Best European Fiction 2010 already has received were pre-pub reviews in PW, LJ, and Booklist. The book also has been selected as an ABA Indie Next selection for February, named a Chicago Tribune book pick and a Financial Times anticipated book. It was reviewed on Public Radio International, and it's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Bookseller, and Time magazine. Plus, Hemon has been interviewed by the New York Times and on several programs on BBC Radio, which also reviewed the book.
In addition to coverage in the traditional media, the title, which has a first printing of 25,000 copies, has received plenty of exposure in the alternative media as well, with items in such places as Time Out Chicago, Brooklyn Rail, Paste, Bomb, L Magazine, Bookslut, and Huffington Post. All of this attention encourages Martin Riker, Dalkey Archive's associate director, who is in charge of marketing and publicity for the press, that Best European Fiction will give a higher profile to both books in translation and the Dalkey Archive, whose list of 50 books a year is 70% to 80% translations. “We need to create buzz and sell books,” he explained, “but we also want to reach beyond the buzz and gain dedicated readers. The grassroots interest is just as important to our ultimate goals of creating a greater cultural presence for international literature.”
It may be difficult to sell works in translation in the U.S., Riker acknowledged, but it's not because of cultural bias among American readers. The problem, he insisted, is that some U.S. publishers just don't properly market translated works. “If readers haven't heard of an author, what reason do they have to pick up the book?” Riker asked. “It's all about the way in which it's packaged. The success of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by a Frenchwoman [Muriel Barbery] is proof that translations can sell in this country.”
To help its own titles reach a broader audience, Dalkey Archive switched last summer from distribution by the University of Nebraska Press to Norton, and as a result its titles are available for the first time in airport stores, as well as being sold in more countries. “Given the books we do, that's pretty significant to us,” Riker said.