Guernica: What are the difficulties of publishing books in translation? The so-called “three per cent” issue—the fact that only around three per cent of all books published in the United States are works in translation—crops up again and again, without an apparent solution.
Elisabeth Schmitz: It’s hard. This is a tough time, economically, for publishers. There’s a perception that the public are more reluctant to read works in translation and another problem is that many editors—me included—unfortunately don’t read well enough in another language, and therefore it’s difficult to assess with sufficient clarity whether a book in another language is great. You’re relying on freelance readers, or friends abroad, which immediately puts you at a distance from the manuscript.
Finding those voices from other countries is undoubtedly important. We continue to publish, between Black Cat and Grove, more work in translation than most publishing houses in America. And we continue to publish many books that Barney Rosset might have championed—controversial, often erotic works in translation that deserve to be read: the German writer Charlotte Roche’s debut novel, Wetlands, or Catherine Millet’s The Sexual Life Of Catherine M. Pascale Mercier’s Night Train To Lisbon did very well for us. Saša Stanišić’s How The Soldier Repairs The Gramophone did well too. These books suggest that there are readers out there in America for translated fiction.
Everyone would like to see the three per cent figure go up. But the statistic can also be a little misleading in that it doesn’t capture all the voices from other countries who are writing in English and being published in the United States. At Grove we publish many writers from Africa, Australia, Ireland, England, Canada, New Zealand, you name it, where English is their first language. They’re not being translated but they’re most certainly voices from outside the US. Non-American writers probably make up fifty per cent of our list.
Read Guernica's full interview with Elisabeth Schmidz, VP and Editorial Director at Grove Atlantic, here.