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  • Dec 12, 2014
    New Books in German: Not Just About New Books in German
    by Jen Calleja, Acting Editor (2013-2014), New Books in German

    Literature in translation is the most wonderful kind of cross-cultural communication: the sharing of meaningful stories between cultures. Though interest in translated literature is undoubtedly having a renaissance with a selection of publishers shouting proud about how much they want to publish more translated literature, literary journals having dedicated translation issues and the wider media exploring the process of literary translation in their articles and interviews, the amount of foreign-language literature being translated into English is still so much less than in the other direction.


    The market for translated literature is still relatively niche and everyone within the translation community internationally is trying to raise its profile and whet their readers' appetite for it. During my roller-coaster sixteen months as acting editor and acting editorial consultant for the journal New Books in German I experienced how interconnected the world of translation is—and must be. To promote any literature in translation, one needs to promote all literature in translation and know the literary landscape as a whole. It would of course be wonderful to think that all publishers and readers are keeping a keen eye out for books in translation and that the strength of a book alone should be enough to carry it into another language, country and market, but unfortunately this isn't the case.


    Founded in 1996, New Books in German is a project helping to get more German-language fiction, non-fiction and children's books into the international market. Both a biannual print magazine and a website, NBG publishes reviews for a selection of curated titles; interviews with publishers, writers and translators; features on current trends in German literature; and information on a selection of the latest translations in English of German books. Most of the books selected for review in the magazine are guaranteed translation funding by the financial partners of the magazine should an English-language publisher buy the rights, which is a wonderful additional incentive for publishers wishing to branch out into German literature but are put off by the irksome additional cost of hiring a translator.


    The array of print and online-only publications with the same mission as NBG (including 12 Swiss Books, Swedish Book Review, Books from Finland, New Spanish Books, Fiction France, 10 Books from Holland, to name a few) likewise not only promote individual titles, but also interview literary translators, follow trends in the publishing world and bring news on the current popularity of certain genres of translated literature in general. These publications also learn and take inspiration from one another and in some instances have the same models and editorial processes as each other. The role of these publications, including NBG, is to act as mediator between the publishing houses at home and publishers abroad by highlighting a selection of their language's best (and also typically contemporary) literature. You can't pitch books blindly into a foreign market, no matter how great the book is. NBG, for example, seeks books that are first and foremost outstanding, but that would also not be too problematic to translate and that would find an English-language readership (this, I should add, is why our partnership with the German Book Office New York is so important; even the various English-language markets differ, so it's good to have a broad perspective on which books could work in English translation). The books need to have a fighting chance, so knowing the market you're trying to enter is imperative.


    NBG receives financial and promotional support from a group of partners comprising the Frankfurt Book Fair and German, Austrian and Swiss cultural organisations. Representatives of these partners also make up NBG's editorial committee with additional support from the magazine's publisher the British Centre for Literary Translation, the German Book Office New York, as well as a rotating array of enthusiastic and generous guests who are publishers, agents and literary translators. Those directly involved with NBG, though representing different countries within the German-speaking world, want to support and promote the best German-language literature regardless of nation and primarily wish to strengthen the image and rate of exchange of translated literature and the variety of literature available overall. They believe in translation. Extending this idea of variety and excellence, the Frankfurt Book Fair, which distributes the magazine internationally and stocks hundreds of issues at the Fair itself, has a similar focus on promoting international literary exchange and dialogue by hosting a guest of honour nation at each Fair. NBG is proud to reflect this in each autumn issue by publishing an interview or feature on the guest nation and their literature and a guest piece by the FBF that covers a current trend or issue within the international book market.


    NBG's editor of the last five years, Charlotte Ryland, has been taking the magazine and the project as a whole from strength to strength, finding new ways of promoting titles and the take up of books with new initiatives including the highly successful Emerging Translators Programme. The ETP was founded in 2011 as a way of finding and nurturing new translating talent while also helping promote the titles appearing in the magazine. Each spring, NBG invites translations of the same extract from a new German-language fiction title and commissions the translators of the six best submissions to translate samples from titles being reviewed in the upcoming NBG. They then get the chance to workshop their finished samples with an award-winning literary translator to perfect their work and learn about the process and career of a professional translator of fiction. It makes perfect sense to create a competition and immersive workshop alongside the magazine; what good is promoting German-language books if there aren't exceptional literary translators to translate them and publishers don't know where to find them? The ETP benefits all parties involved: the translators have the opportunity to hone their craft and get what is usually their first taste of translating literature professionally, the German-language publishers receive a polished sample translation at a reduced fee to use in their rights work and promotion, and NBG gets to meet the potential literary translators from German of the future that it can happily recommend to English-language publishers.


    Vital to the future success of literature in translation is for publications and platforms like NBG to continue getting information and resources to the right people, while also helping with international networking. Part of the wider, ongoing work of the project is to connect publishers with their foreign counterparts, and publishers with translators, so that the ultimate objective can be achieved: international authors' books reaching the hands of international readers. Though the languages may be different, the goals are the same: the diversification of literary voices and the sharing of incredible stories.