By Roger Tagholm
Britain is an “introverted country, exporting but not importing culture,” according to Metin Celal Zeynioglu, President of the Turkish Publishers Association (TPA). Speaking to Publishing Perspectives just ahead of next week’s London Book Fair, where Turkey is Market Focus, he said: “Translation from foreign languages is about one to two percent of all titles. Thus translations from Turkish to English are too few.
Need for More Translation from the Turkish
“By contrast, around 40% of new titles in Turkish are translated works and 80% of these translations are from English. Some 90% of exported academic books and textbooks to Turkey are coming from the United States and Britain. Turkey is the Market Focus at the London Book Fair with the expectation of ending the uni-lateracy of this relationship. Our aim is to provide copyrights of 100 Turkish literary works to be sold and published in English.”
Bloomsbury Senior Commissioning Editor Bill Swainson, who was among publishers on a British Council trip to the country last November, is certainly keen to find Turkish voices. “They have a fascinating and complex literary scene in which commercial fiction seems to dominate, even more than in the UK, but where there are many, many more opportunities for young authors and young publishers and agents to make things happen on a small to medium scale, say two to 5,000-copy print runs. I was intrigued and am actively trying to find a Turkish writer who would fit Bloomsbury’s international profile.”
Agent Ayser Ali of the Lir Literary Agency will be among the large Turkish contingent coming over and says: “Contemporary Turkish writing is very dynamic and rich. The cliché of being a bridge between East and West has an effect on the literary scene and we are still trying to get over the Orientalist image the western world has of Turkey, which considerably confuses the intellectual environment, but also prompts to creativity. I work with writers whom I also like reading personally and whom I strongly believe should be internationally recognized.”
State’s Role in Turkish Literary Affairs Still a Question
The TPA itself seems to have a mixed relationship with the Turkish state. Zeynioglu says it works in coordination and cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism on updating the current copyright law and resolving its deficiencies, and he describes the Ministry’s TEDA project, which provides translation grants for foreign publishers, as “a crucial support for opening up our publishing industry to the world.”
But he remains opposed to “state initiatives that seriously affect the future of publishing, and attitudes that block the freedom to publish in Turkey.” Pulling books from the market, suing authors and publishers, and the legal ground of those actions — what he calls “old minded law articles” — remain in his words “disappointing obstacles to our goal of achieving total freedom to publish in Turkey.”
He is also concerned that the state is still Turkey’s largest publisher “and holds the authority to determine both the content and prices of textbooks.” The inequality of VAT between printed and ebooks is also an issue. “Ebook VAT is currently 18 percent, equal to the standard VAT rate in Turkey, and we demand it to be reduced to the level of printed books, 8 percent.”
Such issues, and more, will doubtless be raised next week. On a personal note, Zeynioglu must surely be one of the most literary of publishing association heads the world over. Born in Ankara in 1961, he has written four volumes of poetry, four novels, two works of literary criticism and edited many anthologies of poetry.
It is famously said that Turkey is a land of poets. How true is this? “We have a very strong, centuries old tradition of poetry. Almost everybody writes poems, but the poetry readers are very few in number. Circulation of poetry books is very low. However, on the Internet, the most popular websites and blogs are those of poetry. I still write poetry myself and my last poetry book was published in 2011. A famous Turkish humorist says ‘In Turkey, four people out of three are poets…’”