By Olivia Snaije
Alexis Washam is a young U.S. editor who believes in foreign fiction. Executive Editor of Crown and Hogarth, last autumn she put her money where her mouth is by acquiring Catalan author Milena Busquets’ novel This Too Shall Pass (También esto pasará) for a mid six-figure deal the morning of the Frankfurt Book Fair.
“With Milena Busquets we got the translation on a Friday and by Monday we made a preemptive offer. American publishers are aggressive when they see something that has potential. We found it had a universal voice and we knew that it would be competitive and that it had been selling. We all loved it so we wanted to make an offer that we felt that was compelling and reflective of what we thought of the book,” said Washam during a recent visit to Barcelona where she met Busquets for the first time.
“If we feel passionate about a novel we feel that there’s no reason not to invest in it.”
Reviving an Imprint
Hogarth, the Crown imprint where Busquets will be published, was reestablished in 2012, a revival of the publishing house Leonard and Virginia Woolf founded in 1917. Hogarth US is in partnership with Chatto & Windus in the UK, however Harvill Secker in the UK, also under the Random House umbrella, will publish Busquets.
Washam said her interest in international fiction sparked when she first began her career at Penguin. “I worked in paperbacks and as a younger editor it was hard to get fiction, so I would look at international rights catalogues. One book I bought was The Slap [by Christos Tsiolkas]. This went on to become a major success. I started making connections like that. It was a perfect way to expand my international and translation list but also to look for new voices.”
At Hogarth, where 12 books a year are published, there are three editors, all of whom can acquire for both Hogarth and Crown; Washam also acquires trade paperback originals for Broadway Books.
“When we started Hogarth, we wanted to keep the tradition of publishing high quality literary fiction told in voices from around the world. English voices as well, but always with a global perspective.
“The US is opening up to international fiction. We’ve seen it in the past year with books like Knausgård’s “My Struggle” series and Elena Ferrante. Reaching back there was [Muriel Barbery’s] The Elegance of the Hedgehog and [Herman Koch’s] The Dinner. People are realizing that a good story is first and foremost what is important. American audiences are increasingly open to reading them,” said Washam.
Washam has bought books from countries such as the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Italy — last year she published Milan-based Marina Mander’s The First True Lie, but says there isn’t a specific country she’s interested in and that she is always looking to expand.
Where Hogarth Finds Its Leads
Agents and foreign rights directors are her main source for literature in translation and “it goes a long way to be able to read a full text,” comments Washam. Such was the case for Milena Busquets, whose agent, Anna Soler-Pont, had the short book translated in its entirety by Valerie Miles before sending it Washam’s way. Translators are not yet a source for Washam, as she hasn’t worked with them much, she added.
But, said Washam, “I’m always curious. I pay attention to what is happening in the world through travelling and fellowships. It’s good to hear what the news on the ground is.”
The books she looks for must have a strong voice. Washam, who says she loves psychological suspense, published the US edition of The Dinner by Herman Koch. “It has elements of suspense and a plot that has an engine moving forward.”
Washam will be publishing Koch’s forthcoming Dear Mr. M in the US in May 2016. “It takes a singular and unreliable narrator and expands on that. It’s a mystery that unfolds over 20 years. It’s ambitious and satisfying.”
In Hogarth’s near future, Washam said, “We want to maintain our standards and publish the best writing we can find. Expanding our translation fiction list would be great but I don’t want to water down our small list either. All of our resources are dedicated to the quality. We want to turn unlikely books into bestsellers.”