Can Crowdsourcing Help Publishers Pick Books to Translate?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

Translations into English have been bottlenecked due to the limited number of editors who read foreign languages.

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

Today’s feature story looks inside the “crowdsourced editorial” process of UK publisher And Other Stories. The company enlists reading groups to help them decide which books to translate and publish. In the piece, writer Amanda DeMarco notes that the reading group conducts its discussions of German books in English, something which she describes as “violence” with an upside: “If we were discussing in German, I would probably find myself using words, or perhaps even whole phrases I had come across in reviews of the book and that had gotten stuck in my consciousness. But in English it’s a clean break.”

This likely results in a more authentic and genuine response to the works under review. At the same time, the fact that the books are being debated in English likely echoes the same diction and point-of-view that may very well greet the book upon its critical reception.

Why does this work? Well, it has been pointed out time and time again here on Publishing Perspectives that among the myriad of bottlenecks preventing more foreign language books translated into English is limited number of foreign language readers is a simple dearth of editors who can read widely in foreign languages in UK and American publishing houses. (See: The Translation Gap: Why More Foreign Writers Aren’t Published in America by Emily Williams as a reference.)

Is “crowdsourced editorial” the answer? Well, it certainly is one answer. Of course, it all depends on the people who make up the crowd. In the case of And Other Stories, they have gathered together a group of prestigious translators, academics, and people involved in the publishing industry. It reflects the type of reader they might hope to attract.

So far And Other Stories’ track record has been superb and has won plaudits from the critics and others. Will they discover — or even capable of looking for — the next Steig Larsson or Jo Nesbo or Muriel Barbery — remains to be seen. But I wouldn’t bet against them.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.