“You can’t just put stuff into English”

In Global Trade Talk by Olivia Snaije

Literary agents respond to Richard Charkin’s provocation that international publishers should put out their own English editions rather than selling the English rights.
Frankfurt Book Fair Literary Agents and Scouts Center

Frankfurt Book Fair Literary Agents and Scouts Center

By Olivia Snaije

The widely-reported statement on Tuesday by Bloomsbury Publishing’s Executive Director Richard Charkin that non-English publishers and agents should “stop trying to sell rights to English-language publishers” because the English-language market is “grossly over-published” caused a fair degree of discussion in the literary agents hall, LitAg, yesterday.

“It’s an interesting proposition. One’s mind boggles at the thought of what the translations into English would be like!” Sarah Nundy at Andrew Nurnberg told Publishing Perspectives. “That said, Europa Editions does it. But I don’t understand how it will stop the market from being saturated.”

As one might expect, Anna Soler-Pont of Pontas Literary & Film Agency—whose first-time Catalan author, Milena Busquet’s This Too Shall Pass was just preempted by Hogarth Press (Crown) for North America for a cool $500,000—didn’t think it was practical for all books:

“Foreign publishers could only publish in English for specific books. Otherwise, you need to know the specific market, you would have to hire American or British people who know the cultural particularities.”

Laure Pécher of Astier-Pécher Literary & Film Agency said she thought Charkin was just trying to be provocative. While many Anglo-Saxons see Europa Editions (founded by Italian publishers) as being European, for Pécher, Europa is unquestionably an English-language publisher. She cites Dutch publisher Eric Visser’s new London-based World Editions Ltd, as another example: “It doesn’t really change anything for us, we would still be selling him English language rights.”

Janklow & Nesbit UK’s Rebecca Carter felt Charkin’s statement wasn’t so far off in that she had been waiting “for foreign language publishers to wake up and publish in English.” That said, “the issues are understanding distribution and market sensibilities. Europa has done it successfully but has offices on the ground in the US and the UK. You can’t just put stuff into English; you still have to be a brilliant publisher. But it can be done…”

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.