LBF Proves Literary Translation Market is Diversifying

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London Book Fair 2015 (Photo: Hannah Johnson)

London Book Fair 2015 (Photo: Hannah Johnson)

According to Tom Chalmers of IPR License, activity at the recent London Book Fair proved the literary translation market is diversifying into smaller languages.

By Tom Chalmers, Managing Director at IPR License

Tom Chalmers

Tom Chalmers

With the increased profile of a number of books available for translation at the recent London Book Fair, you can see the market getting stronger and more vibrant.

To kick off the fair itself we saw a new study released from Literature Across Frontiers on publishing translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland between 1990 and 2012. This was covered extensively on Publishing Perspectives but for the context of this article, it’s good to briefly outline this data again. In essence it revealed that general translations grew by 53% between 1990 and 2012 and literary translations by 66%.

Commenting on this data, LAF Director Alexandra Büchler said: “The translation percentage in the UK is embarrassingly low compared to the percentages recorded in other European countries, including large book markets with healthy domestic book production such as Germany, France, Italy or Poland. Literary translations represent a slightly higher share, consistently exceeding 4% with a peak of 5.23% in 2011.

“The statistics show a steady growth of literary translations over the past two decades in absolute numbers and this is very encouraging. General translations grew by 53% between 1990 and 2012 and literary translations by 66%. This is of course reflected in only marginal percentage growth due to the growth in the overall publishing output.

“Encouraging is the diversity of source languages with small European languages like Swedish, Norwegian and Dutch among the top ten translated languages alongside two non-European languages, Arabic and Japanese. On the other hand, most Eastern European languages are seriously underrepresented and we are clearly missing out on entire swaths of literary landscapes in our immediate neighborhood.”

This commentary offers a great summing up of this particular market sector over this period but let’s also look at some of the international buzz emanating from LBF.

Translations have long been an area which comes hand in hand with licensing and one, here at IPR License, in which we are engaging with growing numbers of international publishers to help open more doors to more deals. As such I spent a lot of time over the three days of the fair in and around the literary translation centre. I also managed to sit in on a few seminars specifically around the translation process to gain an even better understanding of its complexities, obstacles and the available opportunities.

Being the Market Focus for the event, Mexico was a country which certainly came under the translation microscope. For example there was a very interesting panel discussion on the path a collection of Mexican author Juan Villoro’s essays took to be translated from Spanish to English.

Another was via the Mexican Translation Slam which saw translators Ollie Brock and Sophie Hughes joined by one of Mexico’s brightest literary lights, Valeria Luiselli, to discuss the importance of translation and dissect how translators can interpret language so differently. This “slam” really underlined the intricacies and time involved in the translation conversations between translators and authors. And that’s even before overcoming the challenges involved in getting the final translation to market.

Exploring the stands and speaking to exhibitors in and around this area it’s clear that all territories and publishers have their own ways to establish contacts and market their key titles on an international scale.

Having said this, not surprisingly, one of the most common synergies between those at the fair was a glossy brochure to promote some of the books on offer. However, being part of a global online platform the most interesting conversations involved how these titles are being showcased away from the fair.

As a result of this I ended up with a heaving bag full of marketing literature and I thought it might be interesting to highlight some of the front page titles accumulated along the way.


PicantePicante. Diversidad biocultural de los chiles de Mexico by Araceli Aguila – Picante is a unique work in the contemporary publishing scene; a homage to chili peppers and their varieties. A biological, historical, social and cultural review of the culinary symbol of Mexicaness.

You can still download CONACULTA’s rights guide to Mexican titles here.


Toxo by Ivana Dobrakovová – In seven powerful stories the author captures the inner world of young women and reveals in a surprising way the dark, unsuspected sides of their characters.


Jelgava 94 by Jānis JoņevsJelgava 94 by Jānis Joņevs – The story is centred in the 1990’s on the town of Jelgava and the rather short-lived craze of heavy metal music.


The Wood by Jeroen Brouwers – This title explores one of the darkest chapters in our recent history; the sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church. The latest novel by this long-established literary figure has won over critics and readers alike with its harrowing directness, attracting five-star reviews and spending months in the top ten.


Apothecary Melchior and the Pirita Strangler by Indrek Hargla by Indrek Hargla –The highly anticipated books of Indrek Hargla are crime novels depicting medieval Tallinn; in the series, apothecary Melchior Wakenstede hunts down criminals, with one character as the mysterious 15th-century Hanseatic city itself.

These examples, apart from the Mexican one for continuity, were picked purely at random but do serve to highlight just a small sample of the vast international talent on offer and the diversity of available titles for translation. Works in translation certainly remain on the radar of many international publishers and it will be interesting to see how advances within the publishing industry, especially those involving technology, can help break down the barriers to new markets and ensure these titles can be championed all year round and not just at the major book fairs.

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Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.