By Riky Stock, Director, German Book Office New York
This past July, I accompanied a group of seven international publishing professionals on a road trip through Germany to meet with their German counterparts. Since English was the language that united us all, the question of translating books from German into English naturally came up as did why books do not get published in the United States.
To Marc Lowenthal of MIT Press (USA), it has become clear that the lack of interest among readers, which used to be a default rationale, along with the extra publishing costs that translation entails, are not the main reason. He feels that “in humanities-driven disciplines where English is not always the default language as it is in the sciences, is the widespread lack of second (let alone third) languages amongst many publishing professionals.”
Berlin-based translator Tony Crawford, who also accompanied us on the trip, added that another issue is that a well-connected, large publisher would likely ask an American author to write a given book rather than commission a translation of the existing foreign-language book — and will readily do so because it gives the publisher more control over the final product. He also noted that foreign publishers are more and more interested in translation rights to single chapters. “They would like to publish (buy rights to) smaller units than the original book — chapters, sections, essays … a) because interest in their target market may be present, but different; and b) because with a smaller book their investment is lower and their target audience is bigger,” he said.
For an in-depth look at this topic, see “The Translation Gap: Why More Foreign Writers Aren’t Published in America.”