Nordic Literature Export Organizations Offer Further Translation Support

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With in-person rights meetings on hold during the pandemic, FILI and other Nordic literary organizations guarantee 50-percent translation funding for approved grant applications.

In this shot from April 16, Helsinki’s landmark Stockmann department store in the city center is deserted. Image – iStockphoto: Ilari Nackel

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘What Digital Platform Can Give You All That?’

Tiia Strandén at FILI, the Finnish Literature Exchange, has news of a cooperative translation funding offer announced by her organization and those of Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Norway, and the Faroe Islands.

“Because of the coronavirus, meeting places for rights trading are empty and cultural events are canceled,” Strandén says. “Yet literature and culture remain as important as ever.”

So FILI has teamed with the Danish Arts Foundation, Far Lit in the Faroes, the Icelandic Literature Center, NORLA Norwegian Literature Abroad, and the Swedish Arts Councils’ Swedish Literature Exchange to guarantee a grant of 50 percent of the translation costs for all approved translation funding applications from now until the end of 2020. Contemporary literature will be prioritized in this program.

“With this temporary 50-percent guarantee of grants for translations, the literature export organizations in the Nordic countries want to encourage more exchanges of literature and reinforce our support for translation of fiction, nonfiction and children’s literature—for the benefit of authors, translators, publishers and literary agencies,” Strandén says.

Clearly having learned the special unpredictability of life under a pandemic, Strandén adds that this new guarantee remains valid “as long as the situation requires” and says it applies to applications made this month through the rest of 2020, or as long as budgets allow. After this first effort, the organizations will together evaluate how  it’s gone and consider extending the offer.

Application deadlines, requirements, and criteria for support are the same as before, and you should check with the site of the organization of each market you’re looking into.

‘To Help With the Financial Risk’ of Translation

FILI’s Tiia Strandén in Finland, working as so many in publishing are, from home during the pandemic. Image: FILI

Publishing Perspectives readers will remember our conversation with Strandén about a year ago, as we checked in on how the Finnish market was looking nearly five years after its 2014 stint as Frankfurter Bookmesse’s guest of honor market.

At that point, FILI was ramping up its “Cool & Happy” project around the Helsinki Lit festival to bolster the effects of the guest of honor on terms of overseas publication of titles from Finland’s energetic market.

This year, of course, the spring couldn’t be more different for the book business and its associated creative industries, and we’re glad to have a chance to touch base with Strandén, who’s part of the Nordic nations’ widely envied prowess in exporting literature into international markets.

“It’s okay to maintain existing contacts for a while via email and other digital channels, but it’s not really possible to build new, personal relationships without actual meetings.”Tiia Strandén, FILI

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reports Finland, at this writing, to have 4,395 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 177 deaths. This, among the Nordic markets, of course, stands in contrast to the numbers in Sweden, where a variant of herd immunity has been attempted. Sweden shows 17,567 cases and 2,152 deaths. Their respective populations should be taken into consideration, too, however, Finland with some 5.5 million and Sweden almost twice that, at 10.2 million.

“We, the Nordic literature promotion organizations,” Strandén says, “wanted to send out a joint signal to publishers out there saying we understand that making an acquisition decision in the midst of a pandemic is difficult.

“By giving a guarantee of 50 percent toward the translation costs to all approved applications,  we wanted to say, ‘If you do make the decision to buy the rights, we’re here and will do what we can to help you cut the financial risk.”

“At FILI, we have our second grants application round for 2020 closing next week”–the deadline for those applications is May 1–”and after that we’ll see if the number of applications has decreased. We’re anticipating there will be fewer applications. I also think that we’ll see a change in where the applications come from. I’d guess more applications from smaller languages areas.”

Agents: Faster Deals, More Submissions Being Read

And in looking at how things are going in light of the public health emergency—the “coronavirus worklife” element—Strandén says, “I talked to a few of our Finnish agents, asking them about their experiences.

“Everyone has clearly seen that rights sales have slowed down, but not completely stopped. Children’s books are selling as before, e- and audio rights are selling more now than before. There also are examples of publishers now having more time to read submissions—and deals are being made more quickly than they would have been otherwise.

“All agents say there have been no sales cancellations because of the pandemic.”

“Online meetings just require a lot more work. Doing the actual pitching, negotiating, and selling part on a platform is fine, to a certain extent.”Tiia Strandén, FILI

The loss of the major trade shows including London Book Fair and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, so far, agents are telling her, have registered more as inconveniences than show-stoppers.

“All agents I talked to,” Strandén says, “say that replacing Bologna and London with Skype and other types of online meetings has worked all right for now. Online meetings just require a lot more work. Doing the actual pitching, negotiating, and selling part on a platform is fine, to a certain extent.

“For us,” she says, “like everyone else, the most important thing about book fairs and trade shows is to just feel the air, listen to what people are talking about, see how others display their books, stumble on things and people, and learn new things you didn’t know you needed to know—hear the latest gossip.

“What digital platform can give you all that?”

Relative to the subject of Richard Charkin’s column today—the suddenly highlighted importance of rights—Strandén says, “I agree this would be a good time to do that.

“Not least because people tend to turn towards the familiar in a time of crises, but also in strange times, it’s more important than ever to share realities and experiences. And what better way to do that than literature in translation? It’s important to keep sufficient national reserves on food and emergency supplies, but you don’t have to be self-sufficient on books.”

None of the agents Strandén has spoken with could as yet quantify clear evidence of how the coronavirus’ effects are impacting business, too soon to tell.

“When it comes to our everyday work,” she said, “it’s become quite clear that our business is, say, 75-percent about meeting people. It’s okay to maintain existing contacts for a while via email and other digital channels, but it’s not really possible to build new, personal relationships without actual meetings.

“On the other hand, I’m convinced we’ll come out of this with new, creative tools and ways for working more efficiently between meetings.”

There may also soon be some much harder information available. If you’re reading us from Finland today, remember that the end of the week marks the deadline to reply to the ministerial survey underway on the business impact of the pandemic. And considering the governmental ineptitude seen in some of publishing’s world markets under the brunt of the pandemic, Strandén’s admiration for how Helsinki is responding may have us all looking for Finnish real estate soon.

“I think our government is doing such a good job reaching out to people in the business,” she says, “asking what they actually need in terms of support and what effects the pandemic has on their everyday business life.

“And they’re very prompt about that.”

A deserted Esplanadi in Helsinki on the night of April 4 during the pandemic. Image – iStockphoto: Ilari Nackel


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Finnish market is here, more on rights is here, and more from us on the coronavirus pandemic is here.

Download your free copy of our Spring Magazine here

In our Spring 2020 Magazine, Publishing Perspectives has interviewed publishers, industry experts, entrepreneurs, and authors to present a look at the book business for the coming year. 

Inside this issue of Publishing Perspectives Magazine, you’ll find articles and resources including coverage from China, Belgium, Russia, the Latin American markets, Norway, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, the international copyright community and world market data sources.

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About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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