Well, Eric and I have ‘done’ the London Book Fair, all three days of it, met 14 publishers, contributed to two seminars, drunk innumerable cups of coffee… and survived (just) to tell the tale. We did a short presentation to each publisher on what Paper Republic had to offer them, and listened to what they had to say about publishing Chinese books in translation. It was interesting that different publishers were looking for different kinds of books. (Encouragingly, a few are prepared to consider 'literary fiction’, the brilliantly written work, even though most of them said that what sells well is the main consideration.)
In a nutshell, they reinforced what we already knew:
- There’s a lot of interest out there in Chinese fiction, but few books actually make it into translation – and that isn’t going to change fast.
- The fact that most publishers can't read the texts in the original and contact the authors direct is a huge barrier.
We showed the publishers the new sections of the Paper Republic website: Resources for Publishers (there’s a new Resources for Translators too). We explained that we already had a few synopses/reports on books and sample translations online, and planned to add more. That would mean that they could browse books and authors for themselves and get a general idea before deciding which, if any, Chinese authors and translators to approach. Unsurprisingly, they leapt at this – synopses and samples for free?! That must be good.
But there are other ways in which we can usefully be involved in the publishing process too. What almost all publishers were telling us, in one way or another, was that they needed an intermediary: someone to pitch an author and a book to them, explain how publishing works in China, liaise with the author and/or publisher, and sometimes help with promotion after the book is launched. Yes, that does involve the translator in a lot of (probably) unpaid work and require a whole new set of skills.
Well, we’ve promised more free material on the website, because that seems the best and only way to go – and it’s good publicity both for the author and the translator. And no, before you ask, no one at the Book Fair offered us a contract for a book. But the whole exercise was enormously useful and instructive. Frankfurt (Book Fair), here we come!