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Spreading the Translated Word: JLPP

posted May 14, 2010

Posted by Mariko Fujinaka in books marketing publishing technology translation trends uncategorized world literature

JLPPI just learned about this really interesting project, the Japanese Literature Publishing Project (JLPP), that promotes Japanese literature to a number of foreign countries. Sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, JLPP has been around since 2002 and has so far been behind the publication of 34 Japanese titles translated into English. JLPP selects about 10 books per year, and the titles are translated into several languages, including English, French, German, and Russian. It then promotes the translated works to publishers, and following publication, JLPP buys a good number of the translated titles and distributes them to libraries. What a good way to increase access to translated works!

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More Melville House, Please

posted May 8, 2009

Posted by Erin Brown in books publishing world literature

Another small independent publisher doing exciting things with literature in translation (among other genres) is Brooklyn-based Melville House Press . Founded in 2001 by husband-and-wife team Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians, the company has achieved something of a meteoric rise, winning the Association of American Publishers’  2007 Miriam Bass Award for Creativity in Independent Publishing.

Many things about Melville House are inspiring:

• It’s run by artists (Johnson is a short-story writer, Merians a sculptor) who proudly position themselves outside the so-called “Bermuda Triangle of American intellectualism.”

• The editors maintain a slush pile (”something the big houses don’t even have anymore“), read these submissions, and sometimes even publish them.

• They work out of offices behind revolving bookshelves (!) in this glass-walled storefront at 145 Plymouth St.



Melville House is republishing the novels of Hans Fallada (pen name of Rudolph Ditzen), one of the most popular writers of the Weimar Republic, who declined the opportunity to flee Nazi Germany, was incarcerated in an institution for the criminally insane, and died of a morphine overdose in 1946only to fall into deep obscurity. (See Nathan Ihara’s LA Weekly profile for some of the amazing details.)

Upon discovering Fallada’s novels (on a tip from fashion designer Diane von Furstenburg), Johnson felt compelled to get them back into print and also to “right a literary injustice” where the author’s reputation was concerned. (See the recent interview on Charlie Rose).

This year Melville House has published three Fallada novels: Little Man, What Now?; The Drinker; and Every Man Dies Alone. The first two titles were both previously translated and published in the United States in 1933 and 1952, respectively.  It is Every Man Dies Alonefor which Melville House has provided the first English-language translation, by Michael Hoffmanthat has created a literary sensation.


Based on an actual Gestapo file, it is the true story of a German couple’s doomed underground postcard campaign against the Nazis. Fallada wrote it in just 24 days and died before it was published. A thriller and a love story about regular people speaking truth to power: we need more storiesand publisherslike this.

Europa Knows: It’s a Branding Thing

posted April 29, 2009

Posted by Erin Brown in book design books publishing world literature

One last thing about Europa Editionsand I won’t be the first to mention itis that they’ve done a terrific job of creating brand identity. First off, the name Europa is well-chosen, I think. It carries a certain sophistication and seems to lend the allure of travel to their books. Somehow, it makes literature in translation seem a bit sexy.

But the most distinguishing thing about Europa is the books themselveswhich is to say that you can spot one from a mile away. All of their titles are released in trade paperback (common among many European publishers) with handsome French flaps, which give the books a sleek and elegant feel. And every cover bears Europa’s signature stork logo. Many of their covers feature bold images that are cut out against brightly colored backgrounds.

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A recent discussion on The Book Design Review suggests that there is little consensus about the cover designs themselves. While some who commented appreciated the spareness and eyecatching images on many of the covers, others found them boring and somehow dated looking. In spite of people’s aesthetic differences on this point, however, there seems to be no dispute about the fact that Europa’s books are immediately recognizable.

“They attract me because I know they’re Europa titles,” one commenter confessed. That pretty much says it all.

What Happened to Publishing: A Brief Retrospective

posted April 17, 2009

Posted by Erin Brown in publishing world literature

One of the intriguing things about Europa Editions is what the New York Times has called its “frankly retro publishing model.”

But before we can appreciate how bold it is to be “retro” in publishing these days, let’s remember what happened to the industry, especially in the United States, during the 1980s and 1990s. Those were the days of infamy, when the independent institutions of New York publishing—Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harper & Row, Penguin, and others—were being swallowed up by massive international media conglomerates such as Bertelsmann, CBS, and News Corporation.


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Suddenly book publishers, who were accustomed to seeing profit margins between 3 and 4 percent, were expected to contend with their conglomerates’ film, cable television, and other media subsidiaries, which typically saw gains of between 12 and 15 percent. Under this enormous pressure to increase their margins, and with financial and marketing people now weighing in heavily on publishing decisions, editors became consumed by the hunt for the next blockbuster book (think Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus). Meanwhile, they could no longer “afford” to publish a title that was projected to sell fewer than 15,000 – 20,000 copies, regardless of its literary merit. In effect, the business of printing books, which had long been guided by a cultural mission to make literature and ideas available to the general public, was surrendered to the great, equalizing jaws of the market.

Publishing veteran André Schiffrin explains how market theory transformed the industry in “The Corporatization of Publishing” (The Nation, June 3, 1996) and at greater length in his memoir, The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read (2000).

So how does Europa reconcile its seemingly lofty cultural mission (to foster through literature the dialogue between nations and cultures) with the equally formidable task of turning literature in translation into a viable business venture in the United States? Looks like I’m still honing in on the answers . . .

Les Allusifs Book Covers

posted April 16, 2009

Posted by Anne Healey in book design

Thanks to the blog Première de Couverture, I was made aware of the beautiful books put out by Les Allusifs, a Montreal publisher that specializes in international fiction translated to French.

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I love everything about these bold and stripped-down designs, which are by the Montreal firm Paprika—but especially the colors. One thing that makes this series work so well is that the design is very consistent, but each cover is also unique, which keeps things interesting. The Dada-esque illustrations are by Alain Pilon.

They look really good all together in a pile:


Image from AIGA Design Archives

Paprika won a lot of recognition for these designs, and you can read some comments on the work here:

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