Review by Evgeny Terekhin
Topic: Literary, T&I Industry
Speaker: Gabriella Page-Fort
As a literary translator, I couldn’t help but gravitate towards literary sessions. When I read the title of this one, “Publishing Literature in Translation: How Translators Help AmazonCrossing Bring Stories to New Readers by Page-Fort Gabriella,” I scratched by head – what is AmazonCrossing? I didn’t bother to look it up but went straight to the room.
It took me a while to start making sense of Gabriella’s multiple references to book sales statistics, but after a while I got the hang of it. AmazonCrossing is actively searching for great international reads for a global English-speaking audience.
Basically, if you know of a book in a language other than English and feel it would really appeal to the English-speaking world, you go to the AmazonCrossing website, https://translation.amazon.com/submissions, and propose it. They are constantly looking for interesting titles, and their list of translated books is very diverse.
Gabriella shared several intriguing stories of how they hunted for books to translate, including an example of how they got connected with an elderly Uzbek author who wrote a wonderful story but couldn’t even use email. She emphasized that as an editorial director she can never tell which story will grab her attention. They are looking for stories regardless of the source language and genre – the main idea is for it to be appealing.
Turns out AmazonCrossing is the biggest producer of translated literature in the US market. Gabriella’s talk was very inspiring, so I immediately had several titles pop up in my head, and I proposed one. We’ll see.
I didn’t realize you could actually go to their website and register as a literary translator. You could also upload your resume, and if they have a matching job, they will contact you. If you are interested in the field, it’s a great opportunity to get your foot in the door.
Much of the session was devoted to the discussion of what makes for a good story. One may find a story fascinating, but when it’s published it doesn’t necessarily get traction. In Gabriella’s words, you don’t really know. You pick a book based on your gut instinct, but who knows if the readers’ gut will have the same instinct? Though it’s often hit and miss, the success of the endeavor is obvious, with 62 new titles translated just in 2017.
Even though, according to Gabriella, Americans don’t read translations very much – for whatever reason – AmazonCrossing stands out from among the other 13 imprints of Amazon Publishing, translating into English from a wide variety of languages: Danish, Hebrew, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, Indonesian, Italian, Swedish, Finnish, French, Chinese, Spanish, and German.
After the session, I had lots of questions for Gabriella, but, unfortunately, there was a line of people vying for her attention. The main question I had was: what are some of the characteristics of the kind of literature that would be equally appealing across cultures? For instance, “The Karamazov Brothers” is appealing to all cultures, but I know other great Russian titles which do not have the same international appeal.
It would be an engaging project in itself to analyze what kind of books have found their way into the hearts of the global community while retaining features of their home culture. Obviously, the Lord of the Rings is a distinctly British book, but it captivates audiences all around the world. Why? Having those essential characteristics down would greatly facilitate the process of finding potential “winners.”
Well, maybe I will ask my question next year. As it is, Gabriella focuses on “a good story” over a specific category, like “fantasy,” or “romance.” They are looking for the stories that make people feel more similar than different. “Things that make it so you can connect and see directly into the eyes of whatever today’s ‘other’ looks like.”
So, do you know a title that you think would be interesting for the English readership? Let Gabriella know.
Evgeny Terekhin is an En-Ru and Ru-En translator with a master’s degree in English and German. Born and raised in Omsk, Russia, he and his family moved to the US in 2016. In the course of his 25-year career, he’s translated and edited over 150 books, brochures and tracts across a wide range of subjects like children’s literature, marketing, psychology, spirituality, health-care, business, and legal. He lives in Friendswood, TX and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.russiantranslators.org