The Answer Was There All Along

Translation publishers, quit being so damn earnest! More human faces on your covers!! (and please, no more covers like this)

Guernica: I wonder if part of the problem with translated fiction is publishers making assumptions about what readers will like. Assumptions that they’ll see the book as homework, when in fact the bulk of readers might be more willing than we think.

Nicole Aragi: Yes. I do think readers are by and large more open-minded than we give them credit for. But publishers have to spend their lives guessing at what people will want a couple of years from the date the manuscript is sent to them by an agent. It’s not easy, and they get nervous. So I think they do fall back on some assumptions, sometimes. They have to. It’s part of their work.

I represent a Somali writer called Nuruddin Farah. His very early books were published very seriously, with very serious photographs on the cover, and they looked like academic works. The turning point was when a book of his came out with a face on the cover. Something as simple as a picture of a face humanized the work. It changed Nuruddin’s readership in America. We think of books in translation too earnestly and then publish them too earnestly, and then we’re surprised when they feel earnest. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Knots Nuruddin Farah has a new novel out. It sounds a lot like his second-most-recent novel, Links. When Cambara, the 6-foot-tall woman at the center of...
  2. Translation Reviews and Publishers Weekly I was interested to see the Literary Saloon report on numbers from the German Book Office of how many books in translation publishers Weekly reviews....
  3. The Fifth Cover Ware’s work has changed, evolved, in his twenty or so professional years. Ten years ago he was proclaimed “The Smartest Cartoonist on Earth” by the...
  4. Green Books–Bad For Sales? One of the pieces of wisdom that it seems everyone in publishing knows is that books with green covers just don’t sell. Is it because...
  5. Kafka Covers These apparently placed in the 50 Books/50 Covers design competition. Not sure how much I like these . . . what’s with the eye motif?...

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

Criticism Isn't Free

CR is dedicated to thoughtful, in-depth criticism without regard to what's commercially appealing. It takes tens of hours each month to provide this. Please help make this sort of writing sustainable, either with a subscription or a one-time donation. Thank you!


Got Something To Say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Thank GOD Archipelago doesn’t have this mentality. “Yeah, why would we put Giotto on the cover of ‘A Time for Everything’ when readers want a seagull eating Wonder Bread?”

Speaking of Knausgaard, that FSG reissue of Vol. I is like a visual emetic.

Shop though these links = Support this site

Copyright © 2015. Powered by WordPress & Romangie Theme.