I accept it's been an exponentially long time since I wrote on this blog. I had considered giving it up entirely, as I now work in a large trade publisher of children's and YA fiction, it seemed a slight conflict of interest. But more and more I can't help get annoyed at how few books are brought into the UK market from other publishers. So I'm re-starting this blog to focus purely on translated children's books.
I've mentioned in some reviews that only about 3% of all books published in the UK are translated from a different language. Every time I do read a translated work, it makes me wonder what else I am missing out on because there are so many books that haven't made it into our market.
The sad fact is, it's not that publishers don't want to publish translated books. They do - most of them would absolutely love to. But it's very expensive, and as margins in publishing continue to dwindle, books that don't make sense economically won't make it past the board. We try to make as much money from one book as possible (this money, of course, is shared with authors/illustrators), and the best way to guarantee that is through rights.
When a book is published in the UK from a UK author, the publisher will acquire certain rights (translation, film, audio, digital, etc). This gives the publisher an opportunity to increase sales and revenue on a single title for both themselves and the author. These rights deals are often the most lucrative, and it's in all parties' interest to see these rights sold. Rights sales can even make up for poor sales within the UK market, although it's unlikely for a book to do well in different markets if it can't do well in its own.
Now we come to the translated book, where a publisher is buying the rights from another market in order to publish the title. The publisher won't get all of those extra rights - they may have certain permissions from the original publisher for things like an audio or digital edition, but the money then has to be split between even more parties (original publisher, original author, original agent, English publisher, English translator...)
Economically, the translated book is a risk. You have to rely on physical sales of the book and can't back it up with any rights sales. And sadly it is these simple economies that prevent most publishers from taking a step into getting more titles translated into English.
It is my hope to one day see that 3% closer to 5%, if not higher. The fact that there were midnight queues just this week for the latest Murakami book show that there is an interest in translated fiction. Or perhaps those people didn't care it was translated - they just recognise a good author and a good story, despite it being originally written in a different language.