Do publishers have a cultural and moral responsibility regarding what they decide to publish? I have always lived with the idea that reading allows me to walk in other people’s shoes, and that again gives me a better picture of the part of the world I can’t see from my own shoes. I liked this idea, because I could get to know other cultures without having to travel.
“There is no Frigate like a book
To take us Lands away” (Emily Dickinson)
But then again, my point of view is from a minority language whose book market largely consists of translated titles.
On Friday (3rd March) I went to SYP’s conference 101: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and not surprisingly, the main topics of the day were Brexit and the discussion of diversity.
On the topic of Brexit: we don’t know what’s going to happen, and we need to admit that. As publishers we have the power to influence readers and challenge the inward point of view it scarily looks like many are turning to. Instead of standing horrified on the side-line, a new way to look at the situation could be that we are the ones that decide what’s going to happen, to an extent at least. We are perfectly positioned as an industry to challenge the inward looking market. One of the first things they told us on this course is: Lead the change.
I think that Brexit has proven that it is time for translated books and other cultures to become more visible in the Anglophone marketplace. We need to push away from the white middle class and introduce more diversity to the market. But we need to introduce it as it is, and not hide the fact that it is translated. The publishers have to take a risk and challenge the readers.
“How can we get to a place where we are more comfortable with change and difference?”
(Alby Grainger, Little Shop of Heroes)
On the topic of translations, we had Dr Stephanie Craighill come in and talk to us about translations in Europe compared to the UK and US a couple of weeks back. The Anglophone market is not used to other cultures because, historically, it hasn’t needed to be. Unless you go looking for it, which plenty of readers do (in increasing numbers too), readers don’t want a book to appear translated. What does that mean? Is it the different cultural voice that makes it appear translated, is it that the reader doesn’t identify with the character, or because the language doesn’t flow as well as you would expect a first-language text to do? Is it the author’s fault or the translator’s? I can’t answer these questions, I just ask them. Anglophone Publishers seem to stick to the idea that translated books don’t sell, but is that true? Names like Haruki Murakami, Jo Nesbø and Han Kang come to mind. And lets not forget the classics like Dostoevsky and Kafka. These classics have become a part of our international culture.
“Internationalism: What does that mean for us now in the creative industries?”
(Janet Archer, Creative Scotland)
At SYP’s conference this question was asked in regards to EU funding and travel and the business side of the industry. But it applies to the more romantic, naïve “I just want to make books” side of publishing too.
So, I’ll leave you with one last question: Do we as publishers have a responsibility to give readers more diverse shoes to walk in?