In April 2018, Québec Édition, the export arm of ANEL, the association of Quebec book publishers, hosted a delegation of German book professionals at the Salon international du livre du Québec (SILQ). On this unique occasion, three of the eight German guests took part in a roundtable discussion on the German market, the Frankfurt Book Fair and plans for the Guest of Honour in 2020.
The roundtable was open to ANEL’s member publishers and was organized and moderated by Karine Vachon, Québec Édition’s director of salons and book fairs, with the intention of providing more information about the German market and taking a reading of community expectations.
About the Panellists
Frank Heibert (F. H.) translates from French and English into German, and among other things has translated Canadian prose and drama. He considers himself to be an ambassador for Canadian books in Germany. He lives in Berlin and studied literature in Berlin, Rome and Paris. His Ph.D. thesis dealt with plays on words and their translation, particularly in Joyce’s Ulysses. Since 1983, he has been translating literary and dramatic works from English, French, Italian and Portuguese into German. Among the authors whose works he has translated are Don DeLillo, Richard Ford, William Faulkner, George Saunders, Tobias Wolff, Lorrie Moore, Tony Kushner, Neil LaBute, Boris Vian, Alfred Jarry, Marie Darrieussecq, Yasmina Reza, Raymond Queneau, Italo Svevo, Francesco Pacifico and Jorge de Sena.
Christian Ruzicska (C. R.) is a publisher with Sécession, a small independent house that has specialized in world literature since it was founded 10 years ago. Christian selects the titles on his list by personal preference. His publications are mainly international literary works from across the globe with, currently, a particular emphasis on writing in French. Generally, the house is very attentive to the literary quality of manuscripts, and its books are widely recognized for this quality by the German media.
Patricia Klobusiczky (P. K.) translates French and English into German, has previously been a publisher herself, and has worked with the publishing industry for 25 years. She studied literary translation at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf and worked as a publisher for 10 years. She has translated, from French and English into German, the works of Jean Prévost, Louise de Vilmorin, Henri-Pierre Roché, Marie Darrieussecq, Laurence Tardieu, Françoise Giroud, Sophie Divry, Valérie Zenatti and Ruth Zylberman, as well as Molly Antopol, William Boyd, Lorrie Moore, Frances Itani, Curtis Sittenfeld and Petina Gappah, among others. She is also a tutor of young Francophone and Germanophone literary translators with the Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt Program, and president of the VdÜ – the Association of German-speaking Translators of Literary and Scientific Works.
Left to right: Patricia Klobusicszky, Frank Heibert, Karine Vachon
What is the current state of the book market in Germany?
(Generally positive response from the participants. They begin with their individual perspective.)
C. R.: Owing to the success of a particular book, our house is in good shape. We acquired the rights to a story by Deborah Feldman that was very well received. Currently there is a feeling of fatigue among publishers and booksellers – as a small publisher, I have observed that you must really win over the latter if you want your books to sell.
P. K.: We’ve lost six million readers in recent years, and the large publishers are worried. That is perhaps the reason why they have been more reluctant or skittish when approached to purchase rights, given the uneasiness generated by this trend.
F. H.: Where title selection is concerned, I suggest relying on what is out of the ordinary and of practical interest to publishers – books that are not interchangeable.
The German industry publishes among the highest numbers of translations in the world – why is that?
P. K.: Translation is a longstanding German tradition. Because of the country’s geographical location – and following the Second World War – people were eager to discover the world, and that had its effect for reading, among other things.
F. H.: The German language is spoken by relatively few people around the world, and Germans wanted to explore other cultures, which they did through translations.
How is the Guest of Honour country usually received?
C. R.: The objective is to transport the spirit of the Guest of Honour country to Germany. We want to be pleasantly surprised by a new culture and its vitality – and you would be well advised to avoid copying the strategies adopted by other honoured countries. And, most importantly – you must put in work before, during and after the fair – for months after; it is very important to follow up.
F. H.: To be properly prepared, you must ask the Germans all kinds of questions. And be wary of the goal of offering “a lot of choice in little time” – we want to see more quality than quantity, to avoid confusion and an overload. It is better to introduce 25 writers really well than 100 any which way.
P. K.: As the Guest of Honour, Hungary did a very good job. It’s a small country, it was very well prepared, and 28 years later, Hungarian literature continues to have a presence in Germany, despite supposedly being inaccessible – less humour, hard to read, dry subjects, etc. As compared to other larger countries, whose organization, too highly centralized, was disastrous. For example, there were the readings in literary centres. The Germans love to attend these readings (readings in literary centres are bilingual, in both German and the original language). Germans make up a loyal audience with a strong sense of decorum, and the literary centres publish their programming months in advance. If the Guest of Honour country wants to see its writers included in their programming, they must cooperate with the literary centres and the German publishers. In the case of other honoured countries, some writers appeared all alone at the readings, without their publisher or an audience; it’s a shame – these occasions were spoiled by a lack of preparation.
C. R.: It’s always better to have the writers go on tour after the fair; a good strategy is to invite them for the last days of the fair and take them around afterwards. But be careful – you have to plan months ahead, beginning in June, to get everything set up.
P. K.: And don’t forget Switzerland and Austria, also countries where German is spoken. Other interesting countries that were honoured – Iceland had a magnificent stand and we were enchanted by its literature, but also by its culture in general. It’s therefore also important to introduce other art forms.
F. H.: Aside from exotic Guest of Honour countries, which can easily surprise us, some countries that are closer to our own had ideas with content (and didn’t rely on their ego) – you have to find the substance of Quebec and get beyond preconceived ideas and marketing notions. And that can be seen in the choice of writers. For example, in Quebec, you are living in a rather unusual situation in which immigration does not cause conflict.
Frank and Patricia, as translators do you function as explorers, or do you rather receive specific assignments from the publishers who want to work with you?
F. H.: In my case, publishers contact me. For a publisher, choosing a translator is like casting a film. They have to ask themselves, Who will be the German voice for this book I want to translate? And then we are approached, according to our specialization. We can also propose books we particularly like. Since at the moment there are few exchanges between the Germans and Quebec, the translators who come here can act as scouts.
P. K.: A friendship is established between a translator and a publisher and then a relationship of trust grows up. But discoveries can also come from booksellers. Here’s an interesting anecdote: One small bookseller downtown boycotted France last year by setting up a table that featured only titles from Quebec. That bookseller had discovered Nicolas Dickner, and he liked his writing so much that he was motivated to research and read other Québécois titles.
How can Québécois titles win you over?C. R.: It’s already done! If a title pleases me, it gives me the energy to follow through. It’s hard to find translators – the decision has to be made now, because soon it might be too late.
Is Quebec’s position as a Francophone cultural space a strategic advantage? Is there a Francophile factor? Or none at all?
P. K.: Seen from Germany, linguistic peculiarities are enchanting to translators.
F. H.: It’s potential to be developed – and if people are unaware, they will not be interested. It has to be talked about. The aspect of being Francophone on an Anglophone continent adds a certain appeal, but it has to be used to your advantage as a tool.
P. K.: For example, why not work up a glossary of typical Québécois expressions for distribution at Frankfurt?
Aside from literature, how interested are Germans in other types of books?
C. R.: There has been more interest recently in publishing for children and young people – that is going very well.
F. H.: It is more complicated for non-fiction, even German non-fiction.
P. K.: Comics and graphic novels represent a market to be developed; for several years now, we have seen growth in the trend for the genre in Germany – and as for non-fiction, it would be favourable for non-fiction that introduces readers to Quebec.