publishing

Haute Culture Books, an exciting new translation venture and Q&A with publisher Luis de Miranda

I am very excited about this addition to the publishing world. Haute Culture Books, a new publisher based in Stockholm, Sweden, is making it its mission to provide foreign literary masterpieces to an English reading audience. Most works of international literature are not available in English translation and those that are, are often popular contemporary thrillers (I once had a depressing conversation with a former lit agent and now publisher who told me that he doesn’t see the point in publishing something foreign if we can already get something comparable already in the US).

But, the kicker with Haute Culture Books is that they have something a little different up their sleeve. Their aim is to design high quality editions that any bibliophile would clamor for, while also supplying free ebook editions of the book. The intent is to have beautifully designed luxury editions that would help support the dissemination of the free ebooks, so more people have access to newly translated literary classics. Through their Book Angel Program, people are able to sponsor the production (and receive) the handmade edition as well as the ebook (or for book lovers on a budget, there is also a level for just sponsoring the ebook edition).

They already have one translation available now (the bilingual ebook for Gustave Flaubert’s Felicity: The Tale of the Simple Heart is available to download for free here with information on how to donate) and Estonian writer Anton H. Tammsaare’s novel Truth and Justice available in the future.

As regular readers of Acid Free Pulp know, I am always enthusiastic about literary translation and am thrilled to share with you a Q&A with the publisher of Haute Culture Books, Luis de Miranda. For a complete copy, please download the PDF. All pertinent links are available at the end of the Q&A.

I am looking forward to the current and upcoming books that you are working on. What does the planned future look like for Haute Culture Books?

We will launch with our upcoming publication of Flaubert in December. This special limited edition will sell in high-end boutiques around world, and the results will tell us a lot about the viability of our model. Our limited luxury editions will support the distribution of free e-books for each title. I feel this model addresses the future of publishing as e-books become cheaper and cheaper. Instead of trying to wring out diminishing profits, I prefer to create a model that does not depend on e-book sales and allows us to reach as many readers as possible, particularly younger readers. If we want younger generations to read quality literature, and not just the latest bestsellers, free e-books are the way to go.

As for the printed books, I aim to create unique objects that make the poetry of the texts tangible. As we all spend more time in front of a screen, I believe that the experiential aspect of the printed book will become more important, with readers looking for a higher quality object. I foresee the return of the “gentlemen’s library” (or “gentlewomen’s library”), with fine leather volumes and limited editions—the polar opposite of e-books. Our limited editions will embody my great respect for the ritual of reading and for the craftsmanship of book making.

Through this new model, buyers of our limited print editions will, in effect, become benefactors—or “Book Angels,” as we call them. This model allows individuals to become mini-Medici’s, supporting culture while enjoying a luxurious object. I believe this model will satisfy collectors and book lovers. Right now, we are in an experimental stage. I don’t know if ours will be an economically viable model in the end, but it is definitely a desirable one. Since we are exploring unchartered territory, we have to take things step by step. We are avoiding the established highways over artificial ponds, and attempting to build our own bridge.

There has always been a dearth of international books translated for the English reading audience and, recently, there has been a small movement to change this. What was it that motivated you to begin Haute Culture Books and the Book Angel Project?

Bringing un-translated texts to English readers around the world is one aspect of a wider mission to bring singular, fine, original works to the global corpus. That has always been my goal—to democratize access to culture. I’ve been to the Frankfurt Book Fair many times and met with publishers and agents in New York. I’ve noticed not only that many great European works have not been translated to English, but also that the mainstream US and UK publishers tend to translate mostly genre bestsellers—thrillers for example.

We can’t fight the fact that English is the international language. English is today’s Lingua Franca, the dominant language of the planet and also the language of business. I believe it’s possible to bring to the global language and the international psyche works that aren’t standardized and cliché, but truly represent a unique viewpoint.

Many wonderful independent publishers are translating a variety of contemporary texts, but (as I’m sure they would all tell you) it is not enough to translate and print a book. Today’s distribution systems render most publications invisible to readers. (As an author, I have been translated myself and did not find that the translations greatly increased my readership.) This is why I feel it’s essential for Haute Culture to shake off the shackles of the established systems and freely distribute e-books, in order to reach our greatest readership. Literature has the potential to create a more diverse and interconnected world, but in order to reach that potential we must fight against a profit-driven culture.

What is the translation process like? Does a translator come to you or is one sought out for the specific project?

It depends on the project. We welcome translators who have already completed a text, but we are also willing to find the right translator for a text we want to publish. For our current translation of Yuri Mamleyev’s Shatuny, we are working with one of the best Russian to English translators, Marian Schwartz, who translated Bulgakov and Berberova. 

How does Haute Culture choose the author for a current project?

I tend to choose books that I have read and appreciated in French. It is also important for us to choose authors that are important, even iconic figures in their own nations. Honestly, though, we are too young to have an established method. We are still in the experimental phase of the brand, and we are constantly adapting our strategies in order to come up with the best possible publishing model for our mission.

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I Will Not Pay You To Read My Story

I am extremely adamant about not submitting my writing to any publication that requires a reader’s fee. 1) There are plenty of wonderful journals, magazines, and anthologies that accept submissions sans money and 2) I should not be paying anyone to read my writing. Like many others in the arts and humanities fields, writers are grossly underpaid or not paid at all (which is more frequently the case). As a publisher, it’s your choice to run a publication which means it’s your responsibility to find funding (whether it’s through grants, patrons, or your own stockpile of basement cash). Paying for a finished journal itself is, of course, acceptable, but I think the concept of a reader’s fee is a crying shame.

I recently decided to conduct a little experiment. I submitted a story of mine to an anthology that required a fee. You paid it separately via PayPal so you are able to email them first and pay later. I did only the former and purposefully neglected the latter. I was informed twice about my lack of payment. I received the final email today: “Just a reminder: We’ve received your story but not your fee. If we don’t get it in the next week or so (before the deadline), we won’t be able to accept your submission.”

Which leads me to my subconscious dismissal of publications that only publish work by writers that have paid to have their writing appear there. It wasn’t until recently that what used to be subconscious had surfaced to the front of my mind. As a reader, I avoid such publications. Why do I want to read writing that someone paid to have placed? It could be entirely well-deserved of publication but the nasty business of reader’s fee has blemished it all for me. When a journal, magazine, or anthology puts out a call for submissions, it should be just that. “Hey! We’re looking for some great writing. Send it our way.” It should not be a palm greasing monetary transaction that excludes those who cannot afford to send cash-in-hand to every lame publication out there.

It is a real disappointment that writers in general are always being asked to work for free (although, there are moments when it could be acceptable–for example, certain non-profits). I think, in a way, it is even more of a travesty to make them pay for their own work as well as narrowing the pool of submitted work to choose from. Just remember, there are plenty of wonderful publishers who are looking for exciting, new writing and don’t charge you to submit. Now, paying writers for their work–that’s a whole other story.

Penguin Random House

Apologies for so much silence lately but I have been traveling quite a bit these past few months. Regardless, I knew something had to be included  about the recent merger between Penguin and Random House (in my mind, this new GMO-house is referred to as Pengdom). Hmmm.

Two of the biggies are joining forces and monies to form one über-giant. They claim that now they will have more possibilities, both financial and otherwise, to spruce things up in the publishing world. I am skeptical of this consolidation.

According to BBC News,

The tie-up between Penguin and Random House marks the first deal between the world’s big six publishers. The others are Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster. It would bring together the publishers of the Fifty Shades series and Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks.

The New York Times offers added skepticism,

Some literary agents, however, were unimpressed by the prospect of a combined Random House and Penguin, responding to reports of a possible deal last week by saying it could reduce the number of outlets for authors.

Penguin and Random House are both very different beasts; like the literary agents, I am a bit dismayed at future prospects. Besides outlets for authors, possibilities could include too much standardization of books and other publishing projects with not enough differentiation. Any thoughts??

When You Are Silent, You Are Worthless

For the past few months, I have been hearing from a dear, dear writer friend, Carmen Adamucci, about a fantastic author in Greece (she translated some of his stories into Greek for publication). At the risk of sounding cliché, Antonia-Belica Kubareli, is clearly a Renaissance woman–writer, translator, activist, educator, editor, thinker, to name just a few of her accomplishments.

In our discussion, what really struck my attention was the crisis, but it is not the economic crisis that we hear or read about so frequently. It is a crisis for the writers, the open-minded, the people.

As an American-based writer, the concept of censorship is barbaric to me and can only occupy the realm of the brainwashed nitwits that, unfortunately, skip around our country.

Carmen told me about Belica’s most recent headache.

As a prominent translator, Belica has translated many famous writers into Greek: Salman Rushdie, Jumpa Lahiri, Audrey Niffenegger, Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, etc. So, naturally, she is very much aware of the book trends in English-speaking countries including a certain trilogy that is EVERYWHERE, whether we want it to be or not (for various reasons, this trilogy’s name and other like books are being withheld from my blog post; please also read the links and available texts I’ve posted–you will get the gist of it).

Antonia-Belica Kubareli

In short, the books are being marketed as women’s literature (or better known as “chick lit,” a term that has always driven me up the wall). So, like the ballsy woman she is, Belica took pen to paper and wrote an article about her experience and her personal opinions of the books,

It is degrading and demeaning for my intelligence to have such texts promoted as women’s literature, not because I am a littérateur but because I am a Woman and a Human! GREEK | ENGLISH

When I first wrote to Belica asking her for an English translation of the original article, she told me that the article was mostly about certain situations in Greece. Phewy! Yes, she does include some facets that are specifically Greece-orientated, but I think her crises–censorship, politics, sexism–can speak to us all. During her initial writing of this article, Belica proffers the idea that she might be “punished” for publishing this. In a follow-up interview, she writes what has happened to her in the Greek publishing industry,

 [T]hey retreated (sic) my books from all the bookstores, they took back the translation I was doing without paying me and they also informed me that “due to the crisis I won’t get my royalties this year”, so you see how the system works in Greece. I am a typical example.

Along with others, Belica has been fighting the good fight. With the promise from her Greek publishers “that [she] will never get another translation in [her] life,” Belica will be leaving Greece for Dublin,Ireland.

Still, art was always Greek. Small groups are trying hard to offer something new. Yet in this huge turmoil that is going to last for decades, I am afraid that art will suffer. In fact, I am relocating in August…

Soon, she will be studying at a university in Ireland and working on translating her own books into English.

All links are available throughout the post, but they are organized below for more convenience.

post script

Yesterday, I received a frantic email from Belica (not only is she a writer/translator but a passionate activist). The Albanian-born journalist, Niko Ago, is being threatened with deportation. He has lived and worked in Greece for over 20 years (as his family) and has jumped through hoops in regards to immigration. Read Belica’s letter to find out more about what’s happening with Niko Ago (“Niko is also a novelist and a member in the leading committee of the Hellenic League for Human Rights”).

**correction: I originally wrote that Belica was also asked to translate these trendy books into Greek but this is not the case.**

New Directions and the verbal revolution

I recently had a German houseguest who was visiting the US for the first time (side note: he will be translating a story of mine for an Austrian anthology being released in November in Europe). Of course because the two of us are pseudo-writers, we had to hit up many book stores and I dragged him to literary events around the city. I always thought the books being published in Germany, et al were beautiful and looked like more craft was paid than over here in the States. He mentioned that the US editions were creative and came in all different sizes. But then…

We came across a copy of Anne Carson’s new translation, Antigonick being published by New Directions. A friend showed it to us and it is truly fantastic. In co-production with a visual artist, Antigonick is cloth-bound and offers translucent pages by the artist that cover Carson’s handwritten text. It is a complete artistic experience provided by New Directions. The words become art and the visual art becomes part of the text.

In an age when publishing is going down the tube and the reading audience (myself included), sometimes shops with its eyes, these smaller presses are wise to put exhaustive energy into their product. Many of these smaller presses are doing a great service by publishing long forgotten writers, works in translation, or exciting new writers that need exposure on the market.

Unfortunately, New Directions is no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts or queries, but perhaps, if the book industry gets back on its feet, small indie presses can offer this courtesy once again.

Argos Books at The Oracle Club

This weekend, I had the pleasure of catching Argos Books‘ celebration of their most recently released chapbooks. The lovely and talented editors held their little shindig at the The Oracle Club which deserves its own post all together. Four readers read from the new books and each had such engaging poems. Two of the chapbooks also were in collaboration with visual artists that offered stunning images to accompany the words. Argos always produces lovely books; besides the words and images, the books themselves are outstanding pieces of art. They are hand-sewn and whenever I pick one up, I just want to touch every inch of the cover and pages. The reading itself was brief which was perfect. The poets kept the audience engaged and each one of them brought a different aesthetic to the event.

Another aspect of Argos that I love is that they take a special interest in publishing works-in-translation. They have a side by side series that offers both the original text and the new translation. They are working hard to bring writers that haven’t been published before in English to a wider audience. The editors at Argos are especially interested in this because of their own personal translation endeavors (one of the lovely Argos ladies works on translating from Swedish!).

Hearing them introduce each poet just showed how passionate they are about their writers and why they chose to publish them. They have a real appreciation and regard for the texts and I hope this small presse can continue producing big things.

Sitting in a Windowless Room, Talking About Books

That’s how I will sum up the past two days. A few friends and acquaintances organized an annual conference this year. The topic was broad and it took me some time to figure out what the thesis of it all was but for the most part, the papers presented and the panels held were interesting. The participants consisted of PhD students from the US and Europe.

DAY 1

Of course, when you’re in a room of academics, you’re mostly thinking about how obvious your seat-squirming is and when will they be done talking so you can head over to the coffee and cookie spread. This did happen the first day, however, there was some fascinating papers presented. The one that stood out to me was about Gerard Manley Hopkins. The speaker was clear and concise, and was clearly passionate about his topic and engaged with the audience. He discussed how a writer becomes popular and/or canonical. He stated that Manley Hopkins was not popular in his own lifetime for various reasons, 1) he only sent his poems to Catholic publications, 2) his publisher barely publicized the book, 3) the book was printed by a private printer which made the book look archaic and was not able to be marketed to a larger audience because of the price tag. Thus, resulting in a lack of awareness by critics and readers. It wasn’t until the first half of the Twentieth century when the poet entered into the public conscious. A second printing in 1930 resulted in 2000+ sales of his book over the following few months.

DAY 2

I didn’t attend much of day 2, only making it to the final presentation/panel (my mind was definitely tired and needed to rejuvenate by watching hulu and eating tacos). The non-native English speakers were a bit hard to follow but a graduate student from Vanderbilt presented a paper on the notebooks of Nietzsche and Brecht. She touched upon the actual entries of the notebooks but focused more on the work as a physical entity. A back-and-forth broke out in the audience during the panel Q&A about whether books should be preserved only in archives or facsimiles should be available to the public even though they are pale omparisons to the original text. That was finally squashed and then it was onto the chitting and chatting.

An Evening of Translation

I have come to literary translation recently in my writing career. Even though it is a lot of work and can eat up any free time I have, I find the whole process fascinating and perversely fun. I think I will do a separate post(s) about my views on translations and my personal experience, but for now, I’ll stick to the facts.

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a most enlightening and encouraging panel on literary translation. Besides the panel leader, there were four guests who were either translators, publishers, or both. The four came from American Literary Translators Association, PEN American Center, A Public Space, and Argos Books.

They provided information that I either was not aware of or would not have even thought of. We discussed securing rights, organizations (specifically, ALTA and PEN) that are established to support literary translation and translators, as well as technical aspects of translating. Two things that I found encouraging were: the enthusiasm for young translators and translators who have not been published previously and secondly, it sounded like many people translated from Spanish. As someone who does not translate from Spanish, the pool of potential competitors is much narrower. Michael Moore (PEN), a translator of Italian texts, also spoke about the differences between a good translator and a bad one.

The panel was even more helpful than I could have imagined. Maybe next paycheck, I’ll get a membership to ALTA!