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.