Translations of Fiction Up 14% [Translation Database]

After seemingly forever, I’ve finally updated the Translation Database and posted updated spreadsheets for 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.

As always, we only keep track of works of fiction and poetry that have never been for sale in the U.S. in any translation. So retranslations—no matter how extensive—aren’t counted, nor are reprints, paperback versions of hardcovers, memoirs, children’s books, nonfiction, UK versions not for sale here, graphic novels, etc. Hopefully at some point we’ll have the funding and people power to expand the database to include all sorts of categories of translations, but for now, we’re limited to original works of fiction and poetry. (As my son screamed out in the middle of a movie theater once, “you get what you get!”)

OK, now that the preliminary disclaimers and explanations are out of the way, I can move onto the good news . . . After a pretty steep drop off last year, the overall number of translations being published jumped back up to where it was in 2008 and 2009, due entirely to a huge increase in the number of works of fiction coming out this year.

In 2008, there were 360 total translations, 278 of which were fiction, 82 which were poetry.

In 2009, the total increased slightly to 363, with 291 being fiction, 72 poetry.

There was a huge drop off in 2010 (probably a reaction to the 2008 crash—it takes a couple years for that to show up in the publishing stats), with the total dipping to 340, 265 of which were works of fiction, 75 collections of poetry.

So far in 2011 (it’s possible I haven’t identified all the books yet), the total shot up 6% to 361, with fiction titles accounting for 303 of those books (a 14% increase), and poetry making up 58 (which is where I think I may be missing some titles).

Overall, this is great news for literature in translation, and exciting to see such a rebound. It also begs the question as to why the number of works of fiction jumped so dramatically . . .

Well, in looking through the data, it seems to me like there are two main sources for this increase: Dalkey Archive and AmazonCrossing. Dalkey upped their number of translations from 22 in 2010 to 32 in 2011, whereas AmazonCrossing went from 2 all the way up to 18. That’s huge.

There are other minor increases from publishers—Seagull books is up to 9 titles a year, Knopf is bringing out 10 translations this year, and Melville House went from 3 to 9—which is also really encouraging.

In terms of which languages are the most translated, this seems to follow a pretty standard pattern.

So far in 2011, the top five are French (59 titles), Spanish (47), German (44), Japanese (25), and Swedish (19), which accounts for almost 54% of the books published in translation.

In 2010, the top five—French (60), Spanish (52), German (35), Japanese (26), and Italian (15)—constituted 55% of the total. This trend holds in 2009, with the top five making up 53% of all translations, and the top 5 translated languages accounted for 52% of the books published in 2008.

There’s a lot more to be analyzed in here—the decline of translated poetry, the increased interest in Swedish (an effect of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo perhaps?), the vast number of presses doing literature in translation (133 different publishers have brought out at least one translated title this year), etc.

So dig on in. And if you see anything that’s wrong—a missing title, an ineligible title, a title that was delayed and didn’t come out on time—let me know.

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