Who's Publishing What Spanish-Language Books from Where?

A couple weeks ago, Valerie Miles organized a special one-day conference on “Publishing Spanish Writers in English.” It featured a series of interesting, well-designed panels: one with Barbara Epler from New Directions and Jonathan Galassi from FSG talking about editing Spanish-language lit; one on magazines featuring Lorin Stein from The Paris Review, Willing Davidson from the New Yorker, Edwin Frank from NYRB, and Larry Rohter from the New York Times; one on rights with Elizabeth Kerr from Norton, Amy Hundley from Grove, and Anna Soler-Pont from the Pontas Agency; and one on grants with Margaret Carson from the PEN Translation Committee and Amy Stolls from the NEA, and some other speakers and presentations as well. (Also, there was a reception with lots of Spanish wine, where I learned about the El Caganer, Catalonia’s amazing contribution to pooping culture.)

I was invited to be part of the rights panel, mostly to speak about the Translation Database and all the information I could pull from it specific to Spanish-language books in the U.S.

One of the things that I hadn’t really been thinking about is how, now that we have years and years of data, I can use the database to analyze publishing trends from a particular language or area of the world. How the data can map where books are coming from, who’s publishing them in the States, etc. I love running the big, general updates and looking at the overall number of books making their way into English, but anyone interested in this can dig into the data and get a more fine-tuned look at what exactly is going on.

So, in preparation for this conference I ran a bunch of reports and created this workbook covering Spanish-language literature in translation over the past seven-and-a-half years.

This workbook breaks down the number of Spanish-language titles translated into English by year, and compares this figure to the total number of translations published during that same time; it collects data on the country of origin for all of the Spanish books in translation; and it breaks down how many Spanish-language titles individual publishers published during a given year.

You can look through all of that and make your own conclusions, but here’s bulleted-list of things that I took away from this mini-report:

  • Since 2008, the number of translations of fiction and poetry appearing in English for the first time ever (and available in the U.S.) has increased from a low of 48 books (2008) to a high of 71 titles (2013).
  • Excluding data from 2015 (which is incomplete), there is an average of 44 works of fiction published each year, and 14 works of poetry for a total of 58 new titles every year.
  • Spanish has been the second most translated language for five of the past seven years, coming in first in 2009 and third (behind France and Germany) in 2014. France has been the most translated language for six of the seven years, coming in second one time, in 2009.
  • There are more books being translated in 2014 than in 2008 by a significant percentage (a 64% increase over that time), but Spanish really hasn’t kept pace (a 48% increase from 2008 to 2013, when it had its best year).
  • Spanish has made up between 11.19% and 16.90% of all translations published; French has made up between 14.96% and 17.80%.
  • French literature is expanding rapidly, going from 60 books in 2008 to 105 in 2014. Some of this is due to the launch of French-only presses like Gallic Books and Le French, but Spanish has seen the launch of Hispabooks and Cubanabooks, so this doesn’t fully explain the rapid growth for French titles translated into English.
  • In terms of where these Spanish books are coming from, the majority of Spanish titles come from: Spain (117, 27.02% of total), Argentina (101, 23.33%). Mexico (60, 13.86%), and Chile (53, 12.24%). Those four countries account for 76.45% of all Spanish books translated into English.
  • Spain and Argentina have been steadily growing, with Mexico and Chile holding steady.
  • Over the past seven years, commercial presses have accounted for 14.55% of all Spanish translations, whereas independent and university presses make up 85.45%.
  • The number one publisher of Spanish-language literature in English is New Directions with 39 books since 2008. The top seven publishers of Spanish-language literature have brought out 123 books over this time—28% of all the Spanish-language books that made their way into English.

Personally, I’m most interested in the report of where the books are coming from. It’s maybe not surprising that Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and Chile account for such a huge portion of translated books, but wow, are there are lot of countries that must have authors deserving of being translated into English.

Anyway, this is definitely something I want to start doing more of—playing with the data I’ve been collecting to make some interesting findings. Next up, a breakdown of how many women writers get translated and where they’re from . . .

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