Small Publisher Finds Its Mission in Translation

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Small Publisher Finds Its Mission in Translation

Publishers estimate that less than 3% of their industry in America is in translated books. Open Letter Books is a small publishing house that aims to be different. Affiliated with New York's University of Rochester, the year-old company publishes only foreign literature in translation. "English-speaking readers don't have full access to voices and viewpoints from around the world, and we're trying to rectify that," says Open Letter Director Chad W. Post. Modest sales have not dampened the lavish praise bestowed upon Open Letter's titles, and the press was recently awarded a $20,000 grant by Amazon.com to support publication of an anthology by East European writers. Three Percent, a blog that has become a clearinghouse for everything related to literary translation, has also helped Open Letter stay afloat. The blog's posts include reviews by readers and works available for translation. "There are readers out there communicating with each other about translation, and through Three Percent, Open Letter is plugged into the new media and is using that space to find new readers and sell their books," says Peter Bush with the International Federation of Translators. Post says that Open Letter is trying to find ways to expand it's reach by appealing to specific audiences, such as people who frequent movie theaters known for showing foreign films. Another strategy used by Open Books has been the creation of a signature look—a design that is distinctively clean and uncluttered. Paul Yamazaki, lead buyer at City Lights in San Francisco, says, "They've been really smart in creating immensely eye-catching books that readers are going to pick up when they see them in the store window or on a friend's bookshelf, just because they are so interesting looking." Open Letter also offers a subscription service for its customers. For a set annual fee, a reader receives each of the books that the publishing house releases during the year—working out to about $10 a title. The books published by Open Letter are selected by a seven-member committee, including faculty from the University of Rochester. English professor and committee member Joanna Scott says, "We want the openness in the name Open Letter to register. What we are looking for is excellent work, from any language, eclectic modern fiction that is overlooked. Commerce does not enter the discussions; I wouldn't know a commercial book if I saw one."

From "Small Publisher Finds Its Mission in Translation"
New York Times (NY) (12/26/09) Rohter, Larry

Source: ATA Newsbriefs - December 2009


 

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