May 12, 2016

Translated fiction is the slow and steady winner



The Man Booker International Prize winner is announced on 16th May

If you’re a fan of fiction, you cannot have failed to noticed the enormous success of authors such as Jo Nesbø and Haruki Murakami, alongside perennial favorites like Isabelle Allande and Paulo Coelho. And what do these authors have in common? They do not write in English.

A study The Man Booker International Prize commissioned Nielsen Book to conduct provides an unprecedented glimpse into the translated fiction market, and the results are hopeful. While in the UK the physical fiction market is generally on the slide, falling from 51.6 million copies sold in 2001 to 49.7 million in 2015, translated fiction has risen from 1.3 million copies to 2.5 million. So while still a relatively small slice of the fiction market, it is punching above its weight.

Fiammetta Rocco, Administrator of the Man Booker International Prize, commented:

I’m delighted to see this confirmation of the health and growth potential of international fiction in the UK. I hope that the evidence that translated fiction can sell well, alongside the new focus of the Man Booker International Prize, will encourage publishers and agents to take more risks and invest in translation.

Chris White, fiction buyer at Waterstones, told the Guardian:

The popularity of the likes of Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø has made people realise that ‘translated’ doesn’t automatically equal ‘difficult’ or ‘worthy.’ As a result, readers are now reading translated fiction of every description and you’re as likely to find My Brilliant Friend, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared or Look Who’s Back on the bestseller tables as you are The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

As announced earlier this year, Bonnier Publishing will be focusing more on fiction titles in translation, starting with German fiction, under a new imprint called Manilla.

Writing for The Bookseller, Katherine Cowdrey reported:

Manilla, which [Bonnier] has dubbed ‘the home of international bestselling fiction,’ was born out of the idea that ‘the best books cross all borders’ and that there should be ‘no barrier to the power of a good story.’ It will offer international readers of crime, thrillers, women’s and historical fiction the opportunity to discover authors such as Marc Raabe, Emily Bold and Hanna Winter, who are already bestsellers in their own countries.

The Queue

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

The top five source languages of literary fiction titles sold in the UK in 2015 were French, Italian, Japanese, Swedish, and German, whereas in 2001 the top five were French, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, and Mandarin.

Translated fiction is surely in the limelight at present and long may it reign. The Man Booker International Prize itself will be announced on 16th May.

Melville House UK publishes debut novel The Queue by Egyptian writer Basma Abdel Aziz on 2nd June, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette.



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.