Back in April, Riky Stock, director of the German Book Office in New York reached out to me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—to join a group of children’s book editors on a trip to Frankfurt and Hamburg to meet with German publishers and agents. The German Book Office hosts this annual trip for editors to experience the wonders of beer, brats, and books in hopes of building a bridge between our two countries, for both American books that could succeed in Germany and vice versa.
My fellow editors for this year’s trip included Stacey Barney from Putnam/Penguin (and one of the founders of CBC Diversity!), Sheila Barry from Groundwood Books in Canada, Grace Maccarone from Holiday House, Ben Rosenthal from Enslow, and Reka Simonsen from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Our group had a great vibe, and by the end of the trip, we had our fair share of inside jokes and insightful discussion about books and, in particular, why foreign translations are so difficult for the North American market.
The CBC Diversity Initiative is committed to bringing diverse experiences to our book market, and this includes stories told from a non-American point of view. After learning some eye-opening numbers about the German book market, it’s evident that while the American perspective is pervasive worldwide, we in turn are reluctant to embrace stories from other cultures.
Here’s the breakdown:
24.8% of all new fiction titles in Germany are translations—and more than 70% of those are books from the US and the UK. Meanwhile, in the US, only 3% of all new titles are translations.
The biggest bestselling series in Germany mirror the American market:
YA and children’s translations into German have almost doubled in the last five years.
In 2011, a total of 46 German translations were published in the U.S.
I decided I wanted to work in children’s publishing in sixth grade. I had devoured all of the Anne of Green Gables books by this time, and I was convinced that I could be the Dominican Lucy Maud Montgomery. I kept writing through middle school and high school, and pondered over different career paths (should I be a literary agent, an editor?), and even momentarily thought about being a cultural anthropologist instead.
The fact remained: I was fascinated by stories—all people’s stories.
I declared my English Lit/Latino Studies double-major freshman year at Columbia University, and was lucky enough to snag an editorial internship with Dell Publishing (a crossword puzzle publisher) through my Hispanic Scholarship Fund mentor. That summer internship cemented my desire to work in publishing, while at the same time reinforced the fact that it had to be with work that I cared about (crossword puzzles, were just not that interesting), and at a place that gave me the opportunity to advocate for diverse literature.
There’s a unique fear that I experience as an editor—which I imagine other editors experience as well—after reading a manuscript by and about a minority group I know too little about.
For example, I’m a Persian male who was born in Iran, and raised all over Europe, and then Oklahoma. So if you send me FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, man, I am in it. I lived that experience. Maybe not exactly as Boobie Miles lived it. But I played ball in Oklahoma. I get the lingo. My first manuscript was the story of that experience.
In the same way, if you write a novel set in Rome, if you want to sample some Farsi for a character, or French, then I’m good. I’m still with you. I have firsthand knowledge of the languages, the cultural nuances, etc.