Thursday, January 7, 2016

The 2016 Publishers in Translation Challenge

Happy 2016! Let's get down to business.

Before I publish the final 2015 women in translation statistics, I'd like to make a few things very clear: Things aren't great, some publishers are definitely doing better than others, and I don't for a moment want to diminish from the great work publishers of literature in translation do at large.

I'll be getting into more details about specific publishers and specific publisher patterns in future posts, but for now - at the onset of a new calendar year - I want to make one main request of publishers: do better.

The 2016 Publishers in Translation Challenge: Translate more women writers!

With even basic parity still a long, long way off and almost all major publishers falling all-too-comfortably below the 31% overall average (as you'll see more clearly in the stats post, of the top 25 publishers of literature in translation in 2015, only 5 were above 31% and only 2 reached/crossed the 50% mark), it's for publishers to show that they recognize this problem and they are committing to fixing it.

For the record: Some of the publishers with pretty abysmal rates have already expressed support for the women in translation project in different ways (WITMonth, the Year of Publishing Women, etc.), but this ultimately has not yet translated into concrete publications. While I continue to admire and support publishers who take part in the project, I also can't just ignore the lack of meaningful results.

The challenge is this:
  • Acknowledge the problem!
  • Publish your own translations rates (including backlog). Show us where you are, for good and bad. Give us the whole picture.
  • Commit to working towards a solution.
  • Publish women writers.
Many publishers will likely scoff at this point, saying that they choose only the best books, or the books that make the most sense for them to publish, or only books that fit with a certain "aesthetic" (a heavily coded word if there ever was one). I'll scoff back and say this: If you can't find books by women writers that fit your aesthetic or style, then your aesthetic or style is probably defined by being exclusively male.

We've passed the point of gently chiding publishers. We've passed the point of being baffled by ratios that make no sense. We've passed the point at which the claim that "women just don't write like men" is deemed an acceptable argument.

At this point, I want to see results. I want to see publishers owning up to the years in which they published zero books by women writers. I want to see publishers owning up to the fact that they have failed to give voice to women writers in equal measure. I want to see publishers recognizing that this was and is a problem, and saying: We are done being part of this problem.

You only pick the best books? Awesome. None of those books were by women? To quote the wise Rafiki: look harder. You'll probably find a gem.


  1. Folks who might be looking for recommendations of women writers from the Arabic, I (@arablit) am happy to oblige.

  2. In 100% agreement and support of the Publisher in Translation Challenge. What gatekeeping and decision-making is going into the current state of things in the publishing of literary translations? I agree, some of the explanations so far have been pretty feeble.


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