More than four times as many people worldwide speak English than French, yet French culture certainly punches above its weight. This year’s Nobel laureate in literature is the French author Patrick Modiano, and more French writers have won the Nobel than writers of any other country.
When Modiano’s award was announced last month, however, American readers scrambled for his books in English translation. Only three titles were available, all from the literary-minded house of David R. Godine in Boston. Unfortunately, many French writers suffer the same fate of being lost in translation. Relatively few titles ever font le pont – make the bridge – while those that do usually take advantage of hard-to-come-by grants for translators from the French government. E-books and print-on-demand technology, though, are making it more practical than ever to bring out translations for books other than prizewinners and bestsellers.
Working to change the way translations are made and published is Anne Trager, founder of Le French Book, which brings mysteries and thrillers from France to new readers across the English-speaking world. “I think that we have to find ways to work differently,” she tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally.
“One of the new models that’s being tossed around is revenue sharing— you have a lower advance and a higher royalty,” explains Trager in an interview from her home near Toulouse. “When you consider who do you share the revenue with, it’s about who do you share the risk with? You can share the risk with the original language rights-holder. In our case, it’s usually the French publisher, but it perhaps it’s the original author, if they hold the rights.”