If I were a private investigator, this case would have been too easy, the clues laid out like a road map: a number (1E07), a time (2 p.m.) and a shady, underground location (the depths of New York City's Javits Center during BEA). My sources said there was going to be a meeting at which several kingpins of the international crime in translation market would reveal their secrets.
Once inside room 1E07, I ran their names through my computer, looking for priors: Otto Penzler (aka The Moderator), proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop and founder of Mysterious Press, now a Grove/Atlantic imprint; Johnny Temple, publisher and editor-in-chief, Akashic Books; Dennis Johnson, publisher, Melville House Books; Michael Reynolds, editor-in-chief, Europa Editions; Morgan Entrekin, publisher, Grove/Atlantic.
They had gathered as part of International Crime Month, an "initiative featuring internationally acclaimed crime fiction authors, editors, critics, and publishers appearing together in a series of readings, panels, and discussions."
In the true spirit of the genre, Penzler opened with a confession: "I have to admit I have never published a book in translation."
Entrekin recalled that when he first took over Grove years ago, he knew the press had an "illustrious history" with translated works and he wanted to continue that tradition. "I am very committed to publishing literature in translation, and I'm committed to finding more crime fiction in translation."
Noting that "crime fiction has always been a part of what we've done at Europa," Reynolds observed that while initially publishing those novels as part of the general list had been a "noble ideal," more recently "we realized we needed to brand our crime fiction in some way. The result of that decision is the World Noir series. Because Europa considers crime fiction important, "we're engaged in an ongoing conversation with readers and booksellers," he said, adding that many novelists in the genre are exploring important world and regional issues in their work.
|Johnny Temple, Dennis Johnson, Michael Reynolds and Morgan Entrekin discuss the "secrets of publishing crime in translation" during BEA.
Johnson agreed. Citing the influence of authors like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett--whose characters directly engaged post-Depression era issues as their detectives worked cases--he noted that many international crime writers today are "coming from a political point of view and considering socio-economic issues. At some point, the idea of a crime series seemed in keeping with our activist mission.... We're very proud of the International Crime Series list. These are people trying to make the world a better place."
Akashic's city-based Noir Series, featuring stops in Istanbul, Barcelona, Delhi, London, Moscow and many more locales worldwide, has been the "major vehicle" for the publisher's venture into international crime fiction. "It's very convenient for us that we have this series that forces us to publish works in translation," said Temple.
Citing the huge success of Scandavian crime fiction in recent years, Penzler asked whether the panelists had any predictions regarding which area of the world will produce "the next wave."
"You mean one that we're willing to share?" joked Reynolds, and Entrekin said he was looking "everywhere but Scandinavia." Johnson noted that "the success of Stieg Larsson may speak to how unpredictable it is. I think it's going to come down to a unique book lighting a new spark."
Johnson also noted that one of the marketing challenges Melville House faced with its International Crime Series was how mystery/suspense books are traditionally packaged in the U.S. Wanting to make their covers stand out, "We did something much more graphic. One of the chain buyers said they wouldn't buy our books because they didn't look like the others in the section."
Ultimately, marketing crime fiction written in any language must focus on the rewards inherent in just reading excellent books by gifted writers. As Reynolds observed, "I think it's important not to make it look like medicine for the masses."
Johnson credited Reynolds with conceiving the idea of International Crime Month and described it as "an outreach program to booksellers. Most of us would agree that we live or die with the indie booksellers." A series of events are currently being held at indies, including a crime panel last night at McNally Jackson in Manhattan.
"We'd like it to be annual event. We're in it for next year," Reynolds said, acknowledging that there had been "hiccups" in the 2013 launch, but the lessons learned will help next year. "We're in!" was the unanimous vote among the panelists at the end of the session.
In anticipation of International Crime Month 2014, I've accepted a new assignment that focuses on my key detecting skill: reading. The assignment: a long list of crime fiction in translation to be investigated, with pleasure, between now and next June. Case closed. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2018.