This spring the US book distribution company Ingram Publisher Services (IPS) announced its “Be Worldly. Read Lit in Translation” initiative. Lori Feathers, co-owner of Interbang Books in Dallas, TX, spoke with IPS’s VP of marketing, Jennifer Swihart, about the campaign.
Lori Feathers (LF): At this year’s Book Expo, Ingram Publisher Services introduced its “Be Worldly” campaign to encourage booksellers to sell more books in translation. What was the impetus for this initiative?
Jennifer Swihart (JS): It really was the serendipity of having one of the leading publishers of literature in translation (Europa Editions) join the Ingram family as a distribution client of Publishers Group West (PGW) almost at the same time the National Book Foundation announced that the committee was recognizing literature in translation as an award category for the first time. The National Book Awards (NBA) announcement was January 31, 2018; Europa came on board officially as a PGW client in February 2018. We felt the recognition of the NBA would fuel interest in literature in translation from booksellers and consumers and that Ingram and our distribution brands are uniquely poised to meet that interest by showcasing the many publishers devoted to literature in translation.
That contribution to the field of literature drives these publishers. It’s their merit. That’s an old-fashioned criterion in publishing but one I’m happy to see warmly embraced by an innovative, forward-thinking company like Ingram.
LF: Ingram Publisher Services is the US distribution company for a great many small and medium-sized publishing houses, many of which specialize in English translations of books first published in another language. What impact do you think that these presses have made in the books Americans are reading today?
JS: No other distribution company enjoys such a rich array of exclusively literature-in-translation publishers. Those publishers include not only Europa, but Open Letter, Dalkey Archive, Deep Vellum, New Vessel Press, And Other Stories, Humanoids, and Two Lines, not to mention publishers who regularly dedicate portions of their list to literature in translation, such as Grove/Atlantic, New Press, Academic Studies Press, Akashic, American University in Cairo, Bellevue, and many others. Three Percent, the organization and newsletter devoted to literature in translation that Open Letter publisher Chad Post founded, bases its name on the fact that only three percent of the books published in the US each year are translations. It’s hard to see that statistic and feel like any publisher of lit in translation is making a big impact on what Americans are reading! But these publishers and their passion for fiction from other countries are certainly improving the odds that Americans can discover, as I like to say, “a new culture.” And that contribution to the field of literature drives these publishers. It’s their merit. That’s an old-fashioned criterion in publishing but one I’m happy to see warmly embraced by an innovative, forward-thinking company like Ingram.
LF: As a distributor, how will Ingram Publisher Services promote the sale of translated books? How can independent bookstores like mine participate in the campaign?
JS: Ingram is supporting lit in translation in a nice way. We had dedicated “Be Worldly” booths at BEA and ALA with lots of fun tie-ins and swag—like international varieties of licorice (BEA) and Tahitian marshmallows (ALA) for guessing the origin country of one of the titles on display. We also had “passports” showcasing the titles on display with links to more lit-in-translation titles available on iPage, Ingram’s order management system. Our most popular item in the booth, however, was the book club guide that featured twenty “book club-friendly” lit-in-translation titles with downloadable reading group guides and links to find more recommended titles as we add them.
Image: Cover of Ingram’s Book Club Guide.
We’ve done some email blasts to stores through PW Daily and just ran a book club email blast for consumers in Shelf Awareness for Readers. The book club guide (see image above) will also be going out to 550 independent bookstores across the country in the July ABA Red Box. We’re also collaborating with Open Road’s Early Reads e-newsletter and their Summer Reading Challenge, running May 25–September 3. They hope to encourage readers to “get inspired” to read something different than the typical beach read. For the fall, we hope to have more lit-in-translation books on display at the regional bookseller shows and to ramp up our social media outreach with “share a culture” promotions around the first lit-in-translation National Book Award winner announcement in mid-November and though the holidays.
In terms of what independent bookstores can do to participate: create displays around a favorite country or translation publisher (Chad Post has a great database of translated titles that can be sorted by publisher or country of origin)—or just create a general lit-in-translation display using our recommended titles. Some stores have requested multiple book club guide copies, which we are happy to send out.
LF: With so many books competing for readers’ time and attention, what reasons would you give to encourage someone to select a book in translation as their next read?
JS: If you have wanderlust but just can’t afford to travel to the number of places you’d like to visit, I’d suggest reading a book native to one of your fantasy destinations. What better way to feel transported to another country, landscape, and culture?
LF: Are there translated books or foreign authors that have made a difference in your life?
JS: Growing up as a Gen Xer, my knowledge of Russia was through stories of the Cold War. Literature in translation has given me a keener insight into the country. Reading Anna Karenina and Dr. Zhivago opened me up to a completely different world and historical experience of the Russian people. I felt my impressions in high school of what being Russian meant were completely inaccurate and unfair after reading these books. I suddenly saw Russians as people like me with passions and hopes. It really changed how I looked at countries—the distinction between a people and their government or political system.
LF: Are there any new summer releases in translation that you recommend for the beach or poolside?
JS: If you’re looking for something fun, almost anything by Antoine Laurain (Gallic Books) will fit the bill. His first book to be published in English in the US, The President’s Hat, was an ABA Indies Introduce pick. His newest book, Smoking Kills, comes out in August. Other books that are engrossing reads are Convenience Store Woman (Grove Press), new last month, and Lion Cross Point (Two Lines Press), which just came out in April. My Brilliant Friend (Europa Editions) is not frontlist but will have a new HBO tie-in edition coming out in September. Readers should catch up on the book before the HBO series starts!
Jennifer Swihart is the VP of marketing for Ingram Publisher Services. Jennifer assists Ingram-distributed publishers by building new partnerships; supporting key titles with additional Ingram marketing; collaborating with the wholesale marketing team; seeking cross-brand promotion opportunities; and working with Ingram to reach more consumers on behalf of distribution clients. She was previously the VP of marketing at Consortium, where she spent twelve years advising publishers on marketing strategy for key titles, while overseeing the company’s social media platforms and trade newsletters. She helped redesign the CBSD website; initiate a consumer-focused short story app and blog; and managed BEA roundtables and panels, organized sales conference seminars, and introduced new co-op programs for publishers. Prior to Consortium, Jennifer worked for thirteen years in New York at HarperCollins, Putnam/Riverhead, Scribner, Broadway Books, Simon &Schuster, and Lynn Goldberg Communications.
Ingram Publisher Services offers a trusted distribution network, a sales team of passionate book lovers, and access to leading e-book and print-on-demand technologies.
Read an interview with Lisa Lucas about the National Book Award for Translated Literature