Game of Tongues — PUP Director Peter Dougherty Reflects on the Importance of Translations (#UPWeek)

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If you want to get a great sense of the global reach of the university press and, not incidentally, of the potential of forthcoming publications, you could do worse than observing a few days’ worth of foreign rights meetings at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Perched in a folding chair at a card table in the Princeton University Press booth last month, I watched my colleague Kim Williams, PUP’s foreign rights manager (who operates from our office in Oxfordshire), hold 80 meetings with nearly 200 publishers from 22 countries, representing 17 languages around the world. Meetings such as Kim’s–going on eight frenetic, exhausting hours a day over the five-day forced march of Frankfurt–comprise the annual ritual wherein the world decides which books and which ideas get dispersed across nations. The word “dissemination” is sometimes used to characterize the mission of university presses. Frankfurt is an example of dissemination of the highest, most sophisticated, most intricately orchestrated kind.

Pitching our books to Chinese publishers at #fbf13 - cheers to Cheers Publishing!

Pitching our books to Chinese publishers at #fbf13 – cheers to Cheers Publishing! (credit: @PUP_Rights)

Not only geography, but history matters in the annual translation transaction Olympiad. Kim Williams knows her counterparts at the foreign publishers and has worked with many of them for years. She knows their tastes, interests, and strengths. The experience she brings to the task and the development of these relationships, invest her exchanges with insight and efficiency, providing a kind of multicultural shorthand for conducting the world’s book business.

And the game of tongues matters. Over the past ten years the number of Princeton’s translation licenses has nearly tripled. Rights deals in Chinese over this period have increased almost tenfold, translations into Japanese have almost tripled, and Korean rights deals have also increased dramatically. And this growth is not limited to Asian markets. We’ve seen equally strong growth in the number of Turkish, Czech, Brazilian Portuguese, and Spanish translations, among others. Taken all together this increased activity reflects changes in international economic development and national cultural priorities. This upward trend in translation activity will only increase as economic development rises. It would be interesting to know how many of our translated titles win awards and other accolades in their adopted languages.

And much as the annual idea-swap in Frankfurt provides us with a window on the world, it also tells us a lot about ourselves. From a distance, it tells us which subjects “travel” well, yielding valuable insights into list-planning and therefore into editorial acquisitions. From a closer standpoint, it provides a powerfully compelling preview of how a publisher’s upcoming list is likely to perform. If three dozen foreign publishers are panting over a particular title, chances are you’ve got a winner in English as well as around the world in other language markets.

Finally, a week at a rights table in Frankfurt gives a publisher a glimpse into its soul. Just how good are we? Are certain lists as strong as we think they are? Are we current or are we yesterday’s news? Do our lists have the three Ds–depth, dimension, and durability–or are we publishing mere ephemera? The five-day stress test in front of the world’s hard-bitten foreign publishers answers those questions, sometimes painfully, other times reassuringly.

As the global university press evolves, table talk in Frankfurt will continue to serve as a vital indicator of our impact around the world and our insight into ourselves.

Peter J. Dougherty
Princeton University Press


Click through to check out the covers of various On Bullshit translations.

For more information about Princeton University Press’s foreign rights program, please visit

No Matter How You Say It — It’s Still “On Bullshit” — books in translation for #UPWeek

Peter Dougherty’s consideration of the impact of translations for university presses is available here. One of the best parts of getting our books into translation, is seeing what the foreign publishers do with the cover, title, and design. This poster illustrates a few interpretations of the NY Times best-seller On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt. On Bullshit is one of our success stories. It has been published in more than 25 languages.


News from Frankfurt Book Fair

Frankfurt Book Fair is traditionally a very fruitful and interesting venture for the international rights team at PUP, and this year was no exception. The Fair was buzzing with news of a forthcoming book by Robert Shiller –  a book on how finance could be a force for good – which is a topic that couldn’t be more pressing, whether you’re in Taiwan, Berlin or Sao Paulo. We received several offers for the book throughout the fair from some of our favourite international publishing partners as well as some publishers new to licensing with PUP. Watch this space for news of final deals!

PUP's rights manager pitches books to international publishers

Our popular science titles proved well, popular, with a range of our foreign publishing partners, who were especially interested in Mark Levi’s Why Cats Land on their Feet and Neil A. Downie’s The Ultimate Book of Saturday Science. A sleeper hit at the fair for PUP was the brand new 2,000 year old text from Quintus Tullius Cicero, How to Win an Election, with introduction and notes by Philip Freeman. With elections looming in France, Italy, and Germany this bit of ancient campaign wisdom went down well.

All in all, it was a very successful fair, with more than 70 appointments over 5 days, and a terrific repose to our strong list for spring 2012.

News from the European office – the translation rights department

It’s been a busy few weeks in the translation rights department here in the European office. We’re in the thick of preparation for Frankfurt Book Fair which will be held from October 12-16 in the eponymous city. As PUP’s new rights manager, this will be my first visit to FBF, but I’ll certainly be kept busy. I have a full schedule of appointments with our team of rights agents as well as publishers and editors from a truly international array of publishing houses: we have almost sixty meetings in total over the course of the fair. For those of you attending the fair, why not visit our stand in hall 8? I’ll be pitching some of the key titles from our forthcoming spring 2012 list (keep an eye on the website for our exciting new titles, which will be The French edition of 'Can Islam be French?'launched soon!) to international publishers considering the books for translation.

So, what else is new in the rights world? We were delighted to see the publication of the French edition of John R. Bowen’s
Can Islam Be French? Pluralism and Pragmatism in a Secularist State published by Steinkis Editions on the shelves at the recent launch of the book – and in very prestigious company too.

We’ve also agreed an interesting selection of translation deals in the last few weeks. Diane Coyle’s The Economics of Enough will be published in Italian translation by Edizione Ambiente in future, and we’ll be keen to see what Daniel Drezner’s Theories of International Politics and Zombies looks like in Japanese translation when it is published by Hakusuisha. The most exciting deal of the last few weeks, however, was for a PUP book first published in the 1950s. George Polya’s How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method has been in print in Japan since the 1950s and has sold over 36,000 copies in Maruzen’s Japanese edition since 2001. We’ve just renewed the deal with Maruzen, and here’s hoping that the book continues as a perennial bestseller for them as well as PUP.

– Kimberley M. Williams, International Rights Manager