U.S. Fantasy in the World — Some Semi-Random Observations

Last week, I went to the World Fantasy Convention in Calgary [which was why there was no posting the previous Friday]. While I was there, in addition to talking to a number of American and Canadian writers, I also had the good fortune to meet with some Dutch and French fans and writers, among many others.

One of the French writers, who has been published in American F&SF magazines, made the observation that a very large segment of the French market in F&SF novels has been taken up by translations of American works, so much so that it was easier to write in English and be published by U.S. publishers and magazines than to be published in French. What’s intriguing about this is that it costs more to publish translated American fiction because of the linguistic differences. Any American or English work accurately translated into French will run at least thirty percent longer in French, and sometimes more than that. In my own case, most of my books translated into French come out in two volumes, and they’re not slim.

The same volume/translation problems also crop up with other romance languages, largely because American English has over three times the number of words as any romance language does, and that means that what is often a single American word requires either a phrase or a continuing simplification process in translation.

One of the Dutch participants observed that she preferred to read American F&SF in English, because the translations, even by respected Dutch publishers, leave something to be desired.

The German market for translating U.S. works literally boomed in the 1990s and the very early 2000s… and then almost totally vanished, so much so that my German publisher literally left the second half of Scion of Cyador unpublished, which has led to more than a few inquiries by German readers.

I was surprised, but pleased, to discover from an Israeli publisher that my Hammer of Darkness has recently appeared in Israel in Hebrew, which I did not know because U.S. publishers are rather slow about informing authors about foreign sales [perhaps because their parent companies like to hang on to the royalties longer?] and because I overlooked or did not see the single Google reference to it. But then, search engines aren’t all that good searching in other languages, particularly when I can’t speak or read the language in question.

All in all, a good conference… with good people… and lots of intriguing information.