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Man Booker International: new research shows translated fiction continues to grow

New research commissioned by the Man Booker Internation Prize from Nielsen Books shows translated fiction continues to grow, as they increased by 5.5% last year, with sales worth £20.7 million. Within that, the category denoted as ‘general/literary fiction’ in translation stood out for its extreme growth, of 20% over the course of 2018.

The figures follow research originally commissioned in 2016, when the Man Booker International Prize evolved to reward the author and translator of the best book originally written in a language other than English. That investigation looked at a 15-year span (2001-2016), and found sales of fiction in translation to be rising steadily.

‘Despite what has clearly been a surge of interest in translated fiction, people still tend to cite the outdated “three percent” statistic about the proportion of translated fiction published in the UK,’ says Charlotte Collins, Co-Chair of the Translators Association. Collins, herself a translator, was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2016, with Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life. She points not only to the sales figures, but to the amount of translated fiction – new or classic – now available for sale: ‘As we can see, this proportion has almost doubled in recent years, and is now at 5.63%. This is really exciting news, and welcome confirmation that publishers have responded to the proven popularity and marketability of translated literature.’

Nielsen’s findings include the fact that translated fiction in the UK is overwhelmingly European, with French (17% of volume sales) being the leading language of origin overall.

However, for new books published in the past five years, Norwegian and Swedish are the most popular languages of origin.

Nielsen further discovered that the crime and thriller genre, which has historically been a large contributor to the sales of translated fiction, has declined by 19%. And there has been an extremely substantial growth - by 90% - in sales of translated short stories and anthologies between 2017 and 2018.

‘Reading fiction is one of the best ways we have of putting ourselves in other people’s shoes. The rise in sales of translated fiction shows how hungry British readers are for terrific writing from other countries,’ comments Fiammetta Rocco, Administrator of the Man Booker International Prize.

Andre Breedt, Managing Director of Nielsen Book Research International, adds: ‘Fiction in translation allows us to experience narratives and perspectives in a way that otherwise would not be possible. We are glad to be working with Man Booker International Prize and others to better measure this important and vibrant genre.’

The Man Booker International judges will select the ‘Man Booker dozen’ of 12 or 13 books on 13 March, during the London Book Fair. Don't miss it!

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