Q&A: Ross Ufberg & Michael Wise Discuss Independent Publishing, The Need For Translations, and What You Can Do To Support Indie Publishing.
New Vessel Press is a very unique publishing house. Why do you think translations are so important to today’s reader?
RU: There’s so much going on in the world – not just now, but always, it’s a shame to limit ourselves only to what we know. There are so many languages I don’t speak, so many cultures I know nothing about, so many countries I’d love to visit but haven’t. Today, people travel more, they work all over the world, and they’re likelier than ever to meet and fall in love with somebody from a different background. If nothing else, reading literature from around the world allows you to sound more interesting on a first date.
MZW: Translations have always provided essential bridges between cultures and civilizations. But we believe that English-speaking readers are now particulalry hungry for and will be rewarded by the wealth of literary creations from abroad that offer richly pleasurable reading experiences along with insights into how life is lived elsewhere.
What is the current state of the translation market and are works getting translated enough? Why or why not?
RU: There are certainly more great books out there than there are publishers willing to publish them, that’s for sure. But I think another part of the problem with translations is how they’re marketed. New Vessel Press publishes good books. In a sense, that’s all you need to know. We aren’t publishing books you need a PhD to read. It’s not enough to say, “We publish books in translation.” We are saying, “We publish good, enjoyable, readable and high-quality books in translation.”
MZW: A large number of literary works translated into English have won prizes or been best-sellers in their countries of origin. Many of those books deserve to be translated, but there are plenty that go undiscovered since editors don’t make the effort or aren’t equipped to find them, and more so now with big publishing houses merging. We’re trying to widen the range of translated works on offer.
RU: Getting word out about New Vessel is one of the most difficult things. The literary community has been very supportive and receptive to us, but the key for our success (we do have to sell books, after all, not just make them) will be breaking down that wall to the wider world, and getting our message out to the general public. People are a lot smarter than they’re generally given credit for. At New Vessel Press, we’re sure that if we can get them to read the first page of our books, they’ll keep reading until the last page. We just have to get them to open the book.
MZW: We’re aware that people have limited time and many other reading options. We’re working hard to get their attention for our specific titles and give them a sense of the quality of the works we select.
What inspired you to create NVP?
RU; We both love literature, other countries and cultures, and have a strong desire to bring our passion to more people. What got me started as a translator was reading a short story by Russian writer Sergei Dovlatov. It was so good, so funny, so crisp, I thought, “I have to show this to my friends.” Well, it didn’t exist in English. So I translated it from Russian myself. And that was that.
MZW: Reading for fun (as well as for research purposes) in French and German has been a source of tremendous pleasure. Seeing the range of literature from around the world published in those languages in recent years begs the question why the same isn’t available in English.
What are some things supporters of independent publishers can do to help keep independent publishing thriving?
RU: It’s important that books find readers. So if you really like a book, please – share it with your friends and neighbors. Word of mouth is still the best advertisement for publishers.
RU: Digital publishing has made the world much wider. Without print on demand technology, we’d never have been able to start New Vessel Press. We can’t afford to print 50,000 copies of a book, then be prepared to eat those costs when we sell only 15,000. Print on demand technology allows publishers to print only what they need, in a very cost-efficient manner. The printing is all digital. And ebooks – well, with ebooks, you don’t even need to worry about printing. But I think there’s room for both in this world. An ebook can’t replace a beautiful Helmut Newton coffee table book, for instance. And we still haven’t figured out a good way to dry off your Kindle when you fall asleep while reading at the beach and don’t wake up until a huge waves comes crashing over your head.
MZW: New technology has made it relatively easy for us to produce and distribute both the ebooks and the physical books we’re selling. But key aspects of quality publishing remain constant – editorial acumen, a good eye and taste for writing that travels well, a degree of marketing savvy, energy and enthusiasm. At the moment, my 15-year-old son – who has taught himself several computer languages – is far more likely to read a print novel than an ebook, whereas I have octogenarian friends who are Kindle diehards. Both formats are likely to thrive.
As a publisher what are your thoughts about piracy and the use of DRM?
RU: I think anything that restricts purchasers from using their purchases however they like is too restrictive. And look – the best hackers will always be one step ahead of the best DRM coders. If we spend all our time and money on protecting stuff we’ve already made, we’ll never get around to making new stuff. Ultimately, as a publisher who doesn’t have a million dollars to spend on fancy anti-piracy software, we have to have faith that enough people will enjoy our products and want to pay for them, to make up for those who would rather illegally download our books.
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