London Book Fair

Translation trends at the London Book Fair: Japanese are overtaking the UK market, translations from Ukrainian are on the rise


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Translation has consistently been a central focus at London Book Fairs. Translators’ and scouts’ perspectives shape publishing decisions for translations. Nonetheless, their impact on the UK publishing market is limited to 3-6% of the market, which mostly belongs to anglophone writers. Over the last two years, Japanese manga made it clear: the foreign literature segment is poised for growth.



In 2023, the UK witnessed a surge in popularity for manga and cozy novels, with Japanese writers leading the market for translated titles. Seventeen of the top 30 translated authors in Britain hailed from Japan, contributing to nine out of the 20 bestsellers being originally written in Japanese. Kentaro Miura, the manga creator who tragically passed away in 2021 at the age of 54, led the pack of translators. An overwhelming 95% of manga sales came from titles originally published in Japan. Among the top 10 authors in translation who generated over £1 million in sales last year, seven were Japanese, with five of them being manga creators. The only non-Japanese names in the top 10 were Thomas Erikson (3rd) and Andrzej Sapkowski (10th).



The top 20 lists featured familiar names such as Elena Ferrante, Jo Nesbo, Paulo Coelho, and Haruki Murakami. Additionally, new faces emerged in the charts, including Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov.



RELATED: Georgi Gospodinov: ‘We have to be better readers than Putin and his circle’ 



Other languages represented in the top 30 include Ancient Greek (Homer, 11th), Latin (Marcus Aurelius, 12th), Norwegian (Jo Nesbo, 13th), Hebrew (Yuval Noah Harari, 17th), Chinese (Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, 18th), Italian (Elena Ferrante, 24th), Portuguese (Paulo Coelho, 25th), Korean (Chugong, 26th), and French (Herge, 28th). Russian authors also made their mark on the chart, with Dostoevsky and Tolstoy ranking 23rd and 29th, respectively.



While Ukraine is not included in the top charts of translation but is continuing to expand in the market: Thames and Hudson is preparing a new edition of Alisa Lozhkina’s book on Ukrainian art, Oksana Lushchevska’s book “It’s a Silent Night, My Astronaut” will also be published in the UK, there are some movements on the children literature. 



“The full-scale invasion put contemporary Ukrainian literature on the map of translated literature in English”, confirms Dr Uilleam Blacker, Associate Professor in Ukrainian and East European Culture School of Slavonic and East European Studies University College London:



“Before February 2022, it was a challenge to get anglophone publishers, agents or journals interested in Ukrainian literature, as they simply had no conception of Ukraine’s literature, no reference points, no prehistory of translations. Translations were mostly done in academic or diaspora settings with limited reach. After February 2022, there was a jump in demand for Ukrainian literature in translation, which has led to many publications and a much greater familiarity among anglophone readers with Ukrainian literature. However, Ukrainian literature in this situation is rather limited to the war context, and the broader richness of Ukrainian literature (for example, classics, or Ukrainian genre fiction) remains under-explored. Interest in war literature will no doubt continue for some time – and Ukrainian war literature is remarkable and should be translated – but we should also think about how to provide the anglophone reader (and readers in other languages) with a more rounded picture of the richness of Ukrainian literature and its traditions.





Emma Shercliff, Laxfield Literary Associates, British publishing consultant and book market researcher shares her own experience as a literary agent and advocate for Ukraine representations in translation:



“I continue to have a lot of interest in work by Ukrainian authors – both in work written since the full scale invasion, but increasingly in novels and non-fiction published before the war, such as Artem Chapeye’s “Weathering” and Oleksandr Mykhed’s “I Will Mix Your Blood With Coal,” both of which I have sold in English.



I continue to have had great success selling Ukrainian authors in translation, in partnership with my colleagues James Pusey and Nicole Etherington at Blake Friedmann Literary Agency. We have now sold rights to works by Artem and Oleksandr in France, Germany, Georgia, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia. I saw the direct impact of the UBI translation grant program, with offers from publishers in Georgia and the Netherlands in the days leading up to the Fair, before the application window closed. Our sales for Victoria’s “Looking at Women Looking at War: War & Justice Diary” continue strongly, with rights now sold in the UK, US, France, Georgia, Italy and Korea – and strong interest from other countries including Germany, Poland, Serbia and Sweden at the Fair. We’ve also had enquiries about Victoria’s poetry collection and in her novel “Dom’s Dream Kingdom” (now sold in five languages). I’m also agenting Volodymyr Vakulenko’s remarkable “Occupation Diary,” published by Vivat, in which there is considerable interest, and a close overlap with Victoria’s non-fiction work.”





It’s notable that Ukrainian books were primarily found among the exhibits of neighboring countries, particularly at the stands of Poland and Estonia, the latter being the guest of honor at LBF in 2018. Estonia, with a population of 1.3 million and just under a million Estonian speakers, boasted an impressive output of literature in 2022, with over 3,349 new titles released, albeit in limited volumes ranging from 500 to 800. This equates to nearly 12 Estonian books being published every day. Organizers acknowledge the demand for Ukrainian translations and showcased select titles.



However, it’s worth mentioning the absence of several countries at the fair this year, including Georgia (Sakartvelo), Latvia, Lithuania, as well as the Scandinavian and Nordic countries, which had shown interest in translations and support in the previous year. Additionally, there was no booth from Russian publishers, although several agents conducted working meetings in the rights sales hub.