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Meike Ziervogel, publisher of Peirene Press, talks to NBG

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Meike Ziervogel
The Back Story
Fluent in four languages, Meike Ziervogel considers her love of international writing to be one of the driving forces behind her decision to set up Peirene Press. Having lived in the UK for over twenty-five years, Meike was keenly aware of the works that were missing from the Englishlanguage publishing world. But she also realised that, as the publishing landscape changes rapidly and beyond recognition, this is a thrilling time to run a creative business within that world. So, in the summer of 2008, she founded a publishing house devoted solely to contemporary European fiction in English translation. Told that she was committing ‘triple suicide’ by publishing books that were short, in translation, and relatively few in number, Meike has proved the doubters wrong and, four years later, heads a vibrant and celebrated creative enterprise.
Marketing Initiatives
Meike attributes this early success largely to the immense effort that she and Peirene’s marketing director, Maddy Pickard, put into marketing and sales. For Peirene, accepting modest sales of translated titles is not an option, and in a market that seems to persist in its suspicion of ‘foreign’ fiction, the publisher has to create its own community of readers. Indeed, Meike sees a significant part of her role as one of community-builder, and this is evident in the regular ‘salons’ that she holds at her home in North London (also Peirene’s headquarters). Recent salons have featured prestigious German author F.C. Delius, Austrian writer Alois Hotschnig and British author Sarah Hall, and Meike is gradually developing a multidisciplinary concept for these evenings: combining music, acting, reading and discussion to create a staged narrative for each event.
The Programme
Peirene’s programme plays on the idea of performance, too, and on visual culture: all the books are under 200 pages, designed to be devoured in one sitting. ‘Literary cinema for those fatigued by film’, as one review proclaimed. And like any good exhibition, Peirene’s books are carefully curated. Each year, the three books published relate to a single theme – this year it is ‘the small epic’, while next year charts ‘the turning point’. Meike is seeing more and more responses to this theming, with twitter feeds and blogs full of comparisons and contrasts. Again, we are back to that ideal of community-building, giving readers an experience that they can share and re-live – be it online, at a salon or at one of Peirene’s coffee mornings.
The Translators
Meike’s views on how Peirene’s books are translated are clear: ‘the translation must be a well-written English text. We do much more justice to the original text and author if we translate the rhythm rather than every single word.’ Over these first four years, Meike has developed strong relationships with translators who have become regular collaborators – and whom she describes as ‘bliss to work with’. As these relationships develop, the translators take an important role in Peirene’s acquisitions process, providing trusted recommendations and advice. And they are always prominent in the series of events that accompany the book’s publication – both with and without the author.
The Future
Peirene’s future is bright. Their ‘roaming stores’ – another sales initiative that has seen great success – are expanding, and Meike speaks warmly about the advantages of small creative enterprises. ‘Because we are so small and have a strong branding, we can react to changes and adapt quickly, trying out new ideas and dropping them if they don’t work. In this way, the business has developed organically.’
Notable praise came recently from intern Jodie Baker, who works in software marketing. Jodie was seconded to Peirene to experience small-scale innovative marketing in action: ‘One of the biggest things I took away from working with Peirene was that creativity and business can go hand in hand’.
And as Boyd Tonkin recently noted in The Independent, ‘in the era of mass free publishing, we need taste-makers more than ever’. With Peirene, then, we have just what we need; and much more still to come.

Peirene has just published Sea of Ink by Swiss author Richard Weihe, while The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke will appear early next year. Both are translated by Jamie Bulloch.