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Publisher Focus:

Anne Meadows, commissioning editor at Granta/Portobello, talks to NBG

Anne Meadows
Photo: Daniela Silva
The Publisher
Publishing is a notoriously tricky industry to get into. Before joining Granta, I read for a literary agent for a few months, one day a week, while finishing my master’s degree. I wasn’t paid, but because I was studying in London and because I had a grant covering my degree costs, I was lucky enough to be able to afford it. The agent I worked for heard about the editorial assistant job at Granta through the publishing grapevine and recommended me. Without him, I wouldn’t be working here now. I try and help our interns in the same way, through advice and recommendation, but it is indisputable that the publishing model favours those with the time and resources to work in London for free.

The Role
Publishing is incredibly demanding, and as a commissioning editor you rarely switch off. It’s all consuming, in the best possible way, but it is not a career for people who like to have free time. As a commissioning editor you have to use all of your intelligence, determination and some charm: to find the books you want to publish, to convince the authors you’re the right editor for them, to convince the book stores to stock the books, the blurbers to blurb them, and then readers to read them. As I work at a small publisher, I am the centre of a very complicated, tactical operation designed to make sure that the book is the best it can possibly be in its English guise.

Herta Müller, The Fox Was Ever
the Hunter

The List
Some of our best, and bestselling, works in translation are by German writers. We’ve just had huge success with Walter Kempowski’s novel All for Nothing, the story of an affluent German family torn apart at the end of the Second World War. We also publish Peter Stamm, who writes in Swiss-German, and is translated by Michael Hoffmann; Jenny Erpenbeck, who is translated by Susan Bernofsky; and Herta Müller, the Romanian- German Nobel Prize laureate, who is translated by Geoffrey Mulligan and Philip Boehm. It’s an illustrious list and one we are enormously proud of. What all of these writers have in common, I think, is literary craft. They are all extraordinary writers.

One of the joys of publishing translated literature is that there is just so much more to consider, and so much of it feels truly, thrillingly new – you could find a writer like Flaubert, who will go on to shape the course of the novel as we know it. Commissioning a translation is a slightly different process to commissioning a novel from English. You still work with agents, and often foreign publishers, but before we decide to take on a translated work we approach an independent reader and commission them to write a report. We then use these reports, along with our own judgement, and any other sources we might have – sales to certain other European publishers, a recommendation from a translator, commercial and literary nous.

The Future
One of the many gifts of working for Granta and Portobello is that our first consideration is: is this a novelist whose work deserves to last for decades, who might change the face of the literary landscape, whose writing is breaking new ground? It means, of course, that we need to make a compelling argument for each acquisition, but it is, I think, the reason our list has so many extraordinary writers both in English and in translation. There’s a whole world out there; it’s a privilege to publish it.

Interview with Emma Clarke