Meeting Susanne Juul (Gaïa Editions)

Meeting Susanne Juul (Gaïa Editions) : an enlightening conversation about translating and publishing Nordic authors in France

On March 24th, Susanne Juul came to talk to us about Gaïa Editions, which she founded in 1991.

Gaïa Editions and the North

Gaïa Editions is an important publishing house in the French publishing industry, as it is one of the rare houses specialized in Nordic literature. Susanne Juul is not only a publisher but also a translator. She has translated many books from French to Danish, and has also translated Danish writer Jørn Riel’s short stories in French, thus actively contributing to making him known in France.

There is no strategy in how Gaïa chooses between publishing Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, or Finnish literature. These choices are made depending on the books read and appreciated by the publisher. Norwegian literature is the most represented of all Nordic literatures at Gaïa (Bergljot Hobæk Haff, Knut Hamsun, Ingvar Arnbjørnsen…) but Swedish author Katarina Mazetti’s Benny and Shrimp (translated in French as Le mec de la tombe d’à côté) remains Gaïa’s most sold book so far.

Being a translator

During this meeting, Susanne Juul mostly talked about the aspects of a translator’s job and the importance of dialogue between the author, the translator, and the publisher. The translator must be able to provide a sufficiently clear translation (as opposed to what she qualifies as « obscure »), while taking into account the publisher’s suggestions, in order to enable target­language readers to understand and learn about the aspects of the source­language’s culture. The publisher must, if possible, suggest ideas rather than impose them on the translator, which is why it is important for both translators and publishers to maintain an ongoing dialogue.

Being a translator is highly compatible with certain personality traits. For example, one must be sufficiently introverted so as not to dread spending entire days working alone on a text. But Susanne Juul also insisted on the importance of networking in the translation field. It is crucial to always show one’s good will and to be able to create important contacts in order to obtain translating contracts. Susanne Juul also gave precious advice for future literary translators : you should not be afraid to contact publishers again if they do not answer, you shouldn’t hesitate to suggest books to translate even if the publishing house might ask someone else to translate the text you have suggested. It is important never to give up and to keep in mind that there is no such thing as failure. Even if publishing jobs are very demanding, daring to propose a relevant text is an asset a publisher will remember. A first contact will have been made, you must see it as a step forward.

Bookshop owners’ role

We then talked about bookshop networks’ role in distributing books in France. It is thanks to a collaboration between Actes Sud (another publishing house) and Gaïa that the book can be distributed. Actes Sud regularly visits French bookshop owners to suggest novels that they can recommend, and to stay informed about bookshop owners’ preferences as readers. It is a crucial step nowadays, as Gaïa is not a publishing giant, and efficient promotion of a Nordic crime novel requires a lot of funds, as we have recently seen with Albin Michel’s marketing campaign for Danish author Jussi Adler­ Olsen.

Translation by C.R. MEGEN’s student. Source : Rencontre avec Susanne Juul.

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