The dire record of mainstream British publishers (not to mention the US, but that's a separate story) in publishing foreign fiction is exposed by this piece by Joan Smith in the Guardian today on the funding cuts to small presses like Arcadia which go out of their way to find foreign fiction which has been rejected by everyone else, as being uncommercial. I have been on the receiving end of this philistinism from the English-speaking world by American publishers whose rejection letters rave about my work but then say, in sorrow, it is 'too British.'
So with alacrity I co-signed the letter together with 500 other writers, including Doris Lessing, Alan Hollinghurst, James Kelman, Graham Swift and Lady Antonia Fraser, complaining about Arcadia's 25 per cent cut in Arts Council funding. Joan writes:
Believe me, there is no other way for such writers to get published in this country. The dreadful state of mainstream publishing is an open secret; profit and celebrity are what drives the industry, and marketing departments don't see either in a promising young Polish or Croatian novelist. Earlier this week, one of the country's most distinguished publishers told me he had snapped up a Swedish crime novel, which has been a runaway best-seller in Scandinavia, after it was turned down by just about every mainstream house in London.
This kind of risk-taking is almost unknown in commercial publishing these days. Mainstream houses are more interested in publishing Russell Brand and Jeremy Clarkson than confirming Britain's role at the heart of an expanded Europe by bringing the best European fiction to British readers.
It's precisely that narrow, philistine view of culture that's been confirmed by the Arts Council's drastic cuts to small publishers. That's why so many of us are up in arms, trying to save the government from a catastrophe that is entirely of its own making.