Check out the front window of Manhattan’s Libreria Lectorum, one of the nation’s largest Spanish-language bookstores, and you’ll see a witch’s hat and a handful of copies of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” — in English.
While millions have already finished the sixth book in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series, fans hoping to read it in other languages will have to wait. Translating a 672-page book is a long process, made longer by the strict security imposed on “Half-Blood Prince” by Rowling and her publishers: Translators didn’t get to see the book until it officially came out, July 16.
“The Spanish publisher (Salamandra Editorial, based in Barcelona) is just getting started and told us that the translation will probably be ready in the spring of 2006,” says Marjorie Samper, product manager of Lectorum Publications, a Spanish-language book distributor that oversees the Lectorum store and is in turn owned by Scholastic, Inc., Rowling’s U.S. publisher.
The Potter books are enormously popular throughout the world and have been translated into dozens of languages, with German and Japanese editions doing especially well. But Neil Blair, a representative from Rowling’s literary agency, said that the first translations of any kind for “Half-Blood Prince” — German and Mandarin so far — aren’t expected until the fall.
Lectorum officials say customers are frequently calling and visiting the store with requests for the Spanish “Half-Blood Prince.” Samper said she expects a comparable level of interest to the previous Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” which had a first printing of more than 50,000, a number as high as for such popular Spanish-language authors as Isabel Allende and Jorge Ramos.
“A lot of customers are asking about it. I have a waiting list of 80-90 people,” says Miguel Salvat, marketing director for the Miami-based Libreria Universal. “Obviously, people would be happier if we had the book, but they don’t get upset. They understand there’s nothing we can do about it.
With the Hispanic population topping 35 million in the United States, the book industry is well aware of the Spanish-language market, by far the biggest non-English market in the country. Random House, Inc., Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster are among the publishers with Spanish-language imprints; the superstore chains Barnes & Noble, Inc., and Borders Group have expanded their Spanish offerings.
“We’ve consistently seen double-digit growth for the last number of years,” says Randi Sonenshein, Border’s category manager for books in Spanish. She said demand was high both for books originally published in Spanish, such as the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and for books in translation, such as “Da Vinci Code” author Dan Brown’s works.
Frequent delaysBut getting translations into stores is often frustrating — sometimes hurried, sometimes slow. A number of factors can interfere: delays in getting the manuscript to translators; the intricacies of translation, especially for literary fiction; and a reluctance even to commit to a Spanish edition until the English work has proved successful.
“With ’Harry Potter,’ you don’t have to decide whether the book will succeed in Spanish, but for some books, you wonder how big the market will be,” says Milena Alberti, director of Spanish-language publishing at Vintage Espanol, a Random House imprint.
“We just acquired (Carlos Eire’s) ‘Waiting for Snow in Havana’ and we’ll publish it in the fall. It won a National Book Award (in 2003) and was kind of a surprise success. That’s something we couldn’t have known before the book came out.”
Even an early commitment to a Spanish edition doesn’t guarantee timely publication. Manuscripts often change in the editing process, making publishers reluctant to commission a translation until they’re sure the English text is finished. For one book, MarDia Amparo Escandon’s “González & Daughter Trucking Co.,” the author translated the novel herself and it still came out two months after the English edition.
If the expected audience is big, publishers will hurry the Spanish version. The translation of former President Clinton’s “My Life” came out within a few weeks of the English edition, which itself was accelerated for an early summer release. This fall, Alfred A. Knopf and Vintage Espanol will publish simultaneous editions of Dr. Andrew Weil’s “Healthy Aging.”
“The idea of integrated medicine is something that is appealing to Hispanics,” Alberti says. “We really expedited this book. It’s like when you order a new passport. It can take two months, but if you work a little extra, it can be done in one month.”