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Pushkin Press: Curating the Best of Translated Fiction

Bookwitty By Bookwitty Published on January 24, 2017
This article was updated on September 17, 2017

Pushkin Press, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, was founded in 1997, and publishes novels, essays, memoirs, and children’s book from classics to contemporary works. Pushkin publishes some of the twentieth century’s most widely acclaimed authors such as Stefan Zweig, Marcel Aymé, Teffi, Antal Szerb, Gaito Gazdanov and Yasushi Inoue, as well as award-winning contemporary writers, including Andrés Neuman, Edith Pearlman, Eka Kurniawan and Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. Adam Freudenheim, Pushkin's publisher and managing director has worked in publishing since 1998 and was publisher of Penguin Classics, Modern Classics and Reference from 2004 to 2012. He is perhaps best known for helping to rediscover the work of the German writer Hans Fallada, with the first English-language publication of Alone in Berlin. Born in Baltimore,in the US, Freudenheim lived in Germany for nearly three years before moving to the UK in 1997. Here, he answers a few questions about the joys and challenges of running an independent publishing house:

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Adam Freudenheim

What is your editorial line? What makes you stand out?

Our focus as a publisher – not exclusively but primarily – is on translation, mainly literary fiction and narrative non-fiction. We also publish a large number of modern classics, mostly from the 1920s-60s. This focus carries across our Pushkin Children’s list as well as our crime imprint Pushkin Vertigo. In addition, we publish a small number of English-language originals and English-language modern classics.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being an independent publisher? What is the most challenging aspect?

To state the obvious, the independence is incredibly rewarding in itself, which may partly be a matter of size as most independents are not very big. Pushkin isn’t a one-man-band – there are about 10 regular employees, some part time – but we’re a far cry from the large corporate publishers. Being small and publishing relatively few books – circa 40 new frontlist titles/each year across all four of our imprints – means we can focus a great deal of attention on every single book and we can also be very reactive.

The challenge is probably related to size too – we don’t have the large coffers of the corporates, and we also don't have their deep backlist.

How do you connect with your readers?

Mostly, through the books themselves. Of course we also have an active website and social media presence as well as a regular newsletter about our publishing.

How important are book fairs for you?

Book fairs are a great way of networking, meeting other publishers from around the world and agents. We always attend Frankfurt and London and occasionally other fairs such as Sharjah and Guadalajara.

How important are independent booksellers for your business? Do you see more sales online or through bookshops?

More of our sales are through physical bookshops. Independents are hugely important, as they are often very good at championing less obvious titles. These days, however, we’re lucky to have Waterstones acting like an independent in many ways which you can really feel in the shops.

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Which books have helped you to stay afloat?

Our backlist is dominated by the works of Stefan Zweig – we currently have 34 Zweig titles in print. The bestselling Zweig titles are his one novel Beware of Pity and his great memoir The World of Yesterday.

Our bestselling children’s title remains one of our first The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt. I launched Pushkin Children's Books because as I began reading with my own children – now 9, 12 and 13 – I realized just how little there was available in translation for children of any age, particularly after picture books. Sure, we all know a few iconic classics like Pippi Longstocking or The Neverending Story, but by and large the children's books we're most familiar with are British or American. Pushkin Children's Books publishes approximately 15 titles/year, largely in translation, and a mix of modern classics and contemporary titles. One of our very first discoveries – thanks to translator Laura Watkinson – was Dutch classic The Letter for the King from 1962, which amazingly had never before been translated into English. We've now sold 50,000 copies – and counting! – of this wonderful children's classic and also published the arguably even better sequel to it The Secrets of the Wild Wood and the stand-alone adventure The Song of Seven. Just one example of the kinds of gems we're discovering with this particular focus.

If you were to name one book you've published that you expected to be wildly popular but never quite caught, which would it be?

This is a difficult question to answer. I don’t think I ever expect a book to be wildly popular. I might hope this will happen, but there’s so much luck in publishing and so much of it that is so unpredictable that I never expect anything.

Can you give us an example of an extraordinary cover design that a larger publisher wouldn't have risked?

Our cover design for Edith Pearlman’s story collection Binocular Vision is pretty unexpected in its eschewing of anything figurative, and we kept it for the paperback too.

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