- Scenes:Two Lines Press
Could you briefly describe your press's history?
We started Two Lines Press in 2013, although the press grew out of the journal Two Lines: World Writing in Translation, which has been publishing continually since 1994. Both the press and the journal are programs of the Center for the Art of Translation, and our main focus is to publish the best international literature in the best translations.
The founder of the journal, Olivia Sears, wanted to use the journal to highlight the artistry of translation, something that, at the time, was even more invisible than it is today. In the nineties very few books even listed the translator's name on the copyright page, let alone the cover. It continues to be a challenge that when reading a great book from abroad it's easy to acknowledge the author, and the translation only gets noted when it's really bad. We want to recognize the translator's role in making those books great in English as we, at the same time, celebrate the original work. And I do think we're making progress, though slowly, toward diminishing that invisibility.
How would you characterize the work you publish?
We're most interested in the language of the books, in inventive sentence structure, imagery, and thinking, which is one of the reasons I place so much importance on the translation. Beyond that, we very specifically rule nothing out. We've done everything from Marie NDiaye's Self-Portrait in Green (2014), a hundred-page memoir in which the memoirist lives in a world that she can't make sense of and who might not be a reliable narrator of her own life, to Lidija Dimkovska's A Spare Life (2016), a five hundred page family novel about conjoined twins in Macedonia who are also an extended metaphor for the breakup of Yugoslavia. We're just looking for things that are unique, but that we can imagine an American audience for. Once I've decided I like a book, I usually ask myself if there's an audience for an American author who might also like that book. For example, I think the readers of Lorrie Moore would really like the Danish author Naja Marie Aidt—even though they are very different authors, the examinations of internal conflict feel similar. Beyond that it's really just what grabs us—what we want to spend an entire year editing, producing, and marketing.
Who is your audience, and in what ways are you trying to reach them?
This is something we talk about a lot. We have a 'primary' audience we've built, which are mostly people who are invested readers of international literature in translation, have been readers of our journal for many years, or are subscribers to the press. We love those readers, and they are the core audience for what we do. For each book, though, we also try to identify the audience for that specific book that's bigger. We send galleys of books to all the major review outlets, but we also try to find reviewers we think would respond to a specific book based on the books they've liked in the past. We do a lot of direct outreach online, and if we have an author or translator in the US we do book tours. Since we're a smaller publisher our best friends are independent bookstores, and we try to reach out to the booksellers as much as we can, since the very best people to find readers for our books are the people standing behind the counter of the local bookstore recommending it to their customers. I don't think you can go into publishing hoping one of your books is going to break big. Publishing requires working hard on every single book to find the audience for that book, but also just making sure you're out there, finding new readers year after year. We don't have any illusions that our books are going to be picked for Oprah's book club, but there...