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2017.01.17 Global literary agent stresses to Japanese publishers importance of delivering in English
Neil Gudovitz, founder of the Gudovitz & Company Literary Agency based in Brooklyn, New York, is a foreign rights agent who presents books from Japan and other Asian countries to the rest of the world. Gudovitz recently attracted attention at the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair where he introduced “Hibana” (“Spark”), a novel by Japanese author Naoki Matayoshi.

“Hibana” became known in Japan for receiving the Akutagawa Prize, a prestigious Japanese literary award. A TV series adaptation by media-streaming company Netflix followed, featuring subtitles in 19 languages, and is available in 190 countries. Expectations are high for “Hibana”, one of Gudovitz’s offerings at the Literary Agents & Scouts Center in Frankfurt, to emulate the global success of Marie Kondo's “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, another best-seller previously introduced by Gudovitz.

When asked about the difficulty of selling Japanese language titles which he cannot read, Gudovitz stressed that, while there is no doubt that books with “strong” potential are being produced in Japan, in order to sell these overseas, it was vital that Japanese publishers be able to appropriately convey the books’ content in English. Likewise, in translating the books, Gudovitz emphasized the importance of achieving native-level English quality to deliver a solid, readable book.

Gudovitz points to Bungeishunju Ltd., publisher of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, which sold over 6 million copies worldwide. The publisher “has got the idea,” says Gudovitz, “But you run into some publishers who want to have a grad student do it. That person might be great at English but not native. In the States, I’ve passed manuscripts to some agents who freak if they find one word off.”

In other words, business opportunities will be lost unless Japanese publishers provide the quality of English required by these major global publishers. More than ever, Japanese publishers must be prepared to introduce their books in native-level English if they are to make the most of the current attention on Japanese books and sell to a global market.

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