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Interview with Piero Luigi Fratini

Author: Intervista a Piero Luigi Fratini a cura di Paolo Grossi

Interview with Piero Luigi Fratini

For many years, the European Union has been assigning grants to translate literary works (narrative, non-fiction, poetry, theater, comics etc.) from one European language to another. To have a more in-depth knowledge of how these grants are
attributed and what is the process that needs to be undertaken by publishers who intend to apply, we interviewed Piero Luigi Fratini, former selection coordinator for the Culture sub-program and presently the coordinator for the selection of Innovation LAB projects at the European Union Executive Agency for Education, Audiovisuals and Culture.

How long have these grants existed and what principles underlie their coming into being?
The contributions of the European Union in support of literary translation have existed for almost fifteen years now. The Culture 2007 programme already included grants for public or private publishing houses or publishing groups. Starting in 2014, with the transition to the Creative Europe Programme, the nature and structure of the sub-programme “Support for letter translation” has been partially modified in response to changes within the publishing sector.

One of the main changes consists in adopting a more structured approach by expanding activities which can be financed to encompass translated works’ distribution and promotion. The purpose of a sub-program, therefore,is to intervene
more effectively within the book sector’s “value chain”. Thanks to this approach, hundreds of publishers have been able to introduce high-level foreign titles within their markets, thus expanding their offer and readership. They have also been able to
experiment with innovative, commercial models, hence strengthening their position within this sector, both nationally and internationally, by attending book fairs and other events dedicated to professionals in the sector.
With the Creative Europe program, literary translation support has become part of a wider system. The main objective is to promote the circulation of quality literary works through participating countries. In parallel is the ambitious project of
strengthening the publishing ecosystem. The other sub-programs of Creative Europe also contribute to this goal. Thanks to the
“Cooperation” funding lines, every year we support dozens of projects in favor of publishing, including the testing of innovative technological systems of co-creation (DIGI-CO project coordinated by De Agostini School), networking the most
prestigious book fairs (ALDUS project coordinated by the Italian Publishers Association) and developing innovative processes to adapt libraries to technological changes, in particular the “de-materialization” of the book (New Challenges for Public Libraries project coordinated by the North-West Library System Consortium, the Lombardy Region and the University of Milan-Bicocca). Furthermore, through the “Platforms” sub-program, we supported the “Versopolis” project, a network of international literary festivals dedicated to poetry, with the aim of giving visibility to emerging talents, supporting the attendance of their events and the digital dissemination of works. Finally, through the sub-program “Network”, we finance the Eurozine project, a digital platform that has among its main objectives that of supporting the newspapers and cultural magazines sector.

An integrated vision of European Union support for the publishing and book sector must take into account the opportunities offered outside the Creative Europe program. For example, the Erasmus + programme supports the “ASAP – Anticipatory
Skills for Adapting the Publishing Sector”, a project aimed at the digital professionalization of operators in the sector. The Framework 7 Research and Development Program financed the “Arrow” project, coordinated by the Italian Publishers Association, aimed at developing innovative technological tools for the management of information on copyright related to textual work. The H2020 Program offered support for the development of the “Reedsy” platform, an ecosystem that connects professionals in the publishing sector who are in favor of self- publishing and it includes in-depth courses and digital tools for writing.

What are the procedures to follow for a publisher who wants to apply for grants from the European Union to translate one or more books?

The application procedure for the announcements of the sub-program “Support to literary translations” varies every year and specific aspects are defined within the guidelines published during the announcements. The characteristics have remained
constant, to allow applicants to become familiar with the administrative procedures. Over time we have tried to simplify the process and this also explains the success of the programme which, to date, has supported over 300 publishers, translated over 700 authors and more than 1000 titles, for a total of over 2500 translations. Basically, every year the EACEA publishes an invitation for publishers to submit project proposals on its website. As already mentioned, each announcement has its own characteristics. However, within the current Creative Europe programme, each project proposal must contain a package of literary works to be translated (from three to ten) and a distribution and promotion strategy.
Overall, I don’t recommend waiting for the publication of the announcement to start working on the project, but to plan your business in good time. Every year the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Culture and Education (responsible for the political planning of the Creative Europe programme) publishes an annual work program within which you can already find the necessary elements to prepare your project. All work programs are published on the European Commission website. With regards to literary translation rights, publishing houses are not required to already have them at the time of applying for funding, while it is desirable that a written agreement between publishing houses has already been established. In fact, in order to limit possible commercial risks, formal proof of the sale agreements will be required only at the conclusion of the selection of projects, before the signature of individual contracts with EACEA. The maximum funding available per project is € 100,000, with a 50% co-financing rate. As regards the financial structure, upon signing the contract the beneficiary receives an advance of 70% of the co-financing, while the remaining 30% is paid at the end of the project after verifying activities undertaken and expenses. Most of the costs related to the project are reimbursable, including the translation, revision, printing, image acquisition and all activities needed for the distribution and promotion of the project. Purchase of translation rights costs are not reimbursable.

What characteristics must the projects have to stand a chance of success?
It is difficult to define, a priori, the characteristics of a fundable project. Each idea has specific traits which are evaluated by the selection committee. Some projects, for example, have greater innovation characteristics than others, as they focus on new
promotional ideas, new technologies and strategies to attract new readers. These are the ideas that are most likely to succeed. The deciding factors, however, are still the literary quality of the proposed works, the experience of the translators involved and
the precision of the project: why were those specific works chosen and what is the thread that ties them together?
In addition, translation from less represented languages ​​to more common languages are encouraged ​​(English, French, Spanish and German), along with the translation of less commercial genres, including poetry, comics and graphic novels, children’s
literature and short stories. Another fundamental requirement is to give the right emphasis to the literary translator’s profile: the required minimum is that a translated biographical profile of the translator be included in the translated work. However, this is the minimum required by the announcement, so publishing houses that want to have a positive assessment must try to go beyond.

To conclude, in order to encourage the translation of works that have won the EUPL European Literature Prize, publishing houses that offer these titles within the book package benefit from a system of automatic points (5 per book), up to a maximum of 10 points.

Do Italian publishing houses fully benefit from contributions to the translation of the European Union?

The Italian publishing houses are not among the main beneficiaries of the sub-program “Support for literary translation”. The results of the 2019 Announcement show worrying data, with only one project among the fifty-two funded. Fourteen projects have been received overall, with a success rate of 7.14%.

Useful links:
Creative Europe work programmes
European Literature Award

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