If you’re a Slovenian fan of J.K. Rowling, and you’re eager to get your hands on the first available copy of her forthcoming novel, The Casual Vacancy, you’re probably going to have to read the book in English. This will also be the case in Italy, Finland, and several other countries. And the reason is that Rowling’s team have made an unusual move: they are delaying the delivery of the manuscript to a handful of foreign publishers over concerns about piracy.
Rowling’s worries about piracy—and her attempt to stop it—have been quite public. (She famously refused to allow the Harry Potter series to be made available in a digital format for years, citing piracy concerns.) Now, with Rowling’s first adult novel, which publishes in September in the U.S. (as well as in the U.K., France, and Germany), her agency is taking it a step further: to tamp down on the possibility of the book being ripped and shared, the manuscript is being withheld from publishers in territories considered high risk for piracy. The move has raised more than a few eyebrows in international publishing circles. Some publishers are worried about having to scramble to get translations ready for the holidays, while others worry that more blockbuster authors may now try to follow in Rowling’s footsteps.
Zoe King, an agent and partner at Rowling’s literary agency, the Blair Partnership, said the novel is being withheld from some houses until its U.S. pub date—September 27—to “minimize the risk of the manuscript being leaked.” Adding that the move is something the agency believes is “in both the author’s and publishers’ interests,” King said the reason some countries are receiving the manuscript earlier has to do with where “security” is deemed the strongest. “We have agreed to let publishers in some countries publish simultaneously with the English-language release, as some publishers are better able to handle the security demands of a simultaneous release,” she explained, via e-mail.
Andrej Ilc, an editor at the Slovenian publisher Mladinska knjiga (which acquired translation rights to Vacancy), said his house is struggling with the schedule. “We will most likely be forced to employ more than one translator and abnormally speed up the editorial and production process to publish in time for the Christmas season,” he said. “Her agent would like to establish her as a quality author for adults, but at the same time this is forcing publishers around the world to break all the rules of good translating and editing.”
Jill Timbers, a translator of Finnish books into English, recently wrote a blog post about the situation in Finland. Writing for the Web site Intralingo, Timbers said that the Finnish publisher of Vacancy, Otava, is giving its translator only three weeks to turn around an edition of the book in order to hit the holiday deadline. This, she said, has caused a stir among translators and others. “Some translators argue that it’s good [that] bestsellers are translated into Finnish even if time pressure means the level of the Finnish isn’t top quality. Others predict that soon ‘entertainment literature’ will not be translated into Finnish at all.”