6. We launched ‘Around the World with Asymptote’—a uniquely unfiltered weekly window on world literature
In many ways, 2016 was a year of promoting global consciousness through world literature. For a while now, we’ve been uniquely equipped to identify and present literary discoveries from around the world. This year, after blog editor Allegra Rosenbaum stepped down, we decided to tap our invaluable network of editors-at-large for a new initiative: weekly global briefings aggregating localized dispatches from around the world. Below is an exhaustive list of all 29 countries from six collective continents we have reported on and from (click on the hyperlinks to revisit!):
Argentina, Argentina | Australia | Bangladesh, Bangladesh | Canada, Canada | Cuba | Czech Republic | Ecuador | Egypt | France | Hong Kong | Hungary | India, India | Israel | Iran | Mexico | Nepal | Nigeria | Nordic Countries, Nordic Countries | Pakistan | Romania, Romania | Singapore, Singapore, Singapore | Slovakia, Slovakia | South Africa, South Africa, South Africa, South Africa | Spain, Spain | Taiwan | Tibet | UK, UK | US, US, US, US, US| Zambia
7. Reviews, reviews, reviews!
This was the year we hit our stride with our “What’s New in Translation?” column, which aggregates medium-length staff reviews of world literature’s latest offerings, to facilitate discovery: revisit the 35 reviews from our January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November instalments and watch for the December edition coming up next week! Along with the 15 reviews we published collectively in the Criticism section of our Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall quarterly issues, and 13 stand-alone reviews elsewhere on the blog, we’ve covered 68 world literature titles altogether in 2016.
8. Massive publicity coordination leads to unprecedented spike in traffic for Fall 2016 issue
With Anita Raja, László Krasznahorkai, Stefan Zweig, György Spiró and Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness in our lineup, as well as the need to publicize our upcoming translation contest judged by David Bellos and Sawako Nakayasu, we decided to announce the release of our Fall 2016 issue in a big way via:
- Extensive social media promotion setting us back by about $500 USD
- Video trailer (that I personally produced)
- Newsletter announcing launch of issue
- Publicity blitz on the day of launch
- 4,000 postcards printed (with the contest announcement on the other side) and distributed in six continents (including at the annual American Literary Translators Association conference), costing around $500 USD
- A quarter-page color ad in the print edition of The Times Literary Supplement (Oct 14 edition) and an online ad in their newsletter for the reduced rate of £900 ≈ $1,100 USD
To be honest, this was not money (or time) we could afford to spend (yes, we were going to receive a one-off grant of $8,400 USD from the National Arts Council of Singapore—our first and only grant in all these years—but this money was supposed to go toward covering the yawning deficit incurred from many years of promoting world literature). And who does video trailers for magazine issues anyway? Why bother? (*silent, eloquent gesture.* Tell us to unroll the red carpet elsewhere and we’ll do it.) Still, the issue got quite a bit of media attention (and hits) especially for the Anita Raja article, and that made it worth it.
9. We launch our first publicity packages specially tailored for publishers of world literature (or institutions invested in the promotion of their country’s literature)
15 March 2016 was a momentous day: I did something with Paypal that I’d never done before. I created an invoice from the Asymptote Journal account, charging for the first publicity package we ever sold. The idea for our business model was this: we would leverage our Translation Tuesday showcases at The Guardian, as well as the combined reach of our social media and our newsletters (more than 50,000 followers) to help publishers raise the visibility of their forthcoming or new releases, directly impacting book sales. Although the revenue received from partnering with 13 publishing houses in three continents all through 2016 is still nowhere near providing a full-time salary for any individual, the modest success of these publicity packages gives a glimmer of hope for Asymptote‘s long-term sustainability. If you belong to this specific target demographic and would like to take advantage of the channels we offer to raise the visibility of foreign authors in 2017 (while also supporting our mission), please take a look at this informational slideshow and get in touch! If you mention reading about this publicity package from this blog post, I’ll even offer you the 2016 introductory rate.
10. A year of invitations
In one of Lydia Davis’s very short stories, “The Fellowship,” she writes, “It is not that you are not qualified to receive the fellowship, it is that your patience must be tested first. Each year, you are patient, but not patient enough. When you have truly learned what it is to be patient, so much so that you forget all about the fellowship, then you will receive the fellowship.”
Being Singaporean, there’s no arts fellowship I’m eligible for (editing is still not recognized as a fundable activity according to the Singapore government, let alone an activity for which one receives a fellowship), but I have, in my capacity as Asymptote‘s editor-in-chief, received quite a few lovely invitations this year. Among them:
- I judged the PEN International 2016 New Voices Award.
- I spoke at a London Book Fair panel—my first—on “Discovering New Stories from Asia, Turkey, and Africa.” Although travel and accomodation were not part of the invitation, I was able to crash on the sofa of a university friend; the Translators Assocation of the Society of Authors in the UK also helped out with a travel subsidy for the onward part of the Taipei-London flight.
- SUTD then paid for my onward flight from London to Singapore so that I could participate in a three-day conference on “The Art and Politics of Translation.” They also paid for my trip back to Taipei, which was great!
I make a point of mentioning all these travel arrangements (without which I am not able to take up the invitations), because I often get asked well-meaning questions along the lines of, “Asymptote‘s doing an event in ____; will I get to see you?” Yes, I’ve helped organize many global events (33 of them in fact), but I’m never actually present for them (unless I’m part of the panel itself), because of lack of funds. Back to the problem of perception I brought up in a prior blog post then: it must seem to our readers that we are coping financially, or even thriving, because we keep expanding our team and increasing our offerings. Ah, if only that were the case…
Thank you for keeping me company at the blog all through these three days, and a big thank you to all who were inspired to sign up as sustaining members over the past few days. Your generosity will give Asymptote extra lives to stay in the game. For those of you who are tempted to sign on, but vacillate still, please know that each additional sustaining member brings us closer to being able to operate beyond April 2017. And on top of everything your donation represents, it will also give us an invaluable psychological boost; that what we are doing makes a difference.
To end, here’s Forrest Gander on why Asymptote “contains the DNA for 21st century literary magazines.” A happy year-end from all of us at Asymptote!
Click here for Part I of “2016 Highlights.”