The Business Of Literary Translation

This was the title of the Emerging Translators Network‘s first event – a day designed to be a practical guide for early career or beginning translators. Held at the Free Word Centre on Monday this week, it was jam-packed with discussions, workshops and networking time. Although I was already familiar with a lot of information, it is always useful to have it set out again as there’ll always be something new. There was also a chance to give an “elevator pitch” of a book to editors from Peirene Press and Harvill Secker – a chance I seized to plug a wonderful book that I’d love to be writing about on here as a work in progress…

So, what were the top tips? In no particular order:

  • Rights teams in the UK don’t acquire rights – you need the editorial department for that. (LB)
  • Publishers, or at any rate Geoff Mulligan of the Clerkenwell Press seek to publish only what is outstanding and to build a list that the public will trust. He also quoted a colleague that editors “buy good books and make them better”. (GM)
  • Editing a translated book should be a three-way collaboration between the author, the translator and the editor. In theory a lot of the hard work should already have been done by the original publisher. You’re looking for wrong notes. (GM)
  • When pitching a book, it can help to know how it has already travelled. Passion is crucial. (GI)
  • It is wise to translate books you really love – it shows. (GM)
  • Welcome the editing process – it’s not about some bastard murdering your prose! (GM)
  • When getting into translation, seek out competitions, collaboration opportunities, mentorships, summer schools etc (TB)
  • Submit to magazines and reviews to get publications under your belt. (TB)
  • Factor in time for editing after you’ve delivered the manuscript. (TB)

My own top tip from the book pitching session – when you pitch a book, it helps to include the title and the name of the author. Oops. Rectified that by email and in conversation later though. More seriously, as well as the things mentioned above, make sure your sample translation matches your pitch – if it’s a funny book, pick a funny bit; if you mention a writer of a similar style, make sure that’s evident in your sample, and so on. If there’s a likelihood of funding, via English PEN or national institutes, say so. Try to find a strong, memorable image to help the book stick in people’s minds. Thomas Bunstead also suggested reading 500 word reviews in literary supplements etc to learn how to be concise, which is advice I’ll definitely take up.

Huge thanks to Ruth Martin and Rosalind Harvey for organising a great day and, as I forgot to put it on my feedback form I’ll say so here: three cheers for a big space for notes in the back of the programme. I wish all conference organisers were so considerate!

LB = Lisa Baker, Rights Director Faber & Faber

GM = Geoff Mulligan,Publisher The Clerkenwell Press

GI = Gesche Ipsen, Editor Pushkin Press

TB = Thomas Bunstead, Translator

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About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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One Response to The Business Of Literary Translation

  1. Pingback: Weekly favorites (Aug 1-7) | Lingua Greca Translations

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