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My first steps as a literary translator

My first steps as a literary translator

Image by Mam'zelle Kaelle

My first steps as a literary translator
A guest post by Lise Capitan

The bad beginning

As everyone who is new to something, I started by making mistakes. When I settled as a freelance translator, in 2009, I sent out some resumes & e-mails to the publishing houses I admired.

The thing is, I sent them the documents as if they were translation agencies. Very general letters, no published translated fiction on my resume… Unsurprisingly, I did not get a lot of feedback.

The chance

One day though, I was lucky enough to be in direct contact with the publishing house in charge of the French edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine (among other things), les Moutons électriques. They told me they were looking for translators to handle contemporary F & SF short stories.

I did not hesitate and accepted immediately. I began with a short story by the Australian author Terry Dowling. I translated a short story that was part of his Rynosseros universe, set in a poetic science-fiction context, quite similar to Cordwainer Smith’s.

I exchanged e-mails with the editor and he was satisfied with my work — well, enough to entrust me with other short stories. So I went on to discover the iconoclast writer of The Steampunk Trilogy, Paul di Filippo, the sensitive style of Alexandra Duncan, and most recently, I worked on Alex Irvine’s high fantasy short stories.

The great thing about translating short stories is that it’s usually around 10,000 words, so it was rather easy to squeeze in my schedule (sometimes very full of video games). And, it gave me the opportunity to discover several authors in a short time frame, which is a wonderful thing.

The hard work

In the meantime, a Twitter connection forwarded me a post by Irish author David Gaughran (Lisa commented on it too). So I contacted him to be on his list of adventurous translators.

Then in October, the French Kindle store opened. It was a perfect moment for David Gaughran to have his top-rated self-publishing guide translated into French. So I jumped in. The contract was rather different from what is done in trade publishing, but I was very excited and could afford to try this new thing.

There, I understood the real difference between a short story and a book-length translation. But, I also discovered the great satisfaction of having typed the very last of several thousands of words. The book is now being edited and will certainly be published quite soon (looking forward to it).

The future

So finally, in spite of a bad beginning, I have to say, the sky looks brighter right now, three years after I started.

What’s next, then? Well, Les moutons électriques offered me a full book to translate, a Victorian novel on which I’m starting just now.

And, now that I have finally built some experience, I will be able to create a nice portfolio to approach other great publishing houses, hopefully getting other contracts for the future.

I’m not there yet, but what I learnt in these three years is this: patience and hard work are your best weapons to try and succeed in this field. Also, if you see a project that looks really tempting to you and you have the financial ability to venture into new grounds, listen to your heart and just do it!

About the author

Lise Capitan translates from English and Spanish into French & writes in French. She mainly works on video games & speculative fiction.

After graduating in translation & writing in Paris, she started to work for the video game industry. Since 2009, she has been freelancing and decided to use the freedom of this status to try & direct her career towards literary translation.

Blog: http://www.lisecapitan.com/blog/ (Mostly in French, but with some English posts too)

Twitter: https://fr.twitter.com/#!/LiseCapitan

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002354110731

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2 Comments

  1. Lise,

    Thank you for sharing your inspirational story! My work went the other way- I started as literary translator and now I’m moving toward translation in IT and localization industry. And I liked the way you said it- “patience and hard work are your best weapons to try and succeed in this field”. I believe your experience will mean a lot to folks who are new in translation business.

    Reply
  2. Hi there,
    Lisa, thanks for hosting my first guest post ever :)
    Aleksandra, thanks for stopping by. It’s interesting that your career went the other way round. I would be very curious to hear more about it. This is one nice thing about being a freelance translator: things are not set in stone, you can change directions along the way, follow your instinct, what you really want to do, or what will be more profitable for your business. The choice is really yours.

    Reply

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