By Peter McCambridge
Poacher turned gamekeeper. Except the analogy doesn’t really hold water, does it? It was more like before, when I was a translator pitching ideas and translated excerpts to publishers, I was like the man visiting an estate, selling fish to restock the pond. And now I have my own pond.
Great, I thought. Now I can do what I like. My pond can have hundreds of fish and I will love them all! But then I quickly realized that my pond could only be so big—there was a limit to the number of fish it could contain. (Plus, I wanted my pond to have an identity, right? I wanted the fish in it to look similar but not be too alike, to make my pond instantly identifiable as my own.) And very soon nothing was good enough. If I can only choose three fish this year and four the next, is this one really good enough? I really, really like it. But is that enough? Do I love it enough? Will I regret it taking up a place if something better comes along later?
It took me precisely one minute to realize everything had changed, that nothing would ever be the same again. As a literary translator, I’d put together a long list of books I was interested in, of projects I was sure would work if only someone would give them a chance. And then I got my new job, my dream job: fiction editor at QC Fiction. We would be publishing only the best contemporary Québec fiction in translation and I would decide what was good enough. I was now the gatekeeper, the gamekeeper.
So I took a look at my list, at the list I was sure would work. And I thought, Hell, no. There’s no way I’m taking a chance on that one. And I thought, Yeah, that one could work, but I’m not so sure. And I thought, I really like this one but I’m not sure it fits with what I’m trying to build here. Does it play well with the others? And I thought, Wow, this is a lot more complicated than I ever imagined.
I spent months putting together my list. I swung back and forth, wildly, moving between “Nothing is good enough. I will never find anything good enough to publish ever again” and “I could stick a pin in my shortlist here and come up with seven titles that are all great. They should all be translated! I want to translate them all! And then twenty more! Where do I stop? Why do I have to stop?”
And that’s the problem. I can see it, now that I’m on the other side, now that I’m the person reading the pitches rather than making them, now that I’m the person who decides, not the person who tries to get someone to make up their mind, now that I’m the one having to make a decision, having to take a chance myself.
Sure, I like it. Sure, I love the translation. Sure, it could work. But do I like it enough? If I’m only putting out three books this year and four the next, does it really beat out all the competition hands down? If I pick it today, will I live to regret it tomorrow?
So now I understand. Now I understand when a publisher sends out a letter, thanking you for your proposal. It’s great. But we publish a very limited number of books a year. It’s great, but it’s probably not for us. It’s good, but maybe not good enough.