Dear Lisa,

I’m sure you’re very busy, so I hope you don’t mind my contacting you. I’ve become interested in working as a literary translator (currently German to English, but likely Dutch to English too as my skills improve!) and I hoped I might ask you a couple of questions.

I was wondering what tips you might offer for someone just starting out, particularly with regards to networking and finding leads. What have you found to be the best way to find work? Have you ever taken on work for free in order to gain experience?

I already have a small amount of experience with two translation firms, won a prize for translation at university and have had some creative writing published, so I suppose the odds are not too bad! But I imagine there is a long road ahead!

One tip I read was to try translating an old work out of copyright as way of gaining experience. What do you think of this tip?

Thanks so much in advance. Hope I am not taking up too much of your time!

Best wishes,


Hi Kathryn,

Nice to hear from you!

It sounds like you’re well on your way, doing many of the right things to get a start in literary translation. I wish I could say there is one single way of going about it, but there really isn’t. Though that might seem frustrating now, it can actually be a blessing in disguise because it allows you to forge your own path.

I personally got my start by reaching out to an author whose work I love. One of the participants in my First Steps in Literary Translation class interacted with a colleague on Twitter, and she recommended him to an author. A guest post author I just featured (Rafa Lombardino) decided to work directly with authors interested in self-publishing and she contacted them directly. There are a wide variety of opportunities that can come about in a variety of ways!

The important thing is to reach out, make connections with authors, editors, agents and other translators online and in person. I’ve found Twitter an incredibly useful (and enjoyable) source of contacts. I read blogs and publishing news sites to see what’s happening in the industry and follow up when anything looks interesting. I attend conferences, book fairs and workshops to connect with my peers. They often then recommend me if they’re not available or work in another language pair.

Essentially, just keep your eyes open. You never know where you might hear of an author or literary magazine offering the perfect opportunity.

I also encourage you to do all you can to start publishing shorter pieces. A portfolio of published work will speak volumes about your abilities.

Try your hand at translating some literary works if you haven’t already, whether the copyright has already expired or simply a piece you adore. The idea of literary translation can be quite different from the practice of it… Besides, having a sample you can show a prospective client will be essential until you have publishing credits. Finding works in the public domain is certainly an excellent place to start.

I have rarely been paid by an author for a literary sample. I do it because I’m interested in the piece and invest the time in the hopes that payment will come when it is published. A variety of arrangements will be suitable for each of us. Just make sure it “pays” for you in some way.

I do hope this has helped!





Readers, any other advice to share?!