It’s the start of a new year and one of your intentions may be to get that literary translation project underway. Yay! I honestly can’t encourage you enough. This is incredibly challenging work but the rewards are eminently worth it.
The very best advice I can offer to help you get started or spur you on in your career can be summarized in the following six essential tips:
Take chances. Do you want to write a particular author about translating his or her work? Do it! Is there a piece you think would perfectly fit the upcoming theme of a literary translation journal? Submit it! It might feel risky and there is certainly no guarantee of success, but there is very little to lose and everything to gain by simply trying. (Remember that rejection is a part of any writer’s life and makes acceptance all the sweeter when it comes!)
Go your own way. There is no one way to get published as a literary translator, so be creative and try anything you think might work for you. Looking for an author to work with directly? Put an ad in a journal that publishes in your source language. Noticed an editor on Twitter? Contact her to see what possibilities might arise. Have a translation of a book all ready? Research and query possible publishers all over the globe. Any number of approaches could lead to a translation project if you keep your eyes open for opportunities and follow your gut.
Stand up for yourself. It is essential that you know your own worth and stand up for what you believe in. If you need two months to do a good job on a translation and the author wants it next week, explain why that’s not feasible. If a publisher wants to pay peanuts, negotiate a fee you can live with. If you are confident about your abilities and believe in this profession, you can get what you deserve – even if it is a process that takes time.
Learn from every experience. I hate to disillusion you, but not every project will turn out the way you want it to. Still, there is something to be learned every time you try. Did the publisher pay only with copies of the work? Don’t worry; now you have a portfolio piece. Did a relationship with an author go awry? That’s OK, personality conflicts happen and you are better armed to prevent certain situations in the future. Every negative can be turned into a positive if you have the right attitude moving forward.
Promote yourself and your work. Having a piece published is not where this story ends. After all, we translate literature so it can be read by a broader audience so that audience deserves to know the work is out there. Plus, if you want to move forward with your literary translation career, you have to make sure people know what you published, where and when. I realize it’s not always easy to promote ourselves and there’s a fine line between self-promotion and self-aggrandizement, but it can be done.
Educate/help others. Literary translation is a relatively small field and often misunderstood. I believe we have a duty to educate our clients and the general public about the work we do, to help one another succeed and thus raise the perception of our profession as a whole. Educating authors, editors, agents and publishers about what goes into our art can lead to better recognition and pay. Helping our colleagues by sharing what we’ve learned can lead to more published works in translation and a stronger professional stance.
Now, get to it! There’s a whole world of literature waiting to be read by speakers of other languages. Let’s open some doors through our art… 🙂
Do you have one essential tip you’d like to share with your fellow literary translators? Does any one of these strike a particular chord with you? Do let us know in a comment.