Wanna Be a Literary Translator? "Just Be Proactive!" Carsten Peters says

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Wrapping up my series on Literary Translation presentations held at the 52nd ATA Annual Conference in Boston, here is some insight on how to create a solid literary translation proposal.

During the 52nd Annual Conference held October 26-29, 2011 by the American Translators Association (ATA) in Boston, I attended a one-hour presentation entitled Programs For the Promotion of Translation, given by Carsten Peters, translator and owner of Ceditora, who encouraged translators to “be proactive” if they want to break into the literary translation world.

“According to the old model, translators were only a side figure, just someone who does the job,” he explains. "Publishers would ask you to wait until they get in touch if they need you. But if you want to think outside the box, you should learn how publishers work and present a concrete project to them.”

Giving more detail about the ins and outs of literary translation, Peters believes the role of the literary agent is fading. In the past, they used to work as the “middle men” and scout books that are selling well in their native market to then pitch the translation project to a publisher in the target language market.

“Literary agents don't add value to the process,” he assures, mentioning that they may also represent an obstruction to the process as far as language is concerned. Peters deals mainly with Portuguese and German and, if the literary agent doesn't speak one language or the other, only English for example, he'd prefer to work directly with the translator, who is bilingual and naturally inclined to facilitate the communication process.

Another reason for translators to be proactive, Peter says, is the fact that publishers would rather work with native authors instead of investing in a translation project. “Should I contact a translator to bring an international title into the country or should I just contact a big household name?” he asks. Risks are bigger for publishers if they try the former approach, because they need to pay for both the translator's work and the original author's royalties, regardless of how well the book ends up selling in the target market.

Know Your Grants ― The speaker also suggested translators study the paperwork available online on grant programs given by different governments to promote their national literature internationally. He explains that the money goes directly to the translator, but you do have to have a publisher in both the source and target countries to get the project through.

“Get in touch with the right people. Don't use emails. Pick up the phone and talk to someone. Approach authors first, because they have a direct contact with their publisher. Don't pitch the project, just talk about how much you like his work and how you're interested in maybe working together. Then get in touch with a publisher in the target country and provide the information about the grant and the author,” he suggests.

From a publisher's perspective, Peters says “it's a win-win situation” because the translator has a concrete project and half the leg work is already done. “The publisher then doesn't have to do anything, just sign the papers.”