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Help for new translators


Inspired by @Nicky’s request for advice about offering her services as a translator to new writers, does anyone have any pointers or suggestions they can offer about how to make inroads into the poetry translation market? Good practices, how to approach a publisher, what the first move should be, etc.?

My own view is that poetry publishers will normally want a good sample of translation to read before making any commitments, and that previous experience (i.e. a full translation CV) is not always essential if the work is excellent. So just go ahead and start translating! I don’t think there is much merit in approaching authors directly, but I could be wrong. The most important thing, probably, is to make sure you know who owns the translation rights for a book or poem before starting, otherwise all that work could be for nothing.

I’m sure there will be different views and advice from experienced translators, though.

Translating the poetics of the original poem

I’m speaking from the point of view of the translated poetry editor and the translator of poetry. First, as an editor, I would want: (1) to be addressed by name (you can always find the relevant editor on the publisher’s website - if not sure, pick the one you think and contact them); (2) to be told a bit about who you are; (3) to be sent a sample of about 12 poems, always with the original; (4) to be told why you think we should publish this poet in your translation; (5) to be sent something really interesting and either topical or just really important for whatever reason; (6) to be sent an excellent translation, but there are different views about what constitutes an excellent translation, so always say what yours are; (7) to be told clearly that you, the translator, would like to work with an editor and are always open to suggestions. Second, as a poetry translator, I would say (1) never offer your services to a writer as it rarely works like that; (2) find a poet who is little translated whose work you feel passionate about; (3) sort out the rights situation; (4) do a sample translation and approach your chosen publisher as above; (5) never accept a publisher who will edit your work without consultation - it is your work and you and the editor must discuss the final version; (6) never accept a publisher who cannot offer you an editor at all or who can only offer one who is not also a poetry translator.
This is the normal way of doing it, but there are exceptions, such as when you do happen to meet the poet and the two of you together decide you will try and get her/his work published in your English translation. But these are very rare cases. You, the translator, are making a pitch to a publisher with something you think is brilliant and will find an audience. You need to persuade the editor to champion your proposal, and be willing to work with them.