Humanities: Freelance Literary Translation

Pitching a project to a publisher

Background

Literary translators translate full length books as well as other forms of prose for trade or academic publishers. They may either pitch a project to an editor directly or they are sought out for their translation work. Often cultural institutions and book offices of various countries will have resources on books waiting for translators, such as New Books in German, the French Publisher’s Agency, the Polish Cultural institute, etc. Search the internet for language-specific institutes.

Full book length projects may often take up to a year or more to complete because of the complexity and nuance in translating from the original language into English.


Your Role

For this exercise, you are a freelance literary translator.  You have found an amazing book you’d like to translate from the original language to English.  You are preparing to pitch a project to an editor at a small trade press.

The Process

  • Choose a book you are truly interested in translating from the original language to English.
  • Conduct research on how the book performed in in the original language/country. This might include sales figures as well as market research on the target audience.
  • Research who has the rights to the book. You don’t want to start a pitch if the book has already been translated or is in process. It’s best to contact the publisher directly and clear the rights to the book and verify this information.
  • Begin researching an appropriate publisher to pitch your project to. For example, small presses such as Archipelago Books, New Directions, Open Letter, World Editions, New Vessel, Deep Vellum or Melville may be interested in a translated book project. Consider academic publisher such as the Princeton University Press or University of Chicago Press.
  • Once you have gathered the information you need for the pitch letter, you will include the following components in a 5-6-page pitch letter:
    1. a short bio about yourself and your credentials
    2. several paragraphs on how worthy the book is to be translated, as noted above, how well the book sold in the original country, marketability, contribution to the field, potential audience in the US, competing books on the market, and number of words in the book. A thorough description/pitch is as important as a sample translation
    3. a three-page sample translation of the manuscript and a translated table of contents

Task 1

Identify a book in a foreign language that you are interested in translating into English.  Conduct the market research as described above to write a paragraph outlining the importance of the book for translation into English.

The Deliverable

For this exercise, your final deliverable will be a paragraph to be included in your pitch letter on the significance of the book and information how well it sold in its country of origin.  We recommend that you do an informational interview with a literary translator or an editor to learn more about how to craft these proposals and what they like to see related to the marketability of the book.

Sample Deliverables:

Coming soon!

Resources:

  • ALTA American Literary Translators Association
    • The mission of the American Literary Translators Association is to support the work of literary translators, advance the art of literary translation, and serve translators, and the students, teachers, publishers, and readers of literature in translation.
  • PEN America Translation Committee
    • The PEN America Translation Committee advocates on behalf of literary translators, working to foster a wider understanding of their art and offering professional resources for translators, publishers, critics, bloggers, and others with an interest in international literature.
  • British Society of Authors Translators Association page
    • The Translators Association (TA) was set up in 1958 to provide literary translators with an effective means of protecting their interests and sharing their concerns.

Skills used to perform this task: 

Bilingual skills to translate out of source language to target language
Linguist skills
Cultural knowledge of the country
Creativity interpretation and excellent writing skills
Close reading
Background research


You are viewing a job simulation. To get started, set up SMART Goals to perform this simulation in a reasonable timeline. If you have completed the task, fill out the Self-Reflection Sheet.

Authored by Amy Pszczolkowski, Princeton University

Vetted by professional literary translators including Shelley Frisch (@shelfrisch), and Tess Lewis.