Voices from the Field

et1“I’m assuming we mean literary. Business translators don’t really emerge, that I know of. In which case I’d define as ‘not published as a translator yet,’ at least not with their name attached. You could argue that movie subtitles would count but I think they have to be like credited on the DVD or whatever. You can’t emerge without a name, and man, the industry is really against you when it comes to that.”

“I understand it as someone who wants to work as a literary translator, but hasn’t got a portfolio to show. Someone who’s trying to get their foot in the door.”

“An emerging translator is someone in limbo. They are attempting to get their work out there and they are often unpaid. Unlike with other internships, however, there’s no guaranteed job at the end of the period (which may extend and extend . . .).”

“An emerging translator: a translator who is fairly new to the practice of translating and getting their translations published. Typically, a translator who has not had more than one or two book translations published. After that, well, you at least have a calling card of sorts; you’re no longer untested.”

“Someone with an active interest in translation/practice of translating, but who 1) has not published at all, or 2) has not published widely, or 3) has not “broken into” the publishing sector he/she desires to—for instance, someone with experience translating in business, government, etc. but who wants to publish translated fiction, or someone who has published translated literature for the popular press but wants to reach academic audiences.”

“An emerging translator is someone who has decided to become a translator, but has not yet published a full-length book, or has published only one. I’m sure everyone has their own idea of what it means to be ’emerging,’ but I would guess that most people tie it to having some amount of work published.”

“An emerging translator, so I’ve read, is one who has had nothing published by a traditional publisher, or perhaps only one book.  This translator is continually submitting work such as short stories and poetry to literary magazines, and book proposals to book publishers, and has had one or two stories accepted in magazines.  This person has never been paid, or has been paid very little, for his/her work.”

“An emerging translator is at the beginning of their career. They have more questions than answers, and at the very beginning, they probably don’t even know half of the right questions to ask. They’re getting answers from somewhere, whether it be a graduate program, intensive workshop, mentorship, or other route — or they’re looking for that place.”


et2“It can feel really lonely a lot of the time and you never know if you’re good enough or not. And of course, you’re not aiming for ‘good enough’ anyways, you’re aiming for great, so people telling you you’re fine doesn’t help. Also, I’ve actually won an award? And been interviewed about it? But I don’t feel emerged. And in fact the work that I won the award for has yet to be published because…I don’t know why, ha. Publisher issues, I guess. Currently, I’m working on a book that has already been announced. It hasa publication date and everything—how terrifying! I’d say ‘terror’ is one of the central emotion that emerging translators have, or maybe all translators? Just me? Ha.”

“The translation itself has been immensely enjoyable. It’s something I can spend hours engrossed in, and I always feel confident that I know what I’m doing. On the other hand, the business side is frustrating. I spent a year trying to make a living as a literary translator, and made something like $10,000 that whole year. My partner ended up paying the rent for both of us, and I had no idea how to do my taxes at the end of it. I decided to go to library school in order to have a stable ‘day job’ so that I could continue to translate because I love it. Trying to support myself on literary translation wasn’t feasible, unfortunately.”

“I’ve been translating literature for the past three years.  Frustrations: working for free in order to gain experience in the hopes that it will get be known as a translator and also I thinking the more you do it, the better you get.  Felicities: I love the work. The more I do, the more I love it. I’ve been very lucky in that one work has led to another, one recommendation has led to another. I worked for the past three years with a leading poet and we’ve just signed a book contract, which makes me so glad. Another great asset in translating literary works is how it’s improved my own writing. I’m an essayist and poet. Each genre bounces off the other and enriches me as a writer. “

“Felicities: I am fortunate to have had from the beginning the enthusiastic support of the French author whose writing I’ve been translating for over a year (2 books & . This has been a major factor in my ability to publish my translations of his short fictions, essays, and book excerpts. It also helps me to feel that I am not working in a social void – it’s of course well known that translators work of times in a state of solitude.

I’m also lucky to have found an American publisher who has contracted to publish my book-length translation of the aforementioned author. The manuscript is finished and now the publisher and I are waiting to hear back from 2 grant organizations to see if it gets funding from either of these. This waiting period is something I am getting used to & it doesn’t bother me as much as it did some months back. (It certainly did at times.)

As for frustrations though, they boil down mostly to: 1) occasional impatience on my part (or, conversely, slowness and delays on the part of grant organizations, editors, and publishers, even though slowness is usually the norm); 2) there appears to be very little money to be made on my end, at least as far as I can tell; and 3) being relatively ‘unknown,’ and thus not having the advantage of publishers contacting me ever, despite the quality of my published work. Also, 4) seeing the names of superstar translators all over, and feeling a little jealous at their ability to get all those good gigs (a psychological aspect, I suppose, that’s amplified by my paying close attention to what’s going on in the publishing world). Lastly, 5) the relative solitude in which I work.”

“It’s tough being an emerging translator (as it would be, I imagine, at the beginning of any career, although particularly any creative and/or freelance career). It’s hard knowing how you’re going to make money [as an aside, I cheated and married an engineer who’s over a decade older than me]. One of the hardest things for me was the knowledge that I didn’t have any experience and was just like all the other beginners, and the struggle to somehow distinguish myself from them and prove that I could/should be taken seriously. Forcing myself to network was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s gotten better now that I’ve practiced (and now that I know half the people who will show up at any given translation-related event). I think the hardest part was trying to find any information in the first place, trying to find a mentor or some valid way of getting information and practice — which is why I took a leaf out of the ETN and started ELTNA!”

“I end up translating lots of work for myself rather than for publication because certain works that I value are less viable 2) negotiating time to translate and time spent on other obligations (research, teaching) 3) the slowness of the publishing world, particularly academic publishing; 4) finding venues that specifically encourage, support, and publicize emerging translators (there are some, such as the Gutekunst prize, Harvill Secker’s Young Translator’s Prize, some publications, etc. but more opportunities would of course be welcome).”

“I have been gratified again and again by the willingness of editors to read and publish my work. It is always a thrill to have a new author published in my translation; it feels like a validation of my taste and a personal honor to be a medium for the recognition of a great writer, previously unknown in this country.

It can be frustrating to get access to book publishers, since so many do not accept manuscripts directly from translators. Also, relatively few publishers specialize in translations, and those that do are often backlogged for years.”


et3“I think it’s hard to define what the end of the ’emergence’ period is. Being emerging means you’re unsure of things, you’re doing everything for the first time, and you feel like you don’t know anything. But just getting a magazine credit or book publication or prize awarded might not be enough; those outward markers don’t change how you feel. Plus, a feeling of impostor syndrome might exist throughout your entire career. In general, however, I think that the emergence period could reasonably draw to a close as soon as you find you can start answering questions from other emerging translators. Not all questions, of course — you’ll have questions throughout your entire career — but a decent enough percentage to prove to yourself that you actually possess knowledge about this thing you’ve been learning so much about.”

“I’ve read that submitting stories to magazines and journals is good for drawing attention to yourself and your translations.  So I’ll keep submitting stories in the hope of being offered a paying contract for a whole book of stories.  Spiridion has not yet been reviewed to my knowledge, other than by one positive reviewer on Amazon, but if there are ever encouraging reviews I might be invited to translate more books. A clearer answer to your question: when my skills are sought out, when authors and publishers come looking for me and are willing to pay me fairly for my work, then I’ll consider myself as fully fledged.”

“I have a book of translations scheduled for publishing in 2017. Although I have over 100 pages of credits in journals, having this book on the market will help me to feel like a full-fledged translator.”

“When I’m rich enough to translate whatever I want whenever I want, and to fund a vast, enormously successful publishing house that will support translators, or, barring that, 2) I see signs like an increasing opportunity to publish exactly what I want, more invitations to translate, or to publish in exactly the venues that I want, or, perhaps more tangibly, 3) I publish a book-length translation with a clear plan for further publication, or win a prize. This is a difficult question; I don’t know when the “emergence” period ends, but it seems to have more to do with the way my work is recognized than with the quality, style, content, etc. of my translations. In other words, I don’t see accomplishing a certain type or amount of translation as a sign of exiting the emergence period; instead, some kind of evidence of translations having broader circulation would be such a sign.”

“There are a few things that would signal the end of ’emergence’ for me: For example, my name appearing as the sole translator of a book-length work; publication by several high-profile periodicals such as the New Yorker or Paris Review, an award like the PEN prize, etc.”

“The day that publishers write to me asking me to translate for them in exchange for fair payment, that will be the day that I feel I have ascended to a more secure status as a translator.

For me, the steps towards this goal consist of building my publications list – primarily books, I suppose, although that is a very slow timeline – and also, for now, by publishing in journals I perceive as having the greatest possible ‘prestige’ (all the while admitting that this term is problematic and by no means objective (for example: if I can’t get my translations published in World Literature Today or in The Paris Review, then to try to place them in The White Review; and if not in The White Review, then in The Collagist; and if not in The Collagist, then in Numéro Cinq for example, etc.)).”

“This question doesn’t feel relevant to me. I think it’s more about gaining experience, getting known as a literary translator and doing a really good job. It’s about hard work and commitment more than anything else. It’s about publishing and having a good track record. Maybe in 20 years time, I’ll be able to tell you for sure that I’m not ’emerging’ any more.”

“When and if I get two translations of fiction or poetry published — in print; I’m old-school and don’t have the same deep-seated respect for online publication as I do for paper — that are recognizably serious and ambitious, I’ll consider myself emerged. The author I’ve been translating for the past two years also writes fiction and is very well received in Germany at the moment, but almost unknown in English. Maybe I’ll be able to ride his coattails to ’emergence’; if not, well, I’ll continue with the strategy that has served me well the past four or five years: get out there and rub elbows with people in the business.”

“I like to think that if I get a book or two out I will have ’emerged.’ Maybe some people think that when a publisher approaches you instead of you approaching a publisher then you have emerged, but for this contract I am doing now I was approached. Or maybe it’s the opposite and you’ve only emerged once you can get a publisher to take a chance with a project you bring to them instead of the other way around.”

DISCLAIMER: The participants in this survey have not necessarily endorsed the Emerging Translators Manifesto. Surveys were collected as a secondary part of the ETC project.

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