How to get started as a literary translator.

Q. What resources does ALTA provide for the beginning translator?
A. The ALTA guides are a great place to start. The brochures The Making of a Literary Translator (PDF) and Breaking into Print (PDF) are helpful introductions and include many examples from experienced ALTA members. The Proposal for a Book-Length Translation (PDF) covers the nuts and bolts of putting together a translation project and presenting it to a publisher.

Q. What should I do first before starting a literary translation?
A. If the literature you want to translate is not in the public domain, you must first get permission to translate the work. To gain permission to translate, you need write to the foreign rights department of the publisher or the author you wish to translate, so that you may negotiate the terms on which you will be allowed to publish the translation. For further information, see the ALTA guide The Proposal for a Book-Length Translation (PDF).

Q. Where can I find the right publisher for my translation?
A. Follow the calls for submissions that appear regularly on ALTA’s social media feeds, and keep an eye on what’s being published and by whom. Also, browse through the list of journals and publishers that publish works in translation that ALTA has compiled. Ask at your local independent bookstore. Depending on the kind of book you’re translating, scan the lists of presses and their interests in The Writers’ Market. The ALTA Guides list many useful references and links to help you with this.

Q. How do I approach a publisher about a translation I have or want to produce?
A. Sending a query letter is an appropriate way to begin. Check the publisher’s website about the proper means of communication. Some publishers prefer email, others snail mail.

Q. What should a query letter look like?
A. There is a sample query letter in the guide The Proposal for a Book-Length Translation (PDF).

Q. Should I use a literary agent to help me find a publisher?
A. Some translators do, but most do not. Because agents receive a smaller percentage of the earnings from translations as opposed to other authors, agents are often reluctant to work with translators.

Q. How do I negotiate a contract with a publisher?
A. Here are some helpful guidelines for negotiating contract: PEN contract information.

Q. Should I have a website to promote my translations?
A. The ALTA Guides to Promoting Your Literary Translation (PDF) and The Literary Translator and the Internet (PDF) give advice about translation and internet-related questions. Many ALTA members have personal websites. Browse through the members’ profiles and you can get a sense of how translators are promoting themselves.