Thursday, September 8, 2022

 How to Pitch a Translation - A Guest Post by Nanette McGuinness

Finding a publisher who will take on a book in translation can be tricky.  Let’s say you’ve read a great book in one of your working languages, and you think it might become the next Harry Potter.  You’ll have studied the publisher’s catalogue and backlist to make sure it’s a good match for them. Even so, how can an editor even tell? They’re unlikely to be able to read the book in the original language, they probably haven’t heard of the author and/or illustrator, and they may not know you or your work, particularly if you’re trying to break in as a translator. Even if you’re established.

Your job is to advocate for the book when you share it with the editor. Put yourself in the acquisition editor’s shoes: arm them with the facts they’ll need to persuade the other teams, especially marketing, that the book is worth the risk and immense amount of time and money the publishing house will need to invest  in it.

At a minimum, the editor will need to know the author, illustrator, publisher, when and where was it published, and in what language and language variant. They will also want a short synopsis and the themes the book addresses, as well as:

  • Other books or media in the marketplace like it
  • Is it part of an existing or planned series?
  • Sales figures in the original country
  • Has it been reprinted or adapted?
  • Movie or other media rights sold?
  • Foreign rights in other languages or countries sold?
  • Other releases by the author or illustrator?
  • Any awards for the book, author or illustrator?
  • Other special strengths?
  • Thumbnail author and illustrator bios.
All done succinctly.

 Ideally, sales will be through the roof, the book will have reprints galore, and the foreign rights in many other languages (but NOT English) will have been snatched up.

 Which leads to an important point.

Before you can shoot off a pitch, your first step must be to find out who owns the foreign rights and whether these are available in your target language and country.  Most publishing houses will list the foreign rights agent somewhere on their website. (Not all do, and not all respond, either. Additional research may be necessary.)  Start there. The foreign rights agent will be your source for the relevant sales, future series, and rights info. Make sure the rights are available, because if they’ve already been sold in your language, you’ll just waste everyone’s time. And it will break your heart to pour yourself into a book only to find out it isn’t available.

Finally—and here’s the rub—the editor will need to read at least part of the book in English--a decent chunk for a novel and the whole thing for a picture book. For graphic novels, this varies.  Some savvy international publishers commission rough, quick translations, which you can share. Many do not, and then you’ll have to do the translation yourself, much as last week’s interviewee, Oliver Latsch, did. Especially if you’re just starting out, this is an opportunity to show your skills as a translator.

Pitching a translation involves some risk, as there’s no guarantee you’ll be the translator tapped to help shepherd the book into your target language. And just because you’ve done your homework and think a translation is a good match for a publishing house doesn’t mean  they will agree that it’s the right book and the right time, given their current and upcoming lists.

But often they will. 

Nanette McGuinnessAward-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of  over 80 books and graphic novels for children and adults from French, Italian, German and Spanish into English, including the much loved Geronimo Stilton Graphic NovelsTwo of her translationsLuisa: Now and Then and California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas were chosen for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens; Luisa: Now and Then was also a 2019 Stonewall Honor Book. Recent translations include Makhno: Ukrainian Freedom Fighter); Rosa ParksMagical History Tour: Vikings, Tiitanic, Gandhi, and The PlagueBibi & Miyu #2, LGBTQ YA manga Alter Ego and Siriusand the critically acclaimed A House Without Windows. 

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