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How do I get to translate literature?
Thread poster: paul farmer
paul farmer
Local time: 21:40
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Apr 21, 2008


Can anybody tell me the best way to get into the business of translating literature (Norwegian to English)? Do I contact Norwegian publishers or UK publishers? With a general enquiry or with a particular work in mind? Or do I look around for a work I think is worth translating/would sell in English-speaking countries and contact the author first?

Thanks in advance for any advice anyone can give me.


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Jim Tucker  Identity Verified
United States
Hungarian to English
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the simplest way Apr 21, 2008

... is to choose something in the public domain that is unavailable in English, or whose English translation you find lacking. A short story would be the best format for you here. Translate the story, and farm it out to literary magazines or journals: the Paris Review, Arion, etc - and all kinds of universities publish their own literary journals.

One recent entry in the field is the International Literary Quarterly at Rochester. More on that here:

Once someone picks up your translation and publishes it there, you have something concrete that you can show to publishers. You might then propose an anthology of classic Norwegian stories, and give the publisher a list of names, together with one or two further stories that might be part of the volume. If you can put something well-defined on a publisher's desk, and back it up with an actual publication, you have a much better chance. You have to provide the structure.

A great recent translator working from Danish (to take a similar language) is Naomi Lebowitz. You might have a look at some of her work, and see where it was published. If you have something concrete, you might also send it to her or give her a call, to see if she might have further suggestions.

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Taylor Kirk  Identity Verified

Local time: 13:40
Portuguese to English
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You might consider... Apr 22, 2008

...a retranslation. I'm in the middle of reading Kristin Lavransdatter (Sigrid Undset), so it's very interesting to me that you are looking into Norwegian to English literary translation. I'm reading the old translation from the 1920s by Charles Archer, and many people consider the later 2005 translation by Tiina Nunnally to be an improvement (I haven't read it). I know nothing whatsoever about the Norwegian language but maybe there is a translated work that could be significantly improved upon for a modern audience. Good luck!

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Cristina Popescu  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:40
English to Romanian
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Contact UK publishers Apr 22, 2008

You should contact UK publishers because they are the ones interested in selling the translation and the ones choosing the translator. From my experience, you contact a publishing house to offer your services and they are the ones who propose a certain book for you to translate.
Even if you do come up with a good proposal, they'd still have to obtain publishing rights, which can take a while.
I've been working with publishing houses for three years and that's how it's done here, in Romania.
I hope this helps.
Best of luck.

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Ana Rita Simões  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:40
Member (2009)
English to Portuguese
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Contact UK publishers Apr 29, 2008

I've worked in a publishing house and, from my experience, you'll need to contact the UK publishers (search for the ones who have already translated Norwegian authors, for instance, but don't exclude any possibility, as those may already have a Norwegian translator). However, it is not easy at all - I can tell you we received around 5-10 translator CVs every week and competition is tight. Moreover, there are not so many UK publishers interested in publishing foreign authors - though it seems things are changing a bit, I think.

It will help you a lot if you already have some kind of experience in the publishing business or translation (technical or literary), or both.

Hope it helps. Wish you good luck!

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