Translation rights/literary agents
Thread poster: dlupo

dlupo
United States
Feb 20

Hello!

I recently contacted a French publisher regarding translation rights for a novel I'm interested in translating. They said the rights are available and asked me to contact their "exclusive agent" in the US. I'm assuming this means I have to go through him to find US publishers who might be interested (i.e. I can't just contact them myself). I'm not sure how to approach him—do I just send a query/proposal with a sample of the translation? Or is there another protocol for contacting literary agents?


 

Kate Deimling
United States
Local time: 21:34
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
I'd suggest querying agent first Feb 20

Hello,

Unless you have already translated a sample of the novel, I'd suggest contacting the agent first to see how receptive he is and what length of sample he requests. The agent might ask you for the first 50 pages in translation, or suggest that you select a sample of your choosing from any part of the novel. I'd just write a brief email explaining the situation and your credentials and asking if the agent would like to see a sample translation from the novel.

It's quite likely that you'll have better luck placing the translation with an agent's help than you would on your own, because it can be very difficult to get American publishers interested in foreign books, and if the agent has worked with the French publisher before, he is likely to know editors who will be receptive to novels in translation.

Good luck!

-Kate


dlupo wrote:

Hello!

I recently contacted a French publisher regarding translation rights for a novel I'm interested in translating. They said the rights are available and asked me to contact their "exclusive agent" in the US. I'm assuming this means I have to go through him to find US publishers who might be interested (i.e. I can't just contact them myself). I'm not sure how to approach him—do I just send a query/proposal with a sample of the translation? Or is there another protocol for contacting literary agents?


Eliza Hall
Kevin Fulton
 

Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:34
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Agent's role Feb 21

The agent's role is to sell the translation rights. They do not look for a publisher; in most cases, it is the publisher interested in publishing the translated novel that gets in contact with the agent. The price for obtaining the translation rights is usually determined by the number of copies in the first print run and the planned price of the book. E.g., if the US publisher plans to have 5000 copies at $15 then the original copyright holder gets 5000 * $15 * 8% = $6000 (assuming the royalty is set at 8% – which is a typical figure).

Once the publisher has obtained the right, they will look for a translator.

If you, as a translator, approach the agent, one of the first questions they will ask: who is the (target-market) publisher? Without a publisher, there is usually no deal.

The agent may tell you whether the translation rights are still available. If they are, you need to convince a publisher; for that purpose, you may translate a sample (as long as it is not published, you do not need to pay for the copyright) and present the book to publishers with the right profile.

Note, however, that only 3% of the books published in the US are translations, and it may be excessively difficult (and time-consuming) to persuade a US publisher to publish a book of your (not their) choice. Approaching a publisher with an idea does not guarantee that they will assign you the translation; in many cases, they prefer to work with their own established translators.


Colleen Roach, PhD
 

Kate Deimling
United States
Local time: 21:34
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
Tough but not impossible Feb 22

Attila raises a good point -- there is no guarantee that the US publisher will decide to use you as the translator, and it's possible they could ask someone else. However, in my experience, literary agents do approach publishers, so if the agent likes the project and thinks you are a capable translator, he could be helpful in getting the project off the ground and recommending you.

Depending on the kind of novel it is, there are also presses that specialize in translations. The website of the American Literary Translators Association has a publishers' database with the names of publishers who publish books in translation. You don't have to be a member to access it. Of course, all these efforts can be very time-consuming with uncertain returns. But if you believe in the book it may be worth a try.


Eliza Hall
 

Eliza Hall
United States
Local time: 21:34
Member (2018)
French to English
+ ...
Literary agent is who finds publisher Feb 22

Kate Deimling wrote:

in my experience, literary agents do approach publishers


Yes. That's literally their job. Some agents also act as de facto editors, helping writers finalize a manuscript before sending it out to publishers, but the central function of a literary agent is to find the right publisher for a given book. That's how they get paid: if they sell a book, they get 10%-15% (US-UK rates) of the proceeds.


 


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