Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Literary Translation: Publishing the World (for a Living!)

While she interned in the rights department of a French publishing
company, Samantha made plenty of time to travel. They say a book
can take you to a whole new world, but this is one step beyond it!

Unlike a lot of young publishing professionals, Samantha Steele knew she wanted to work in publishing early in her college career. In fact, she even knew what she wanted to do within the industry, and as a student at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study she designed a specialized major around her passion: literary translation. During a full year abroad in Paris (she’s bilingual), Samantha interned in the rights department of a French publisher, learning as much as she could about the passage of rights from one publisher—and one country—to another. Then, as my fellow intern at Scholastic, she focused on the editorial side of the bargain, reading countless queries in French and making recommendations for titles to acquire and translate. Now, as an Assistant Literary Agent at the French Publishers’ Agency, she combines both of those skill sets in one amazing job.

If you’re a fan of world travel, you read widely across cultures (or you’d like to start reading more widely), and you’re still looking for the right publishing role for you, you might just want to consider following in her footsteps!

Samantha raves about her job. “It’s exciting to sell a book in translation. It’s empowering to bring something from another country to America, to extend the lines of cultural communication a little farther. [At the French Publishers’ Agency,] we live and work in this kind of in-between space. We are not of France and we are not of America. We exist as a branch between the two and as such see things that no one else does. We are aware of two worlds at once, and that is both very cool and very weird.”

Like most publishing employees, Samantha’s hard-pressed to define a “typical day.” On any given morning, you might find her reading submissions from French publishers; writing pitches to American editors; meeting with agents, editors, scouts, and translators; corresponding with French foreign rights agents; helping editors apply for grants to fund translations; drafting contracts; processing royalty statements; attending editorial meetings; creating catalogs of the agency’s current titles; or all of the above. She also supports the office staff by working with interns, fixing the copier, running errands, and all those other typical early-career duties.

Since such a huge part of the job involves working directly with the text—or, sometimes even harder—singing its praises to editors who haven’t been able to read all of it, I asked Samantha how she feels about the books she works with. “Oh, the biggest perk is the books!” Samantha tells me. “Translated books usually stand out from the current publishing scene. That is the fun and the interest in publishing them: to add spice and diversity and a little flavor of the unknown.”

Are you sold yet? Want to learn more about how to get a job in literary translation, about the field's challenges, or about how the future is shaping up for the field? Take in the rest of my article over at Publishing Trendsetter!

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