Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Perishable Publishing

It struck me while writing the title for this post that "perishable publishing" would be a great zen-like e-zine name - the ephemeral quality of web publishing speaking for itself....but that's not what I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about that oft-touted phrase for academics (or aspiring academics like me) "publish or perish." I'm thinking about this now particularly as it seems as though there will be some future for the project I spent the last two years working on, negotiating rights for, etc. I did this for the love of the work, but also with the idea that I could share my love of the work with a wider audience. Which requires a publisher.

One of the main topics of conversation in my translation discussions has been on the topic of publishing. While I may not be the most published person out there, I have been on both sides of the game, so to speak; working as an editor for Arrowsmith Press, Zoland Poetry and a number of other wonderful independent presses for many years, and also submitting my work with many rejections and a few acceptances. I've now had original and translated work published and let me tell you, it's much much harder to do with translated work.

First, the rights. ALTA and PEN both have wonderful publications, more like how-to guides, on things like "breaking into print," developing a contract, "promoting your translation," etc. The ground rules are laid out and free to download for anyone who might be interested. But there are some things gained by experience that I have been thinking about, which might be useful for those just beginning to think about publishing.

1. It helps to know the editors. Really, this isn't nearly as nepotistic as it sounds. You absolutely don't need to be friends with editors to get published. But it does help to know about the editors of the places you're submitting. It's kind of like dating - you want to find someone who is a good match. It doesn't make sense to submit translations of Chinese fiction to an editor that is primarily interested in Latin American poetry. It likewise doesn't make sense to submit lyrical poetry to a publisher who is primarily interested in political art. A good way to come up with a list of potential places to submit is to make a list of the journals and presses that publish the books you like to read. Look on your bookshelf for publishers - most likely they will share your tastes.

2. It does actually help to know the editors, or someone else who knows them, or someone who works somewhere in publishing. Literary publishing is a small world, literary translation publishing even moreso. If you're fortunate enough to be in an area where there are events centered around literary translation (readings, for example, or visiting writer programs) go to the events. Talk to people there. It's like networking, only these people are actually interested in the same things you are, and are probably doing fantastic work of their own that you will also be interested in. And you may get a lead - someone who is interested specifically in what you're doing, or knows of someone who is. If you're really lucky, you might also get an introduction, but at the very least you'll make friends with similar interests and learn about avenues you might not have already considered.

3. Research is key. Reading widely could be considered a pre-requisite for work as a literary translator. A general love of world literature predicates all work as a translator, and so there are likely a variety of world literatures represented on your bookshelf. The same approach for finding a new book could be used for finding a potential publisher. Go to a bookstore or library and look at the literary journals for those who publish work in translation. Or look at publishers backlists online. ALTA has a list of publishers (and journals) that publish works in translation, but because of the changing landscape of publishing it can't be comprehensive. Small Press Distribution, Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, and Poets & Writers all have lists of presses (though you can't search for translation specifically) that are worth browsing through.

4. Submit. Actually do it - it's good practice, and helps develop a thick skin. And you might be accepted, or get a thorough, and much coveted, personal rejection that can help you improve your work. The way I do it is aim high: start with the three or four places I would most love to be published, and then each time I get rejected I submit to three or four more. Some pieces are accepted right away, and some have been accepted after 15 or more submissions. Some haven't been accepted at all. But the practice of writing query and cover letters alone is worthwhile. And a great place to keep track of all of these submissions (because the worst thing to do is submit the same piece to the same journal by accident) is Duotrope.

Well, there are many more concerns in submitting translations for publication than original work. I may return to the subject, but I think for now I must return to Derrida, Des tours de babel, and thinking about the loftier aspects of translation.

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