Thursday, December 15, 2016

Department of Translator Advocacy, Part 2

After publishing my previous post, I shared it in the Literary Translation group on Facebook, where Margaret Carson made some comments that I thought warranted a follow-up. Carson served as PEN America Translation Committee cochair in 2014–15 and has been involved in the committee’s work for years. Here’s what she wrote:
This is great-- thanks for providing a transcript of the panel and sorry I couldn't make it to ALTA this year (ironically, a question of money; I'm only covered up to $450/year in travel reimbursements). Quickly: I don't believe it's an either/or question, though #namethetranslator is a much more straightforward advocacy: 1/ most reviews are online, many reviewers have Twitter accounts. Tweet the reviewer, tweet the publication, email the publication. Pick egregious lapses (the translator is not mentioned in the bibliographic headnote, there are quotes from the translation and the translator is not mentioned), not non-mentions in puff pieces about translations or publishers of translations in general. No attack mode while doing this. I've had some success with this. 2/ the underlying contract. I also mentioned to you in an email before the panel that there was a subsequent step by the PEN Translation Committee after the Watchdog Committee. In that iteration we thought translators would stand a better chance at being mentioned if the publisher's press materials named the translator, if the translator had an intro or note in the book, if the translator's name were required to be on the cover b/c that clause was in the contract, etc. And we collected a few "model" reviews in which the translator was named and the work praised in an interesting and non-formulaic way, with the idea of creating a Reviewer's "Hall of Fame" (as opposed to a Watchdog-like Wall of Shame). Lots more to be said on this, lots more to be done, yes, time-consuming, and one is tempted to let it go when yet another review fails to mention the translator. But it seems to me that if you're a full-time freelancer, you'd benefit the most from having your name mentioned whenever you work is reviewed because it's a selling point to publishers for future projects. 
On the issue of money, I noticed that no one actually said how much they were paid for specific projects or how much (as a publisher) they paid translators. An elephant in the room for sure. There's a misperception that translators cannot talk about rates, because of that FTC investigation of the ATA in the 1990s, which enjoined the ATA, as a professional organization, from posting suggested rates. Translators can definitely talk to one another about fees, past, present and future. [Editor’s Note: See the ATA’s own explanation of why it’s OK for individual translators to discuss their rates. For more background and documentation, see here, here and here.] Marcia Lynx Qualey talked about sharing information-- yes. But I also think this is not a traditional supply/demand kind of market. There are different kinds of publishers (for-profit, public corporations; private corporations; non-profits). Has anyone had any luck in getting a business model from any publisher about a translation they've published? It would be useful to know what the numbers are like. I used to be under the impression that translations were costly for publishers. But then I also heard that publishers liked translations because they didn't have to pay authors; they only had to pay for the rights and then pay the translator, a cheaper proposition. 
One more point about money: as cochair of the PEN TC I contacted the NEA Literature Director about tying a base rate to translators to subsidies received by non-profit publishers. Non-profit publishers who are awarded subsidies have to provide financials to the NEA. They could be required to provide as a line item their fees to translators and the rate they paid. They could be held accountable. There was no resolution of this at the time. If we had some data on translator compensation, I believe a case could be made for making sure translators got a minimally acceptable rate. Follow-up is needed, but now with the change in administration, who knows what will be left of the NEA? But any government agency (federal, state, local) that provides subsidies to non-profits can require that a minimally acceptable compensation be provided to those who are hired to carry out the projects that are funded.
Much more that could be said. There's always a lot of tiptoeing around this issue. Literary translation is a genteel business and there's always a danger that raising issues like this in a sustained way will get you sidelined. Thanks again, Alex, for making this available and for keeping the conversation going.

A few notes and additional comments from me in response:
1) Re: publishers’ business models: Here is the transcript of an interview I did, in January 2015, with Chad Post of Open Letter Books and Tom Roberge of Albertine bookstore and New Directions press, in which Post goes into detail on the numbers for Open Letter. Here is the video of a panel discussion on translator contracts, in April 2016, in which two translators, a publisher, and a literary agent talk numbers on both rates and royalties. 
2) Re: data on translator compensation: Over the past six months, Jessica Cohen and I have been working with the Authors Guild on a survey to collect data on compensation and contractual terms for literary translators in the United States. We hope the survey will be going out in January 2017.
3) Re: the October roundtable at ALTA: In fact there was some discussion of rates, but it wasn’t reflected in my original blog post, because what I shared wasn’t a transcript of the discussion, but just the notes sent to me by my fellow participants, which they fleshed out during their comments. Deborah Smith, for example, stated that her press, Tilted Axis, pays the TA rate. The TA (Translators Association) is a group within the Society of Authors, and on their web page it states: “In the SoA’s experience, we have found that UK publishers are prepared to pay in the region of £90 per 1,000 words.” So I edited my initial blog post to reflect that. In addition, though she didn’t specify the royalty, saying only that it was “small,” I went back to Deborah and she verified that it is 1%, which in my experience is a fairly standard translator royalty for small presses in the UK. 
There was also other rate-related talk during the Q+A, after we’d each said our bit. I mentioned Margaret’s contact with the NEA, for example, and Meg brought up the FTC investigation (though we didn’t go into it, since I was afraid it would swallow up what little time we had left), and I shared one translator’s suggestion for a way around that, namely, for individual translators to post their rates on their websites, which, again, is totally legal. 
One reason we didn’t dwell on the question of pay itself was that the roundtable, as indicated by its title, was aimed more at presenting new forms of translator advocacy, especially since the question of pay has been discussed in detail at previous ALTA panels—for example, one I was on in 2014, “Professional Literary Translators: Do They Exist and Can They Pay the Bills?” With Jessica Cohen, Ezra Fitz, Edward Gauvin, and Anna Rosenwong, moderated by Katie Silver (the answers to those questions, by the way, were yes and no). The starting point for our discussion was the 2008 CEATL report, “Comparative Income of Literary Translators in Europe,” which I highly recommend. Lisa Carter, as usual, is also worth a read on the topic; see for instance this
One of the issues that keeps coming up repeatedly as an obstacle to translator organizing for better pay in the United States is the fact that, under U.S. labor law, as independent contractors, translators cannot engage in collective bargaining. There are challenges to this idea now, particularly in light of the “gig economy,” but leaving that aside here as a complicated can of worms involving legal issues beyond my ken, both Meg Berkobien’s Emerging Translators Collective and the Cedilla & Co. agency, presented in Oakland by Sean Bye, offer original thinking about how translators can organize themselves to do their work and be paid what they consider a fair wage for it.
Marcia Lynx Qualey conducted interviews for her blog, post-roundtable, with Meg, about the Emerging Translators Collective, and with Sean, Julia Sanches, and Jeremy Tiang, about Cedilla & Co. I recommend everyone read them. 
Not the end of the story, by any means, but that’s all for now. 

Friday, December 02, 2016

Department of Translator Advocacy

Sunday, October 18, at the 39th annual conference of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA), held in Oakland, CA, I moderated a roundtable titled “Beyond #namethetranslator: New Forms of Translator Advocacy,” with (in alphabetical order) Megan Berkobien, Sean Bye, Marcia Lynx Qualey, and Deborah Smith.

What follows here is 1) a description of the genesis of the roundtable, to explain the ideas behind it, which may be useful in understanding the discussion we ended up having; and 2) the contributions to the roundtable from each of us, in some cases with additional material based on the notes we prepared in advance, plus e-mails between us, plus notes I jotted down during the event. 

Although several of us participating in this roundtable belong to organizations, none of our statements should be taken to imply endorsement of our ideas by the organizations we belong to. We all appeared here as individual translators, speaking on behalf of no one but ourselves. This post is intended solely to share with a wider audience the ideas, questions, and concerns that were raised.

Where It Came From

The idea for the roundtable came initially from Deborah, who emailed me in April 2016 to say that she’d be attending this year’s ALTA conference and asking if I’d like to take part in a panel on the name-the-translator movement, similar to one she moderated at this year’s “LBF -1,” the gathering of the UK Translators Association that takes place every year on the day before the London Book Fair opens. That discussion focused on the use of the hashtag #namethetranslator to call out (or call in) publications and reviewers who fail to name the translator in their reviews of translated works: Has it been effective in bringing about an increase of translator mentions, thereby raising recognition of the art of translation, boosting the “visibility” of translators, and beyond that, helping translators earn more pay?

After a week of heavy correspondence between me and Deborah about how best to frame the discussion, we decided to place the emphasis of the ALTA roundtable more on the question of pay and other material conditions, precisely because so many people, including translators themselves, tend to tiptoe around them. Along the way our description from the roundtable evolved from
#namethetranslator: Is That the Best We Can Do?
Translators have sought for years to have their names mentioned in reviews. Twitter’s #namethetranslator hashtag is just the latest version of this advocacy. But does it work? Or is it just sounding off? In general, are social media helping translators make progress on the issues that matter most to us? To what extent can and should publishers be engaging on our behalf? 
#namethetranslator: Is That the Best We Can Do?
Translators have sought for years to have their names mentioned in reviews. Twitter’s #namethetranslator hashtag is just the latest version of this advocacy. But does it work? Or is it just sounding off? To what extent can and should publishers be engaging on our behalf? In general, are social media helping translators make progress on the issues that matter most to us? Is it time for us to start talking about the elephant in the room: how much we are paid? How do we do so, given that we don’t have a union? 
These issues have taken up a lot of my time and headspace during the two and a half years I’ve served as cochair of the PEN America Translation Committee, and it was important to me for the discussion to be forward-looking, not just about what has been done, but what else can be done that no one has tried yet, so I suggested we invite Marcia Lynx Qualey, who is currently one of the most outspoken advocates for translation and translators, via her blog and Twitter, and in her dozens upon dozens of articles for other publications.

I also emailed a few other translators who are active on Twitter, but none of them was able to attend ALTA, and at that point we needed to submit the proposal, so we went with what we had, knowing we could add more participants in the time between submission and finalization. In February I had learned that Julia Sanches and Sean Bye were starting a translators collective in New York City, modeled after actors’ collectives in London, which offer budding actors a way to find work without needing to belong to an established actors’ agency. (One of their main motivations was the fact that, unlike authors, who have little chance of publishing a book unless they have an agent, very few translators are represented by agents, since the money we make is generally too little to be “worth it.”) So we invited one of them to take part, and Sean accepted. Meanwhile Meg Berkobien, a Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan and a translator of Catalan, saw on the ALTA website that our roundtable was still seeking participants, and she wrote to say that she had started an emerging translators collective with the aim of developing a collaborative publication model—and one that keeps in mind the many unpaid labors associated with the craft of translation—for emerging translators.

That gave us a full lineup with lots of exciting ideas, and then, in the course of another few weeks of correspondence among the five of us, we agreed on our final roundtable description:
Beyond #namethetranslator: New Forms of Translator Advocacy
For decades translators have sought to have reviewers mention their names. Twitter’s #namethetranslator hashtag is just the latest version of this advocacy. But does it work? Or is it just sounding off? To what extent should publishers be engaging on our behalf? In general, are social media helping translators make progress on the issues that matter most to us? Is it time for us to start talking about the elephant in the room: how much we are paid? How do we do so, given that we don’t have a union? 

How It Went

We spoke in the order Alex, Marcia (via Skype), Sean, Meg, Deborah, followed by a discussion among the roundtablists and then questions from the translators in the audience.


Thank you all for coming.

In our roundtable today we’re going to start by taking a look back at some of the origins of the advocacy we have now, and then move on to examples of new ways to advance the interests of translators, specifically literary translators.

I also want to emphasize that advocating for translators is not the same thing as advocating for translation. In fact I would urge you to keep this in mind whenever you hear someone say they are advocates for translation. Stop for a moment and ask yourself: How does this benefit translators? Does it help us materially? Does it contribute to our earning a living, or at least a fair wage?

This suggests that when I say “advocacy” I have in mind money. Which both is and isn’t true. I like talking about money because most people don’t like to talk about it. I mean, I actually don’t like to, but as an advocate I feel I need to, since almost nobody else does.

One of the words you hear a lot in connection with translator advocacy is “visibility.” This suggests our efforts should be aimed mainly at ensuring people—especially readers and reviewers—know that we exist; understand our work, appreciate it, recognize its importance, and our essential, in fact irreplaceable role in creating and shaping what is known as “international literature.” It is an outward-aimed advocacy—that is, aimed outside of the publishing industry, which is interesting, given that if we want to be paid more, you would think we’d be aiming our efforts at publishers (and, possibly, agents and/or acquiring editors—and, we can come back to this, authors).

Let’s start in the present and work backwards: The #namethetranslator hashtag is used on Twitter to draw attention to publications and reviewers who fail to name or mention the translator in their reviews of translations. As it says on the website of the Society of Authors in the UK: “An author’s name is their brand, and failure to properly credit any author lessens their ability to make a living from their work.” Before I go on, note that this language suggests the underlying issue here is pay—more specifically, the ability to earn one’s living.

The Society of Authors site names Helen Wang of the Translators Association as originator of the hashtag. In fact advocacy on this issue dates back over 50 years! I’m not going to give a full history, but there are a few key moments I’d like to share.

PEN America’s Translation Committee was founded in 1959,* at the initiative of novelist and short-story writer Beatrice Chute, then president of PEN American Center (she preferred to be called by her middle name, Joy, and went by the pen name “B. J. Chute”). She served as president from 1959 to 1961, and, as she said in her contribution to the May 1970 conference on literary translation organized by the PEN American Center in New York, she got the idea to form a committee on translation after hearing a report from Theodore Purdy on the First International Meeting of Translators of Literary Works, held in Warsaw & Krakow, Poland, July 2–8, 1958.

     * ALTA was founded in 1978; the ATA in 1959, its Literary Division in 1985; the Translators Association was established in 1958.

At the outset of the 1958 meeting in Poland, there was a resolution put forward, stating:
Literary translators and their organizations in all countries shall immediately launch a widespread campaign—by way of articles in the press, discussions and so on—to inculcate an appreciation among the general public of the importance and cultural value of the translator’s work. Literary translators and their organizations shall insist that publishers give clear and proper indication of the translator’s name in every book published in all catalogues, advertisements and so on. Literary translators and their organizations shall further, by all available means, strive to induce literary critics to include in their review an assessment of the work of the translator as co-author of the book presented by him to the public in his native language. In the event of a critic omitting reference to the translator, the translator himself or his organization shall without delay demand that the editor of the journal concerned accord him his right by publishing a notice, article or letter. 
Notice the focus here is on “visibility.”

Chute decided to ask Purdy to be the first chair of the committee. Purdy was one of two reps of American PEN to that 1958 meeting in Poland (and also one of the founders of the American Translators Association). According to one article, he was “competent in eight languages” and worked for Macmillan, where he was responsible for acquiring the first novel by a Latin American author to go into multiple printings in the US (Crossroads, L. C. Kaplan’s 1943 translation from Portuguese of Caminhos Cruzados by Brazilian author Érico Veríssimo).

In May 1970, the PEN American Center organized a conference on literary translation in New York. The proceedings were later published under the title The World of Translation, and in her remarks, “The Necessity of Translation,” B. J. Chute said/wrote:
If I were asked to sum up in one word my reason for feeling that a Translation Committee was essential to the American Center of P.E.N.—quite apart from the obvious fact that P.E.N. is an international organization and therefore exists through translated relationships—I think that the word I would use is “climate.” For translation to flourish in this or any other country as it should (as it must), an ideal climate would supply certain basic necessities: recognition of the fact that the translator is indispensable; appreciation of the difficulty of his role (that it is an art as well as a craft); proper financial return for his labors, and credit given where credit is due. [boldface emphasis added] 

Note that here, along with recognition and visibility, Chute refers to money: “proper financial return for his labors.” In its first 10 years, the PEN American Center’s Translation Committee established the Translation Prize (1963), issued a Manifesto on Translation (1969, under Robert Payne’s tenure as Translation Committee chair), and began work on a Minimum Basic Contract. Then, in 1970, it put together “this conference of distinguished translators from many countries”—which I am quoting from here.

Still from her comments at the 1970 conference, B. J. Chute says/writes:
Since 1960, I have pursued a small but vigorous personal project, which is represented in my files by a folder marked “Editors and Publishers, Harassment of.” This file is concerned with matters of translation, and most of it consists of correspondence—sometimes brief and sometimes lengthy—which has taken place between a publisher or editor and myself on those numerous occasions when the name of the translator has been omitted from either the book jacket or the advertising—carrying the invisible profession to its logical conclusion. 
Chute goes on to describe some of the letters she wrote, and responses, noting that she had general success. (I won’t go into it here, so as not to dwell on the past, but one interesting side note: In those days, the Translation Committee didn’t consist of just translators, but also publishers and editors—who, as Chute points out, have their problems too—and she notes that the committee owes a great deal of its success to their being involved. Maybe this is something we can come back to.)

The effort Chute began in 1960 eventually died out, though I wasn’t able to verify how many years she carried it on beyond 1970, when she made the comments I quote above. In 1983, during Peter Glassgold’s term as Translation Committee cochair, the effort was reborn with the formation of the Watchdog Subcommittee, and carried through until 2012, when it disbanded, mainly due to its limited effectiveness (also, at a certain point the name was dropped because of its aggressive connotations). Margaret Carson, who served as Translation Committee cochair with me in 2014–15, shared with me this mission statement for the Watchdog Subcommittee, created during her involvement with it in 2008:
When a translator’s work is ignored in a review, when a translator’s name does not appear on a book cover, or when an advertisement or catalogue makes no mention of a translator, translators everywhere have been ignored. No less than authors, translators deserve to be accorded the notice their creative work merits.  
The PEN Translation Committee’s Watchdog Campaign monitors book reviews and publishers’ promotional material to see if translators have been given sufficient acknowledgement. It will contact book reviewers, editors and publishers when a translator’s contribution to a creative work has been ignored. 
Its goals are to increase the visibility of translators and to encourage publishers and editors to acknowledge the act and the art of translation in the promotion of titles and in reviews. 
Apparently, then, a reversion to emphasizing visibility over pay or the ability to earn a living.

THESIS: Although its goal is to help ensure translators can earn a living from their work, the question is whether naming the translator is enough. Or, more specifically, given the low number of translators devoted to advocacy and the limited amount of time and energy we all have, is it the best place to focus our efforts? Since not everyone has equal amounts of time, maybe some of us should focus on that, but what else can be done, especially on the issue that is so often the elephant in the room—namely, how much, or how little, we are paid?

Especially now, in the age of the internet, when so many publications exist also, or even solely online, it has come to be taken for granted that a certain amount of work should be done for free: for “exposure,” or because the publication itself pleads poverty. This is a whole topic in itself, pay and labor, but I think that sets the stage well for the issues we want to look at today.

Marcia Lynx Qualey, dynamic force behind the blog Arabic Literature (in English) and an all-around champion of translation, joining us today via Skype

Sean Bye, translator of Polish, program director of literature and humanities at the Polish Cultural Institute, cofounder of the Cedilla & Co. translators’ collective

Meg Berkobien, translator of Catalan and Spanish, doctoral student in Comp Lit at U of Michigan, founder of the Emerging Translators Collective

Deborah Smith, Man Booker International Prize-winning translator of Korean, founder of Tilted Axis Press


Taking Alex’s lead, I’m going to talk very practically about what I do, not through the lens of advocacy for translation, but how it relates to advocacy for translators. And by this I mean making a living, and here there’s also how translation is valued (or not valued) in academia as to whether “counts” as a publication, but also less tangible aspects of translator community, collaboration, connections, and standing up for one another.

To start, I want to address a few of the particular challenges for translators outside academia by paraphrasing something translator Karim Traboulsi wrote on International Translation Day. The profession is dominated by women, which is almost certainly one of the reasons why it’s currently undercompensated; as we know, undercompensation follows women. (But on the positive side, Karim said, it also tends to be very collaborative.) The profession has few gatekeepers and an open door to amateurs, which means it can be a more diverse, global, and passionate field, but also can have the effect of driving down payment, and sometimes quality.

So these are some of the challenges & possibilities that I wanted to address.

What I wanted to focus on is what online spaces can and might be able to do to change working conditions for translators. As Alex already mentioned, I edit a website called ArabLit, which is one of a number of translation-focused online spaces. Not talking literary magazines, like Asymptote or Words Without Borders, but spaces for commentary & discussion. Some of these are generalized, like Lisa Carter’s very helpful Intralingo, one of the few spaces that openly discusses money. Others are language-focused, like Katy Derbyshire’s Love German Books, or ArabLit, or Paper Republic. Still others are semi-private spaces on Facebook, or are campaigns like #namethetranslator or #WiTMonth or #WorldKidLit.

So to my particular project. When I opened ArabLit in 2009, I would never have thought it would be a daily occupation for the next seven years, which sometimes seems like a form of insanity. But a day or two after I opened it, translator Shakir Mustafa emailed about how glad he was to see it. And it’s the feedback from translators (about needing a place to gather) that has kept it going for so long. What does ArabLit do? Certainly, a website can transmit information. But a few years ago, in a talk for Cairo’s Center for Translation Studies, I said I saw the site less as a magazine, and more as a literary salon, with translators at the core.

Things an online space can or might be able to do:
  • Share information.
  • Foster community, discussion, and debate. This is not just to feel good, but also, in a practical sense, to create transparency. One of the difficult aspects of working as a freelancer, situation of many translators, is that you don’t often meet your co-workers, and so it becomes difficult to know if you’re being taken advantage of, if someone else is already working on A, B, C; how others are being compensated; how other people are dealing with rights; how invasive or helpful other publishers are; is it useful to go to the conference in X, Y, Z. Sometimes you don’t know the questions you could be asking until you hear from others. 
  • Give specific warnings. About treated unfairly by an agency or publisher.
  • Answer specific questions. There’s a great closed Facebook group called Arabic↔English Literary Translators (arrows in both directions—very important). Mostly what it’s used for is to ask others’ opinions about the nuance of a phrase. Could expand to other questions.
  • Direct attention to problems, as #namethetranslator and #WiTMonth have.
  • Be more specific & transparent about money. Something that Intralingo has done in posting generally about money, talk more specifically in closed spaces, because a core part of being able to negotiate better is having more information. I think we overestimate information available to many emerging translators. Got a question – the author’s agent says the publisher won’t want to spend much on translation, so how little should I propose to do it for? Translators need more advocates.
  • Making connections with other target-language translators. There is a lot we can learn here, in how our texts are translated and received in different target languages, and also in how different translators work.
  • Foster more collective spaces, which is one of the things I think Meg is going to focus on. 


Cedilla & Co. came out of a discussion between me and Julia Sanches about why translators don’t have agents and why that model doesn’t seem to work—essentially, it seems like translators’ fees are so low that a commission model wouldn’t function. Our idea was, could a collective-style model work, where we would act as one another’s agents and in turn receive services, contacts, support, and representation instead of a commission?

Cedilla currently has nine members: Allison Markin Powell, Alta Price, Heather Cleary, Jeffrey Zuckerman, Jeremy Tiang, Julia Sanches, Lissie Jaquette, Marshall Yarbrough, and myself. We cover ten languages: Arabic, Catalan, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, and Spanish. We are all based in New York and meet in person once every two weeks. We come from many different backgrounds, including publishing, agenting, editing, arts administration, and full-time translation.

For publishers, we offer translation services, readers’ reports, and “market intelligence”—all the commercially valuable info we gather about book markets, funding, promotion, audiences, etc. Our goal is to be a one-stop-shop for publishers wanting to do work in translation.

To our members, we offer intelligence and contact sharing, support in developing and making pitches, support in reviewing and negotiating contracts, a web presence, business cards, and branding/identity. We also pitch work on one another’s behalf. Our goal is for everyone to receive concrete services and support they would not have had working on their own.

Our goal is to work within the publishing industry to give ourselves more leverage in negotiation, expand our range of income sources, and provide a model of successful collaboration for other translators to replicate. More information about Cedilla & Co. is available on our website: I encourage folks to check it out!


I’m going to talk about the Emerging Translators Collective. We’re just getting under way, but we imagine the ETC as a small “maker space” for translation in Ann Arbor, MI. I know the “craft” movement catches a lot of flak—all those hipsters making artisanal beer!—but I’m really fascinated by the more important questions of access and community that maker culture brings up. And there’s no question that translation is a craft in almost every respect. So, our answer to the question posed by this roundtable (what more can we do?) is: we want to think big & work small: more limited-edition short story chapbooks & broadsides, more paid translators. Our imagined hashtag is #translatorslabor.

Maybe it’s best if I just read off our website’s “About” page to start off. Ahem: “The Emerging Translators Collective is a growing workshop and DIY micro-press dedicated to transforming the literary translator’s task through the use of alternative and collaborative publication models. Our members are, in general, early career translators who are interested in engaging translation as a literary, editorial, design, and production process. Instead of following the more traditional hierarchies involved with publishing a translation, we believe our texts will be best served through horizontal editorial and production processes. As a collective, we bring together a host of professional skills associated with the publishing sector, and we wish to develop this knowledge further by putting our hands to good work. By working together to create limited-edition, small-batch broadsides, folios, chapbooks, pamphlets, recorded performances, and other ephemera, and by offering decent honoraria for this labor, we advocate not only for translation in the abstract, but for the translators and the necessary cultural exchange they make possible.”

In summary, we don’t see a huge divide between readers & makers because translators are intimately both. Also, and this is big, translators are customers. I’m pretty sure that my translator friends and I buy more books than the average bookstore-goer.

A big part of our effort is thinking about how to change the economic model to account for small translation projects (short stories, poem-prints, etc.) instead of the few big, paid projects (novels), but I’m still working that part out. I think this will be a really important question as more & more PhD programs ask students to plan on adjuncting & freelancing (editing/translating). For me, the plight of the adjunct and the translator (at least the emerging translator) share more similarities than differences at this point. You can probably guess that I’m super fun to be around when I get going on this subject . . .

Although the professors and translators here at UMichigan are generally progressive, I’ve had a few less-than-inspiring conversations about how much agency translators should have when discussing the economic side of things (“Be grateful!!”). What I realize more and more every day is that the whole “pay the writer” rhetoric affects different waves of translators (and grant-makers) in myriad ways. Whereas I find it refreshing to hear about labor-related topics, others might see it as, well, “whiny.” And maybe that’s because they’ve heard it before and haven’t seen any concrete change. For some it has gotten worse, I think. Listen, I personally don’t want to come across as whiny, nor do I want to offend potential allies, but I think there’s certainly room enough in our discourse about translation to be enthusiastic for conversations about labor and payment. I will not be made to feel bad for pursuing a profession that I’ve trained for. Sorry.

I know historically there has been a divide between academic and professional (or “commercial”) translators, but newer PhDs are much more invested in tearing this barrier down. Theory is important, but it has its limits. Ours is a project very much interested in getting translators paid, so it’s “commercial” in that way. We’ll be in limbo for the first couple of years, though, since it’s hard to apply for grants without three years of programming under your belt. We’re teaming up with the university because it provides funding and because we think that academia should support its younger translators more. The catch-22, though, is that we can’t pay our translators or sell our work. So, for the first year or so we’ll be doing more training than anything else.

When I first spoke to Alex about the Emerging Translators Collective, he brought up the fact that the general focus on translation can obscure the often difficult & precarious professional obstacles that translators face. I totally agree. While advocating for translation is an important part of raising awareness on behalf of translators, it might not change anything for translators in the material sense, and if it does, then not all that many translators. The goal isn’t to call anyone out or to minimize the stresses that traditional/indie publishers face, of course, but we have to broach the subject somehow.

When my translator pals & I have discussed the subject, most of us wonder how to make literary translation a more viable profession. When I think about the Emerging Translators Collective, the question becomes, How can a small operation support this kind of occupational support? My general answer is that it offers a small payment ($100) for short PRINT works (stories & poems) that might otherwise might just go up online for free (compensating us for our labor with nothing but “exposure”). It also offers training in DIY publishing & printing (letterpress, screen printing, etc.) and will work through a horizontal editing schema (made up of translators themselves). Unlike being a one-man show (which publishing can often be), the works we take on will be dictated by the member-translators themselves. I’d also like us to avoid the one-person decision-making model. Really, Ugly Duckling Presse & Matvei Yankelevich have been a real inspiration for me.

As founder of the ETC, I’ve spent a lot of time in the past year “researching” (buying & enjoying the work of!) almost every little press I can spot. When I bring back those publications to the group, it feels like I’m sharing treasure. There are so many wonderful publishing projects out there for English-language prose & poetry, and provocative models from abroad, like the presses involved in editoriales cartoneras, we want to contribute by doing that for literature in translation. If we’re doing anything novel (which might really not be the case), it’s creating small editions/chapbooks/chaplets/broadsides of texts and paying translators for that work. You might think of One Story mag, the Belladonna Series, Birds of Lace, Goodmorning Menagerie, and Greying Ghost press as some of the more adventurous ventures who’ve established these alternative models. We feature these presses and more on the “Inspiration” page of our website, and we’ll be doing a series of Twitter posts soon about the work we love, for members of the translation community who might not know the projects yet.

I hesitate to speak too much about the publishing world, especially because I’ve worked in the sphere of lit mags and have only gotten a glance at the independent publishing scene from within. On the other hand, both of my parents started their own stores, so I’ve been around “business” all of my life. Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that while traditional publishing has the capacity to facilitate translation in important ways, it also forecloses many of its radical possibilities. Even though editors and translators might work together on a translation, it ultimately has to shape up to certain expectations (I mean, apart from being quality writing). We can lament a lack of readers or money, sure, but I’m not sure how much of an immediate, material effect that will have. (And that’s not to say readerships aren’t important, but the best way to go about it is by educating students about translation from a young age.) Since the ETC emerged, in part, from the grad workshop in translation I cofounded with Emily Goedde at the University of Michigan, we already had a well-oiled system for collaboration in place. So we thought, since so many of us have editing and design skills, since so many of us are interested in presswork, since so many of us are voracious readers in a wide range of languages, and since so many of us are working with quality mentors (like Anton Shammas, for example), why don’t we take a chance and put out some of our own stuff? We’re all wearing a bunch of different hats, and we’re capitalizing on our shared skill sets. And, most importantly, we’re thinking about how to make translation more visible on/in the publication itself.

As for the magazines that publish translations but don’t pay the translators, it’s a really tough subject! Let me first acknowledge that so much important work comes out of these publications. They provide important visibility and CV lines. And even those that pay aren’t supplying a living wage (but who is??). That said, when I see big projects holding multiple $20,000 Kickstarter campaigns for their magazines while knowing that none of that money goes back to contributors or editors, I get a little miffed. And I’m not really sure that publishers are keeping tabs on what’s being put out, anyway. At a certain point, a CV line might not count for all that much. In any case, we really need to move past visibility for visibility’s sake because, let’s be honest, those who can really afford to translate on spec are few. For the rest of us, that means we’re driving ourselves bonkers trying to work a day job and get that work done in the hope that we’ll break through. But, break through to what? How can we make translation a sustainable profession and a diverse one? And falling back on that whole “well, translation is a labor of love” doesn’t solve all that much. It’s actually harmful rhetoric, as Miya Tokumitsu writes in her brilliant book Do What You Love and Other Lies About Success and Happiness.

Anyway, at the center of it all is the idea of coming together and working with communities and projects that are already in place, I think. The thing that most inspires me, I think, is how many people were already interested in the various aspects of DIY publishing in Ann Arbor. And plenty of artists are willing to lend a helping hand with our training along the way.


Translator advocacy

• As a publisher: At Tilted Axis Press we pay the Society of Authors rate + royalty as standard, put the translator’s name on the front cover, list them alongside authors on our website, do our best to arrange publicity for the translator as well, promote whatever else they’re doing. (Plus, putting the translator’s name on the cover suggests that they’re a great writer.) Publicising the translator, giving them opportunities but not demanding that they do certain work for free. The royalty, though small, you hope acts as an incentive. Translators are central to what we do in that we source most of our titles through translators, are always open to suggestions from them. Publicising: say it loud, and people will assume that you’re saying it proud, that translation is something to shout about, a badge of quality, and that the translator themselves. Translation cult.

• Working with emerging translators, and building continuous relationships. Guaranteeing a reliable, if not enormous, income, and steady work to keep the name on people’s radars.

• UK scene: The Translators Association, as a group within the Society of Authors, advises but cannot prescribe a minimum rate: “In the SoA’s experience, we have found that UK publishers are prepared to pay in the region of £90 per 1,000 words.” Also advocates for royalties, no copyright rustling, reversion, plus certain other terms, which their lawyers explain when vetting contracts. Majority of UK reviewers, or at least more than previously, will at least #namethetranslator. Debate among translators themselves is whether recognition/visibility will do anything for remuneration. My view is that these things will be more or less important to different translators at different stages of their careers, and why not fight for both? Realistically I think definitely it’s not enough to go for visibility alone and expect that to have an automatic knock-on effect on rates, though I do think it could have an effect on the amount of work a given translator is able to get.

#namethetranslator vs #translationtalk – useful effect on tone of conversation; widens scope of conversation so its not only translators advocating for ourselves, but writers, reviewers, booksellers, publishers, readers; important of work in translation to a country’s literature and culture, Brexit and cultural exchange, talked about as decades ago in the UK. Make for more interesting and intelligent reviews of our work, but explaining why and offering models for how a reviewer should #mentionthetranslation; ensure that when translated works do have success, translators are properly compensated, and share in both the recognition and the remuneration; make it more likely for translated works to have success, through promoting translations as important and interesting; encourage translations to take up a larger percentage of the overall market, through sales figures and reader demand, leading to more jobs to go around.

• As publisher at a nonprofit press which focuses on translations, I’m aware that for the most part, publishing the kind of highly literary, idiosyncratic, difficult translations that are the passion projects, the reasons why most of us became literary translations, no one is getting rich. In the majority of cases that cluster towards this end of the scale, the translator makes more money than the author or publisher. Of course this is only right as theirs is by far the most labour-intensive job. I absolutely agree that any publisher that can afford it should pay their translators more. But we should all be aware that these kinds of books are usually not commercially self-sustaining, and therefore it’s a choice the translator has to make, if they’re not lucky enough to have private funds, between balancing translating the work they love for not very much pay, and doing other, better-paid jobs, some of which could be commercial translation, or teaching, or waitressing. And how far they’re willing and able to take the risk of unpaid promotional work. I think it might help if we were all, especially publishers, more open about exactly what money is going where.

• Literary translation is never going to be a well-paid profession until literary translations sell much better than they currently do, in more instances than they currently do. And that’s why I think it’s crucial for us to advocating for translation and translator simultaneously.