3 secrets about my job as a literary translator

April 21, 2022

Have you ever met a literary translator? Today, I would like to talk a little bit about my work as a literary translator, so we will be going behind the scenes. I will go through a series of questions that people have asked about my profession and answer them as honestly as I can. Hopefully, it will be interesting to you as a reader, and even more so if you are considering getting your book translated.

What training do you have?

I have spent five years at university studying English (and French during the last year). During the course of this Master’s, one of my subjects was translation. We did almost exclusively literary translation, working on the books we were studying in literature class, as well as grammar points. (Btw, we studied Antoine Culioli’s Theory of Enunciative Operations. We had wonderful and heated debates in class, and I felt that this meta approach was more helpful and insightful than the purely descriptive grammar other teachers were aligning themselves with.)

I then attended evening classes for a year as a preparation for the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting. This is when I realized that I preferred translation (written work) to interpretation (oral), and I decided to launch my business accordingly.

Since I established myself as a freelancer, I have taken business and marketing classes in order to be able to manage my activity as a business. I have also brushed up on my French (my mother tongue and target language) and learned how to use different pieces of software that I need to perform adequately on a daily basis.

In the future, I would like to take part in workshops to be able to exchange with other literary translators. I am also toying with the idea of becoming a certified Norwegian to French translator.

What kind of clients do you work with?

If you go and visit my portfolio page, you will see that I often work on series and with a limited number of clients. This has proved satisfactory to me, also because said clients are for the most part USA Today or NYT bestselling novelists, often self-published or managing their own small publishing companies.

This gives me stability and makes the translation process easier. Knowing that I have to translate several items in a series within a specific time frame also means that I know that I can book at least 50% of my working hours months in advance to work only on literary. Then I can spend the rest of my time copywriting or completing smaller translation projects.

Since 2019, I have also worked with an agency (Valentin Translation) specialised in helping indie authors or small publishers break into the French market. This is a wonderful opportunity for me, as I can simply translate novels and don’t have to think about communicating with different proofreaders, writing back and forth with the author or chasing invoices. And another plus side is that I can work on genres that rely on tropes and formulas. The first book in a series is always the more difficult, but then, once the initial research is done, we can easily deliver best-sellers every time.

In the future, I would love to work for traditional publishing and work on books that contain more metaphors, so I can really work on my writing style and wax poetic. The most difficult times I’ve encountered so far were finding the right terminology for articles of furniture or clothing in some of the historical romances I have translated.

Click HERE to see my portfolio.

What equipment does a literary translator need?

A computer! Of course. I use a laptop in my everyday life, as I find it good enough, and I don’t have to work at my desk constantly.

But I also use paper and online dictionaries, encyclopaedias and Google when I need to find more information about a topic.

For technical translation, I use Trados and Wordfast, and I used to create Excel files to manage my terminology lists for literary translations.

In the past, I have tried to use Dragon (a dictation software), but I found that it runs very slowly on a laptop and that I can sometimes type quicker.

I also use Antidote to help me proofread my translations before I send them for correction. This is a fantastic tool, particularly the “repetitions” tracker. It can also suggest sentences that you should shorten and write in the active voice.

I have also tried to use Scrivener to organise my notes but didn’t find it quite appealing. On the contrary, Notion is a wonderful management tool and I’m looking forward to seeing my productivity skyrocket thanks to it.

Last words

I hope that you have enjoyed reading those short answers. I will write other articles in the future about running your business as a freelancer in general. In this post, I wanted to answer a few questions about what it means to be a literary translator in particular.

Is it what you imagined it to be?

And remember, if you want to work with me, drop me a note here or on my social media. I’ll be more than happy to start a conversation with you.

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My last published translation

Opposites attract in this historical romance.

What's next?

A tale of several quirky sisters who never thought they would attract husbands.