Carolina Caires Coelho
Can I chose what I want to translate?
I see many people starting out as translators, or trying to get their foot in the door in book translations, and they plan on taking a genre in particular, trying to contact publishers that specialize in their desired area. "I've been working with children for a long time, and I'd like to translate children's books. How can I get started?" many of them ask me.
More often than you might think, people usually believe that they should only accept projects in a given area, so they can target their resume at publishers that specialize in what they'd like to work with. However, they soon realize that, when we first enter the market, we don't exactly have much choice. In the beginning, being picky may really hurt our chances.
In general, the idea of choosing to dedicate yourself to one area only goes away when you're offered your first project. You're so excited to get started that you certainly won't remember that you had told yourself you'd only translate novels, for example.
Translators are, above all, researchers. If you're assigned a children's book, even if you've worked with children and teenagers and believe to be well equipped because you're familiar with their universe, the book itself may make reference to other subjects you don't know much about. You'll have to do a lot of researching and, oftentimes, think pretty hard on how to translate something that, at first, seemed easy. The literary world is full of surprises. A book that looked very simple may be associated with so many other issues that will make it complex. It's hard to know it beforehand, unless you do some critical reading before you accept or decline the project.
With time, it's only natural that your profile will be more targeted at an area. Maybe you are an excellent non-fiction writer, but are lacking a little when it comes to fiction books full of dialogues. Maybe you're not doing this self-assessment and using the same approach when throwing yourself at your work, so you don't get a chance to evaluate it, but a detail-oriented editor may notice the type of text in which your perform better, and consequently start selecting better the books they'll assign to you. You may also be guided towards books from a given author, so that the same style can be kept throughout if you were able to get it right the first time around.
My first translation was an easy-going self-help book. Well, there were actually two books. One of them was written by an author who addressed women's role in society. The second one, which followed it right away, was written by the author's husband and addressed the role of men. These two books opened doors for me, because other self-help books came along. Each publisher came to me with a different book and, throughout the years, this process repeated itself with children's books, young adults, chick lit, biographies, etc. One book leads to another and you become an "expert" in a given subject. Books in my favorite genre come, too, and I welcome them with open arms, but I've never restricted myself and wouldn't limit my fields, especially in the beginning of my career.
However, more importantly than staying on the familiar path is knowing the universe of a book, what people are saying, what is happening in the world―and all those things aren't necessarily connected only to the literary field.
I think it's important to learn how to be flexible. I believe flexibility is the way to find joy in what you do. After all, the coolest thing about being a translator, in my opinion, is being able to take multiple journeys. Here, you have an easy-going novel. Then, you have a thriller that will raise the hair on the back of your neck. Later on, full-on a horror story. I learn so much while translating, and this learning is greatly related to the variety of subjects I emerge myself into. I wouldn't give up all these journeys to go down the same familiar path every time. Would you? ;-)
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on the Ponte de Letras blog.