SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Translation: Some Frequently Asked Questions

 

By Avery Udagawa

 

SCBWI welcomes translators, and many authors and illustrators hope to see their books translated.

So how do translations happen? How can we get more books translated? Here are some FAQs with answers.

 

1. Who makes a translation happen?

A translation happens when the original publisher of a book sells foreign language rights to another publisher, who issues the book in a new language and market. The publisher who buys rights will choose the translator and make all decisions about how to present the book in its new form. The foreign rights deal may begin at an event like the Bologna Children’s Book Fair or Frankfurt Book Fair. Foreign rights agents may mediate, or the publishers may negotiate directly. Stakeholders can converse year-round via the Internet or meetings.

Factors that drive a deal may include the fit of a text to a publisher’s list, its availability on other platforms (like TV or film) and its genre, author, illustrations, prior sales, and awards. Finally, culture matters: publishers in one market may bring different tastes than publishers elsewhere.

 

2. How does a translator get involved?

A translator of children’s books gets involved when a publisher who bought foreign rights to a title commissions the translation. The publisher might find the translator through recommendations, prior publications, the translator’s website, or a group like SCBWI. Some publishers ask several translators to submit samples before awarding a commission.

 

3. How can a translator network and develop skills?

A translator can build a network by seeking work relevant to children’s literature—for example, with publishers who commission sample translations for book fairs, or publishers who seek reader’s reports on overseas titles. Children’s literature conferences offer opportunities to meet publishers and network. Sometimes translators develop connections and skills in graduate programs, but as with writing and illustration no educational track “knights” a translator of children’s books. The professional translator offers degrees or extensive experience in her languages and cultures combined with writing skills. A translated book must engage readers as deftly as all of the other books they read. In this sense, literary translation differs as much from spoken interpretation—as in The Interpreter—as writing books differs from talking.

 

4. What helps a book’s chances of being translated?

A foreign rights pitch stands a better chance if the original publisher (or its rights agent) maintains a broad international network, and can provide a high-quality sample translation and promotional materials. It also helps if a government agency or other group can offer a grant to support the translation. Predictably, publishers and organizations in wealthy countries marshal more resources to market translations. This affects the representation of cultures and language groups on readers’ bookshelves.

 

5. How can translators, authors, and others encourage translations?

To encourage more translations, some translators propose texts they love directly to publishers for whom they seem a fit. This brings risk as publishers can always commission other translators, but it may raise awareness of under-marketed books. Authors who hope to see their books translated can network with SCBWI’s translators and international members, to study new markets—keeping in mind that one’s publisher must seal any foreign rights deal. Finally, groups who value translation can create grants for translated children’s literature. Grants spotlight deserving titles and help translators develop their skills.

 

6. What’s the big picture?

Everyone interested in translation should know about the imbalance between books written in English and books written in all other languages. A New York Times op-ed published July 7, 2015, notes that English as a global language “is turning literature into a one-way street,” with English-language books traveling widely and making authors in other languages struggle to compete, even at home. Often, fine overseas authors are not translated into English. This holds true in children’s literature. Translations count for just 3 percent of books published in the US. “So many books are translated from English, but not so many go the other way, which is a real shame, as readers are missing out on great stories,” translator Laura Watkinson tells Publishers Weekly in an August 6, 2015 article. Watkinson founded SCBWI Netherlands and has translated three of the past four winners of the Batchelder Award, conferred with the Newbery and Caldecott. SCBWI supports world literature, and many members enjoy foreign sales. For all, a question to ask alongside “How can I get translated?” is “What’s the last children’s book in translation I’ve read?”

 

Here are places to read on.

Acclaimed translations for children

Batchelder Award winners: www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/batchelderaward/batchelderpast

Marsh Award winners: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsh_Award_for_Children%27s_Literature_in_Translation

Andersen Award winners: www.ibby.org/308.0.html?&L=2%2F%2F%2F%27

 

On translation and children’s books

Go Global: We Are the World at CBC Diversity blog: www.cbcdiversity.com/post/121270943783/go-global-we-are-the-world

YA in Translation at Stacked blog: www.stackedbooks.org/2014/11/get-genrefied-ya-in-translation.html

We Need More International Picture Books, Kid Lit Experts Say at School Library Journal, April 22, 2015: www.slj.com/2015/04/books-media/we-need-more-international-picture-books-kid-lit-experts-say/#_

Found In Translation, op-ed in the New York Times, July 7, 2015: www.nytimes.com/2015/07/08/opinion/found-in-translation.html?_r=0

 

Translator commentaries and interviews

A World for Children by Daniel Hahn: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04hyyr0

Eight Ways to Say You: The Challenges of Translation by Cathy Hirano: archive.hbook.com/magazine/articles/1999/jan99_hirano.asp

SCBWI Summer Conference 2015: An Interview with Nanette McGuinness: www.scbwi.blogspot.com/2015/06/translation-at-la15scbwi-avery-udagawa.html

An Interview with Laura Watkinson: www.ihatov.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/an-interview-with-laura-watkinson/ and Laura Watkinson featured in Publishers Weekly, August 6, 2015: www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/67732-fickling-to-publish-dutch-classic.html

 

Avery Fischer Udagawa www.averyfischerudagawa.com translated the middle grade novel J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani and the story “House of Trust” by Sachiko Kashiwaba in Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction: An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories. Her latest translation is “Swing” by Mogami Ippei, illustrated by Saburo Takada, in Kyoto Journal 82. She coordinates the SCBWI Japan Translation Group www.ihatov.wordpress.com and serves as SCBWI International Translator Coordinator.

SCBWI Exclusive with Balzer + Bray, an Imprint of HarperCollins

 

Alessandra Balzer and Donna Bray formed their imprint in 2008 after working together for twelve years at Hyperion Books for Children. During that time, they found that they really relied on each other as sounding boards for everything from manuscripts to marketing materials. When the time came for them to make a change, they figured, why not make their partnership official and create an imprint? B+B is a continuation of their collaborative way of working that has been going on for…well, a pretty long time, if you do the math! (Fun fact: It’s their second round at HarperCollins—they both worked there before Hyperion.)

 

How has the publishing industry changed since you formed B+B?

The children’s industry has definitely become more frontlist-focused, more like the adult industry. Children’s books also have a higher profile than they did years ago, which means a lot more money all around—more revenue, higher advances, bigger stakes. But with that comes more pressure on authors and publishers—and sometimes less patience for a book to build an audience over time.

 

That said, many things remain true: indie booksellers and librarians are still key tastemakers who can make a book happen; backlist is still incredibly important to our bottom line; and a small book can hit big. And most importantly: Authors and illustrators are the backbone of the business.

 

Your imprint is unique in that your list is made up of picture books, middle grade, and young adult. How did that evolve?

Every imprint is defined by its editors’ tastes and interests, and we have always edited in these categories, so it seemed natural that we continue to do so in the imprint. It keeps our jobs interesting to be able to work on such varied books on a day-to-day basis.

 

What reels you in when you read a manuscript that makes you say "This has to be a B+B book"?

We try to be very rigorous about what we acquire at B+B. Generally, though, we are drawn in by an original and arresting narrative voice, as well as a compelling story that really seems to be adding to the conversation. It’s a very personal, subjective process!

 

What’s your editorial process once you acquire a manuscript?

Our editorial process begins even before we acquire a manuscript, at the most important meeting of our week: the B+B team meeting. This is where the incubation process of a manuscript starts. We circulate among our group of six any project we’re seriously considering, and ideally we read all or most of each one. At the meeting, we discuss very frankly our thoughts on the manuscripts. It’s a place to give and get great nuts-and-bolts editorial comments, thoughts on comps in the market and positioning, advice on advance level, packaging, illustrators…This meeting is where the blueprint of the book is sketched out.

As for the editorial process with the author: although each editor on our team has a slightly different process, our goal is always the same: to help the author realize his or her vision. We ask a lot of questions and make suggestions that we hope will launch a collaborative discussion, a dialogue that keeps going right through the galley stage.

 

What are you seeing as trends in publishing?

One recent trend we’re happy about is diversity in children’s publishing. While there’s always been an awareness of the need for diversity in our industry, with the advent of social media and the founding of We Need Diverse Books, it seems that awareness is turning into more support for diverse authors and books, as well as a broadened definition of diversity.

On the picture book side, there seems to be more of an openness in the market to what would have once been considered quirky, sophisticated picture books. These are now turning into some of the biggest commercial successes, when for many years the bestseller lists were dominated by character-driven series.

 

Do you have a tip or two for anyone submitting to B+B? 

Take the time to research the kinds of books we publish and to get a sense of our taste. We do have a handy Facebook page which is a good place to start. Feel free to mention a recent title or two that you feel is in the same vein or has a similar sensibility as your manuscript.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Topic: Anything for Content

 

Over the last few years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of online writing contests and so-called professional writing and internet gallery showcases.

Why? Because with more than a billion websites out there many creatively challenged webmasters are scrambling for content in order to maximize and monetize their likes and eyeballs.  And that is, unfortunately, where the creative work of children’s book writers and illustrators comes into the picture.  Those trolling the Internet for content range from mom and pop start-ups hosting questionable "Let’s Learn to Read!" sites to mega giants like Google, assembling searchable databases of everything ever written, drawn or photographed  from cave paintings to yesterday’s viral videos.

Of course, posting anything online opens you up to outright theft, but in general these occurrences are rare, and that just may be the price of having an active online presence. Standard copyright is a form of protection for any piece of work in a fixed form, such as a manuscript, recording or piece of art and does provide some limited recourse if you discover someone has stolen your work. However, the ability to sue for infringement does require formal copyright.

 

SCBWI has a blanket policy of not endorsing any contest that requires an entry fee. The prizes offered vary from cash to a publishing contract and neither is ever worth the possibility that the fine print may award those offering the award the right to keep your work whether you win the prize or not. And even if they don’t take your work, they have taken your money and the prize, if they do give it at all, is just a fraction of the cash they took in. They are not unlike the carnival flimflammers who promise a prize every time, then deliver for a dollar a try a plastic toy worth twenty-five cents.

Contests such as Lee and Low’s New Voices Award, of course, are not what we are discussing here. Besides not charging a fee, they award a legitimate publishing contract and often help launch a new talent.

And while a few of the larger showcases do attract some industry eyeballs, many of the others get few views while potentially keeping your work off the wider market from a few months till eternity.

It is flattering, of course, to have someone want your work. Just do a little homework before letting it go, especially if you suspect the fast-talking sales person on the other end may care more about his or her own interests than yours.

Here are some sites to help you navigate those pirate-infested waters.

 

Chilling Effects Clearinghouse:  Information on copyright issues regarding fan fiction.

Chillingeffect.org

 

Preditors and Editors:  The go to place for researching publishing scams. Click on "CONTESTS" on their homepage. By the way, they also advise against entry fees. 

 

Writerbeware.com: This excellent site hosted by Science Fiction Writers of America has a comprehensive overview of contest and award scams.

writerbeware.com

 

Lee and Low New Voices Award:  For information on this significant and legitimate award with a September 30 deadline visit:

www.leeandlow.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Questions for Lauren Rille

 

Lauren Rille is an Associate Art Director at Simon & Schuster, where she works with the Beach Lane, Atheneum, and McElderry imprints. Before joining S&S, Lauren was a designer at Sterling and Harcourt Children’s Books. Some books she’s designed include Are You There God, it’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume; Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff; Scraps by Lois Ehlert; One Big Pair of Underwear by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld; and the New York Times best-selling Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman. Lauren loves the collaborative process of working with editors and illustrators, and she’s always on the lookout for new talent.
 
What do you look for in a portfolio?
 
In a broad sense, I look for a consistent level of quality throughout. Are all the pieces at the same level of finish? Does the style carry through from beginning to end? I look at technical things, too: Are the drawing and the perspective sound? Is there a good sense of composition and good use of value structures? Sometimes I scan for hands; hands can be tricky to draw, and if I see none, or if I see them hidden throughout, I worry it’s a red flag! But within those technical parts, and just as much as those technical parts, I’m looking for a point of view, a sense of humor. I want to see your personality! We hire you for your technical skill, of course, but also for your interpretation of the world and the way you bring words to life. 
 
Where do you find artists? Any tips for how artists can promote themselves?
 
I look for artists everywhere! I’ve found them anywhere from agents’ websites to Pinterest to Etsy to Tumblr to Instagram—you name it. I am not concerned with the context of the art, just the work itself. There’s no magic to how you present it—I don’t mind if you have a simple blog or the fanciest website in town. Good work shows through. Sometimes I’ll start at an artist’s personal site and then click through the links of other artists that follow them, and so on and so on, just to see where it takes me and what I might discover. So I think having a social media presence is smart—even a basic blog or Tumblr in lieu of a website (I’ve never been a big fan of websites–templated blogs and the like are so easy to use and update!)—anything to get the work out there. I’m mixed on postcards—I sometimes think a more-targeted mailing of something slightly more special than a postcard (read: harder to discard) to a handful of specific ADs or editors whose work you’ve researched and really like is perhaps a better use of time and resources.
 
How do you pair artists with manuscripts?
 
It varies! Sometimes it’s as simple as matching the age range and feel of the text with art that complements it—for example a young and sweet text will call for an illustrator with a similar vibe. With quirky or unusual texts, we can reach for something unexpected and different. Sometimes an author will offer a suggestion that really works. Sometimes we’ll decide to pair a big-name artist with a first-time author to help launch them, or we’ll pair two heavy hitters to create a book with a lot of buzz behind it. Mostly though, it starts with a conversation between me and the editor about his or her vision for the book. We’ll discuss what they saw in it that made them want to acquire it and what shape they imagine the illustrations taking. Then I’ll do the research to find some artists that match that vision as well as one or two others that could push it in a slightly different direction. Occasionally a text will come to me already paired with an illustrator—that can be part of the initial proposal from the agent or it may be that the editor has found an illustrator.
 
What happens if an author/illustrator submits but you only want to acquire their text and not their illustrations?

I get this question a lot, and my answer is always the same: Throw a party! You got a book deal! If you have aims to illustrate, keep working on your art and use the contacts you establish through your manuscript deal to try to get more feedback and perhaps an opportunity to show other people in-house your work. Conversely, if you are so tied to your text that you can’t fathom anyone else illustrating it, then perhaps you’re too close to your work for the commercial market. Making a children’s book is a huge collaboration, and there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, so you’ve got to be ready to hear feedback from any number of people, which means not being too precious with your work. IF you’re open to it, all those voices help push you to be an even better writer, illustrator, and ARTIST than you already are!

 

On the Shelves Bank Street Books

 

Ann Levine and Andy Laties of Bank Street Books in New York tell us what's on the shelves.   

 

What trends do you notice in children’s book sales? What are the current hot reads?

Graphic novels are a growing segment of book publishing, and many are designed specifically for young readers. A good example is Cece Bell's El Deafo, a 2015 Newbery Honor book that appeals to a range of ages because it tells the author's own childhood story in words and pictures.

 

How do you choose what books to order? Do you use a publishing rep?

New books are promoted by publishers and often ordered through reps who know the children's market as well as talented authors and illustrators. We attend trade shows that keep us apprised of upcoming titles, and we read trade magazines, blogs, reviews, and newsletters.

 

What would you like to see more of from authors/illustrators in terms of community involvement?

Authors and illustrators are usually generous with their time, especially when they are promoting their books, meeting with families, talking to children, visiting classrooms, and appearing at literacy events. Many writers and artists attended our recent grand opening when we moved our store location. At the Brooklyn Book Fair there are always many writers and artists who appear in person at programs designed for the public.

 

How do you handle author/illustrator visits? Can authors/illustrators contact you directly?

We publicize special events on our store website and in our store newsletter. Authors and illustrators are welcome to contact us, but we make final decisions about scheduling dates and times.

 

What is your favorite part of being a bookseller/manager/librarian?

Getting books in the hands of young children is an important part of learning and understanding, and it is very gratifying to know we have helped them discover that every book is a new adventure.

 

Personal book recommendation?

Recommendations from our staff: Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton; Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo; Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee; Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly; Young Hee and the Pullocho by Mark James Russell; Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick; and You Nest Here with Me by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple.