Academic Translation – An Interview with Sarah Campbell (Rowman & Littlefield International)

Sarah Campbell photoDisclaimer: I am very excited about today’s post! Last week in Picking my Pocket I talked about a fantastic piece, The Tricky Business of Translation, written by Sarah Campbell, Editorial Director at Rowman & Littlefield International. In Sarah’s post she encouraged academic writers to have their works translated, in the hope that the wider community, both in their own research area and the business world at large, would benefit from their knowledge and expertise. This got me thinking about how beneficial Sarah’s own expertise might be for translators; either those wishing to break into academic literary translation, or academic translators, who might be interested in branching out from research papers and industry reports. I sent Sarah a quick email (which was only slightly fan girl, I promise) and asked if she would be interested in being interviewed….here are the results!

How did you get started in publishing?

It is notoriously difficult to get your first job in publishing! But as a new graduate I was lucky enough to get an internship in the editorial department at Continuum, an academic publisher based in London, which in turn led to my first job as an editorial assistant on their Philosophy and Literature lists. It was a great training ground for a young editor – Continuum published academic monographs, textbooks, major reference works and, increasingly unusually for a commercial academic press, translations of contemporary European thought. After a couple of years I became Commissioning Editor for Philosophy and assumed responsibility for an already active translation programme. I later became Publisher for Humanities at Continuum, which we sold to Bloomsbury in 2011, after which I helped launch Rowman & Littlefield International, along with two former Continuum colleagues, in 2012.

How does the translation process work at Rowman & Littlefield International and how are you involved?

There’s a lot of material out there that has been very well received in its native language, by authors and academics whom are increasingly well networked in the wider global research community, that would make a valuable contribution to the English-language literature if it were available in translation – and we’re keen to contribute to the development of our disciplines (Philosophy, Politics & IR, Cultural Studies and Economics) by making it available. We rely on our network of academic authors, series editors and readers to suggest titles they would like to see in English and for which they (and we) believe there would be a ready market. The RLI commissioning editor will arrange to have the original book reviewed by an expert in the field and, once a translation proposal has been approved by our publishing board, will then negotiate a rights agreement with the original publisher and commission a translator to undertake the work. We’re then on hand to offer advice and support during the translation process and, once a final typescript has been approved, will manage the production processes through to publication.

Do you source translators or do your authors approach you having already sourced a language professional? 

A bit of both. Because of the specialist scholarly nature of the work we publish, we tend to use academic translators, i.e. translators with an academic background and expertise in the field. Academic monographs in our disciplines can be particularly complex and the most successful translations are those in which the author has been directly involved, so we encourage authors to suggest a translator they know and who is familiar with their work already. We also often have English-speaking academics come to us with titles they are particularly keen to translate themselves, normally because it is directly relevant to their own research or because they are keen to be able to recommend the work to students and colleagues who aren’t able to read it in the original language. I also have a network of academic translators I have worked with in the past and who I would contact directly if there is a project I want to publish in translation and in which I think they would be interested.

Do you speak any languages?

A little bit of French and German – I can just about plough my way through a back cover blurb or a rights contract, but my conversation skills aren’t up to much! I also speak a bit of Japanese (I spent a year there teaching English after I graduated), but with very little reason to use it nowadays, I’m afraid I’m very rusty. I’m lucky enough to have colleagues at RLI who speak good French, German and Italian.

How should translators approach a publishing house? (e.g. letter/email/phone call/with a piece for translation/with CV/portfolio)

I would recommend making contact by email in the first instance, with a CV and a sample of your work. We would keep your details on file and contact you if a project came up that you might be suitable for. If you have a particular project in mind, even better – have a look at the publisher’s website and download their proposal form. Or just make contact with the relevant commissioning editor to find out if it is something they might be interested in pursuing.

You mentioned in your piece that rates for translations of academic literature are below the usual going rate for translators…can you elaborate?

We publish in niche areas with relatively small readerships, so most academic publishers work to very tight margins and unfortunately just don’t have the funds available to pay the usual going rate for a professional translator. I always try to find a way to make a project work and to recompense the translator properly, for example by offering them payment partly up front and partly in the form of an ongoing royalty – but it can be difficult, especially if we don’t have access to a translation grant.

You also mentioned that some universities have grants/resources in place to fund translation of academic works – how can translators find out and link up with these institutes?

Some European universities have translation grants available for books published by members of their faculty – in most cases the author would need to apply to the institution directly. There are two funding bodies for translation from French that we apply to regularly, and which I believe also support translators directly: the Centre National du Livre (CNL) and the Burgess Grant, administered by the French embassy, who also provide assistance on a range of other funding opportunities at French Book News. In Germany, we regularly apply to the Goethe-Institut.

Which languages do you work with most often?

I mostly publish work translated from French and German, but have also commissioned or published work translated from Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.

I hope you found this week’s interview interesting and useful. As ever, comments are welcome. Have you had any experience in literary translation? (Academic or otherwise.) If you’d like to guest blog on your experience, get in contact! 

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