Becoming a translator
Plus our top 10 tips for attending a book fair

There’s no one route into becoming a translator, and certainly no single way of being a translator.

It’s a unique aspect of our Emerging Translators’ Mentoring scheme that each year’s cohort comes from a wide variety of backgrounds – professionally, academically and geographically. When everyone gets together for the annual industry event, therefore, it’s very special.

Earlier in the year, the current cohort of emerging translator mentees and their mentors gathered in Norwich for an industry weekend. It’s an inevitable feature of this scheme that the cohort is scattered all over the world. Our farthest-flung visitor came from Jakarta, our closest from the UEA campus. So, the weekend offered a chance for the mentorship group to meet and mingle but also a pretty intensive programme of talks and discussions about all aspects of life as a literary translator and an opportunity for each mentee to make an elevator pitch to a panel of publishers with a particular focus on literature in translation. The panel included Federico Adornino from Orion, Esther Kim from Tilted Axis, Mikaela Pedlow from Harvill Secker and Daniel Seton from Pushkin Press. As a prelude to dinner on Saturday evening, writer and cook Rebecca May Johnson delivered a workshop on translating taste into language. If you haven’t considered how Ursula Le Guin’s poetry can be transformed into soup, well, you haven’t lived.

We asked each of our mentees to tell us what the weekend meant to them.

“a glimpse of the extraordinary community of translators”

“As someone who is very much just starting out in the world of translation, I am struggling to think of what I didn’t learn over the Industry Weekend!” said Rachel, our Norwegian mentee. “The world of literary translation is definitely murky and elusive to the uninitiated, and I feared that my constant asking questions to more established translators would be seen as amateurish or annoying. I have learned that this is not the case at all, that people are more than happy to help out, particularly translating languages which are underrepresented in English. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or chat to people – everyone was in the same boat at one point! One of the most important things I learned, however, was just how willing other translators are to help out.”

This sense of community was borne out by our Lithuanian mentee, Kotryna: “What the weekend offered was most importantly a glimpse to the extraordinary community of translators with everything that comprises their work and life. It was wonderful to see my mentor as an essential part of it. It’s a world in itself, where everyone seems to support each other and share their knowledge and expertise in their own areas, languages and activities, brought together by the same purpose and interest, and skilled in the practical side of what they do as much as in the artistic one. Their success in both has undoubtedly formed the world of translation as it is now. There is no better way to get to know it and familiarise with it than through their example.”

But it’s not all about bonding; there are practical tips on offer as well from our experienced mentors, as Mattho, our Korean mentee discovered: “The industry weekend was a great opportunity to get clued up on everything that goes on behind the scenes, from lifetime essentials (do’s and don’ts when approaching publishers) to the most practical advice (what shoes to wear when going to the London Book Fair).”

“being at the National Centre for Writing was a rich, enlightening experience”

Andy, our Swedish mentee, sums up the weekend well: “It’s difficult to pin down what I learned to one or two things. Rather than ticking off a shopping list against expectations, the whole experience of being at National Centre for Writing’s Dragon Hall was a rich, enlightening and cumulative one. The balance of social events, workshop style exercises, seminars and one-to-one meetings was invaluable, with my own examples ranging from navigating the legal minefield of contracting to tailoring a reader report into a publishing pitch. But best of all was being part of an increasingly visible and dynamic translation community.”

As the 2018-19 mentoring programme draws far too rapidly to a conclusion I look forward to this ‘diverse tribe’ (Kate, Polish) going on to develop their careers as professional literary translators.

Sarah Bower
Manager, Emerging Translator Mentoring Scheme

10 Essential Tips for Attending a Book Fair

The cohort had another chance to meet a couple of weeks ago at London Book Fair. Everyone has their own techniques for surviving getting the most out of such events, and here are our top tips for attending any major conference:


  1. Wear comfortable shoes
  2. Make sure you fill up your appointments diary as far as possible
  3. Prepare for meetings – be clear why you want to meet a particular publisher and what you want to talk to them about
  4. Stay focused – you will have at most 30 minutes in which to get your message across
  5. Follow up on your meetings but not too soon – you don’t want your emails to get lost among all the other follow-ups


  1. Expect to make deals there and there: a book fair is a good opportunity to introduce yourself to publishers but you will need to follow up to stay on their radar
  2. Go to meetings with no clear idea of what you want to talk about
  3. Waste time – if you have a free half hour, doorstep someone (politely) or do some networking (in the Literary Translation Centre if you’re a translator)
  4. Run out of business cards or get caught without pen and paper
  5. Go to the pub at lunchtime

Find out more about our Emerging Translator Mentorships.

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