As chair of ATA’s Public Relations Committee, I’m always on the lookout for ways ATA can promote its members and educate potential client industries about how to purchase translation and interpreting services. ATA has successfully promoted member interests at the international Guadalajara Book Fair for several years. With this same goal in mind, ATA’s Public Relations Committee decided that ATA should attend a book event in the U.S. So, in May 2019, I attended the New York Rights Fair and Book Expo along with five additional ATA member volunteers. The event took place at the Javits Center in New York City, with around 9,000 publishing industry professionals in attendance for the Book Expo1 and Rights Fair2 combined.
Kate Deimling, Lucy Gunderson, Kristin Kamm, Stephanie Delozier Strobel, and Valeriya Yermishova, and I were on hand during the three-day event to represent ATA. Logistically, having this number of people onsite worked well since we were able to make contact with almost every exhibitor and publisher present, as well as with numerous agents and editors. We discussed translation and interpreting and the benefits of using professionals, and, specifically, how to find the right ATA member for publishing industry projects.
Showcasing ATA’s Online Directory
We took turns making sure that the ATA table was always staffed while others of our team fanned out throughout the event, directly approaching publishing houses and other attendees, including cultural representatives promoting publishing content from Canada, China, France, the Netherlands, Italy, and South Korea. In a sign of the changing publishing landscape, there were also representatives of self-publishing platforms and even an interactive fiction app.
We had a steady stream of visitors to our table as well. Visitors scooped up ATA-branded sticky notes and copies of Getting It Right, a publication that offers tips on how to hire language professionals. People were excited to learn that ATA’s online Directory of Translators and Interpreters is not a subscription-based database, but rather a free resource. One attendee who stopped by our table was Mat Edelson, a medical journalist and founder of InformAll, a nonprofit that uses audiobooks, podcasts, and new media to provide accessible health and wellness information to the public. He was enthusiastic about our members’ services, telling ATA by email, “I’m very impressed with the ATA directory; it’s a wonderful resource for both translators and interpreters and folks such as myself who need to hire them! [. . .] I have a feeling I’m going to be using it a lot in the coming months and years.”
These comments reflect the very positive feedback we received from attendees, including a representative from Overdrive, a large player in digital content for libraries, and representatives from several university presses who are expanding their catalogs outside their own university communities and who often publish works in translation. We were also quite pleased when several people from HarperVia, the new imprint of HarperCollins devoted to international literature in English translation, stopped by our table to learn more about translation, interpreting, and, specifically, how to find the right ATA member for future projects. These are just examples of the many people who stopped by ATA’s table.
We used a computer connected to ATA’s online directory to show visitors how they could find the right professionals for their projects. We demonstrated how to search using criteria such as language pair, location, keyword, certification status (translators), credential status (interpreters), specialization, and more. ATA members should note that in their profiles they can add free-form information in the “Additional Information” section that users of the directory can then search using the “keywords” field on the search interface. This is a way for members to add helpful information about expertise or background that may not be covered
in the more structured sections of the directory.
For example, one visitor was looking for a translator who worked from English into Korean and who specialized in yachting. In this case, “yachting” would be a good keyword to add to your profile if applicable. We also suggested to attendees that if they could not find the specialization they were searching for in a specific language pair, it could be fruitful to contact an ATA language division as a way to get the word out about their project.
What Languages Are Publishers Looking for?
The publishing industry professionals we encountered were interested in a wide variety of language pairs, including English to and from French, German, Dutch, Korean, Polish, and others. In fact, English into U.S. Spanish was the most talked about language pair at the show. Given how publishing rights work, in addition to Spanish, U.S. publishers most often look for translators who work from other languages into English. Moreover, publishers in other countries most often look for translators who work into the language of their particular country. However, from talking to publishing professionals, we found that these are not hard-and-fast rules and they also may have need for interpreters. For example, in addition to book translations, the companies we met may need translations of contracts, communications materials, marketing materials, and interpreting services both to and from English. As an example, we spoke to the Taipei Book Fair Foundation, which supports the work of Taiwanese authors by sending them to book fairs in other countries. They hire interpreters for these events.
Think Beyond Literary When Marketing
While within our own industry, we obviously see the merits of using professional translators and interpreters and ATA members for language-related projects in the business space, we were thrilled and even a bit surprised at the reaction from publishing professionals. On one hand, the welcome extended to us was quite encouraging. On the other, it’s a bit disconcerting that a readily available, free resource for finding professional translators and interpreters was virtually unknown to event participants who are often in search of translation services. This should encourage us all, as an organization and individually, to continue our efforts to promote the translating and interpreting professions to the wider business community.
Furthermore, it’s important to recognize the wide variety of publishers who were present. These included those who might most readily come to mind when one thinks of “book publishing,” such as publishers of fiction, literary works, and children’s literature. But there were also publishers from many other categories at the event, including numerous nonfiction publishers in fields like medicine, religion, business, crafting, gardening, leisure activities, and sports. Attendees also mentioned that translators are often found by word of mouth and that they often have difficulties finding the right translator. ATA translators and interpreters should take a tip here and realize that there are various types of publishers that might need their services. Think “outside the box” when marketing: remember, “publishing” doesn’t just mean “literary.”
Attendees repeatedly mentioned their concern with finding a quality translator who has the right expertise for their particular project. For example, one publisher said he was looking for a French into English translator who was an expert at knitting and crocheting to translate craft books. In another instance, a publisher of mainstream Protestant religious materials was satisfied with the quality of the day-to-day translations for promotional brochures, but was still seeking English into Spanish translators who could translate official texts used during church services in the proper register. In addition, Expo attendees readily acknowledged their need for both translation and interpreting services, the latter for international publishing events and events where international authors are present and promoted, to name a few.
The Importance of Literature in Translation
We were also pleased to see that, during the first day of the conference, all sessions were focused on literature in translation, how international books are discovered, and how foreign rights are purchased. In addition, presenters indicated that translated works are becoming more accepted by the U.S. publishing industry as a whole. However, according to one panelist, only about 3% of all books published in the U.S. are translations. The industry is still fighting the misconception that foreign fiction is exclusive or highbrow, or, as one panelist put it, “for people wearing berets.”3
An international network of literary agents and scouts play a crucial role in finding books to be translated for the U.S. audience. “Partials” (partial translations) of a work are also an important tool for encouraging publishers to purchase the rights to foreign-language content. Panelists who spoke represented works translated from Korean, Italian, and Swedish that have become “blockbusters” in the U.S. market.4
During these panel presentations, each speaker stressed the importance of the quality of the translation product for translated works that had become successful in the U.S. market. They used phrases like “gorgeous translation,” “really great translation,” and “excellent translation” as being one of the keys to the success of international books. In addition, panelists mentioned that even popular international fiction writers may need more than one translator if they write books in more than one style or genre.
A Resounding Success
ATA’s presence at the New York Rights Fair and Book Expo was a resounding success. The enthusiastic responses we received from potential clients reveal a wealth of opportunities for our members in the publishing industries, both in the U.S. and abroad.
(Kate Deimling, Lucy Gunderson, Kristin Kamm, Stephanie Delozier Strobel, and Valeriya Yermishova contributed to this article.)
- Milliot, Jim. “Event Attendees Rose 2% at BookExpo; BookCon Attendance Held at 20,000,” Publishers Weekly (June 20, 2018), http://bit.ly/Milliot-BookExpo.
- Email received from event management dated May 9, 2019.
- The panel, which took place on May 29, 2019, was entitled “International Literature: Promoting and Finding Audiences.”
- The panel, which took place on May 29, 2019, was entitled “Inside the World of Foreign Rights Sales and Scouting.”
Eve Lindemuth Bodeux, CT is an ATA director and an ATA-certified French>English translator. She is the owner of Bodeux International, a company that offers multilingual project management and other language services to clients worldwide. She has served as chair of ATA’s Public Relations Committee since 2018. She also served as administrator of ATA’s French Language Division (2014–2018), as well as two terms as vice president of the Colorado Translators Association (2008–2012). She has a BA in French and political science from Lebanon Valley College, an MA in international relations from the University of Virginia, and a graduate degree in European studies from the Université de Lorraine in France. She co-hosts the Speaking of Translation podcast. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.