It's Done – so what do I do with it now?
A Conversation with Susie Gordon
I’m very happy to have Alluvium editor Susie Gordon back for another conversation at A Polite Lie this month, where we will once again cover a wide range of topics.
Susie’s upcoming course with Tender Leaves, entitled Editing Literary Translations, includes 6 video modules (audio and written transcripts available), a suggested reading list, and 1-month paid access to all content at A Polite Lie.
Hi, Susie! I’m so pleased to have you back for a chat at A Polite Lie.
I’ve been talking a lot lately about the issue of getting translations published. I know a lot of translators are very passionate about the work they do, but many find the whole process of getting the translation published quite daunting. The task of getting it done in the first place can already be overwhelming, only to be followed quite closely by the question, “So what do I do with it now?”
What advice do you have for translators who are ready to start looking for places to publish their work?
Hi Shelly! Thanks for having me back.
This is a question I've been thinking a lot about lately, as I'm partway through designing a course on editing literary translations. My advice to editors trying to break into the field is to pair up with a literary translator, and submit pieces to journals. I would say that having work published in journals is one of the best ways to begin and progress a career in literary translation (and in editing literary translations), so much so that my course includes a list of many of the literary journals that accept and even specialise in translation.In my experience, when it comes to submitting to journals once the work is done, it's all about being methodical. This is actually something you taught me; I remember being in awe of the Excel spreadsheet you use to keep track of your poetry submissions! I recommend something like this for translators. It's easy to forget and lose track of which journals you've submitted to, especially if you're approaching several simultaneously. The spreadsheet should have columns for the title of the work, the date it was completed, the word count, the editor or accuracy checker you worked with, the journal/s you've submitted it to, their typical response time if that's listed on their website, whether you've secured permissions from the author of the original, and the result of your submission. Hopefully this will be an acceptance, but don't be discouraged by rejection. Once you get into the swing of translating, you'll get to the stage where you'll have several pieces out for submission, so a rejection shouldn't sting too much.
That’s really good advice. It is hard to get started in a translation career, or at least, it’s hard to know where to start. Once you know, though, it’s mainly a matter of being systematic and being patient. As long as you keep on top of things and keep submitting, you’ll find a place that fits you and your work. I think one key point is that just because a work is rejected, it doesn’t mean it’s bad work, but it may be more a matter of it not being suited to the place you submitted. It’s important to consider and analyse the reasons for the rejection and see if you might be better off simply submitting elsewhere. Often, once you find a place that likes some of your work, you’ll soon find that they in fact like a lot of your work, and that opens up a path for continued publications.
How do you recommend someone going about finding a good fit for their work? What are some of the factors to keep in mind?
It's a case of background research. Not every journal that accepts translation will be right for your work. Perhaps a certain publication accepts only work translated from, say, European languages; perhaps another only accepts translated poetry, but you work with prose. Reading a journal's submission guidelines is a must, as well as getting a feel for the sort of work that it publishes. If you're not 100% sure, you could email the editor or submissions inbox to check. In my capacity as editor of Alluvium, I often receive messages from translators and writers who are thinking of submitting, asking whether we accept their kind of work. I can't speak for other editors, but personally I enjoy this sort of interaction, and would rather clarify things at this point than issue a rejection if a piece of work doesn't fit what I'm looking for. You're right when you say that just because a work is rejected, it doesn’t mean it’s bad work; I rarely receive submissions that are outright bad. They just don't happen to fit with Alluvium's ethos, or the genres we publish. You're right with your final point too, about forging a relationship with a journal that goes on to publish more of your work. I have such relationships with several translators, and am always happy to hear from them when they're working on something new.
It’s such a rewarding relationship when a translator or writer and editor develop the sort of trust that allows for a continued stream of production of new work.
I tend to think of the editor’s main role as being to help ensure that the translation sounds like it was written by the author her/himself, rather than translated. What sort of things can a translator do in the translation process to help make the editor’s job easier in this respect?
Communicate! For me in my capacity as an editor of literary translation, communication with the translator is the key to a successful working relationship. Sometimes, early on in my dealings with a translator - particularly when we're working together on polishing a piece for Alluvium - the back-and-forth makes them fear that I'm judging their work as sub-par, until I explain that keeping an open line of communication helps to iron out any uncertainties. On one occasion, a translator and I discussed the advantages of using "a" over "the" in a poem across five separate emails until we reached a consensus! Often, when new to translating, feedback and suggestions from an editor can feel like criticism, but the end goal is to create a text that we're all happy with.
From your point of view as a translator, what can an editor do to make your life easier?
I think the most helpful thing my editors have done for me is to help me eliminate the effects of my own blind spots on my work. I appreciate an editor looking at the piece with fresh eyes and pointing out to me where my language isn’t communicating as clearly as I’d like, especially when they can help me identify places where I’m assuming a connection instead of showing that connection to my readers. I really appreciate how an editor can highlight the places in my writing that are not quite working, or where the writing slips a bit, so that I can then go back over the work and rethink how to make it tighter. For me, I really do aim at crisp, clear writing, and it is very helpful to have the insights of a skilled editor at hand so that I can touch up the little details that are detracting from the clarity or tightness of the piece. Things like the question of “the” vs. “a” that you’ve raised, or why a certain piece of punctuation might work better here or there are the sorts of minor issues that can make so much difference in how a piece reads, so someone who gives my writing that level of attention, as well as the bigger questions of structure and content, if needed, is something I very much appreciate.
That reminds me of an incident that happened when I was writing a monthly article for a Chinese newspaper. When I had completed one of my articles, I asked a member of our team to look over it for me. She made some suggestions, and I read through it with Track Changes off. As soon as I finished, I told her, “Wow! You really improved the piece.” She told me to turn Track Changes on and look to see what she had done. When I did, I was shocked to see that the only changes she had made were to the punctuation. I hadn’t noticed as I was writing, even after several re-readings, but I had been following English style punctuation. When I read the article with the punctuation modified to a Chinese approach to punctuation, it was like a completely different article. That experience was very instructive when it came to thinking about translation too.
Which brings me to a point – I often hear people say they think a translation should follow the punctuation of the original. I think this belief is more common among people who translate between European languages than those who translate between languages as vastly different as Chinese and English are, but even among people translating between my same language pairing, I have heard this view on many occasions. What is your thought on that?
I feel quite strongly about this! In my opinion, punctuation should follow the target language rather than the origin language, if it is to be a readable text. Your newspaper example proves this. With the appropriate punctuation (i.e. Chinese-style punctuation), your piece flowed better, and was greatly improved. Chinese punctuation functions differently to English, particularly in the use of commas to split phrases, where English would use full stops. Directly translating punctuation in this case would make for a very stilted English text. There are some functional differences too, between certain language pairs. Greek, for example, uses a semi-colon where English uses a question mark. In French and German, the full stop is used as a separator in digits instead of a comma, as in 1.500 versus the English 1,500. Then there are languages that have no punctuation at all, like Thai. A direct translation in these cases would be jarring at best and incorrect at worst.
That reminds me of my earliest full length translation project, Northern Girls, by Sheng Keyi. In the original, there are no quotation marks. All the dialogue was just recorded in the original without setting it off with any punctuation at all. It is an instance where all the techniques used to create stream of consciousness writing were used, but in Chinese, it created a fast-paced, lively text. Of course, in English, stream of consciousness techniques create a slow, introspective text. It is a case of the same technique causing the opposite effect, and in this case, the punctuation was the main tool used in the technique.
I like your examples because they bring up an important point: punctuation always means something – it’s not just there to indicate pauses or express one’s own style. It has its own meaning, just as surely as words do, but it can mean different things in different languages.
Punctuation is one of those instances where a "direct" transposition from the source text to the target text just doesn't work!
Thank you so much for being with us here at A Polite Lie this month. I’m already looking forward to hearing more from you next month.
Thanks for having me, as always. Looking forward to chatting again soon!
Born in the northwest of England in 1981, Susie Gordon is a Liverpool-based editor and writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.
Living in China between 2008 and 2016, she wrote and edited for many of Shanghai’s English language magazines, as well as for international publications such as Virgin Media, Condé Nast, Executive Travel, and the BBC. As a literary editor she has worked on the English translation of S. P. Tao’s memoir, as well as Fan Wen’s ‘Land of Mercy’ for Rinchen Books.
In 2016 she co-founded Literary Shanghai – a publishing and events company specialising in Chinese literature in translation as well as original work in English. She is currently the commissioning editor of Literary Shanghai’s international journal Alluvium.
Her short fiction has appeared in the Singaporean journals Eunoia Review and Junoesq, and in HAL Publishing’s two anthologies Party Like It’s 1984 (2010) and Middle Kingdom Underground (2011). Her non-fiction essay Empty From the Outside was published in Unsavory Elements (Earnshaw Books, 2013), sparking considerable press interest in China and beyond. In 2016 her short story Claire was selected for publication in Epigram Books’ Best Singaporean Short Stories: Volume 3.
Her first poetry collection, Peckham Blue, was published in London by Penned in the Margins in 2006, and her second collection, Harbouring, came out in 2015 under Math Paper Press in Singapore. Her poetry has appeared in the May Anthologies 10th Anniversary edition (2003), Unshod Quills (2011), and United Verses (2014), and her 2005 poem On Raymond’s Bike has been translated into Hungarian by the poet Kőrizs Imre.
Susie holds a BA in English (2003) from St. Anne’s College, University of Oxford, and an MRes in Chinese Studies from the University of Liverpool (2016 – 2017), where she is currently a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature, researching the persistent appeal of the “China exotic” in contemporary English fiction.
Her upcoming course with Tender Leaves, entitled Editing Literary Translations, includes 6 video modules (audio and written transcripts available), a suggested reading list, and 1-month paid access to all content at A Polite Lie.
You can find more courses on Literary Translation here.