TRANSLATION Should I go to a conference?

If you are trying to break into translation, it may be worth your while to go to a book fair or a conference. There, even if you don't get any jobs from them immediately, you can network with other translators, meet publishers or potential clients, learn about the industry, and probably write off at least some of the expenses.


In the U.K., the biggest book fair is of course the London Book Fair, usually held in April, where more than 1700 exhibitors from all over the world sell and show off their wares. What's interesting for translators about the book fair is that in recent years, there has been a literary translators' centre, hosted by a group of organizations: the National Centre for Writing, British Centre for Literary Translation, British Council, English PEN, Literature Across Frontiers, Translators’ Association/Society of Authors, Poetry Translation Centre, Less Translated Languages Network, and the European Literature Network. The centre is a wonderful place to meet friendly people who share your interests, and to listen to accomplished authors and their translators at the panels (which are free to fair attendees). 


The Bologna Book Fair in Italy is exclusively for children's publishers, and they also feature a literary translation centre. The Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse) is the biggest in the world, and is usually held in October. It too features a literary translation centre. At all these fairs, you will probably have to enter with the general public; there are usually days set aside for only professionals.


Children's book publishers too are at the fairs, and by browsing their offerings, you can usually tell which ones are most compatible with what you would like to translate. 


Don't expect to get a big break at the fair—for beginning translators, it's more a place to learn about the business of translation and publishing and to make connections. Much of your future work could come from your fellow translators, so never underestimate their importance. Don't be afraid to introduce yourself— many professionals are booked up, but they are interested in connections too. It's normally advisable to try to book an appointment to speak to editors or people who commission translations (and get their mobile number if you can—the fair is huge), but if you are a complete unknown, that can be hard. However, if you have a business card and a sample of your translation work, you can also try leaving it with editors you may meet at the fair.


Other advice: take comfortable shoes! Don't run out of business cards. Bring water and even food if you like—there can be long lines at the cafes. Lunch is a good time to talk to strangers. Most translators are friendly people and they have all been in your shoes.

A panel at the 2022 London Book Fair's Literary Translation Centre Literature Across Frontiers

What about translation conferences? Again, if you are a beginner, these will be mostly about networking and learning. But getting your name out there as a serious person is valuable and what you want is to become someone people think of when they need a translation. Have lots of business cards, and bring a sample of your work. At some conferences or seminars, you can set out examples of your work—a very effective one I once saw was a notebook binder with sample texts and their translations set out on pages side-by-side, so that potential clients or colleagues could immediately see the quality of the translations. That translator is now very successful. 


English PEN’s annual International Translation Day is a conference for literary translators (and those who would like to be). Other conferences and panels you might be interested in can be found by visiting the sites of organizations like the Society of Authors, WorldKidLit, PEN, and the British Centre for Literary Translation. Depending on the language you are translating from, there may also be translation conferences, cultural centre events, or in-person or virtual talks specific to that language where you can make useful contacts.


Children's book and children's writers' festivals and conferences can also be useful places to network and learn. For example, in 2023 you could go to the Children's Writers and Illustrators Festival, which is entirely online.


If you're broke, the internet is your friend!

Obviously, all these events cost money - sometimes a lot of money - and you may just not be able to afford them or justify the expense. But you can still learn a great deal just by reading about them (including from people who are there, especially live reports), following the groups, conferences, book fairs, editors and other translators on social media or on their own sites, and going to free events online and in your area. Remember, with virtual events you can attend from anywhere in the world (if you're awake. Use a free app like TimeBuddy to check what the time difference is). 

As always, SCBWI is a wonderful source of help. The SCBWI website has a Translation section (thanks to our own Avery Udagawa), with lists of events you can attend and podcasts to hear. Why not start with Translation Basics on 25 March? 



Julie Sullivan is a SCBWI volunteer who translates from French and German.

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