Thursday, 8 May 2014


Dear editors,

I have loads of stuff here, translations of amazing writers who are doing great stuff in Germany, winning prizes, gaining respect, pushing boundaries, all that kind of thing. Instead of me submitting it to you with a begging letter and you ignoring it for months on end and then possibly deigning to send a nebulous response about how it's not right for your magazine, why don't you just get in touch with me if you want something?




Actually, I do realize magazine editors have better things to do. One of the reasons I'm glad I'm not a writer is that I get offended too easily. Imagine if it was my own writing I was submitting to magazines. I'd be really really unhappy all the time.

But here's the thing: in the past, I've encouraged emerging translators to submit to literary magazines as a way of building up a résumé, like an unpublished writer might do. And one of the things I've said is to submit to magazines that don't focus on translation as well as the ones that do. Partly, this is a translation politics thing, because I think we should try and get out there and shout about non-Anglophone writers all over the place and not just in the usual venues. And partly it's because I think more people read them, and getting these pieces read is all I'm interested in. It's not like anyone's paying for them.

But while I've had excellent and encouraging experiences, on the whole, with journals that focus on translation, submitting to just plain literary journals has mainly been one big merry-go-round of frustration. The disturbing thing is, the things I send in are not by nobodies. They're by published writers, they've been edited and printed and reviewed positively and then I've translated them and usually also had someone edit the translation for me. Some of these writers have won major literary prizes here in Germany. And then as soon as they leave the country: nothing.

It makes me wonder about a few things: are there national tastes? Is that the problem, that British and American editors prefer a different kind of writing to German readers? That feels kind of unlikely to me, judging by the amount of fiction that gets translated from English to German. Then again, I bought The New Yorker's Twenty Under Forty and was distinctly underwhelmed. The other hazy thing is about writers having made names for themselves. Does the fact that German readers have heard of these authors make them think their writing is better than if it were a kind of blind tasting? So that, when I submit a translation to a British journal, say, the editors are reading it in a less biased way because they're not swayed by the name? If so, what does that say about me? Does it mean I'm subject to the same dazzle-factor? Probably, at least to some extent.

I'll probably keep on plugging away, at least on good days. I'll probably keep trying to come up with modest but enthusiastic cover letters to try and explain why I'm crazy about these superb pieces of writing. But if you happen to be a magazine editor and you've been thinking, hey, why do we have so few outstanding stories and essays translated from German, something needs to be done about this! - then do get in touch.

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