About the Video

Breaking into Literary Translation and Negotiating a Translation Contract

Many literary translators started out as commercial translators or interpreters and continue to work in both areas. However, commercial translators who wish to break into the literary field need to hone their skills and find ways to break into the very competitive literary field. Fiction, and even some non-fiction, such as biographies, necessarily require a more creative approach than commercial translations where faithful, literal translation is desirable, if not obligatory.

In this webinar, we will discuss practical methods for adapting commercial translation skills into more literary skills, as well as techniques – some more usual methods and some rather exceptional! – to help you break into the field of literary translation.

Once you manage to land a commission, you will have to negotiate a contract for your work. This can be a mine -field, so we will provide many pointers to help you obtain the best terms and conditions possible.

Key takeaways

By the end of the session, you will:

  1. Learn methods to practice the more creative writing techniques necessary for literary translation
  2. Understand the various ways to break into the field of literary translation
  3. Become familiar with some standard translation publishing contracts
  4. Avoid the pitfalls of publishers’ contracts through various negotiating techniques


CIOL membership discount: 10% (the code is available on the membership page)


Sandra Smith

Sandra has translated some 20 works, including Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française, Camus’ The Stranger, The Necklace and Other Stories: Maupassant for Modern Times, But you did not come back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens, amongst others.

Her translation of Suite Française won the French-American-Florence Gould Foundation Translation Prize, the PEN Translation Prize and was voted Book of the Year for 2006 by The Times of London. In 2015, her translation was adapted into a movie directed by Saul Dibb and starring Michele Williams, Matthias Schoenaerts and Kristin Scott Thomas.

But you did not come back won the 2016 National Jewish Book Award in the Best Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir category.

Seven of Smith’s translations have been adapted as radio plays for the BBC – Suite Française, David Golder, Fire in the Blood, The Dogs and the Wolves, and Jezebel, all by Némirovsky, as well as Camus’ The Outsider and But you did not come back.

Smith taught French language, literature and translation for many years at the University of Cambridge, as well as Master Classes in translation at Columbia. She has been a guest lecturer at Sarah Lawrence, Barnard and Harvard. She currently teaches at NYU and is a member of the Author’s Guild and the PEN Translation Committee.


1 hour 4 min

Who should watch it?

Any translator wishing to discover more about the literary translation world and how it works.

What are the benefits to you?

This video, presented by a master of the art, will explain how to break into literary translation and negotiate a contract. It will give you a clear understanding of what is involved.

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  1. Yana Georgieva

    This is an excellent webinar for those who would like to find more about the pathways of becoming a literary translator. Very well structured, with lots of practical advice – would certainly recommend.

  2. Meritha Paul-van Voorden

    This webinar is very useful as it highlights the importance of protecting your work and yourself as a literary translator. The difference between underlying rights and translation rights becomes clear and what the significance is of copyright and works that are in the public domain. Sandra makes clear what steps to take to become a literary translator and gives practical tips for going into contract negotiations.

  3. Cynthia Whitehead

    This is beautifully organised, comprehensive introduction, and I used many of the points and links in a negotiation with a publisher later the same day!

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