November 13, 2008 6:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm a writer/translator who is crap at writing cover letters. Yes, I am dumb. Please help.

This is terribly embarrassing. I need to write some letters offering my translation services to book publishers, in which I basically say "Hello, I am a young translator and I would like to translate books for you - I know I have no experience translating actual books, but I have translated shorter texts and I can do a book, really. Please have a look at this lovely sample and see for yourself."

The thing is, I am drawing a complete blank when I have to come up with the actual letter. I've had pretty much the same problem every time I had to come up with a cover letter for my CV in the past years. I will write pages and pages on whatever subject you can think of with barely controlled glee and I know I'm good, but when it comes to cover letters I just freeze. I usually end up getting a generic cover letter from the internet, changing it until it is no longer recognizable, sending it off and then staring into space, filled with self-loathing. Or, in some cases, giving up on the idea of doing it right completely and just sending out a preposterously silly cover letter that is only designed to grab the (undoubtedly bemused) other person's interest and make them look at my CV.

I've hardly ever been refused an interview or even a job, so crappy though it makes me feel to do it like this, I must be doing something right. But there are no generic cover letters for translators contacting a publisher. Presumably because in this field, at least, people actually expect you to be able to come up with something good - and rightly so. And the publishing industry is HARD. So what do publishers look for in a letter? Can you give me advice? A skeleton text I can use to mangle as I see fit? Anything? Thanks so much.
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (2 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
so you're basically "cold-calling" publishers about translating, yes? not sending letters to people you met at a networking event or whatever? i ask because i would approach it differently based on the scenario.

i work in publishing, and have sometimes been routed letters from people wanting to be copyeditors (i am not the right person to get these letters, so that is tip one: direct the letter to the right person or at least the right department!). copyediting is a skill and i'm not going to hire a copyeditor who has spelling errors and really bad grammar stuff in her "please hire me" letter. just not gonna do it. so, tip two: spell things correctly, including the publisher's name, the contact's name, etc. your letter should look professional, be formatted nicely, have good grammar, etc.

tip three: including a sample translation (and the original source) is a great idea! but, know your market. don't submit a short story translation to a cookbook publisher. for instance, a lot of medical texts get translated, but medical books are a whole different monster than fiction or memoirs. don't tell them you can work on "anything" because we all know that's probably not true. have a niche and market yourself to that niche.

tip four: short and sweet wins the race. my sample, off-the-cuff:

dear [contact],

i am writing to you to express my interest in working for [publisher] as a translator. i have worked for [other people] for x years and have experience with [language 1, language 2, etc]. most of my experience has been in [field] but i also have some experience in [other field].

i have attached both my resume and a translation of [thing] that i did for [employer]. i am happy to provide other samples at your request.

thank you....sincerely, blah.

much longer than that, and most people aren't going to read it or care. publishing folks are busy folks.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:59 AM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

Absolutely what misanthropicsarah says about targeting. If you have translated smaller [academic|technical|pop culture] documents, target an [academic|technical|pop culture] publisher. Make sure your sample matches; I'm a technical editor who sometimes gets letters from people seeking translation jobs, with attachments that are not at all technical. I pass them to our recruiter, but I doubt she does much with them because the targeting was bad in the first place.

If you develop a niche, you'll look more professional and be able to charge more. People who say they'll do anything come off as desperate enough to be paid less, whereas I know that if I want an index for a medical device user guide, I call SusieQ because she's the best medical device indexer I know, even if she charges me a bit more.
posted by catlet at 7:46 AM on November 13, 2008

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