Help in translating Bulgarian literature into English - then getting it published!
February 12, 2008 12:26 PM   Subscribe

Any expert translators in the house? What is the best way to go about translating works of published fiction from Bulgarian into English? Any resources or answers regarding the practical elements of translation in general, or info for obtaining the legal rights to have any translated works published...? More fun inside!

I'm fluent in Bulgarian and my native tongue is English. I'm also an English major and love literature. I'm especially fond of some older, classical Bulgarian literature. Works of short fiction about colloquial country life by Elin Pelin (Елин Пелин) or one of the more well known classic Bulgarian novels, Bai Ganyo (Бай Ганьо) are of particular interest to me.
I was inspired after having a college course on Beat literature taught by Dr. Donald Revell. I did my term paper on the Beat qualities of Arthur Rimbaud's "A Season in Hell," and used a very authoritative English translation that my professor himself translated. I was instantly fascinated with the prospect of taking a deeply admired piece of foreign literature and translating it for English readers.

Are there are recommended books/websites/forums that detail and discuss such a translation process, specifically for literature?

What legal issues might I run into in getting my translated version published?

How can I find out if any copyrights on the original works have run their course (the works in question are somewhat old - and besides, I'd like to deal exclusively in older literature because of its beautiful, Bulgarian historicity).

Are there any resources I should look into for support, whether it be during the translation process or finding a publisher for the work?

Do I need to have the veracity and integrity of the translation verified in order to have it published?

Does anyone know of any other unforeseen issues or obstacles I might run into?

Anyone particularly familiar with Bulgarian/Bulgaria or even Bulgarian literature and have any suggestions for translation subject material?

Thanks a million! I'm having the most difficult time finding any information on the topic!
posted by Detuned Radio to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I completed the translation of a novel last year. In my case, I was first approached by the author. I introduced him to the local agent of a major publisher who was an acquaintance. The publishers were interested, so I did a sample translation (paid as a separate job), which they liked. They then negotiated with the author to acquire the rights, and with me separately to agree a translation contract. I believe this is standard. procedure - they will acquire the rights and commission you. I understand it is rare for you to complete the translation and then pitch it, but my experience of literary translation is limited to that book and some poems in an anthology (which were also commissioned).
As a major publishers, they have a number of bilingual readers who did indeed check the quality of my work.
posted by Abiezer at 12:36 PM on February 12, 2008

Thanks for that insight, Abiezer. Yours is a profession I envy a great deal!

One sticking point I probably should have mentioned is how obscure and even useless Bulgarian is in the U.S. I'm sure I didn't need to point that out, and I don't mean to belittle the language and country I love, but there isn't the demand for, knowledge of, or representation for anything in Bulgarian. These are fantastic stories, but no one knows about them. I was assuming that in order to get them noticed by publishers, I'd first have to translate them myself...
Am I wrong to think this?
posted by Detuned Radio at 12:58 PM on February 12, 2008

The impression I got was that it's a pitching thing similar to other creative endeavours. As I said, my experience is pretty limited though, so perhaps a publisher or more widely published translator will come along to enlighten us.
I'd actually approached the publishers with another work, also a bit of a neglected classic. They got me to write a synopsis and do a sample and that created some interest, but then this other author came along. His book fitted a gap in their catalogue that year and so things proceeded (I also did a synopsis of his book first, a step I forgot to mention above). It also helped that the book had appeared in another European language already and sold quite well.
Interest in Chinese literature has grown along with the general rise to prominence of the country, which probably helps me. I also got the impression that translation of obscure stuff might be harder if it involves paying both for the rights and for the translation. If your author's work is no longer in copyright, you may have better prospects. The sum of my knowledge is limited to the above, though - I mostly do current affairs, arts and academic stuff for magazines and journals.
posted by Abiezer at 1:29 PM on February 12, 2008

I think that your problem is going to be persuading a publisher to publish a Bulgarian work as, unlike Abiezer's Chinese, Bulgarian just isn't sexy. The Literary Saloon blog regularly bemoans the lack of translated work in the English-speaking world, primarily because English speakers just aren't interested, except in the better-known works. There are many authors whose work is readily available in smaller markets (French, German, for example) but not in English. Saulius Kondrotas' Žalčio žvilgsnis (Lithuanian), for example, has been translated into French, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and even Catalan but not into English. The only two Bulgarian novelists whose work has been translated into English and are still in print that I can think of are Vazov and Gospodinov and I would like to bet that the majority of AskMe users have not only not read these two but have not heard of them. Unless you can get a University Press or a Bulgarian government authority eager to promote its own nationals to sponsor you, it will be difficult. BTW, as Konstantinov died in 1897, Bai Ganyo (Бай Ганьо) is no longer under copyright under international copyright law but IANAL.
posted by TheRaven at 4:31 PM on February 12, 2008

If I understand this correctly, Elizabeth Kostova (author of The Historian) has started a foundation to "popularize the teaching of creative writing in [Bulgaria], encourage and publish talented authors in Bulgaria and assist the tuition of translators of modern Bulgarian literature."
posted by homelystar at 8:32 PM on February 12, 2008

I am continually amazed at the breadth of knowledge and insight everyone here has to offer! Thank you all so much for the outstanding input.
posted by Detuned Radio at 11:29 PM on February 12, 2008

Here is a small list of some Bulgarian literature of the older variety. Here is a page with actual Bulgarian literature translated into English, in the Bulgarian language there are more options.

Konstantinov has a translation of 'To Chicago and Back', but Bai Ganyo doesn't appear to have an English translation. The Chicago aspect might have helped sell the other translation. I'd even suggest doing some research on the translaters and try and get in contact with them. I imagine their inbox's aren't spilling over with fan-mail and they may have time to give some advice.

Project Gutenberg has a few books in Bulgarian where it says the books are not copyrighted in the US, if there's anything of interest there.

My fiance is Bulgarian and knows quite a bit about Bulgarian literature and a lot about Bulgaria. She would be happy to talk, send me a me-mail (is that what it's called?) if you want her e-mail.
posted by DOUBLE A SIDE at 12:04 AM on February 13, 2008

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