Three Readers, One Hundred Words

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

I recently attended the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) in Singapore, which provided a fascinating overview of children’s publishing in English. Three days among authors, illustrators, and publishing insiders helped me see how translations for children fit into a larger industry.

I also gained some insights on craft. A session called First Pages for Authors provided a chance to have the opening of a work critiqued, anonymously, by a panel of three experts: Kelly Sonnack, agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency; Stephen Mooser, author and president of SCBWI; and Sayoni Basu, publishing director at Scholastic India.

Panelists Kelly Sonnack, Stephen Mooser, and Sayoni Basu at First Pages for Authors session, AFCC 2011

Each submission for this session was emailed in advance and read aloud on the day by a moderator. The three panelists then critiqued the piece, referring to hard copies, speaking from their perspectives as agent, author, and editor.

I wrote in advance to ask if I could submit a translation for this session, and learned that I could. Like the authors, I prepared a single A4 page with roughly the first 100 words of a work I wished to publish. I also indicated its target age level and total length. I did not identify it as a translation.

When the panel critiqued my piece, they offered a number of useful comments. The author affirmed my hunch that the passage offered enough interest to get a reader to turn the page. The agent agreed, but mentioned that a series of short sentences at the beginning might not be effective. She encouraged expanding the work from a short story to a more saleable novel. The editor mentioned that the identity of a particular activity described was not clear.

Some of these comments addressed elements that I, as translator, cannot change. (I cannot increase the length of the work, for example.) But some comments addressed aspects of my English that I can improve, and it was exhilarating to learn that experts not based in Japan were interested in reading more.

I enjoyed listening to critiques of other submissions. These ranged from the opening text of picture books to the beginnings of middle grade and young adult novels. The panelists addressed elements including pacing, vocabulary, point of view, sentence length, level of detail, the use of backstory, the balance of narration and dialogue, target audience, and strategies for revision. Many comments provided hints to me, as someone always eyeing new projects, about how to identify Japanese texts that might be appropriate for English-language markets.

Conferences held by SCBWI and similar groups frequently include writers’ critiques that, like this one, could help translators. I highly recommend attending such conferences (see my overview of AFCC in the forthcoming Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Carp Tales, the SCBWI Tokyo newsletter). Translators who hope to obtain a critique should query in advance to see if translations are accepted. Submissions will be considered as if they were original writing for the target market(s).

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