Posts Tagged ‘Web presence’

Short Stories Japan: Literary Fun for All Ages

Short Stories Japan logoBy Hamish Smith, Osaka

Short Stories Japan is a new website that is just what you might guess it to be—a place for short stories from Japan translated into English. Most of what gets posted is suitable for all ages. While the internal monologue of a twentieth century feminist might not be up everyone’s alley, there are plenty of ghosts, wandering bards, vampires, mischievous talking animals and wine-sipping demons to keep both young and grown-up readers entertained. We also have a growing number of “weird tales” that encompass fairy tales and other stories for children. It is still early days yet, but if the current trends continue, Short Stories Japan will be a site with something for everyone.

Short Stories Japan is also a place for people to discuss the soul-crushing process of literary translation. All translations are discussed openly on the message board, making the site not only entertaining for readers, but also useful for learners of Japanese and literary translation.

I created and operate this site in cooperation with Edward Lipsett of Kurodahan Press. All translators who post at Short Stories Japan retain the rights to their translations.

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AFCC 2014 (Part 3): Tips for Translators’ Websites

afcc-logoPaul Quirk, Ena City, Gifu Prefecture

3. Bill Belew

Imagine this. You’ve finished a translation of a Japanese children’s book that you’ve been working on for months, and it’s ready to go. The publisher is telling you it is time to reach out and tell people about this hilarious book that is finally available in English. But you have two problems. Bill BelewThe first is that hardly anyone comes to your website, so promoting it on there is not going to be very effective, and second, no one in the English-speaking world knows anything about this author, even though he/she is a big name in Japan. So how do you get the word out? How do you go beyond friends and family and create a global readership that craves the books you translate and publish, even though they’ve never heard of them before?

According to Bill Belew, you can do it, but it takes time, so it is better to start early. Having spent more than 20 years teaching in universities in Japan and the US, Bill woke up one day and decided that he was going to become a professional blogger. He started out in 2006 with no experience and ‘no love’ from the Internet world, and now he travels the world telling people how he grew his readership. Bill gave a talk at AFCC 2014 on strategies for building a global audience. I was so impressed that I signed up for his full-day workshop the next day. Here are just a few things I learned from him.

Facebook and Twitter do not attract new readers to your website. A lot of people wonder whether it is better to use Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, or one of the other social networks which seem to pop up every six months or so. Bill’s answer, and one that was met by a sigh of relief from a lot of people, was that if you rely on those platforms for attracting new readers to your website, you are wasting your time.

Promoting content from a social network platform such as Facebook or Twitter involves ‘pushing’ content on people, known as ‘push marketing,’ and there is a very poor return for the effort required. It is different if you are marketing something that everyone already knows or wants, but it is rarely effective in the case where you are promoting something as complex and personal as a book.

Focus on creating good content. The alternative to push marketing is ‘pull marketing,’ and the idea behind pull marketing is if you create enough quality content it will pull people to your website via the search engines. It is common sense really. Getting search engines to find you involves creating content that is matched with the product that you want to market and is of interest to potential readers.

At AFCC 2014. Back: Kenneth Quek (Festival Director), translator Paul Quirk. Front: author Yuko Takesako (Vice Director, Chihiro Art Museum Azumino), Michiko Matsukata (Curator, Chihiro Art Museum Azumino), author Mariko Nagai (SCBWI Japan Assistant Regional Advisor), illustrator Naomi Kojima (SCBWI Japan Regional Illustrator Coordinator), and translator Cathy Hirano.

At AFCC 2014. Back: Kenneth Quek (Festival Director), translator Paul Quirk. Front: author Yuko Takesako (Vice Director, Chihiro Art Museum Azumino), Michiko Matsukata (Curator, Chihiro Art Museum Azumino), author Mariko Nagai (SCBWI Japan Assistant Regional Advisor), illustrator Naomi Kojima (SCBWI Japan Regional Illustrator Coordinator), and translator Cathy Hirano.

Solve your reader’s problems. With regard to the type of content, the best kind of content is content that solves people’s problems. Perhaps there are parents who want to get their hands on Japanese picture books but they don’t know where to start looking, or librarians looking for reviews on the latest Japanese picture books, or publishers looking for ideas on what to publish next. The more specific you are with the content you provide, the easier it will be for people to find you.

Connect with others.The second way of getting found, through links to your website, comes about by sharing the love. If you link to other people with similar ideas to yours, then there is a good chance they will return the favor. Do it 10 times or 100 times and you might create 10 or 100 different ways people can find your site. This might involve blogging about people in the industry, or reviewing other people’s books, or having people do guest posts. The more people who link to your site, the higher up you will go in the search rankings, which will give you access to more readers.

And remember . . .

  • Stick to your themes—always check that your content is aligned with your themes before you hit Publish.
  • Don’t give up—it takes at least three months before the search engines learn to trust a new website, but a lot of people give up if they don’t see results after one or two weeks.
  • Update more often. Try updating at least once a day; if you can write more, then write more. No one is going to complain that you write too much if no one is going to your website.
  • Write shorter articles. 300-500 words is a good length. Write longer if it is an important article, but you can also split it up into multiple articles.
  • Think about what content you want to share on Facebook, i.e., try not to spam family and friends—but do send them important updates about upcoming book releases etc.
  • Connect up the articles. Try to link with other articles on your own site as well as those on external sites.
Visual artist Nayantara Surendranath from India saw me juggling at the AFCC wrap-up party (well it's a good conversation starter…) and just had to have a go.

Visual artist Nayantara Surendranath from India saw me juggling at the AFCC wrap-up party (well it’s a good conversation starter…) and just had to have a go.

So Bill’s message is that if you want to create a successful website or blog it’s going to take a lot of old-fashioned hard work, but if you are passionate about the content you are creating, then it doesn’t need to be that hard. Just keep writing about what you love, and keep hitting that Publish button.

You can get more tips from Bill at billbelew.com, and if you have a chance to attend one of his presentations or workshops in future, I highly recommend it.

Personally I found Bill’s talk very inspiring and I’m sure if I do everything he suggests, I’ll eventually be able to build a strong readership. But to tell you the truth, like most people who are into translating children’s books, I do it in my spare time, so if I spend too much time on a blog (and it can get quite addictive), I find my translation productivity goes down the drain. Perhaps a good solution might be to create a collective blog with some like-minded people. In any case it is certainly nice to think that if you continue working hard for long enough, people are sure to come your way. Good luck blogging everyone!

See Parts 1 and 2 of this series

AFCC 2014 (Part 1): A Japanese-English Translator in Singapore

Paul Quirk, Ena City, Gifu Prefecture

AFCC logoEarly this month I attended the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) at Singapore’s National Library. As a translator of children’s literature, I found much to interest me.

I’ve broken up my report into three parts. The first is a general overview of the festival and the relevance of an event like this for translators of Japanese literature (from my personal point of view). The second is a summary of Cathy Hirano’s presentation on translating children’s literature. The third is my report from presentations by Bill Belew, a professor in social media marketing, who had some useful tips on how to get more people to come and visit your website.

Smiles at AFCC 2014

Smiles at AFCC 2014. From left: translator Cathy Hirano, translator Paul Quirk, Yuuki Hasegawa, author and SCBWI Japan Assistant Regional Advisor Mariko Nagai, SCBWI Japan Regional Illustrator Coordinator Naomi Kojima, author Evelyn Wong

1. Overview of AFCC 2014

The Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) is an annual event held in Singapore. It’s a place where authors, illustrators, translators, publishers, agents and others find out what is happening in the publishing world, share ideas, and find partners for their new projects. There are also events for librarians, teachers and parents, and so consumers and advocates of content for children can talk directly with the people creating content, giving them feedback as well as ideas for their next projects.

But to be totally honest, during the first day at the festival I was wondering whether it was such a good idea to be there. There were a lot of great authors and illustrators about, it was true, but I found myself asking, “As a translator, what can I get out of this?”

SCBWI Singapore books on display

I began translating children’s stories from two classic Japanese authors—Kenji Miyazawa and Nankichi Niimi—over two years ago, and publishing them online under the name of Little J Books. It’s still early days, but it’s something I really enjoy doing. My motivation is to create a way of introducing the kinds of stories that I like to other people who might be interested in Japanese literature. In future it would be great if I could get more translators involved, translating different authors, and get the books (with illustrations) into shops as well as online. But how do you go about doing that?

Well, I didn’t find the answer to this problem at AFCC 2014, but I did hear a lot of good ideas that could put me on the right track. I also got a lot better at explaining what I was trying to do. I realized that meeting people at an event like this is a great way to test out your ideas on people who share a lot of the same interests. It is also a great way to find out about all of the different authors and illustrators from around Asia, and listen to how their experience working with children’s books has changed their lives, as well as the children who’ve read their stories.

One more thing that I realized from attending the AFCC was that translators are well positioned to be promoters of content. Because we are bilingual, we can introduce (in the case of Japanese translators) our favorite Japanese authors and illustrators to the rest of the world, while at the same time introduce the rest of the world to Japan. Could anyone be better qualified to do that?

I had a terrific time at AFCC 2014, and in the end I got a lot out of it. A lot of ideas, a lot of contacts, and a lot of new friends. I hope I can make it back there again soon.

Hardworking volunteers at the SCBWI desk

Hardworking volunteers at the SCBWI desk

Here is a sampling of some of the presenters that spoke this year.

Sally Gardner, an award winning English author who has sold over two million books, spoke about how important it was to write from the heart. Don’t think about what kind of story sells, but ask yourself what kind of story you want to tell, and then write that story.

Fazeila Isa, a lecturer in early childhood and special education at the Sultan Idris Education University in Malaysia, used the example of the picture book Arabella by Wendy Orr and illustrated by Kim Gamble to demonstrate how a child with a disability can be incorporated into the story without the focus being on the disability.

There is a strong need for more books that incorporate people with handicaps into the story, or have them as the protagonists. Writers (and translators who choose to translate such stories) can help to empower disabled children through storytelling.

Mahtab Narsimhan (children’s author) and Cristy Burne (children’s author) gave a talk on how to create spine-tingling scary stories. One tool that both of these authors use to create tension is folklore. Mahtab uses fearsome characters from Indian folklore such as the Goddess Kali and Lord Shiva, and Cristy uses zany characters from Japanese folklore, such as an umbrella that comes to life and runs around on one ‘leg.’

Scary stories are an important tool for enabling children to overcome their fears.

Mariko Nagai, a poet, prose writer and author of Dust of Eden—and the Assistant Regional Advisor of SCBWI Japan—spoke about the topics of improving literacy and promoting cross-cultural understanding. She also pointed out something that is easy to forget, which is that poetry is an integral part of a child’s early education. Children may not understand the meaning of the poetry, but they love the rhythm and rhyme, and are quick to commit poetry to memory.

Mariko launched Dust of Eden during the AFCC. Dust of Eden is an important story that has been written with great sensitivity, about how a thirteen-year-old Japanese American girl and her family are placed in an internment camp during World War II. With so many children spending years inside refugee ‘institutions’ in countries such as Australia, it is a story that still has great relevance today.

Watch this blog for two more posts (Parts 2 and 3) about my favorite speakers at AFCC.

An Interview with Laura Watkinson

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

LW photoHow can translators of children’s literature advertise their skills? How can they bring deserving titles to light? Why do they join SCBWI?

I had the privilege to ask these questions of Laura Watkinson, an accomplished translator into English from Dutch, Italian and German. Passionate about children’s and young adult literature, Laura co-founded the Dutch chapter of SCBWI in 2008. Her translation from Dutch of Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak won the 2012 Mildred L. Batchelder Award for Eerdmans.

Laura graciously answered my questions in time for Asian Festival of Children’s Content 2013, which took place this week in Singapore. I shared Laura’s response in a talk on promotion of translations, and her words “network, network, network” became a catchphrase throughout the AFCC Translation Seminar.

Below are my questions followed by Laura’s responses, which she sent by email from Amsterdam. Thank you, Laura, for sharing your expertise to help bring Asian stories into English. Your words were appreciated by listeners from Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Malaysia, India, and elsewhere.

What are good ways for translators of children’s literature into English to let the publishing world know of their skills and interests?

Translators come from such a range of different backgrounds. Some have studied languages, creative writing, or literature, or have worked in publishing, whereas others have picked up foreign-language skills later in life and gradually moved into translation or made a mid-life career change. So the paths that translators take into the publishing world and the links we have with publishers differ from translator to translator.

I’ve heard of translators who have graduated from Masters courses that have allowed them to create a body of work and make contacts in publishing houses, so that’s one possible approach. I’ve also come across translators whose first commission has resulted from a chance meeting or a lucky letter that happened to land on the right editor’s desk at the right time.

Soldier BearI can’t emphasize enough that there’s no single established route into translation. That’s great, because it means we’re free to make our own opportunities and steer our own career paths. One thing that really does matter is to build up a network of fellow translators and publishing professionals, which is where an organization like the SCBWI comes in. A chat over lunch at a conference can result in a commission for a translation project a couple of years down the line. Other friendly translators can help out with advice about translation queries, contracts and chances for work and training.

In short, I’d say: Network, network, network. I’ve mentioned going to conferences, but there’s also nothing to stop translators making submissions of work to publishers in the same way as authors do.

Find a book that you love and make sure it hasn’t already been translated, then translate an excerpt. I’d say between five and twenty pages if it’s a novel—and make sure you start at the beginning of the book, not the “best” bit. When you think you’ve completed your translation, put it in a drawer, come back to it a few weeks later when you’re feeling fresh, and proofread it and proofread it over and over again until you’re happy that it’s the best you can do. Then write a letter to the publisher to explain why you’re so crazy about this book and why you think it would be such a great title for that particular publisher’s list. This would be the place to describe the “best” bit of the book. You could also write a synopsis of the book and provide some relevant info about the author and about yourself. Finish your query letter by offering your services as a reader (I’ll say some more about that later) and mention that you’d be delighted to help out with any queries that the publisher might have about the book or about other titles in the language(s) that you work from. If you don’t hear back from them, you can always resubmit elsewhere, but if you’re polite and you appear helpful, the publisher may well be interested in the book and in you as an expert.

Book fairs are also handy places for picking up contact details and catalogues, but don’t necessarily expect to talk to a publisher unless you have an appointment. Of course, you can always write to the publishers you’ve targeted and suggest setting up a meeting at an upcoming book fair . . . If Bologna (the biggest children’s book fair) is too far for you to travel, the SCBWI has a list of international publishers that you can write to directly. Books like The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market and the Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook are also very handy, containing a wealth of information about publishers you could contact.

Don’t forget to get in touch with the original publishers of the book too and let them know that you’re planning to contact English-language publishers with a sample of one of their books. Not only can they tell you if there are already translation plans for the book, it’s an excellent way to make an important new contact. They’ll want to hear if you’re planning to translate an excerpt, as you’ll need permission for any publication that might result. Also, foreign publishers often take English samples of books along to book fairs with them when they’re trying to sell the translation rights. Publishers will pay for these sample translations and you may even end up translating the whole book if an English publisher likes your sample.

You founded the Dutch chapter of SCBWI—as a translator. What do translators gain from interacting with writers and illustrators? And vice versa?

My SCBWI friends in are a great bunch. SCBWI The Netherlands logoWe have similar attitudes to work and to fun. I don’t think any of us followed our career paths with the idea of making lots of money, but we’re all motivated by great stories and by meeting other people who are working hard to convey their ideas to young readers. So there’s a lot to talk about when we meet up. When you’re working as a freelancer, it helps to have friends you can contact for advice and support. “Do you think this clause in this contract makes sense?” “Does the editor have a point here?” “What do you think about this title?” Whether we’re translators, illustrators or writers, we’re there for each other when it comes to commiserating—and, of course, celebrating!

In addition, I’m also a member of the Society of Authors in the UK, which has a section for translators, the Translators’ Association, and a special group for children’s writers, which translators are welcome to join. They provide legal advice and vet contracts, organize events, and have an online forum for translators and a register of members. You don’t have to be a UK resident to join. The Society of Authors also has a model contract and recommends a minimum rate for translation. It’s important to know which clauses matter in a contract and to maintain community standards of pay and recognition.

Some other valuable organizations for translators are the British Centre for Literary Translation, the American Literary Translators Association, and the European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations. I’d recommend googling around and reading blogs and signing up for as many newsletters about translation and children’s books as you can. There are lots of interesting workshops and conferences out there—and they’re a great opportunity for getting yourself out of your office and making new connections. And Outside In World is a great website that’s dedicated to children’s literature in translation.

Once a translated book is published, how can the translator contribute to promotion?

Good old Twitter and Facebook help here, as does a blog or 153website. I was once involved in a “blog tour” to publicize an adult novel that I translated for Peirene Press in the UK, Jan van Mersbergen’s Tomorrow Pamplona. The publisher has built up a relationship with a number of book bloggers and she invited them to submit questions for the author and translator. We then went on a virtual tour of the blogs, answering questions as we went, and readers who were interested in the interview followed us from blog to blog.

I also took part in a panel discussion about translation at the ALA conference in Chicago, which focused on the traslation of Heartsinger, published by Arthur A. Levine Books. Marianne Martens chaired the discussion, and publisher Arthur A. Levine, editor Cheryl Klein, and author Karlijn Stoffels all took part. That was a great experience and raised the profile both of the book and of the translation process.

What benefits come from having a Web presence?

If you have a website, people always know where to find you. It’s also a good place to keep potential clients informed about what you’ve been up to lately. I’ve found that some of my clients, particularly authors that I work with directly, often communicate with me through Facebook or Twitter these days, rather than emailing. Both Facebook and Twitter are good for staying up to date with what’s going on with publishers and fellow translators. I’ve also had plenty of queries and even offers of work arrive through FB, Twitter, and, of course, my website.

When Bibi Dumon Tak’s Soldier Bear, which I translated for Eerdmans, won the ALA’s Batchelder Award for the best translated book, my SCBWI friend Roxie Munro sent a happy message to me via Facebook only minutes after the publisher had contacted me with the good news—and her message was followed by lots of other lovely comments on Facebook, Twitter, and via my website. These things matter, particularly when you’re used to working in isolation.

Translators often work “behind the scenes,” but do they have power to bring stories that deserve to be translated to light? 

Absolutely. That’s something very important that translators have to offer to publishers. We often hear that publishers would love to publish more books in translation, but they need people with language skills not only to translate the text, but also to help with making the selection. This is why some publishers employ readers, many of whom are also translators, to read foreign-language books and write reports on those books. Such reports will typically feature a brief plot summary, some background information about the author, an assessment of the book (interest for the foreign market, accessibility, originality, style, suitability for the publisher’s list), and a recommendation of whether the publisher should commission a translation. So, in our role as impartial readers, translators are an essential part of the assessment process. The publisher may encounter a book at an industry book fair, such as the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and then request a report from a trusted reader, but equally the recommendation may have come from the reader, who has happened upon a book that he or she feels is a good match for the publisher. That recommendation may not make it to the translation stage, or even to the reading stage, but this is definitely an area where translators can influence the process and help to bring great literature and fun stories into other languages.

As an example, one of my recent projects is a book for Arthur A. vdi9789045111964Levine Books, which is now in the final editing stages: Hidden Like Anne Frank by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis. The book features a number of accounts by Jewish people who, like Anne Frank, went into hiding during the Second World War, but they survived to tell their own tales. I translated some publicity material about the book and thought it sounded like a perfect candidate for translation. Editor Emily Clement at Arthur A. Levine had also heard about the book and she asked me to write a report. I was very enthusiastic and the book made it through the various stages and was selected for publication. It’s been a beautiful title to work on and I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished book.

I’m also absolutely delighted to be translating a classic Dutch children’s book for Pushkin Children’s Books in the UK. Tonke Dragt’s The Letter for the King was published in 1962 and was voted the best Dutch children’s book ever in a “winner of winners” poll of books that had won the award for best children’s book of the year. Astonishingly, it has never been translated into English. Adam Freudenheim from Pushkin is committed to publishing some of the best children’s stories from all around the world and he was really excited when he found out about this title. Publishers really do want to hear from enthusiastic readers and translators!

Thank you, Laura Watkinson, for reaching out from Amsterdam to encourage translation of stories from Asia!

Visit the Cynsations blog to read another interview of Laura Watkinson by SCBWI Assistant International Advisor Angela Cerrito.