Saturday, 4 January 2014

Crowdfunding translations

I've been an admirer of crowdfunding, specifically Kickstarter, for the last couple of years. For readers who don't know Kickstarter, it's a US-based website where creators and entrepreneurs pitch ideas for projects, which readers then then decide whether or not to fund, in exchange for various kinds of material or immaterial rewards. It's been in the news in recent years for the large sums which some projects have raised and for the fact that very well-known figures like Spike Lee and Hal Hartley (twice) have funded projects on the site. There are other sites too like indiegogo and the Irish site fundit. (There seem to be intriguing differences in success rates - 75% on fundit, 43% on Kickstarter, reportedly 9.3% on indiegogo.)

I was originally a bit surprised by how few translation projects there were on Kickstarter, but that has changed. There are recent or current pitches for a translation of Christopher Okigbo's poetry into Spanish; the translation into English of a French graphic novel series by Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten, a games localisation project; a translation into English of the children's book Cuentos de la Selva by the Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga; the translation into Spanish of an Oxford University Press book about the Costa Rican cloud forest; and the translation into Vietnamese of a textbook on molecular biology, among others.

Words Without Borders have run no less than three successful funding campaigns on Kickstarter, one for a special issue translating Afghan writers in 2011, one to support a special issue on the Mexican drug war in 2012, and one to support Eduardo Halfón's The Polish Boxer later the same year.

Other crowdfunding platforms also had interesting translation projects like this translation by Artur Zapalowski of Foreign Bodies based on a script by the Polish playwright Julia Holewinska, produced at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin in summer 2013; a bilingual Irish and English adaptation of Collodi's Pinocchio staged at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin in 2012; and a 2013 translation workshop in Toronto to finalise and present a French version by Nadine Desrochers of Heather Hermant's performance piece ribcage: this wide passage about 18th-century cross-dresser Esther Brandeau/Jacques La Fargue, "said to be the first Jewish person to set foot in what is now known as Canada". 

This is encouraging and it would be good to see more of it. 

There are lots of posts out there recommending how to put together a pitch (e.g. this one for fundit). I'm just an onlooker, but as someone who has translated and (once or twice) been translated, and someone who participates in a minnow-like capacity in sites like Kickstarter, here are some things I really like to see in translation project pitches.

I like projects that:

1) Tell readers where the money is going. What funding has been raised so far, from where, and for what exactly; what elements of the project remain to be funded.

2) Show that they have a sense of how translation works, by securing someone(s) with a track record to carry out the translation, specifying the size of the project (how many thousand words are involved?), providing a brief translation sample, showing an awareness of the challenges posed by the text, giving convincing costings. This last one is difficult, admittedly, because a lot of people aren't necessarily aware of the cost of professional translation (i.e. the time and expertise of a qualified person translating 2000-3000 words a day). Pro bono translation seems very often to be part of the mix, and is arguably better than translation at a rate which undercuts professional translators.

3) Give a compelling rationale for why the translation needs to be done (especially important if it's a text that has been translated into that language already).

4) Have a plan for disseminating the translation as widely as possible, e.g. on the web (though I am also very sympathetic to live performances and to beautiful book-objects).

5) Edit, polish and proofread their pitch very, very carefully. Maybe it's because I'm a part-time academic editor, but I really notice sloppy presentation and it puts me off. Most translation projects have a publication element, and if the pitch isn't executed to a professional standard, it doesn't help to convince potential supporters that the translation will be.

STAIRCASE THOUGHT: 6) Have all the copyright stuff sorted. V. imp.

Good luck to anyone pitching translation projects to crowdfunders in 2014!

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