Pooling Resources: The Literary Translators’ Collective Cedilla & Co

At this year’s American Literary Translators Association conference, Polish-English translator and culture worker Sean Bye spoke about an exciting new  organization for and by translators: Cedilla & Co.

Here, Bye answers post-conference questions about the project along with co-founders Julia Sanches (translator of Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Catalan, as well as assistant literary agent) and Jeremy Tiang (Chinese-English translator and playwright).

Can you say a bit about the origins of Cedilla & Co? 

cedillaJulia Sanches, Jeremy Tiang, and Sean Bye: Cedilla & Co came out of a conversation between two of our founding members on a chilly Sunday afternoon when both were working to finish our respective translation projects and wishing there were never a day job to return to. We were discussing the reasons why it wasn’t worth it, financially, for a translator to have an agent—nor for an agent to represent a translator. The idea of a “collective” agency, which some actors have in the UK, came to mind as a possible model for a literary translators’ agency. Instead of one person having to do everything that goes into pitching a project, the plan was to pool resources and so submit to a much broader range of publisher—to carefully curated lists—in the same was that an agent would. We wrote up a general business plan, met to discuss what this would look like, whether we thought it might actually work, started approaching other translators to join, and taking the practical steps towards becoming an entity that exists on the internet.

What can a translator gain from being part of a Cedilla? What has it changed for you, both tangibly & intangibly?

JS, JT, and SB:As a translator, you gain access to a publisher’s database, support from a group of translators at varying points in their career, and what we call “market intelligence”—all the more intangible knowledge that translators gather as part of our being jacks-of-all-trades. You also gain community: translation is a very lonely business. When we do get together, it tends to be in social spaces, or else public-facing events that celebrate the art of translation. These are important, but there isn’t much opportunity for translators to gather in professional settings and talk shop. Cedilla provides that space for our members. We support each other in our endeavors, pool our knowledge and contacts, and as a result, are stronger together than on our own.

Where would you like to see Cedilla in five years?

JS, JT, and SB:Never standing still, continuing to learn and grow constantly. In concrete terms, we hope to be a force within the worlds of translation and publishing–a marker of quality (both of our members and the projects we submit); a one-stop shop for publishers, and above all, an advocate for the importance of translation and the professional rights of translators. For now though, we’re trying to keep small and focused. There is so much need for support among translators that we want to make sure we’re expanding in a sustainable way. Above all, we don’t want our work at Cedilla to overwhelm our own translation. So there’s a lot of work to be done on figuring out how to make this work as something larger than it already is.

Could many Cedillas potentially create a shift in the professionalization of literary translation in English?

JS, JT, and SB: Hopefully! If having more professional structures and formal roles helps literary translators to find homes for their projects and can paid fairly for what they do, then yes!

Is (your) Cedilla accepting new members?

JS, JT, and SB:Without wanting to appear unwelcoming or exclusive, we find there’s a value in keeping numbers low. Too many members would make it tricky for us to really know each other’s work. Rather than seeking new members, we hope to inspire others to explore new ways of working—perhaps by setting up a similar collective, perhaps by other means.

What advice would you give translators attempting to start up their own Cedilla?

JS, JT, and SB:Just do it! Bring together a group of people who you respect both personally and professionally. Meet as often as possible in person; we’ve found this is where decisions actually get made. Don’t be overwhelmed by how seemingly impenetrable the publishing world is—it’s not.