As most readers of this blog probably already know, winning a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant is one of the best ways to break into the translation scene as a newcomer, or to draw publishers’ attention to an unusual but worthy project. The size and number of available grants fluctuate every year along with the stock market, but usually there are something like a dozen grants awarded (last year there were 15), usually ranging from $2000-4000). Now that these grants have been around for a decade, many publishers of translations have gotten used to glancing over the list of winning projects to see if there’s anything likely to fit in the publisher’s list. According to PEN, “Among the 50 projects awarded grants in the Fund’s first five years of operation (2004–2008), 39 of those (78%) have thus far been published or are forthcoming from a publisher.” In other words, it’s definitely well worth your while to apply.
And how do you do that? For starters, hop over the PEN website for the application guidelines. The Fund recently transitioned to an online-based application process, so you’ll want to read the instructions carefully. This year’s deadline is Jan. 30, 2015.
One piece of information for the application that you should immediately start working on acquiring is the copyright notice, since this is information you’ll have to retrieve from the copyright holder. Here’s what the application guidelines say:
If the book is not in the public domain and the project is not yet under contract, please include a photocopy of the copyright notice on the original (the copyright notice is a line including the character ©, a date, and the name of the copyright holder, which appears as part of the front matter in every book), and a letter from the copyright holder stating that English-language rights to the book are available.
A letter like this is fairly straightforward to acquire in most cases. The copyright holder isn’t assigning the rights to you, the translator (that’s not legally possible in any case) but is simply confirming that the rights are available for purchase (by a future English-language publisher of the work). If the foreign publishing house has a website with contact information listings, you should easily be able to find the person in the publisher’s foreign rights division who’ll be able to give you such a letter If the publishing house isn’t online, you’ll have to put a query letter in the mail stat and hope for a speedy response. Or else start making some international phone calls. It’s my guess that in a difficult case (publisher not responding to letters after a reasonable amount of time) you won’t necessarily be disqualified from applying if you can demonstrate a good-faith effort to reach the right’s holder. But if the problem is that you waited to the last minute to start trying to round up this information, methinks that might not fly.
These grants were made possible by the incredible generosity of Priscilla Heim and the late Michael Henry Heim, a great translator from more languages than I have fingers. We’re lucky to have them. Check out the application instructions here, and then – Translationista advises – get cracking on your applications ASAP!