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How to become book translator?
Thread poster: Martina Svehlova Jurikova
Martina Svehlova Jurikova
Local time: 02:58
English to Slovak
+ ...
Jul 10, 2003

Hello everybody!

Since it is one of my dreams to translate an interesting fiction from English to Slovak, I tried to contact Slovak publishers and publishing houses with the offer of translating services, but without success, sometimes even without getting response from them.
Do you have any suggestions?
I would be grateful if you could tell me your story of success.

Thank you very much in advance!

Martina


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:28
English to Tamil
+ ...
It will help if you are an author on your own right Jul 10, 2003

Many of the successful translators are authors themselves in their mother tongue. One example that comes to my mind is Stefan Zweig. Many successful translators from English into Tamil, my mother tongue are themselves very good authors. I am sure if you see in the case of your own mother tongue that such is the case. Unlike technical literature translations, translation of fiction is a very demanding chore and requires a very high capacity of original writing.




Martina Jurikova wrote:

Hello everybody!

Since it is one of my dreams to translate an interesting fiction from English to Slovak, I tried to contact Slovak publishers and publishing houses with the offer of translating services, but without success, sometimes even without getting response from them.
Do you have any suggestions?
I would be grateful if you could tell me your story of success.

Thank you very much in advance!

Martina


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Lucy Phillips  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:58
Spanish to English
+ ...
research new authors in English Jul 10, 2003

Hi Martina

The comment above is right, many literary translators are authors in their own right.

Like you, I'd very much like to translate a substantial literary work and did do a bit of research on it a while ago. One UK publisher of foreign translations advised that they would be interested in proposals in which the translator had identified an untranslated work and could provide sample translations. As you can imagine, publishers are very wary of employing untested translators for such big and costly projects which are about much more than an ability to translate.

Perhaps another possibility might be to target literary magazines and find a way in through translating smaller works: extracts or short stories.

Good luck!


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Kirill Semenov  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 03:58
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
Some observations (my own experience) Jul 10, 2003

Dear Martina,

I just want to share my experience, since I translate books for a couple of publishing houses in Ukraine. Of course, I'm not sure all these rules are applied for other countries, but here are some tendencies I've noticed.

1. Call to an editor or the editor-in-chief by phone and try to arrange a personal meeting. If you just drop them an e-mail, they are less likely to respond. Sometimes, it is not that easy to find out the phone number or the address of a publishing house, but it's worth efforts.

2. The first question you will be most probably asked, is your education and experience in translating fiction. Bear in mind, that some editors who deal with fiction despise `all this technical stuff' as `lacking any elegance', so do not try to impress them with your best samples of technical translations -- sometimes it may even turn against you. A nice idea is to
show to the editor some samples of your work -- say, a book you have translated just for pleasure or in hope to publish this translation some day. If you do not have
any sample of literary translation:

3. Ask for a test (though in most publishing houses a test translation is a must). Insist, if you see the editor is reluctant to deal with a technical translator. Tell him or her, that what is important is the real work. Take into account that tests they give in publishing houses are usually larger than in freelancing field. Be ready to translate up to 10 pages (in many cases they pay for large tests, but you have to discuss it directly).

4. The rates in publishing houses are lower than in freelancing field. From the other hand, a book of an average size means two or three months of stable work. Moreover, if the editor is satisfied with your first work, you may get books for translations on a regular basis. In fact, if their rates will suit you, they may provide you with a full work load.

I hope it will help a bit. Good luck

[Edited at 2003-07-10 16:21]


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Kirill Semenov  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 03:58
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
More on publishing houses Jul 10, 2003

Some additional thoughts:

Try to investigate the average rates in publishing houses in your countries (I think you may ask other translators from your country, privately or on your forum).

What is a `bad' publishing house?

1) Low rates. Obvious.

2) They do not even want to spend time to know how good you are. Sometimes it's the an editor's fault. From the other hand, remember that any publishing house is, so to say, a 'madhouse', and editors (especially the editor-in-chief) are really busy. Anyway, a good editor will never miss a chance to find a good translator and will spend some reasonable time with you despite the fact he has a lot of work to do.

3) To evaluate how good you are they use anything, but the real test. They judge you by your appearance, your age, your diplomas and certificates, etc. without paying any attention to the quality of your translations which is the most important thing.

4) They do give your a test, and the test is OK, but then they tell you that right now they do not have any work for you, and they will call you later. Of course, there are chances, they will do, but in most cases...

In any cases, do not be frustrated if you fail with any particular publishing house. If you really want it, sooner or later you will find what you seek. Just be persistent in your search.

[Edited at 2003-07-10 16:53]


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Laura Gentili  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 02:58
Partial member (2002)
English to Italian
+ ...
Suggestions Jul 10, 2003

Hi Martina,
I worked in the publishing field for 10 years before switching to translation.
What I suggest is to look for authors who are unpublished in your target language and for whom copyright has expired. In other words, anyone is free to translate or publish them without paying royalties. Usually copyright expires after 50 years + war years (counted differently from country to country) after death, so there are plenty of authors who fit.
Prepare a synopsis of the book (1-2 pages max.), plus the translation of one significant chapter and try to contact the relevant publishers with this material on hand.
The above is the traditional way to deal with this.
Another possibility to explore is to translate the text and put it on the Internet as an e-book. Obviously you don't get paid but you might find an audience and be noticed by editors/publishers for your skills.
Laura

[Edited at 2003-07-10 16:42]


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Thomas Magnuson
Canada
Local time: 17:58
English to Japanese
+ ...
Those were great comments! Jul 10, 2003

The above is the traditional way to deal with this.
Another possibility to explore is to translate the text and put it on the Internet as an e-book. Obviously you don't get paid but you might find an audience and be noticed by editors/publishers for your skills.
Laura

***
Thanks for those comments, Laura! I'm also one of those star-gazing folks who'd love to get into literary translation. If you don't mind, could I ask you another question? Specifically, assuming the source is a children's book with not only an author but an illustrator as well. Who would the translator contact for permission to translate the work? The original publisher? Also, assuming that got OK'd, would the translator then have to "sell" his or her translation to publishing companies who deal in the target language?

Well, sorry for the probably entry-level questions, but any insight you could offer would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again!


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Laura Gentili  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 02:58
Partial member (2002)
English to Italian
+ ...
Royalties Jul 11, 2003

In a case like this (an illustrated book for children), probably both authors (the illustrator and the writer) have granted international rights to the publishing house which published the original version. In other words, the publisher is the one to be contacted for an edition in another language. Sometimes the rights are available, sometimes a foreign publisher has asked an option for publishing the book (usually 6 months or an year) and this may slow down the whole process, since the original publisher has to wait for an answer from such foreign publisher.

As for rights on the translation, translation is usually paid with a flat fee with no royalties involved. In other words, the translator gets the same amount of money whether the book sells 1,000 copies or 1,000.000 copies. This is obviously very unfair as the translation is a key factor in the success of an international edition, but that's the way it is in most of the cases.

[Edited at 2003-07-11 08:02]


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Thomas Magnuson
Canada
Local time: 17:58
English to Japanese
+ ...
Thanks again! Jul 11, 2003

Laura Gentili wrote:

In a case like this (an illustrated book for children), probably both authors (the illustrator and the writer) have granted international rights to the publishing house which published the original version. In other words, the publisher is the one to be contacted for an edition in another language. [Edited at 2003-07-11 08:02]


Thanks again for your great advice! There are about a billion and a half other questions I could ask about the publishing industry, but if you don't mind could I bother you with just one more? That is: how possible do you think it would be for a guy like me, working out of a home office, to translate a book and become its publisher (ie sell it to bookstores, and arrange for printing)? If I'm dreaming way too big here, by all means feel free to burst my balloon

Thanks again!


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Laura Gentili  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 02:58
Partial member (2002)
English to Italian
+ ...
Publishing Jul 12, 2003

Hi,
Publishing a book is very easy. Many people publish their book independently, you just need to prepare the manuscript for publication, and find a typesetter plus a printer and a binder. The real problem lies in distribution: main distributors usually don't take small-run editions of unknown publishing houses. However, you might be able to find some independent small distributor willing to take your book, but it's bookstore managers who decide about your book's visibility in their shops.
Another possibility is to publish the book independently, send it to reviewers specialized in children books, and set a Web site in order to sell the book directly. You can promote the book in schools, libraries, etc.
Good luck with your project. As they say in Latin, per aspera ad astra!


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Thomas Magnuson
Canada
Local time: 17:58
English to Japanese
+ ...
Thanks again:) Jul 13, 2003

Laura Gentili wrote:

per aspera ad astra!


Hi & thanks very much for your encouraging words! You've given me quite a good basis to start from - and it's good to hear that you don't necessarily have to be a big player in the industry to have a shot at it.

Well, thanks again & the best of luck to you


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