Permission to Translate
Thread poster: Cap12
Jun 20, 2010

Hello everyone,

I'm interested in translating a biography of a Latin American Jazz musician into English. The book is available in the original language and one other language.

In your opinon(s), is the fact that there is a translation available, but not one in English, a sign that it's likely the owner does not want a translation into English made? This musician is not terribly popular in the USA, but I would have imagined that, given the size of the North American market and English being the "lingua franca", that an English language translation would not be eschewed without some special reason.

I don't have credentials or a professional reputation, so I imagine the publisher would have found someone other than me by now if they wished to make an English translation.

What do you folks think of all this? I'd really appreciate feedback on this before I consider something so daunting as formally seeking permission to translate the work.

Thanks!


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Brian Young  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:47
Danish to English
try Jun 20, 2010

If you think you are qualified, and are willing to gamble some of your time, then translate a portion, for example a chapter, and send it to the author. Be honest, offer to do the translation at any rate you can get by with, and also offer to do the rest of the work, like contacting publishers.
Maybe he won't be interested, or has an agent, or other plans. But this might be your only option. It will be up to you to convince him that you have what it takes to do the job. Maybe he hasn't even thought about an English translation.And there is no law against translating a text, as long as you do not publish it without the permission of the copyright holder. He might even have an agreement with the original publisher, or could even have sold his copyright.
Try!


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Michel34  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:47
English to Spanish
+ ...
Yes!! Go ahead and try. Jun 21, 2010

I agree with Brian. Go ahead and try! You never know what the author may think if you don't ask.

As Brian said, he may not have even thought about translating it into English and if you can prove you're good enough to get the job done then why not give it a shot!

Let us know what happens.


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Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 19:47
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Are you prepared to invest a lot of time - possibly in van? Jun 21, 2010

Hi "Cap12",

Check out whether the rights to translate the work into English are still free: to this end, contact the original publisher or the author. The fact that it has not been published in English makes this probable - but not certain: once the translation rights have been bought, the buyer has a certain time - often 12-18 months - to have the work translated an published. So it is possible that the English translation is underway.

If the English translation rights are still available, the usual way to go is find a publisher. Contacting the author and discussing details with him/her is certainly not enough: you need to have a contract with a publisher. Choosing which books will be translated, what their price and print run will be are at the publisher's sole discretion. You will need to negotiate your contract terms with them, too - and not with the author. Convincing a publisher to have a book translated is often very difficult for authors, too - and many publishers deal very rarely with translations in the US. Just take a look at the following interview with Edith Grossman, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Translator:


A commonly cited statistic, from a 2005 report by the research organization R.R. Bowker, notes that just 3 percent of books released each year in the United States are translated from other languages – compared with percentages in the double-digits for books in Western Europe.


So, finding a publisher who would be interested may be quite difficult – which means that you may spend quite a lot of time with this project in vain. If you are passionate about this book, you may not mind this. If you are interested in this project because you believe that you have found a great idea and may strike gold then take a look at this quite sobering survey of the Conseil Européen des Associations de Traducteurs Littéraires, which analyzes the situation of literary translators in 23 European countries.

You will find more information on working for publishers on my profile page.

Best regards,
Attila


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 19:47
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Cap12 Jun 21, 2010

Cap12 wrote:
In your opinon(s), is the fact that there is a translation available, but not one in English, a sign that it's likely the owner does not want a translation into English made?


No, it may simply be that the publisher has no foothold in an English country, and has more experience and contacts in non-English countries, and therefore he decided to stick to what he knows best. Or, it may be that the publisher's American office decided that the book is not likely to sell well in the United States.

Who reads biographies? I speculate that a biography will only sell well if the book is very well written (and so receives good reviewes) or if the person is well-known (so people will want to read about him/her). Unless the person lead an interesting life or if the book about him gives the reader an insight into life in a different era, or if the book is captivating, I suspect biographies will be sold mostly to libraries, and possibly fans of the person the book is about.

I don't have credentials or a professional reputation, so I imagine the publisher would have found someone other than me by now if they wished to make an English translation.


No, this argument isn't logical. The client may have a different reason for not having had a translation made. And if you're willing to translate the book, it means you have a special interest in it and are likely to be knowledgeable on the subject, which are good traits.

I'd really appreciate feedback on this before I consider something so daunting as formally seeking permission to translate the work.


Well, if you're going to translate it, who's going to publish it? Are you hoping that the book's current publisher will publish your translation in the United States? Or were you hoping to sell the book in the United States yourself?

One thing you can do is to do a little research to prove to the publisher that there is likely an interest for such a book in the United States.

You can translate a few pages of the book, to show the publisher what you're capable of, if you want.


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Gabriel Guzovsky  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:47
Member (2006)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Ask first, then try... Jun 21, 2010

Call, don´t e-mail. Show your passion and motivation.

Cheers!


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Abdelhalim Zeid  Identity Verified
Egypt
Local time: 20:47
Member (2010)
English to Arabic
+ ...
@ Cap 12 Jun 22, 2010

Gabriel Guzovsky wrote:

Call, don´t e-mail. Show your passion and motivation.

Cheers!


If doable, go for it but do not show too much interest.

Also, I think it is time to achieve a higher level in the field.


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Brian Young  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:47
Danish to English
try first, then ask Jun 22, 2010

You don't need permission to translate a portion of a book, as long as you don't try to publish it. Do a small section, and the send it to the author, and ask if he or the publisher would be interested. Maybe someone else already has this job, but then you will find out. Be bold. It's not the end of the world to translate a chapter, and it might be the only way you can get a foot in the door. Asking first is not a good idea, unless you are already some famous writer/translator. Let them see whay you can do. Then it is up to you to impress them.
Good luck!


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Felipe Gútiez  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:47
German to Spanish
+ ...
Contact the publisher and inform him about on demand services Jun 23, 2010

There are some services of translation on demand which involve the readers as well. Maybe the publisher is interested in this system.

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Cap12
TOPIC STARTER
Permission to Translate Jun 24, 2010

Thank you so much, everyone, for your input.

Am I to understand that it is best to line up a possible publisher *before* requesting permission to translate? What if I were planning to self-publish?

I am honestly not interested in profit from this project; it would be a labor of love. So, my primary goal is to get permission, and to do whatever would make that most likely at the outset.

I have started perusing the book for appropriate passages for a sample translation. I'd like to know whether the author or a publishing house should be my first contact.

Thanks again for the expert advice, and especially for the encouragement!


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Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 19:47
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Some points to consider about self-publishing Jun 24, 2010

Cap12 wrote:

Am I to understand that it is best to line up a possible publisher *before* requesting permission to translate?


Yes, that was the essence of my post.

What if I were planning to self-publish?


1.) You have to buy the translation rights. Sometimes the original copyright holder sells the rights only to established publishers. If they sell it to you, you have to make the investment.

2.) It will be prohibitively difficult to produce the same quality as an established publisher. They have copy-.editors who have been in the trade for a long time, book and cover designers, graphic experts, typesetters, etc. Publishers do add a lot of value to the translation – how will you ensure the same value is added if you handle the whole project alone? Are you ready to pay a good expert in each of the fields that is involved? If you make concessions on quality, you may not do a favor to the book and to the readers.

3.) Will you reach an audience apart from your family, friends and some colleagues? Will you enter into negotiations with distributors to ensure that the book makes it to the shelves of the bookstores? Or are you going to sell it on your website, and send it via the post for those who buy it? (Are you sure the visibility of your website is good enough for that?)

4.) Some people will look at this whole setup as an example of "vanity press". The professional recognition you may receive is much smaller than it would be if you worked with an established publisher.[/quote]

I am honestly not interested in profit from this project; it would be a labor of love. So, my primary goal is to get permission, and to do whatever would make that most likely at the outset.


Not too much to add then. Your situation bears very strong resemblance on that of "vanity press" authors, I feel. "If there is a will, there is a way", but it would be well worth to invest some time and effort to check out whether the conventional way could work.

I have started perusing the book for appropriate passages for a sample translation. I'd like to know whether the author or a publishing house should be my first contact.


The original copyright holder should be the first person to contact. The original publisher can help with that.

Best regards,
Attila


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Brian Young  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:47
Danish to English
Translate first, then ask Jun 24, 2010

I will repeat myself here. Select a suitable portion of the book, and the make the best possible translation. Proofread, and have your friends read it, and when you are 100% satisfied, send the sample to the original author.
I agree that you should forget about publishing it yourself. If the author likes what you do, he will tell you if he has the rights, or if he has sold them. In either case his backing will be helpful.
It is a mistake to ask first, before having something real good to show.
And you should try to get a real publisher involved. A do it yourself book will probably not go anywhere. Publishing a book, even a small run, requires a lot of expertise, and you obviously do not have that.
The worst that can happen is that it does not work out. But you should give it a try.


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