Translating a novel - advice needed
Thread poster: Annabelle Larousse (X)

Annabelle Larousse (X)  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 03:50
French to English
+ ...
May 8, 2009

Dear Friends--
I am new to the field of translation with little experience in it. However, I have a French novel which is dear to my heart and is still untranslated, and I would like to undertake the project. Brave or foolish, you decide.
What I would like to know, if anyone can tell me, is who to approach to moot the idea: the French publisher, an English-language publisher, a literary agent, a psychiatrist?
If anyone could give me help with this question, or if you wish to
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Dear Friends--
I am new to the field of translation with little experience in it. However, I have a French novel which is dear to my heart and is still untranslated, and I would like to undertake the project. Brave or foolish, you decide.
What I would like to know, if anyone can tell me, is who to approach to moot the idea: the French publisher, an English-language publisher, a literary agent, a psychiatrist?
If anyone could give me help with this question, or if you wish to make suggestions on any other matter pertaining to the translation of novels, or if you can tell me where I can go to find information in this area, I would be most grateful.
I know nothing about the process involved in getting a novel published in translation and am looking for helpful ideas wherever I can get them.
Many thanks, and wishing one and all the very best, Seneca the Duck (not my real name).

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2009-05-08 15:28 GMT]
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Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 20:50
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Step by step May 8, 2009

I too have books that I would just love to translate. In most cases, a little bit of research showed that it had already been done. Secondly, most publishing houses have their own pool of translators and it is very difficult to get into that 'inner circle'. Thirdly, no publisher would entrust a book to someone who confesses to be 'new to the field of translation and has little experience in it'.

Last but not least, have you ever considered how difficult it really is to translate no
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I too have books that I would just love to translate. In most cases, a little bit of research showed that it had already been done. Secondly, most publishing houses have their own pool of translators and it is very difficult to get into that 'inner circle'. Thirdly, no publisher would entrust a book to someone who confesses to be 'new to the field of translation and has little experience in it'.

Last but not least, have you ever considered how difficult it really is to translate not just the words but the whole atmosphere, the way of life, the 'feel' of a country or city into another language? I have tried reading a book with translation in mind and asked myself, how would I translate this description of a landscape and evoke the same atmosphere in the target language? How would I translate this situation or setting that is so typical of this country and can't be found anywhere else? Every time I am in awe of what it involves.

What I would suggest is to start by reading some books that have been translated with both versions side by side - that is a very good exercise. Then try some paragraphs or pages on your own and get some feedback from colleagues. Next translate some short stories or essays and again get some feedback. Practice, practice, practice. Once you gain a little confidence, you could try to get the author's permission and submit something to a (literary) magazine. Start small and take it step by step.
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Susanna Garcia  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:50
Italian to English
+ ...
In memoriam
Style May 8, 2009

Dear Seneca,

Is English your first language? I only ask as your style could be seen as a little old-fashioned - no disrespect meant.

Good luck, anyway.


 

Joanna Wachowiak-Finlaison
United States
Local time: 21:50
English to Polish
+ ...
Seneca May 8, 2009

I'd start by translating a small portion of the book (first 30-50 pages or so), polishing it until it shines and sending it to some publishers along with:
- your cv (make sure it screams passion for literature)
- info on the author
- summary of the whole book.
Finding out, who owns the rights to the original would be a good idea too, but usually publishing houses have better resources to deal with that (although you might want to check that no publisher in your country is
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I'd start by translating a small portion of the book (first 30-50 pages or so), polishing it until it shines and sending it to some publishers along with:
- your cv (make sure it screams passion for literature)
- info on the author
- summary of the whole book.
Finding out, who owns the rights to the original would be a good idea too, but usually publishing houses have better resources to deal with that (although you might want to check that no publisher in your country is holding the rights).
And once you've sent it all to every possible publisher that might be interested - relax. It might take them even a year to get back to you. Work on something else. Take up yoga. Forget you've even sent out an offer. (I got my first book to translate exactly one year after I've sent my CV...).
Good luck, Duck.

[Edited at 2009-05-08 19:34 GMT]
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JoFP
Local time: 04:50
French to English
+ ...
Go for it, but keep expectations reasonable May 8, 2009

Hmm. There's nothing to stop you from translating a novel you like. In fact, translating a novel you like is a great way to get experience as a translator. It's how I began. I just jumped right in.

The translating turned out to be the easy part. Once I'd finished, I had to contact the holder of the rights (many would argue that this should be done before undertaking the translation, but it is not essential) and get her permission to try to sell the translation to a US publisher. I
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Hmm. There's nothing to stop you from translating a novel you like. In fact, translating a novel you like is a great way to get experience as a translator. It's how I began. I just jumped right in.

The translating turned out to be the easy part. Once I'd finished, I had to contact the holder of the rights (many would argue that this should be done before undertaking the translation, but it is not essential) and get her permission to try to sell the translation to a US publisher. I eventually found a publisher, but it was hard. Very hard. In this case, the writer's widow and I made separate agreements with the publisher, but sometimes the publisher signs an agreement only with the translator and the translator in turn signs an agreement with the copyright holder.

I think most translations brought out by US and UK publishers are not work-for-hire translations of books whose English-language rights these publishers have acquired with an eye to assigning them to their "inner circle" of translators; many translated novels, though not those that enjoy the greatest visibility, are simply the result of people who do as I did and as you are thinking about doing.

And if you do go ahead with it, be prepared for immense frustration. Not with the translating itself, of course, but with getting the translations published. You may think what you've translated is a masterpiece. It may in fact be a masterpiece. One publisher after another will refuse it (here, of course, is where it may help to be a member of an "inner circle").

And publishers have especially jaundiced views of translated work. Since you are translating from French, you should know too that the French cultural services will provide subsidies to foreign publishers to offset the costs of translating, and perhaps marketing, translations of French novels. But even though they don't have to pay for the translation, even though the book is better than anything in their catalogues, US publishers will turn your offer down.

Less frustrating, but a little frustrating all the same, is when another translator beats you to the draw. For example, I recently translated three plays, the first of which was written nearly fifty years ago and none of which had been published in English. I didn't bother to secure the rights first. I didn't have a book contract, so what could I have offered the copyright holder? In the meantime, another translator (and ProZ member) came out with a translation of the writer's complete works for the theater. It's a good thing this work was published in English. For me, translating the three plays was its own reward, so it doesn't really bother me that the translations that were published weren't mine. All the same, I want to look at the translations that got published and be able to say: "Mine are better."

This experience of mine with the plays underscores one of the dilemmas of the translator who translates a book on his own initiative: you have to win the trust of the copyright holder and convince him to give you exclusive permission to do the translation (the inexperienced are at a disadvantage here) or you have to try to sell to a publisher something that isn't yours and then hope the publisher will go out and buy it from the rightful owner. In short, the inexperienced translator is forced to take on the risk of doing the translation on speculation. Despite the frustrations, despite my growing bitterness, I wouldn't say it's not a risk worth taking.

So at some point you'll have to find out who holds the foreign-language (English?) rights. Sometimes it's the author's publisher, sometimes an agent, sometimes the author himself; in rare instances the rights have been sold to foreign publishers. If the copyright holder is a living author, things might be easier (vanity; the thought of being translated into English [?], the world's largest book market). My experience is mostly with widows. They are tough.

One way to avoid this dilemma, of course, is to translate something that's in the public domain. In that case, you can do anything you want with it. I believe that, in France, written work falls into the public domain seventy years after the author's death. If I'm wrong, I imagine someone will correct me.

Again, though, you need no one's permission to translate the novel, public domain or not. Only when you try to sell it, to get it published, will you have problems.
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Ocean520  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 11:50
English to Chinese
+ ...
My 2 cents May 9, 2009

It seems that book/novel translation is some translators’ concern, and I can see translators post questions or discussion topics on the forum from time to time.
Most questions are regarding how to start the project of translating a book/novel, such as copyright, translation payment, profits…

I've posted my own experiences on this forum, and I also wonder, what's the situation in the other countries? How do translators who have experience translating books/novels deal with
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It seems that book/novel translation is some translators’ concern, and I can see translators post questions or discussion topics on the forum from time to time.
Most questions are regarding how to start the project of translating a book/novel, such as copyright, translation payment, profits…

I've posted my own experiences on this forum, and I also wonder, what's the situation in the other countries? How do translators who have experience translating books/novels deal with these issues?

In my country, Taiwan, most translators won't start to translate any book unless they are sure the copyright is obtained, which is mostly handled by the publishers. It is the publishers who contact the copyright agencies. As far as I know, there are two to three major copyright agencies in Taiwan; they play as the copyright dealers in the market; the publishers commission the agencies to buy the copyright from the foreign publisher, or the agency already holds the copyright. After the book copyright has been bought, the book has to be translated and published in one year and a half. If the processing time is longer than the required time, the publishers have to pay an extra premium to retain an extended copyright holding.

The translators' main job is to do the translation.
Sometimes, the publishers choose books that were published a long time ago, such as Alice's Adventure in Wonderland or Sense and Sensibility which copyrights are already expired; then there is no copyright issue. They can just go to find a translator to finish the job. And of course, there are different translation versions on the market.

As for the translation payment, there are two ways:
1. The publisher bought the translation copyright, which means they only pay the translator once, and the payment already includes the translation fee.
2. The publisher allows the translator to share the publishing profits, which means the translator can share the publishing copyright.
How much money the publisher pays and the method of payment depends on how the contract is set up.
For the copyright duration, you may see the following website as a reference:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright#Duration

As for the part of translating a novel, if I can put my own two cents in, I felt it was like being an actor/actress who plays different roles in a drama. Different characters in the novel have different style and temperament. Age, social status, job ---all could be reflected in the language the character speaks and their personalities. For example, the way a kid talks is different from that of an adult. Of course, the author's writing style can influence the style of your translation. It's interesting to translate a novel.

Wishing you the best luck in starting the project.


[Edited at 2009-05-09 07:45 GMT]

By the way, a friend asked me: how do you feel about the books you translated when you look back at your work?
My answer was: ho, I think I was brave!
But hey, if you are not brave enough, you will never take your first step.

[Edited at 2009-05-09 08:04 GMT]
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Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 21:50
Spanish to English
Regarding out-fashioned English May 9, 2009

If your English is old-fashioned, long-live old-fashioned English.

I cannot think why Susana would think you are not a native speaker or why the censorship about the way you express yourself, it shows a love of the language and that is the first quality required of a translator.

I cannot add much more to the rest of the advice you have received. I must admit I myself, not having studied literature at university evel, am a bit daunted at the idea of trying to reproduce t
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If your English is old-fashioned, long-live old-fashioned English.

I cannot think why Susana would think you are not a native speaker or why the censorship about the way you express yourself, it shows a love of the language and that is the first quality required of a translator.

I cannot add much more to the rest of the advice you have received. I must admit I myself, not having studied literature at university evel, am a bit daunted at the idea of trying to reproduce the voice of a good author.
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Annabelle Larousse (X)  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 03:50
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanx May 9, 2009

Hey guys--
Thanx bunches for your replies to my post. Dunno why anyone would think English ain't my first language. It is, and I can write in different styles, too. It ain't hard, jus depends on what you wanna say. You know where I'm comin from?
Actually, you've given me some things to think about here. As regards the frustration of dealing with publishers, I've had some experience with that--being the author of some (probably deservedly) unpublished plays and some (obviously dese
... See more
Hey guys--
Thanx bunches for your replies to my post. Dunno why anyone would think English ain't my first language. It is, and I can write in different styles, too. It ain't hard, jus depends on what you wanna say. You know where I'm comin from?
Actually, you've given me some things to think about here. As regards the frustration of dealing with publishers, I've had some experience with that--being the author of some (probably deservedly) unpublished plays and some (obviously deservedly) published short stories. So that's nothing new to me.
This translation is something I really want to do. A project of love, so to speak. And if it doesn't get published at all, or if it doesn't make any money for me, I can live with that. Some of you have answered some questions I had at the back of mind, so thanks for that.
Wishing you all the best, Seneca.
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Susanna Garcia  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:50
Italian to English
+ ...
In memoriam
censorship May 9, 2009

Lesley Clarke wrote:

I cannot think why Susana would think you are not a native speaker or why the censorship about the way you express yourself



No censorship or insult intended; just wondering.


 

Eric Wood  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:50
German to English
Glad to find this Nov 20, 2011

I've been wondering whether I should go ahead with translating a certain series of German novels. I think I will.

I wonder how it would be to try and self-publish a translation? I know that authors can get away with this, but I don't know what all would be involved in that. I imagine one must find a printer, and then there are the matters of payment and securing permission. I can't think there would be much beyond that, though, except of course for the actual translating work.


 

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 00:50
English to Portuguese
+ ...
In memoriam
On self-publishing Nov 20, 2011

My story - http://www.lamensdorf.com.br/the_search.html - is now ancient history (1995). However it may shed some light on self-publishing, if any of it remains as it was then.

Nowadays, self-publishing an e-book is a piece of cake, and cheap cake. If it is successful, it may eventually come out in hardcopy. However it's so easy that any new such book will be a drop in the ocean.
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My story - http://www.lamensdorf.com.br/the_search.html - is now ancient history (1995). However it may shed some light on self-publishing, if any of it remains as it was then.

Nowadays, self-publishing an e-book is a piece of cake, and cheap cake. If it is successful, it may eventually come out in hardcopy. However it's so easy that any new such book will be a drop in the ocean. However in case of a translation, if the original book has been overwhelmingly successful, and some arrangement with the author/original publisher makes it possible for the translation to piggyback on that success, there will be a chance to make it happen.
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