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How to go about a book translation
Thread poster: Christopher W Gladden

Christopher W Gladden  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 16:40
Member (2016)
Japanese to English
Aug 10, 2014

Hello,

First of all, I hope I'm posting this in the right forum. I'm pretty new to translation and brand new to this site (about an hour old). So thank you in advance for all your input and advice. If I'm not in the right place please let me know and I'll re-post.

While I'm new to translation I've done a lot of writing. My Japanese level is high enough and the informal translation I've done has been well received. Long story short, I've been given the opportunity to translate a book into English (from the Japanese) by the authors. It's non-fiction, dealing with recent developments in Japanese Buddhism and it's international context. It was published less than a year ago and is still causing a stir here in Buddhist circles. It's pretty cutting edge stuff and the authors are fairly well known, so the chances of the translation actually being published is high.

At the end of the month I have a meeting with the authors to discuss how we'll go about getting it published. Of course I have no idea. There are a few somewhat related posts I've found on Proz, but the information is sometimes conflicting.

So am I right in assuming we need some kind of translation permission from the original (Japanese) publishers? Or is just the author's blessing enough? And then does the original publisher work out who does the translation? Or is that something the authors do? Or that I have to do? It seems to me the translator's job would be just doing that, but I've seen "Translation copyright" credits before, so I wonder.

Also, at this point nothing about funds has been discussed. I mean, these guys are monks. Honestly, I feel this is an important book and I like the authors, so would probably do it for free if it was just a matter of helping them out. But when this gets published obviously everyone will be getting a cut. So when in the process do money matters come into play? I wouldn't be haggling with the authors over such things, right?

Okay, thank you so much for taking the time to read this and for any insights at all you might have. I (and they) really appreciate it.

Chris


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:40
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Publishers Aug 10, 2014

On a regular basis I see translators in these forums seeking advice about getting a book published of which they are not the author.

I'm always puzzled by this. Having had various dealings myself, as an author in my own right and as a translator of books by others, I would always advise the translator to confine themselves to doing the translation, either by prior agreement with the author or with the publisher, for a clearly specified fee, to be paid by a clearly specified date, and not to become ensnared in agreements of any other kind.

Whether or not the book is ever published, or how much money it makes/fails to make, should be no concern of the translator.

I'm saying this since, as you say, you're new to translation and it's very important to get things on a businesslike basis. It is not part of your business to financially support your clients or share in risks that should be entirely theirs.

[Edited at 2014-08-10 16:14 GMT]


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 15:40
Chinese to English
I second Tom Aug 10, 2014

I think you have to carefully separate out the different roles involved here. Translators work for hire. We do have certain copyrights, but that doesn't put us in charge of the books we translate.

Agents and publishers have quite different roles. They find good writers and good books, and find markets to sell those books to. Agents and publishers generally have to do their jobs before the translator gets started.

You're not knowledgeable about any of these roles, so for goodness sake don't let anyone think that you are! The world of religious publishing is probably small and full of very nice people who will welcome your enthusiasm and efforts, but at the moment that's all you're bringing to the table.

So for the rest... ask! Who published the book in Japan? Can you meet them? Do they have publishers with whom they regularly work in the US/Europe? Given your knowledge of the subject matter, would they be willing to recommend you as a potential translator? (Worth taking a moment to think about this: if you're a first time translator, and you really think this book is important, then are you actually the best choice? There are experienced translators out there. Might they do better?) Would they like you to complete a sample chapter?

Finally, as a piece of general advice: it'll be easier if you know what you want before you start. This idea that you'd do it for free, unless someone else is getting paid... it doesn't sound very healthy. Either it's a labour of love that you'll do for free and be happy about; or you need to be paid for your work, and you should be prepared to explain to anyone who asks why you're worth it. You can't really be in-between on this issue.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:40
Member (2008)
Italian to English
I second Phil Aug 10, 2014

Phil Hand wrote:

......
Finally, as a piece of general advice: it'll be easier if you know what you want before you start. This idea that you'd do it for free, unless someone else is getting paid... it doesn't sound very healthy.....


"A thing that costs nothing is worth nothing"



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Christopher W Gladden  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 16:40
Member (2016)
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks... Aug 11, 2014

....for your thoughtful replies. They were helpful. So I understand now that the translator just does the translating and they need to work out the rest.

The authors mentioned they wanted to talk with me about "how to go about publishing the translation," so apparently they don't know the system either. My intention certainly isn't to pretend I'm knowledgable about anything

Whether I'm the best choice or not, that's a fair question and one I'll take up with the authors. Apparently they think so. They approached me about handling the translation. I did complete a sample chapter that was passed on to their publisher as well. It was only after that that they confirmed they want me to do it.

I appreciate the insight on the payment thing. Don't get me wrong, I definitely want to get paid for the work (not the least because I'd like to get into translation as a regular business). I just can't imagine haggling with the monks over such things. I guess, like you said, maybe I need to meet with the publisher too, if it comes to that.

I know all this is kind of a non-standard situation, but it's the one I find myself in.

Anyway, thank you again so much for your insight.


[Edited at 2014-08-11 01:15 GMT]

[Edited at 2014-08-11 01:17 GMT]


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MurielG
France
Local time: 09:40
English to French
payment Aug 11, 2014

I just can't imagine haggling with the monks over such things. I guess, like you said, maybe I need to meet with the publisher too, if it comes to that.


Problem is if the book is not accepted yet by any english-speaking publisher, there's no one to pay you... The original publisher won't pay, and the authors certainly won't either. That's what seems a bit tricky in your situation...


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:40
Russian to English
+ ...
Hi. I understand you are talking directly to the authors about translating the book--am I right? Aug 11, 2014

I thin k you should contact a lawyer who should prepare a contract for you (if the book was never published no publisher has any rights whatsoever, as of now). If the authors are not in a position to pay any money (a lump sum) up front, you can agree to some royalties--a percentage of the sale's profit.

What you really need is a contract and a lawyer. Good luck.


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Christopher W Gladden  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 16:40
Member (2016)
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Already Published Aug 11, 2014

Thank you for the good idea about the lawyer. I'll have to consider that.

The original Japanese edition was published last September by a Japanese company.

Thanks again.


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 09:40
German to English
contact a relevant US publisher Aug 11, 2014

Red Pine and Shambala both come to mind as relevant US publishing houses. Take a look at their websites and then write them an e-mail or call them or ask the authors or their representatives to call them or write to them and ask them about how the process works and about other relevant publishing houses. I do not know if the foreign or the US publisher usually takes the inititiative on publishing translations, but it is definitely the publishers that need to work this out and who will know how to do so.

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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:40
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Minefield Aug 11, 2014

Royalties can be are a minefield. Here's my experience:

1. You have to be able to include a clause in your contract obliging the publisher to give you regular, reliable updates on worldwide sales of the book (translated version only). I've had terrible trouble getting publishers to do this.

2. Royalties may only become payable after the book has sold X number of copies. If it never reaches that level of sales, you'll never get any money.

3. Publishers have a clever trick of selling a book on to a third party, thus cutting you out of the
contract. One of my books was published in Chinese (without my knowledge) and sold hundreds of thousands. I never got a cent.

4. Never approach a publisher directly- learn from my mistakes. Publishers are charming vultures. Get a literary agent and deal with them.


HOWEVER


My advice to you as a translator is: don't get involved in any of this. Just do what you're good at (the translation), get paid, and get out.

[Edited at 2014-08-11 14:12 GMT]


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xxxAdrian MM.
Local time: 09:40
French to English
+ ...
Do a copyright search to see if already translated Aug 11, 2014

LilianNekipelov wrote:

I think you should contact a lawyer who should prepare a contract for you (if the book was never published no publisher has any rights whatsoever, as of now). If the authors are not in a position to pay any money (a lump sum) up front, you can agree to some royalties--a percentage of the sale's profit.

What you really need is a contract and a lawyer. Good luck.


I agree and note my 'namesake' Tom in London's caveats.

My only exhortation is this: do on your own on the Internet - or make a literary or copyright agent - carry out a copyright search to make sure that the book has not already been published with a copyrighted translation into English.

That may sound nonsense, but an English acquaintance of mine - a Uni. lecturer in Russian - 20 years ago unknowingly retranslated a 300-page Russian novel into English and never got paid because there had already been an existing copyrighted English translation. The UK/US publishers cried breach of translation copyright.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:40
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, absolutely. Get an agent. Aug 11, 2014

Editors are not that approachable--you cannot just call most of them. You would have to submit 100 pages of the translated book, with a letter--all in the right format, and then they may still say, 'No".'

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xxxAdrian MM.
Local time: 09:40
French to English
+ ...
Do not volunteer long extracts Aug 11, 2014

LilianNekipelov wrote:

.... You would have to submit 100 pages of the translated book, with a letter--all in the right format, and then they may still say, 'No".'


Far be it for Japanese monks to pull a fast one and an irreverent flanker. But - despite translators' skepticism - there are some publishers who paste together volunteered translations of whole chapters into a free patchwork translation, even if the finished product needs reviewing for consistency.


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Christopher W Gladden  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 16:40
Member (2016)
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
All good... Aug 12, 2014

food for thought. Even given Tom's advice about keeping out of the process all together, at some point down the road I'd probably need an agent anyway. No? Do they generally specialize by field? Any advice on beginning that search?

From what everyone's saying finding an agent sounds like maybe the safest path forward. The monks are certainly all above board but since I don't have a firm understanding of the industry (yet), and considering the Japanese process is likely a far cry from the Western process, I could definitely imagine running into problems at some point. Like, on the Japanese side, I could imagine it simply not occuring to anyone that the translator needs to get paid! (I know, it's up to me to make sure that doesn't happen. So maybe that agent idea...)

There's definitely not an English copyright yet. It's a relatively new book and the authors approached me directly to do it. Good heads up on the long extract thing.

Gee, the way you're all describing the situation it sounds like the insurance industry or something, like they're more concerned with milking ever situation for as much as they can get rather than being fair (I'd thought fair would be the professional standard... guess I'm wrong?)

Thank you again for all your good ideas.


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The Misha
Local time: 03:40
Russian to English
+ ...
Who said it has to be fair? Aug 12, 2014

Chris Gladden wrote:


Gee, the way you're all describing the situation it sounds like the insurance industry or something, like they're more concerned with milking ever situation for as much as they can get rather than being fair (I'd thought fair would be the professional standard... guess I'm wrong?)



Publishing is a business, and so is agenting, so making a profit sure beats being fair 10 times out of 10. At least, that's what the story is in the US. No publisher or agent will touch a manuscript if they don't think they could sell it, it's as simple as that, and the fact that they are often wrong doesn't change anything. Seeing that the market is insanely competitive and agents are routinely flooded with unsolicited manuscripts, getting an agent is an undertaking in its own right. In your case, it will also be aggravated by the fact that there's not much of a commercial market in the US for translated literature of any kind. Sure, it gets published sometimes, but the sales suck big time. There's of course, the UK, Canada and Australia, but would those make for a potentially significant market for your book? I wouldn't know. I'm just wondering.

In addition, and somehow no one mentioned that yet, ordinarily it is the publisher who gets to select the translator for whatever book they intend to publish. It's a small mafia in its own right, and chances are they won't select you.

So ask yourself, who is even going to pay you for your troubles? Forget about royalties, that's a nonstarter and you won't ever see a cent. The only way this could work for you would be if the authors agreed to pay you for the translation themselves, upfront or in installments, against delivery of translated chunks. You'd better also make sure they are good for it and that you have enough legal recourse in case they are not. What they do with the translation afterwards is none of your concern. Personally, that's the only arrangement I ever accept when translating fiction.

It's a can of worms all right. Whatever you decide to do, good luck to you.


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