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picking up a book to translate and selling it afterwards...
Thread poster: Scheherezade Surià López (X)

Scheherezade Surià López (X)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Apr 1, 2005


First of all, thanks to all of you who will take the time to read this and to answer iticon_smile.gif

I graduated last year from Uni (it was a degree in Translation / Interpreting) and I'm in the Educational field right now while trying to get established as a (freelance) translator.

I'm writing to you because I want to ask you a tricky question. Once in class they told us that if we weren't offered translations we could maybe pick a book we liked and translate it and then try to find somebody to sell it to. Do you think it's a good idea? I want to be sure because what I cannot do is just waste time, although I know that it would be great as a practice. What would you recommend?

Thanks very much in advance!



NathalieVVT (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:00
French to English
+ ...
Good Idea Apr 2, 2005

I think it's a good idea. You have nothing to lose and I don't think it's a waste of time, on the contrary. You could do it when you're not busy and you could find another experienced translator who could check your work so that if you do eventually manage to sell your translation, you and the other translator could both benefit from it.

The only thing is, don't wait too long because the book is translated and make sure the book sells well otherwise you might find it hard to sell your work to the publisher.

Good luck !


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:00
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Better not Apr 2, 2005

First you should contact the author or the original publisher, and ask for permission. Do not translate the whole book, only a few pages, and search a publisher.
If the book is older than 70 years or so you do not have to ask for permission, but a publisher you need to find who will pay you during the translation.
Get in touch with your translator's organisation first, they will help you get established.


Angela Arnone  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:00
Member (2004)
Italian to English
+ ...
If only it were that easy Apr 2, 2005

So many of us dream of publishing a great translation of a great book.
It just doesn't work that way. If you want to become a commercial translator, use your spare time to look for customers, even starting with good agencies.
If you intend to continue your teaching and are translating as an academic exercise, then go ahead aand translate a book on the off chance, but remember this: literary translation is very badly paid, hardly anyone makes a living out of it and publishers with bestsellers on their hands already have their own, preferred translators who churn out translations at a frightening rate (that's why Dan Brown is top of the bestseller charts in 19 different countries simultaneously).
I don't want to sound pessimistic - just realistic!
Good luck


Olav Rixen
Local time: 03:00
English to German
+ ...
Bad idea, probably Apr 2, 2005

Hi Sherry,

Aside from the fact that you'd have to make sure the book didn't already exist in translation, your chances of selling your translation to a publisher are practically nil. I would think that the decision to publish a translation of a book is entirely a marketing decision, i.e. are there profits to be made. Also, I've heard that translators of books get paid so little that they can hardly live off it.

However, if you have decided to concentrate on literary translations, then going ahead and translating a book of your choice is, if nothing else, good practice and you'd have something to show a publisher that you are a capable translator.



Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:30
English to Hindi
+ ...
Not a good idea Apr 2, 2005

I would agree with Heirich. It could involve a long time commitment and in the end nothing might come of it. You must first analyze whether there is a market for a book of the type you want to translate. A book that interests you need not necessarily be of interest to others. Also check whether the book has been translated already by somebody. You could always do a second transation, of course, but it is better to translate a book that has not yet been translated.


Lia Fail (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:00
Spanish to English
+ ...
agree with angela and arnone Apr 2, 2005

'Literary' translation doesn't pay , referring to the run-of-the-mill stuff that is translated (one example that comes to mind is 'self-help' in EN books translated into ES)

However, translators of Harry Potter and Dan Brown obviously do get paid well, but not just anyone translated those books - one needs to have an established 'literary' reputation, as a writer, an academic, etc.

The only route I see - failing the above - to becoming a 'literary translator' is to enter translation competitions and steadily acquire a reputation on the strength of winning accolades and other words, take a book, translate an extract, and submit it to translation competitions.

Curiously, I have just done a search for Margaret Jull Costa, one of the best and most successful translators from ES and PT today, to see if I could discover anything about her biography and her career path....couldn't find anything other than her name as translator of Saramago, Marías, etc about 'translator invisibility'!

By the way, if you are native Catalan (?) you should check out what the Generalitat does/offers in this area as part of their normalisation programme...

[Edited at 2005-04-02 12:07]


Konstantin Kisin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:00
Member (2004)
Russian to English
+ ...
Bad idea Apr 2, 2005

I think the best way to get established in freelance translation is gradually. If you search the forums, people who want to become full-time freelance translators are generally advised to start off part-time and slowly build up a client base, by sending their CVs to agencies, bidding on jobs on various translator websites and so on. I think starting off by translating a whole book for free is exactly what you don't want to be doing. It may give you experience but it's not really experience which is in any way marketable, saying you translated a book for free doesn't make you look like a translator with experience, quite the opposite.

There are agencies out there who are not obsessed with your experience and are happy to give you a test translation and see how you do. If you are persistent, one of them may offer you work. If you want experience, find some websites of large multinational companies with webpages in both your languages and translate them, comparing your version to the one on the website. Do this for different fields you are interested in. This will give you a *general* idea of what you might be asked to translate and also give you confidence in your ability to actually do the work.

Translating a chapter of a book will also help you but don't expect to be able to sell your translation. In this market (as in any other) you have to produce what the end-consumer wants, when he wants it, not what you want to produce when you want to. My suggestion would be to devote your time (which is not taken up by supporting yourself in another source of employment) to marketing yourself and trying to contact people who may potentially be interested in your services rather than working for free.

Good luck!


Annira Silver  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:00
Finnish to English
+ ...
Non-fiction is a better prospect Apr 2, 2005


I would tend to agree with the majority that it's incredibly difficult to get publishers interested in fiction translations. I don't know how the system works in Spain, but I imagine that publishers have their own translators. If you really fancy literary work, it might be an idea to do some sample translations to show off your skills and to send them to publishers - you never know, they might be impressed!

On the non-fiction book scene, the situation is quite different. Academic and specialist publishers in particular are always on the lookout for interesting books and many actively invite book proposals. My first book translation has just been published (see my website for link if you're interested) and my second is on its way, and the course of events was roughly:

1) Find a book that's within your sphere of expertise, excellent, well-written, interesting, unique in the target language etc.
2) Contact the publisher or author and ask for permission to translate & offer the book to publishers in the target country.
3) Prepare and translate a book proposal package - usually synopsis, table of contents, a couple of sample chapters - study publishers' websites for directions. Unless your author is prepared to pay for the work or you can get a grant from somewhere, you'll probably have to do this on spec, i.e. for free.
4) Send off your proposals and wait... and wait...
5) Most likely you'll receive lots of rejections. With luck, you will receive an offer of publication.
6) Now comes your biggest hurdle: finding funding for the translation work. There are many alternatives: some publishers, but not all, are willing to pay, as are some authors. There are grant schemes in some countries. You may be able to find a commercial sponsor.
7) Money sorted, you can get on with the translation, having negotiated your and your author's contracts with the publisher.

The process is long-winded (up to 2-3 years from start to finish), tedious and frustrating, but it's very rewarding when you get there in the end!

Good luck


[Edited at 2005-04-02 22:29]


tinageta  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:00
English to Latvian
+ ...
I agree Apr 3, 2005

I agree with most people that this would not be useful for money making or resume building purposes, however it can be very useful for practice and pleasure.
If we haven't killed your desire yeticon_smile.gif, I also would suggest to translate a book of free domain, but remember, it's not a 70 years old book, it's a book by an author who DIED 70 years ago.icon_wink.gif


Latin_Hellas (X)
United States
Local time: 12:00
Italian to English
+ ...
Real Credentials (Experience) In A "Hard" Field Apr 3, 2005

Very rarely in history do poets make a quarter from poetry (etc.): most are already wealthy people. In modern times, I know only two persons who translate literature: one is from a wealthy family, the other has a real job in the education field, a classics professor, both win awards for their translations, neither earns any money from them, except perhaps travel grants for attending conferences.

If you wish to advance in education, earn an advanced degree in education or related field. If you wish to advance in translation, get some real experience in a "hard" field like information technology, telecommunications, engineering, medicine, law, banking. Lots of quarters trickle down from the pockets of organizations in these fields, also via specialized translation agencies.

Take Heinrich's advice in a related post: specialization, specialization, specialization. Combined with writing skills, it seems to work ... unless of course you are from an already wealthy family, and/or you are satisfied with your current income-producing activity, and you wish to translate for fun and try your luck being published, winning awards, and attending conferences.
By the way, I also started by translating a book I liked in a "non-hard" field, didn't get it published (but didn't really try either), but the experience in relation to it was invaluable in human terms, and also helpful as far as translations go.

So, if you feel strongly about a book, go ahead and translate it. If you wish to advance in translation as an income-producing activity, gain real experience in a "hard" field.

All The Best,



Scheherezade Surià López (X)
English to Spanish
+ ...
not free but freely Apr 3, 2005

First of all, thanks for you're contribution!
I just want to make something clear, I don't try to translate the book for free, I'd pick the book "freely", and then I'd try to sell it but of course, at a reasonable price... but NOT free! I'm not that cheap and besides, that would be unfair and dishonest for the whole profession...


Beth M F Garcia  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:00
Member (2004)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Publishers in Spain Apr 3, 2005

I worked for a publishing company is Spain, actually they were 3 companies in one. One for the Spanish market, one for the Spanish children's market and another for books translated from English into Spanish. (While I was with them they only did EN to ES)

They had their own in-house translator and proof-reader/editor.

I don't know if other compnaies work the same way, but they did and this was for very popular books.


English to Chinese
+ ...
Good only if you can find a publisher Apr 3, 2005

I, together with my classmate, once went to a press to recommend a book for publishing. That is a book on automotive engineering, which I thought might be better than we used in my university at present. But the press, which might be the largest one at this field, thought they might not have enough money for publishing that, nor was it quite worthy of publishing.
What I want to suggest is book you like might not be appreciated by the press as well; also, it's possible they could not publish it not for the quality of the book itself but for other reasons, e.g. lacking of fund, or limit of publishing quota.
So this is a good idea only if you put in some translated passage and the press is interested in it as well.

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