Uncooperative authors
Thread poster: TixhiiDon

TixhiiDon
Local time: 17:39
Japanese to English
+ ...
May 10

I’m a little bit bemused right now by the attitude of the author whose story I am working on. The publishing company put me in contact with the author and told me I could ask her any questions I wished, so I went ahead and asked a few, but the answers have been brief, lazy, and uninterested, like: “It’s just a metaphor” (yeah, I know, I kind of wanted you to explain the metaphor to me...), “Did I really write that? Where?” (so you haven’t actually looked at the story before answering me?), “I don’t know what that would be in English” (you don’t have to - that’s my job!), and “Oh, you can just use a simpler word for that”.

It’s not like I asked pages and pages of questions either - four each on two separate occasions. It seems a bit strange to me that the writer could be so uninterested in how her work turns out in translation, and it’s a bit frustrating for me, too. Never mind, I’ll think of something, I suppose!

Anyone had similar experiences?


 

Daniel Frisano
Switzerland
Local time: 09:39
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
Learned the lesson many a moon ago May 10

Simply put, whenever someone encourages you to ask questions, either it's a lie, or they don't realize that giving explanations is a pain in the neck.

The good news is that you can go millions and millions of words without asking for clarifications, whether it's literature, technical, law, whatever. Just pick your best option, when in serious doubt leave a comment, and everybody will be happy. If you can get it right, that is.


 

TixhiiDon
Local time: 17:39
Japanese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Fair enough, I suppose! May 11

I always feel if they tell me I can ask questions (with literature, at least - I probably wouldn’t bother with technical docs), I really should ask at least a couple so I don’t look arrogant or uninterested myself. On the other hand, I suppose it must be a drag for the author to try to remember why they used a particular turn of phrase in a story they wrote ages ago. I’m definitely not getting any useful feedback this time, obviously, so I guess I’ll just plough on with it myself!

 

Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:39
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Better experience May 11

I have translated several novels, and in all cases except one I have had useful and intelligent exchanges of comment with the author.

 

Mihaela Buruiana  Identity Verified
Romania
Local time: 10:39
Member (2011)
English to Romanian
+ ...
An exception to the rule May 11

In my experience, authors are happy to help. All the writers I've contacted throughout the years, whether I had just a couple of questions in a text that didn't pose many problems, or numerous questions in a really complicated text, with invented words, rhythm, rhyme, onomatopoeia, etc., were nice and helpful and glad I was taking an interest.

I actually wrote a short article about this here: http://mihaelaburuiana.com/collaboration-between-authors-and-translators/


 

TixhiiDon
Local time: 17:39
Japanese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
A mixed bag May 11

I’ve had one author who answered at great length, but her text was so straightforward I didn’t really have much to ask her, and another who tried to answer all my questions by providing his own, bad, English translations instead of explaining in his native language what he meant by what he wrote.

This one is certainly the least cooperative, and right now it looks like she’s actually not going to bother replying to me anymore, so it’s a bit of a strange and disappointing experience for me.

Anyway, thanks for the interesting feedback, and nice article, Mihaela!


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 09:39
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Cover your back! May 11

I always try to go it alone and only ask questions at the very end when I've had plenty of time to think it over, go away and come back having had time to unwind.
Oh, and technical stuff is every bit as important, especially if there's a safety element!

One tip I read here (and I'm sorry I don't remember who to credit), was to always explicitly say what you will do if they don't get back to you. Something like: "This is obviously a metaphor, but could you explain why you used it? If I don't get an answer by (deadline giviing you enough time to tidy up before your deadline), I shall simply translate it literally. The metaphor might work, but I'd need an explanation to be sure of that". That way you have covered your back and you have a plan. Sometimes, simply writing that I'll follow plan A will spur them into writing back "no, that's wrong, it's B". (not that I act deliberately thick to elicit a response, but I seem to get answers more quickly when I've misunderstood).


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:39
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Go ahead and ask May 11

Regardless of the author's lackadaisical attitude (maybe they don't care about the translation because of some disagreement with the publisher) it's always wise to ask plenty of questions and keep a record.

When you've finished the translation, disputes may arise, so it's advisable to keep a paper trail of all your questions and the answers you received.

With this evidence, if in future any doubts are raised about the quality of your translation or its accuracy, you will have this ammunition.


 

TixhiiDon
Local time: 17:39
Japanese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Good advice May 11

Kay and Tom, good advice from both of you. Much appreciated. I did explain more specifically to her what I wanted from her, but she hasn’t replied, so I guess I’m OK to go ahead and translate as I see fit. After that, it’s just a case of hanging on to the communication record between us and hoping I got it right.

It makes me very curious, though! Why the indifference towards her own work?


 

Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 16:39
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Why not? May 12

TixhiiDon wrote:
It makes me very curious, though! Why the indifference towards her own work?

Some creators close the book - no pun intended - on their project once it's complete and move on to the next one. Some creators don't even want to be reminded of their early work. And maybe some just don't think that having a lot of back and forth with the translator will result in very much gain for them in the end.


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:39
Member (2008)
Italian to English
My guess May 12

TixhiiDon wrote:

Why the indifference towards her own work?


The publisher is probably not paying her anything for the translated version.

That's my guess.

[Edited at 2018-05-12 10:25 GMT]


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 09:39
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
severe editing May 12

TixhiiDon wrote:

Why the indifference towards her own work?


It could be a work that was mangled by the publisher, with bits the author deemed important being slashed because it was too long, and all sorts of rewriting, to the point she no longer recognises it as her own work. The metaphor could have been the publisher's idea, for example.


 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 01:39
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Similar experience May 13

The author in my case rarely even answered my (few) emails, nor did I get any feedback from the author or the editor after the translation was finished. All in all not a very rewarding experience.

 


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