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Poll: Would you like to be a literary translator?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff
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Local time: 06:23
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Jun 2, 2016

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Would you like to be a literary translator?".

This poll was originally submitted by María Carda. View the poll results »



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Julian Holmes  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 23:23
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
Other N/A Jun 2, 2016

Yes and No

Yes, I would love to test my literary and writing skills. And, I have this impression of the literary translator reclining on a deckchair in the garden sipping a G&T with ice and lemon (Egad, what else!) under a parasol and scribbling or typing away when some creative thought springs to mind.

However, reality creeps in or hits you with a ghastly thud!

No, because it probably wouldn't pay the bills.

But, then 'gentlemen of leisure' don't have bills, do they. Jeeves, would you be a good chap and bring me another G&T, old sport?

Sigh...back to reality.


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Georgie Scott  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 15:23
Member (2009)
French to English
+ ...
Retirement plan Jun 2, 2016

It doesn't look too promising for right now but I would one day love to be a literary translator, just like in Julian's dream sequence.

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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 14:23
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Other Jun 2, 2016

Like Julian, I would love to test my literary and writing skills, but me too I have bills...

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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:23
Spanish to English
+ ...
Other - occasionally Jun 2, 2016

I don't mind having the odd bash at literary material or what I call 'arty' texts (poetry, interior design puffs, art catalogues and articles). I sort of classify them all together, as they take more time than the more straightforward business, academic or technical texts that make up the meat and potatoes of my translation work.
However, I don't think I'd like to concentrate on translating only literary material, which I feel is an area calling for particular dedication and specialisation. For example, last year I was asked to translate a text like this, but at the time I was really busy with my usual jobs and knew I wouldn't have the time necessary to do it properly, so I passed it on to someone I thought would do a good job of it. The deadline was long and flexible, so she took about six months, but turned out a very good draft eventually. I spent a couple of hours tweaking it before delivery and in the end the client was happy, my colleague was happy for the extra work, and I retained my reputation for delivering the quality required.
I currently have about 4000 words to translate in a similar vein (a series of witty aphorism or maxims in the style of La Rochefoucauld) but as the deadline is again long and flexible, I've started doing it myself. If I find my other work piling up, I might farm it out again, but I'd rather keep on doing it myself, as I find it enjoyable without the usual deadline pressure of more "normal" texts.


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Catherine De Crignis  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 15:23
Member (2012)
English to French
+ ...
Not really... Jun 2, 2016

...since I don't believe it's a luxury those with a family to feed can afford.

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Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:23
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Yes and no Jun 2, 2016

I answered "Yes," because I have really enjoyed any opportunities I've had in that arena, but of course it doesn't pay the bills - as everyone else has noted.

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KKastenhuber  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 15:23
Russian to German
+ ...
Yes Jun 2, 2016

It's what motivated me to become a translator in the first place, but it's hard to get a foot in that door (plus, the money issue others have mentioned). I've tried my hand at a Spanish children's book once, but never felt confident enough to approach a publishing house with it. I still dream about it though.

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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Doesn't pay the bills??? Jun 2, 2016

I know some literary translators and they're not short of a few bob. It may pay less per word but those words can be very straightforward.

There is literary and literary, of course. These guys are translating Nordic Noir thrillers, not the Bible.

It doesn't appeal to me, though. I prefer to churn out black-and-white texts with minimal involvement of brain cells and then go out and have some fun.


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:23
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Already am one Jun 2, 2016

Well, my biggest earnings last tax year came from translating two novels, and if you count magazine articles and news stories as literature, over half my earnings came from it. So far I have translated six novels and am currently working on another. I have been lucky in having a good friendly relationship with all my authors (with one exception, but I told that tale only the other day in a poll about customers we refused to work with again, so I won't re-tell it here). They all pay immediately after I complete each chapter (though the contract allows 30 days). If I could devote myself entirely to translating fiction, I would happily do so,

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Michael Harris  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:23
Member (2006)
German to English
No Jun 2, 2016

Too technically minded

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Katrin Bosse  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:23
Member (2009)
Dutch to German
+ ...
Other - Yes and No Jun 2, 2016

Yes - I already am a literary translator in the broadest sense of the word because from where I'm sitting, I am looking at a whole meter of books I translated (cookbooks, travel books, books on art, gardening/landscaping, architecture/design, floral design, wine, handicrafts etc.) as well as 15 years worth of articles (of the non-technical kind) for Reader's Digest (don't hate on it until you've tried it!).

So, been there, done that. But "real" literature? That brings me to:

No. I have recently spent a year intensely studying Germany's literary translator community, going to several meet-ups and monitoring their exchanges on various platforms/forums. Therefore, I can safely say: I wouldn't be able to pay my bills doing what they do. And I would probably go mad working only on the literary effusions of one single person over a stretch over several months. I am quickly bored.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 15:23
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Depends what kind of literature Jun 2, 2016

More or less straight narrative, with the odd word-play and, of course, the need to find le mot juste, and rephrase or adapt to target culture, is a genre I enjoy.

I am strangely tone deaf to poetry. I like Shakespeare, but not because of the pentameters. I find some kinds of rhyme are simply irritating, and a lot of the other devices leave me cold. I would not be good at translating it, and would not enjoy it.

I am not good at long jobs either, so I would probably never get to the end of a novel. Short stories that were not too 'minimalistic' and post-modern or whatever might definitely be fun.


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Mónica Algazi  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 11:23
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
Definitely Jun 2, 2016

It's right up my street.

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Yetta J Bogarde  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 15:23
Member (2012)
English to Danish
+ ...
Yes and no Jun 2, 2016

But it has to be books I like myself (does that sound unprofessional?)

As others have mentioned it is not easy to break into that area - and not well paid.

I am also more into detail and accuracy than creative writing.

However, I sometimes come across books that I would just lovvv to translate, and in that case I believe I would do a good job.


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