The role of publisher…and editor

I recently saw this great article published by The Guardian, “Anthony Horowitz: Do we still need publishers?“. He has an interesting point — or, rather, his publisher does — although self-publishing in electronic format is now the trend, and numerous authors seem to have succeeded in this front, we more or less still need publishers for “all the peripherals”, which are the promotion, the marketing, the editing and the advance.

My feeling is that only successful authors can now enjoy the option of choosing not to have a traditional publisher. Look at the examples Horowitz gives — the excellent quality and increasing popularity of the new Apple iBook Author software and Amazon’s Digital Text Platform, which provide successful authors with more publishing channels and higher royalty rates than any traditional publisher can and/or is willing to do. While thousands of us aspiring writers dream of quick success by self-publishing in electronic format, somewhere deep in our hearts we still envy those rather established colleagues of ours. Why, they are practically pursued by digital publishers who want to take advantage of their literary fame. They also get lots of money in one go, sometimes even before he or she has written a word, while us small guys have to earn our miserable income one dollar at a time.

Meanwhile, we, the aspiring writers, still work hard and keep dreaming, and that is what we should do. However, as one who also has an eye for an entry into the e-book market, in both English and Chinese, I agree with Horowitz that we really, really need good editors. While e-book publishers cannot compete against their traditional peers in terms of handling the promotion and marketing and paying the advance, at least one thing they can do is to ensure the e-books they produce are of excellent quality. Good editing is extremely hard to find because it takes years and years of experience. I would say no one should attempt producing e-books without an ability to edit his or her writing properly.

I recently wrote a blog article in Chinese about the quality of translated English literary works in the Greater China. My various points can be summarized in one sentence — when translating English literature into Chinese, the issue of quality control is of the ultimate importance. The quality of translation is not only to be ensured by the translator, but it is also to be controlled by the editor and the proofreader. While the proofreader can pick out typos and general translation errors, it is the editor who is responsible for presenting the English author’s complete character and style, i.e. his or her true voice. That means not to change or cut down anything simply because of limits in budget, time and/or manpower.

I can give you several examples on how the works of various English authors are more or less ruined once they have been translated into Chinese. Most of the time it is just the typos and the (often ridiculously) misunderstood intentions, such as translating Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are into something like “where the wild animals are located”. At other times it is what I refer to as the “foreignization” or “westernization” of the Chinese language; that is, the Chinese translation of an English author’s work reads more like English than Chinese, in terms of grammar and general literary expression.

However, the worst of all is the publisher’s intention to make an English book “easy” for Chinese readers to comprehend. This is often done in two ways — one is to provide a summary of the plot (or a list of characters) in the beginning of the book, and the other is to summarize the whole book. OK, I understand that some readers may really need help in understanding a book. But to skip some of the book’s content, or to re-arrange bits of the content in order to create a more “user-friendly” book, is absolutely crazy. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened to Stephen King’s IT when it was published last year in the Greater China to mark the book’s 25th anniversary. The publisher had to recall all the books and find another translator who can handle the complete translation, i.e. not a single word missing. The editor’s claim that he or she did not know the first translation is in fact a summary of the English work was absolutely rejected by readers.

My point is, if traditional publishers can make mistakes, then e-book publishers should work even harder to ensure the quality of their products. Those of us who intend to publish, or who have already published, in electronic format should pay extra attention to this issue, as very often we only have ourselves as editors. Make sure you don’t just check the typos and grammar. It is the quality of writing that ultimately grabs the readers.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. broadsideblog
    Feb 29, 2012 @ 01:18:21

    This raises interesting questions (aka fears!) as my new book has been bought for publication in China this fall. As excited as I am, I’m also quite concerned about the total loss of control over my own words!


    • Christine Sun
      Feb 29, 2012 @ 01:43:49

      Dear broadsideblog, firstly, congratulations!

      Make sure your agent (assuming the deal was done through one) keeps an eye on the Chinese publisher and their translator. Demand to know the publisher’s history and the translator’s portfolio. While you may not be able to contact the publisher directly, make sure you hassle your agent to protect your rights.

      If you do not have an agent, make sure your contract has a clause that says the publisher cannot publish the Chinese version without your complete satisfaction. Meanwhile, demand to have a copy of the translation once it is done, and have it checked by a good translator. (The trick would be how the word “malled” is translated, I guess.)

      Cheers, Christine Sun


    • Aminath
      Dec 16, 2012 @ 17:56:28

      Whenever I am contacted by a new clinet with this kind of work I try to negotiate the following procedure:1) first step: I try to convince the clinet that this initial work is necessary. At least, I charge full review rate. I never ask for more because the clinet is supposed to send more work in the future. It is my risk.2) second step: I use Trados WinAlign and create my two versions necessary for the job.3) third step: I keep track of changes using TM.The only thing left to build within TA is WinAlign-like function.I believe that making complicated procedures for the clinet to understandis dangerous. The problem seems to be with TA and not with the clinet. Hope is useful.Rafael.


  2. Trackback: How to have your book properly translated « Voices under the Sun
  3. Prashant
    Dec 16, 2012 @ 16:28:16

    Hi Amir,I guess what you should add to your TA is a fetraue for fuzzy matches. That implies the creation of TMs. That’s the only way to allow discounts.As an alternative, in the meantime, you can add a list of CAT tools in our profiles. Translators will be able to state what CAT tools they can use and have available, and then the client will be able sort out translators and/or reviewers using certain CAT tools, so that professionals can work in team. The first time, the client will pay for translation in full (because no TM exists), the following times he will have a right to discounts according to fuzzy matches and word counts.This can turn out to be very interesting, positive and profitable for all of us.I charge 50% of the rate for fuzzy matches (70% and above).Regards,Silvia


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