How to have your book properly translated

HaveBookTranslatedAs all major ebook publishers start expanding to international markets such as India, Brazil, China and Japan, and as Digital Book World and the Department of Commerce launch a webcast to explore some of the opportunities and challenges in expanding ebook publishing internationally, many authors may feel tempted to consider the option of publishing their books in other languages.

Those authors already down the traditional publishing road have to rely on their agents and/or publishers to source appropriate overseas publishers, negotiate contracts, determine royalty rates, etc. Then it is up to those overseas publishers to select appropriate translators who are capable of presenting the books in their local languages.

But what if you are a self-published author who wants to explore the overseas markets? Without an agent or publisher whose overseas contacts can help monitoring the translation of your book and evaluating its subsequent performance in the local markets, how do you know your book is in proper hands?

Indeed, even famous authors such as Stephen King have experienced problems in this regard. In 2011, when King’s classic horror story IT was published in the Greater China to mark the book’s 25th anniversary, the local publisher had to recall all the books and find another translator who could handle the complete translation, i.e. not a single word missing. The publisher claimed that they did not know the translation was in fact a summary of the English work!

Particularly with traditional publishing, it is often the case that authors do not (get to) involve themselves in the translation process overseas. The consequence is that an author’s reputation can be damaged and his or her work ruined when the translation is of poor quality. No amount of advance can make up to this form of violation of the author’s intellectual property rights; not to mention the loss of subsequent royalties when the translation is rejected by local readers.

In fact, the circumstances are the same in almost every overseas market — while the performance of a translated book largely depends on the local publisher’s promotional efforts, an increasing number of local readers are bilingual and therefore capable of judging the quality of the translation. As more and more translated books fiercely compete against each other for a spot in the local market, only the well translated ones stand out. Local readers have also learned to trust experienced translators and the books they recommend.

All authors have and should cherish the right to demand that their agents and/or publishers, as well as their overseas publishers, entrust their books to professional translators who really know what they are doing. So, for anyone who is interested in expanding to the international market, either via traditional agents and/or publishers or as DIY projects, here are four tips on how to have your book properly translated:

1. Ask for a portfolio.

Whether you are hiring a translator or having your book sold to an overseas publisher, always demand to know how capable your translator is. Make sure you know how many books this person has translated in your genre or field, and how well these translated books are received in the local market. For those authors already down the traditional publishing road – if your overseas publisher cannot provide any information about your translator, ask your agents and/or publishers to hassle them.

2. Ask for a sample translation.

For any self-published author who wants to hire a translator, this tip is particularly important because you want to make sure any translator you may hire knows how to represent your literary “voice”, i.e. your style, your theme, the unique way in which your plots and characters are designed, etc. Some authors may want to have the same sample text — a short chapter or so – translated by different translators so that the results can be compared.

3. Work with at least three translators.

This tip applies mainly to DIY projects. Working with more than one translator may sound expensive, but it does not have to be, because not all translators do only translation. The advantage of working with at least three translators is that you can ask one to proofread the other, while having another do the editing. Most experienced translators are also horribly busy, so you want to always have someone else as backup.

In general, proofreading and editing cost much less than translating. Your team of translators can also act as your literary representatives when it becomes necessary to monitor the performance of your book in overseas markets. Indeed, no one has more interest in how a translated book is received locally than the translator him- or herself.

4. Demand to review the translation.

This tip applies mainly to those authors already working with traditional agents and/or publishers. It is their job to always look after your best interests, even after your book is sold to an overseas publisher. Make sure your agent and/or publisher clearly dictates in their contract that either you, as the author, or they, as your literary representative, retain the option of acquiring a quality-control review of the translation before it is released to the local market. While minor adaptations of your book may be permitted in order to fit the culture of the local market, any significant abbreviations or alterations should always require prior written consent from you or your agent and/or publisher.

Are you planning to explore the overseas markets, or have you already sold a book to a foreign-language publisher? Please share your experience here.

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