Why You Should Hire a Literary Translator

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What does a literary translator do?

A literary translator is a translator whose main specialization is book translation,  which is to say the translation of literary works, both fiction and non-fiction.  Normally, a literary translator is hired either by traditional publishers who have acquired the foreign rights of a manuscript — and want to translate that work into a different language for a new market — or by independent authors looking to have their book translated to do the same

When working with publishers, translators will most often deliver an unedited translation, with the final revision and layout -- also known as DTP (desktop publishing) -- being done in-house by the publishing agency.

Conversely, when working directly with independent authors, translators will generally strive to deliver a “ready-to-publish” translation. In this case, translators often work in small teams, with the main translator actually completing the bulk of the content, while a colleague will provide the editing and proofreading services. 

Translators may also be available to help the author market the foreign-language edition, mostly by translating any marketing materials such as the book description, author bio, editorial reviews, and advertising blurbs.

Do literary translators have specific areas of expertise?

Just like a lawyer or a doctor have specializations within their general field of practice, literary translators are no different. Literature is an enormous and vaguely defined term. Are you an author who writes short stories, graphic novels, young adult fiction, poetry or historic narrative? Well, as they say, there is a shoe for every foot. Idiomatic can help pair you with the ideal translator to convey your work in the target language.

Literary translators are not just knowledgable in their language pairs, but are also excellent writers in their own right. Any good piece of literature goes far beyond words, connecting with the reader on an emotional level, and conveying a powerful idea. As an example, Gabriel García Márquez, the famous Colombian author, said that the English translator of his books was so good that he liked the English version better than his own!

How much does it cost to hire a literary translator?

This can vary greatly depending on a number of things: the genre, the complexity of the book (i.e. a straightforward novel vs. a technical manual), the language (translation requiring niche languages will generally cost more, as there are less available translators), and the length of the work.

While most translation projects are quoted on a per-word basis, literary translation is different. While the content of the original piece of literature is maintained in the translated version, the amount of effort required to create engaging prose and evocative imagery is different than in a traditional translation. 

When preparing a quote for a literary translation,  Idiomatic considers the amount of time that it will take the translator to produce a quality finished product, and then offer a fixed cost to the client. 

When should I hire a literary translator?

Given that translating a literary work is a significant outlay of money, it’s best to hire a translator only if you think you can recoup that cost in book sales. The German, French, Italian and Spanish markets have seen continued growth of digital book sales, which in turn has opened up the market for more independent authors ,due to the lower cost of entry.

A good strategy when approaching foreign markets as an indie author is to enter one market at a time, and test it with one book. Generally, you’ll want to try a market in which you already have traction with your existing books.

What else can a translator do for me?

If only literary translation were as simple as a word-for-word translation. More than a skill, literary translation is an art: it’s about carrying the same feelings and emotions your book evokes into a new language.

A good literary translator will be faithful to the author’s original voice, but also be able to express their own creativity when transposing expressions and humor that wouldn’t necessarily translate literally into the target language. Additionally, a good literary translator will be able to take a cultural or linguistic concept that doesn't exist in the original language and find a good equivalent in the target language. 

Translators will work closely with the author, often contacting the author to clear up any ambiguities. They may also involve other translators to untangle particularly complicated passages or issues.

On a legal note, its very important to keep in mind that, because of the depth of work involved, literary translations are actually considered original works in many countries like France and Italy, which means that the copyright and moral rights for the translated work are owned by the translator.

Do you need assistance translating your literary works? Get in touch with Idiomatic here for a quote.

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