Award-winning translator Tiina Nunnally has translated over 50 books from the Scandinavian languages, including KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER by Sigrid Undset, THE ROYAL PHYSICIAN’S VISIT by Per Olov Enquist, and SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW by Peter Hoeg. She has also done new translations of FAIRY TALES by Hans Christian Andersen and PIPPI LONGSTOCKING by Astrid Lindgren. She makes her living as a full-time literary translator.
It was great to read the lists of other “rules” for translation, and I found many of the concerns very familiar from my own work as a translator of Nordic fiction.
I’m always eager to encourage younger translators who are just getting into the field, and occasionally I teach workshops in literary translation, preferably with students translating into English from a wide range of languages. I always tell beginning translators that — as with any art form — practice is the key to developing their skills. It takes time, patience, and dedication. But it can be so exciting and rewarding to introduce readers of English to books that deserve a wider audience beyond their original language and culture.
A topic that is less often discussed with beginning translators is the business side of literary translation. Even established translators with a long list of published works are rarely represented by agents, so they have to negotiate their own contracts. This can be an intimidating process, especially for someone just starting out. For that reason, I’d like to focus my “rules for translation” on some of the helpful negotiating tools that I’ve learned over the years.
1. Study sample contracts for literary translation.
The PEN American Center has a useful Handbook for Literary Translators posted online. It includes a sample contract that provides for the basic terms, although it does not cover important subsidiary rights, including royalties for ebook editions. Nor does it address the issue of ensuring that you receive translator royalties if your English-language translation, published by a US publisher, is then licensed or sold to a UK publisher (or vice versa). I think it’s extremely useful for beginning translators to discuss specific contract terms with established translators working in the same language areas (before signing a contract with a publisher). If other translators are willing to let you look at one of their publishing contracts, that’s even better.
2. Keep in mind that a contract is always negotiable.
Don’t sign the first draft just because the publisher tells you this is the company’s “boilerplate” or standard translation contract. Decide which things are most important to you and then try to get the best terms possible. It’s a process that always involves some compromise. And if it’s your first book, you won’t have as much leverage as a more experienced translator would. But remember that the publisher needs you! A good translation is essential if the book is going to be both a critical and commercial success in the English-language market.
3. Don’t sign a book contract that includes the term “work-for-hire.”
The contract should included provisions for a translator advance, a royalty, and benefits from other subsidiary rights. The translation should be copyrighted in your name.
4. Find out what the going per-word rate is within your language group, and try not to undercut your colleagues.
As far as I know there is no standard per-word fee established in the United States — and accepted by publishers — for literary translations. In the UK, however, the Society of Authors has a recommended standard fee that can be quoted when discussing terms with any publisher — also in the US. The current rate is GBP 87 per 1,000 English words. You can’t always get that much, but it serves as a good starting point for your negotiations.
Many literary translators have other jobs and are not dependent on their translation work for their livelihood. But some people do this work full-time, and it’s never pleasant to lose out on a book because someone else is willing to take on the job at a much lower rate. It’s also a disservice to the profession as a whole when publishers start expecting to pay less for translations.
5. Don’t begin work on a translation until you’ve received a signed contract and the advance payment.
6. Consider doing sample translations and/or reader’s reports for literary agents and publishers — both abroad and in the US and UK.
This is a good way to develop contacts in the publishing industry and establish your reputation as a translator. This type of work can often lead to a contract for a full-length book project. It’s best to charge your normal per-word fee for the sample translations. Publishers usually have a standard fee that they’re willing to pay for reader’s reports. It’s never enough, considering the amount of time you’ll need to spend reading the book and then writing the report. But it may be well worth your while, especially if you think the book is great and can recommend it for publication — with yourself as the translator, of course.
7. Join a professional organization for translators.
You may find it very useful to be a member of a professional group such as ALTA (the American Literary Translators Association) or an academic organization specifically devoted to your language area. It’s always good to meet other translators. American translators who work for UK publishers may also want to join the Society of Authors in the UK. Their publication always has excellent articles related to the writing and translating professions.
A final note:
Literary translation is a meticulous and creative process that brings the stories of other cultures to readers around the world. Translators should always share in the success of their work, through adequate per-word fees and — if the book turns out to be a bestseller — a small but much-deserved royalty.
Ibrahim Muhawi was this year’s winner of the PEN translation prize for his beautiful translation of Mahmoud Darwish’s Journal of an Ordinary Grief. Since the appearance of Speak, Bird, Speak Again: Palestinian Arab Folktales in 1989, Muhawi has devoted himself to the study and translation of Palestinian and Arabic folklore and literature. He is co-editor of Literature and Nation in the Middle East and translator of Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness and Zakaria Tamer’s Breaking Knees. He is currently working on a book on Mahmoud Darwish.
Some strictly personal guidelines for translating into English:
1. English is the language of the Beowulf poet, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Keats, Burns, Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Joyce and Ezra Pound.
2.Translating into this language is daunting, but must be attempted regardless of the odds.
3. In translating poetry, it helps to be aware of the prosody of the language; if possible, one should try to write lines that scan.
4. In translating prose, one should try to keep to the rhythm of the original sentences, if at all possible.
5. The best preparation for translation is to saturate oneself in the language of the masters.
6. One should also be aware of the visual arrangement of the text on the page, especially for poetry.
7. If you are not a native speaker, you should be close enough to a highly literate one in order to pester her with questions and solicit alternate formulations.
8. It helps to be aware of context—linguistic, stylistic, esthetic, personal, cultural, political, whatever.
9. The more you know about your author and his or her work, the better the translation.
10. Like all translators, I find that translating takes a long time, and many trials and errors. A permanent state of dissatisfaction is the key to a good translation, I believe, and patience does not always unlock the door.
Source: Arabic Literature (in English)
24 ago. 2011
20 ago. 2011
acción de Idiomanía y especialista en traducción cinematográfica para subtitulado). Por la tarde, hablaremos de la ética en el ejercicio de la profesión.
9:00 – 9:15 Bienvenida – Presentación de la AIPTI: Aurora Humarán
9:30 – 10:30 “Traducir traicionando la tradición. El caso de «Memorias del subsuelo» (Fiódor Dostoievski)” – Alejandro González
10:30 – 11:00 Pausa café
11:00 – 12:00 “Consideraciones en torno a un bazooka” – Guillermo Piro
12:00 – 13:00 “¿Se puede tomar vino en vaso de plástico? De continentes y contenidos” – Miguel Wald
13:00 a 15:00 ALMUERZO
15:00 – 16:00 "Posedición, descuentos por repeticiones, entrega de memorias, nubes tentadoras y otros cantos de sirenas" (Aurora Humarán)
16:00 – 16:30 Pausa café
16:30 – 18:30 "Ejercer la profesión con ética desde el primer día" (Lorena Vicente, Eduardo Pérez y Mariano Vitetta).
Costo: 70 ARS público en general
50 ARS miembros de la AIPTI y estudiantes
Se entregarán certificados de asistencia y habrá sorteos.
3 ago. 2011
Charging extremely low rates is a common beginners' mistake. It may seem to be fair enough, but a bit later I will explain why it is logically flawed.
Before then, two other points about low rates-per-word in general that are worth bearing in mind.
1) Some clients, especially those who pay towards the low end anyway, are resistant to subsequent increases. If you find this to be the case, then to increase your rates, you have to find new clients and charge them your new higher rate while quietly dropping the old clients.
2) I appreciate that some markets are saturated, but I don't see how anyone in Western Europe could charge less than 50 quid per thousand words (roughly 0.06 EUR per word in Feb. 2009) unless they work at the speed of light. A thousand words is typically about 4 hours work, once you include all the admin and re-reading and frigging about with glossaries and suchlike. So £50 per thousand could be thought of as a hundred quid a day, or thereabouts.
But twenty quid for 4 hours (1,000 words)? You'd be better off with a McJob, wouldn’t you? The news recently (early 2009) said KFC were going to recruit 3,000 new staff this year. Your hair will smell of chicken, but at least you'll get free chips!
Having once made a forum posting along those lines, I once received a reply to the effect that:
“Many people make comments like that, but what if you actually prefer translating to working in fast-food and are struggling to get work?”To which I reply – So, what if you do?
We all have to ultimately earn an optimum living by taking into account factors such as aptitude, supply, demand, comparative advantage, opportunity cost and probably some other stuff besides; that is just what I can think of at the moment.
Preference, if it appears on the list at all, plays a very small part, in truth. Otherwise surely the world would be full of actors, artists, sportsmen and women, and entertainers of all kinds and no bugger would ever actually 'do' anything.
If you decide to earn a sub-optimum living by doing what you prefer - fine. But if you are struggling to get work then like anyone else you either need to change your search strategy or change your line of work.
Having expressed that view publicly too, I received a (public) reply along these lines:
"Working at low rates is a necessary evil whilst starting out. Any respectable company would hastily cut a reasonable initial offer of £25000 per year to £18000 on seeing the candidate had not so much experience, why should the translation industry be any different?"I’m afraid this is where the logic flaw I referred to earlier arises.
Yes, companies employ the inexperienced on lower rates. However, the product or service the company itself markets is typically of uniform quality, no matter which employee was responsible for producing it. And the price of a given product from that company is standard no matter who produced it. In order to maintain margins, if the price is standard, then the cost needs to be standard too, including that portion of the cost that is the labour cost.
Depending on the industry, an inexperienced employee will either take longer to produce something of proper quality, which means their hourly rate will need to be lower, or their work will need to be checked by an experienced employee, which is an additional labour cost. Maybe even both. The same applies to piece work.
A self-employed translator is a slightly different kettle of fish. Ultimately, you do your own QA (for the most part), and either your stuff is good enough to sell, or it ain't.
If you are a beginner, it might take you a day to produce a decent 1,000 word translation - fine. Your earnings (per hour or day) might be less than an experienced person, but it doesn't mean that the client is entitled to get 1,000 words dirt cheap.
Alternatively, you could do the work in the usual time (i.e. the time it would take a more experienced person to complete) and then get someone to review it - pay them, of course. Out of your rate. Again, your earnings might be less, but the client pays the same as if he had got an experienced translator to do the work.
Those are the situations which equate novice self-employed translators to starting salaries in other professions.
Not just charging a lower rate per word
Source: Charlie Bavington's website