Translation rights?
July 9, 2005 2:43 AM   Subscribe

Does anybody know what's involved in getting translation rights for a book?

That is to say, I have a book that I've translated into English, and I want to see if I can get it published, even though I haven't gotten in contact with the original author. What's the order of operations here?
posted by bokane to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What country is the author from?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:30 AM on July 9, 2005

You don't need to get in touch with the author, but you do need to know if the foreign rights have already been sold before you contact any publishers. Otherwise you'd just be wasting time.

After that, it's all a random game. I don't know about the US specifically but generally it is very difficult for a translator to influence a publisher's choice, mostly it's up to editors and literary agents. You'd have a better chance if you already had something published, and already established contacts within publishing.

You can find some advice in this page by the ALTA (American Literary Translators Association). See the "book-length projects" bit at the end in particular.
posted by funambulist at 3:54 AM on July 9, 2005

There's more relevant guides from ALTA here. Particulary this one.
posted by funambulist at 4:03 AM on July 9, 2005

Best answer: You don't really get "translation rights" -- a publisher obtains the rights to publish the work in English, then they hire a translator to translate it. Unless you know the publisher who'll be bringing out the English edition, your chances of being chosen to do the translation are pretty slim.

The publisher of course knows how to find the agent of the author of a book they want to publish. More than likely the agent has approached the publisher, actually -- they're pushy like that. if there were a market for an English-language translation of this book, the agent would probably have already sold one, or may already have one in the works. The English-speaking countries are, after all, collectively the most lucrative publishing market on the planet; an agent for a non-English writer that doesn't try to sell an English version of every book is not representing his or her client's agents very well.

I fear you have wasted a lot of time on a spec translation. I suppose if you got in touch with the author's agent, he or she might be interested in selling your translation to an English-language publisher -- it'd save the publisher some work. This strikes me as an extreme long shot, however.

If you do manage to land some kind of deal, you shouldn't expect to be paid much, basically a flat fee. The translation, being a derivative work, legally belongs to the original author and not to you. You might get a few grand out of it, but I wouldn't expect royalties.
posted by kindall at 4:12 AM on July 9, 2005

representing his or her client's agents

representing his or her client's interests

Enough 4 AM AskMetaFiltering...
posted by kindall at 4:13 AM on July 9, 2005

Best answer: I'm mostly in agreement with Kindall on this. I deal with the reverse of this every week- usually a professor in Asia who wants to translate or has translated one of our books. The translator is really the last piece in the translation. Before that the publisher or author or author's agent sells the publishing rights to the book to a foreign publisher. They generally make the decision on who will translate the book. In my experience the translator is usually chosen on the author's end or the editor. In some cases the managing editor will go to a trusted talent to do the job. But just because the book hasn't been translated doesn't mean that it is in development or that there's a problem. It very well could be that no one in the US or UK has expressed interest in the work as of yet. It is very possible that you could help get the book published in the English speaking world. You would need to contact the original publisher though. I would search for the subsidiary rights department of the original publisher and contact them. They will be able to tell you what the status of the work is. But as a translator don't expect much. Generally you're hired on a freelance basis for a flat fee. But if the works already done....
posted by rodz at 8:26 AM on July 9, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks very much. Fortunately, it was only about 35 pages.
posted by bokane at 10:03 AM on July 9, 2005

Bokane, I see from your profile that you're in Philadelphia. Hence you're subject to U.S. copyright law and various other international agreements, which means that your act of translating the book without advance permission is indeed the unauthorized creation of a derivative work, hence you appear to have infringed the owner's copyright.

They may or may not care. But if they do, it could spell quite a bit of trouble.
posted by joeclark at 7:55 AM on July 10, 2005

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