Translating a book
November 13, 2007 3:21 AM   Subscribe

How do I go about translating a book?

There is a book that I love, written in a language I know very well (Swedish). The book is not available in my native language (Dutch). I would like to translate it.

There are Dutch translations available for other books by this author. They've all been published by the same publisher. I once wrote to the author asking him if I could translate his book and he said it was okay by him, but I had to check with the dutch book publisher as they owned the rights to publishing his books in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Now, I am a translator by profession, partly, but a. I'm actually working as an editor for a company, so while I do translate a lot it is not in my job description, so I don't have any experience with "being regarded as a translator" and b. I have no experience in translating fiction books (I did one once but that was a biography, and just for fun and practice). What would be the best way to go about this?

- Re: contacting the publisher - do I just ask them, or do I send them a number of chapters I translated together with my proposal? If so, how many chapters?
- Re: payment for my work - I would be doing this as a hobby project, so to say. I am not a freelance translator. Would I have to register as one to be legally paid? Or can they just pay me as a person?
- What other issues are there to consider?

Other info: I work for a company full time, I don't have my own company, I live in the Netherlands and abide by its laws (more or less :) and oh yes, this is a labour of love and I have no idea what I'm doing.
posted by Skyanth to Work & Money (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think the first thing is just to ask the publisher. If they've published other work in translation by that author though, then they probably have an established contract with a company/person that's doing the translations for them. What makes you think they would take your translation over that?

Also if they haven't translated this book specifically, it may be they just don't think there's a market for it.

If it's a labour of love, why not just do it as a hobby and then worry about whether it's marketable afterwards.
posted by crocomancer at 4:10 AM on November 13, 2007

I'm not an expert, but here's my recent experience: I have just completed the draft of a translation of a detective novel (i've previously translated academic books; this was my first fiction translation). In my case the process involved being introduced to the author through a mutual acquaintance I had done some work for; they recommended my work. I also knew the local representative of a major publishing company.
I suggested the translation to the publishers; they commissioned a sample chapter. Liking that, they got together with the author and thrashed out a rights deal. I negotiated separately over my translation fee (I was also given a royalty, which is rare).
I also meet local literary agency reps from time to time who pump me for suggestions about interesting Chinese literature and reportage. I've not proceeded with one of them yet, but if I were to they would handle the rights and dealing with the publishers. How big a cut they took would be something else to negotiate.
posted by Abiezer at 4:55 AM on November 13, 2007

Actually, thinking back, it was an introductory pitch (a couple of thousand words summarising the book, its reception, the author and existing foreign language translations etc) about the book that I wrote in the first instance; the sample chapter was the second thing I did for the publishers.
posted by Abiezer at 4:57 AM on November 13, 2007

Caveat: I am a translator, but not a translator of fiction.

I suggest:
1. Read the book through a couple of times, and take a lot of notes. Translate about 1000 words or one chapter (whichever is longer). Take plenty of time. Try to find some other people who can read Dutch and Swedish (ideally other fans of the same author), and who will critique your work.
2. Do a second draft based on those critiques. Circulate that among your reviewers. Ask them to write accolades along the lines of "the very existence of Dutch culture hinges on this work being translated by Skyanth." Is it reasonable to expect feedback from the author? If so, ask him too.
3. Write a letter to the publisher. Include your translation and the letters your reviewers wrote.

I am not a freelance translator. Would I have to register as one to be legally paid? Or can they just pay me as a person? That depends on Dutch law, about which I am completely ignorant. Is there a mandatory translator registry there? Do you need to be registered as a business to be paid as a freelancer (in any line of work)? Certainly, neither is the case in the USA, where I live.

I'm guessing there must be an online community for Dutch translators. Find it and join it. There will be lots of shop-talk and people who have found answers to your questions, and found questions you didn't know you should ask.
posted by adamrice at 8:50 AM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

« Older Celebrate NYE where in Hong Kong?   |   Interesting investment strategy? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.