6 Tips To Translate Your Work Effectively

From Writers in the Storm:

A few months ago, my editor and translator colleague Luis Pelayo asked me, “Why aren’t more US authors publishing in Spanish?” He shared a 2019 report titled El Español: Una Lengua Viva from the respected Instituto Cervantes, a non-profit organization devoted to the study and teaching of Spanish language and culture. The study states that Spanish is a first language for 483 million people around the world and that in the US, Spanish is the second most learned language at every academic level. What’s more, because of demographical reasons, the percentage of Spanish speaking persons continues to increase.

. . . .

If your book is doing well in your native language market, it will probably do well with a similar audience elsewhere. For this blog post, I’m focusing solely on literary translations. Here are my six tips on how to do it effectively and efficiently.

1. Hire a human being to translate your work.

Don’t attempt to translate the book yourself. If you’re not a native speaker of the language you’re trying to publish in, don’t even attempt it. Google Translate or Deepl is not for that. Nor is any other translation software. You need a human being to interpret your work and ideas and put them on the page in the way it would be said in their language.

A literary translator understands tone, voice, style, and can interpret meaning. What’s more, they know of the target language (TL) culture—therefore making sure you don’t offend anyone either. Remember, your time is probably better spent being creative and writing your next piece.

2. Calculate a budget and set aside funds.

A professional translator is going to cost money, whether you go through an agency or hire a freelancer. The agency advantage is that they can translate your work into many languages at the same time. However, freelance translators are often more accommodating, have flexible schedules, and are available for direct consultations.

Literary translators are professionals who study, are continually educating themselves, take tests, get certifications, are qualified, and excel at translating literary works. Search a reputable online directory of translators like Proz.com or The American Translators Association, or ask fellow writers or editors for recommendations.

Most translators can translate between 300-400 words per hour, with rates starting at $50 per hour. Some translators may bill by project depending on the topic or difficulty of the text. Calculate how many hours it should take to translate your work and budget accordingly (if it’s a book, count the cover, front matter, and back matter too.) Don’t skimp on translation. A bad translation may earn you negative reviews, decrease your sales, and damage your reputation.

3. Vet your translator, then book them.

Hire a professional translator whose native language is the TL you want your work translated into. They should have good reviews and samples of work you can check out. You could even ask them to translate half a page of your work, and then have their work reviewed by someone who speaks the TL.

Once you’ve chosen a translator you like, book a spot in their calendar. Good and reliable translators are booked in advance (they might not live in your country or time zone.)

A client of mine recently asked her American-raised German colleague to translate her memoir. My client thought it would be fun to involve her friend. Her friend thought she was doing my client a favor. When I hired a native German speaker to proofread the book, the feedback I received was, “It reads like a book that’s been translated into German. Not written in German.”

Don’t distract your reader from your text because of incorrect word choice, awkward vocabulary, or inaccurate TL sentence structure. You want the reader to enjoy the story without being taken out of it because something doesn’t sound right. Your translated book should read like it was written in the TL. If you want to involve your friends, use them as beta readers instead.

4. Have a Contract, be flexible, and available when needed.

A professional translator should offer you a contract that states word count, “start-by” and “deliver by” dates, how many rounds of revisions they’re willing to do, and the approximate cost for the whole project or each work hour. You’ll need to be available if the translator has questions about interpreting parts of your work. Don’t be surprised if they make a re-write suggestion because “in their culture, they don’t say things that way.” 

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

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