A Publisher on the Translators’ Debate

From Publishing Perspectives:

[Multiple Individuals Shared Their Opinions on this Topic]

I was fascinated by the call from the chair of the International Booker Jury, Frank Wynne, for translators to be recognized as equals in terms of cover placement and royalty share.

More or less the first book I published was a translation. I was relieved to discover that the translator was identified on the title page, but not on the jacket.

But before that, I was addicted to translated works, usually in the black Penguin livery reserved for “foreign classics”—Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Tolstoy, even Machiavelli, although I don’t think I learned  from him as much as I should have. And then to the racier Alberto Moravia and the ever-entertaining Don Camillo series by Giovanni Guareschi. Not to mention the fantastic Asterix and Tintin series.

I think translated books play an enormously important role in furthering our understanding of other countries, other systems, other geniuses.

It’s, therefore unsurprising that the role of the translator is crucial. A bad translation can ruin a book. A great one can allow an author’s words to reach out to a new and bigger readership.

Rewarding translators is a given, as is giving them credit. But this particular announcement got me thinking.

[A Different Person’s Opinion]

It’s not my job to work out what would be best for literary translators, but it would be my strong recommendation that they should avoid sharing any profits from the sales of the books they’ve translated. There may be a few titles for which this would make sense but, at least in the world of translations into English, the translators would find that this would result in having to pay out quite substantial sums to publishers for their share of the losses.

Most translations into English are lucky to cover their real costs, at least in the short term. In fact, most books find it difficult to cover their costs, and translations even more so.

However, it could be that the translators were really asking for a share of the revenue rather than the profit generated. This would make more sense, but I fear that the income from this would in most cases be lower than a typical flat fee and, of course, a lot less certain. It would also lead to translators having to make decisions about which book to translate based on likely sales rather than importance.

In addition, and from the publisher’s point of view, where would this additional royalty come from given the low profitability of translated books in general?

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