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Thread: Taking on literary translation?

  1. #1
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    Germany Taking on literary translation?

    First, let me assure that I'm not at this forum merely to ask this question! I came across this section while checking the place out prior to registering and simply thought I would ask.

    I am already a translator by trade, specifically working with German as my secondary (source) language. I have not done literary translation but have always been interested. I find myself wondering about the process and the legality of it, what I would have to do in order to publish a translation if I go ahead and make one, or how I might approach a publisher about such a collaboration. I only know about the more humdrum side of the industry, translating various documents for clients and outsourcers.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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    Default Re: Taking on literary translation?

    If the work you're intending to translate is already out of copyright, I think you can go ahead and work on it, and then try to place it with a publisher. If, however, the author is still alive (or, in any case, the text is not yet out of copyright), you need to contact the publisher ahead of time. When authors sell foreign rights they usually place their work with a specific publishing house overseas. And the publishers may already have granted the translation right to one of their own translators. So you don't want to waste your time and effort and translate a modern novel only to realize that nobody is going to publish it because of copyright issues.

    I had the same question regarding some Irish and Welsh texts I was translating; I was told that as long as they are pre-1935 (or thereabout) I can basically do it, but more contemporary texts require a bit of research to see where (or if) the author has placed his/her foreign rights. Then you contact the publisher and offer your services. Even if a previous translation exists, they might be convinced to do a fresh one. It's not like there can be a "definitive" translation; translations become obsolete and require constant updating.

    PS. Makes me think of Eric again, he would have been an invaluable source precisely on the question of literary/commercial translation.

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    Default Re: Taking on literary translation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Liam View Post

    PS. Makes me think of Eric again, he would have been an invaluable source precisely on the question of literary/commercial translation.
    Also, David McDuff, who has translated a number of major novels for Penguin. Unfortunately, he hasn't posted for a long time, but perhaps is still browsing Forum threads?

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    Default Re: Taking on literary translation?

    What was his screen name? I don't remember any such person, I have to say.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Taking on literary translation?

    David McDuff used to post here? Besides Eric, there are Caodang and Howard (Curtis). I don't think either of them visit anymore, unfortunately.

    Here's some pragmatic advice (specifically what you're seeking) from Tiina Nunnally:

    https://arablit.org/2011/08/18/17-mo...brahim-muhawi/

    By the by, so you're a legal/medical/business translator from German into English? Did you study German at university, then fell into the field?

    There's also this forum, which you probably know about.

    https://www.translatorscafe.com/cafe/default.asp

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    Default Re: Taking on literary translation?

    Thank you (to all) for the response! I translate texts of various sorts, including legal and medical to some extent. Funny thing - I've been to the Translators Cafe site, but not to peruse the forums. Certainly a good suggestion!

    I think I contacted a publisher just once to ask about translating a work, but never heard back. That was discouraging and I have kept so busy with the mundane texts that I just was not feeling too much urgency. It's still not urgent, but the longer I do what I have been doing for years now, the more tempted I am to change things up and maybe delve into literary translation, which would not only be a nice change but might offer me better compensation and a higher standard of living.

    Anyway, I did get to spend a semester at a German university following many years of US-based study. I was already set on getting into translation at that point, coming from a background of doing menial labor since I had not given enough thought to what I might do (and lacked guidance from my elders) during my earliest years of higher education. Two things that got me onto the translation track were the mention of it in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and a book I happened upon at a book store about translating as a career. I made up my mind to aim for that and completed a simple BA program with a German major. I also got a little start in Russian during the last couple of years and have been hammering away at it since then at home. The internet is certainly a wonderful tool for that, as it is for so many other things.

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    Default Re: Taking on literary translation?

    I can't recall the name David used to use when posting, but I know it wasn't his full name. I think he disclosed his name in a long-since-deleted PM, but if I go back to check some of my posts from years ago, I might find some additional info. He was a very humble guy and I recall being pleasantly shocked when he revealed his identity. Translating classic works by Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Bely - it's doesn't get much bigger than that.

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    Default Re: Taking on literary translation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Stevie B View Post
    I can't recall the name David used to use when posting, but I know it wasn't his full name. I think he disclosed his name in a long-since-deleted PM, but if I go back to check some of my posts from years ago, I might find some additional info. He was a very humble guy and I recall being pleasantly shocked when he revealed his identity. Translating classic works by Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Bely - it's doesn't get much bigger than that.
    Well, actually, I'm here. I only found out on Sunday that Eric Dickens had passed away, and was very saddened by the news. I'd had no idea that he was ill. Then today I found a thread about Eric on this forum.

    The Nordic Voices in Translation blog I started with Eric and Rod in 2009 is still up and running, by the way - there's a post about Eric there now.

    Though I haven't been on the forum for quite a while (I had some illness to cope with), it's good to see that it's active - I remember many of the posters' names and IDs. Will look forward to visiting again before long.

    All the best,
    David

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    Default Re: Taking on literary translation?

    I think most of your questions have already been answered by members of the forum. In general, if the author of the work you want to translate is alive, you should contact him or her before publishing any translation. But if it's a literary classic by a 19th century author there is usually no problem.

    In the case of 20th century authors it's a different matter - you need to find out the copyright status of the work, whether there are any living relatives of the author, and if there is a literary estate.

    With regard to approaching publishers with translated work, it's best to send a preliminary letter or email before submitting material. Publishers receive a large volume of unsolicited manuscripts, and most of them (I'm sorry to say) go more or less unread.
    Last edited by DWM; 25-Apr-2017 at 16:46.
    David

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    Default Re: Taking on literary translation?

    I run into the strangest bug on this forum. My cursor will end up a line above where I mean to type! Anyone else have that happen?

    Anyway, thanks for your advice, David! I had not even submitted a manuscript at the time. I merely sent an inquiry about permission, I think. It was a long time ago now, so I am not even sure what exactly I had written. But I will certainly bear what you say in mind for any future efforts!

    It sounds like working with anything very modern could be a pain, and that's a shame. Seems like everything we might attempt comes with great legal entanglements in this day and age. The idea of a literary estate is troubling, as is the notion that anyone who did not create a work of art should have any rights over it, especially once the artist is gone. I think that's greedy and contrary to the public interest.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Taking on literary translation?

    It's usually best for a translator to work with a publisher on commission - the publisher will normally have the resources to tackle most of the legal problems, which are not always very great. So don't get too discouraged - and if you want to work on literary translations, try to find a publisher who wants to publish what you want to work on. It's as straightforward as that, really.
    David

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