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Literary License vs Literary Translation – Translating Books the Right Way

Meta Description: How can you assess the quality of book translations into foreign languages? When it comes to accessing literary translation services, these tips should help.

The translation of books into foreign languages can open up the world stage when it comes to marketing, but authors need to know a thing or two about book translation to get started. Generally speaking, professional translation services are instrumental in global communication. This is as true in the publishing industry as it is in other global industries. But in this context, authors specifically need literary translation services for proper book translation.

This article will help those responsible for acquiring new international books to understand why paying careful attention to literary translation is so important. You’ll also learn about how to assess the quality of book translation services when you don’t speak the language in question, to support the acquisition of well-translated tomes.

Why Specifically Literary Translation?

Professional translators have stellar language skills. But it’s how they use them in specific contexts that sets translators with different specializations apart. You wouldn’t want a legal translator to handle medical translation work in a hospital, for example. Nor would you want a business translator to be in charge of translating a literary work. This means that all those who want a translation need to understand why sector specialization is so important in delivering quality and accurate translation work and why this is such an important part of the decision as to which translation agency to hire.

Ultimately, for books, what authors need is a literary translator. They have the proper literary expertise, background, and nuanced language skills to cater to creative works ranging from novels to poems. We consider here why literary translation is such a unique and challenging form of language translation.

A. Literary Translators Find the Best Interpretation, Not the Most Accurate Translation

What I mean here is that literary translators avoid literal word-for-word translations. In fact, if they do attempt to do literary translations, the resulting translation would be even more inaccurate. They have to take into account the linguistic nuances behind every language.

Simply put, they know that creative expressions such as idioms, humor, slang, metaphors, and other references are endemic to each language. Many of these just can’t be translated in other languages. Instead, they scour for the most appropriate interpretation by finding a suitable substitution in the target language. It doesn’t have to match the source’s context but it can match its essence.

A good example are the multilingual editions of Harry Potter. Translating Harry Potter is notoriously difficult since J.K. Rowling incorporated Latin, Greek, and distinctly British references. Many literary translators have decided not to literally translate them as they were and instead localized a number of the book’s lexicon. These include the spells, names of specific characters, locations, and other references. You might know Hogwarts as Hogwarts but some international readers won’t call it by the same name.

B. Literary Translators Try to Replicate the Original Work’s Rhythm and the Author’s Voice

This is what makes literary translation particularly challenging. Translating creative expressions is a complex process on its own. But matching the original work’s musicality and the author’s writing style is a job that can only be done by a literary magician.

Matching the work’s musicality means mimicking the rhythm, cadence, and charm. This alone is very difficult as many languages don’t share the same linguistic mechanics. This challenge is prevalent in works that rely on precisely chosen syllables, namely poems.

But replicating the author’s voice also has its own challenges. Authors worked for years and years to develop their own voice. They write in a certain way and phrase distinctively to the point that their work can be easily identified as their own.

To sum up everything, literary translators have to juggle a lot of factors to translate even just one word. That is to find the most suitable substitution for the work’s distinct lexicon that’ll resonate well with the target language and dueince, mimicking the original’s work’s essence and musicality, and lastly, to replicate the author’s writing style.

The Value of a Professional Translation Agency for Literary Translation

Professional translation agencies render a multitude of translations and have a global network of translators with native-language abilities. They can even render translation for specific industries. To name a few, these include legal translation, medical translation, app translation, marketing translation, etc. As you can expect, they also render literary translation services.

Professional agencies’ vast linguistic networks mean that they can quickly source translators for the language pairings that authors need. They will have set standards in place for all those with whom they work. This means that those acquiring the resulting translations have a strong degree of assurance regarding the quality of the work.

The same applies with literary translation associations. These organizations have literary translators as their members. The members are given the resources and networking opportunities to improve their overall translation skills and to also provide them recognition.

Why Good Translations Are So Important

Why pay so much attention to whether or not an author has used the perfect literary translator? Because quality matters. Consider some of the best works that you’ve read in translation – how the copy shone, despite not being in its original language. Now think about the clunky language and poor grammar of inferior translations. Would you read an entire book that was translated poorly? No? Exactly.

Poor translation serves to alienate the reader. Someone who needed a specific piece of information might put up with poor translation on a short blog post, but it’s too big an ask for an entire novel. Quite simply, poor literary translation will turn readers away from a book. This means that those acquiring books have to pay very careful attention to the translation quality.

An International Book Marketing Strategy Involves Localizing the Book

Although a lot of work goes into translating a book, it’s actually just one of the stages to help prepare it for a global audience. Authors also have to localize their books to different markets. We actually discussed this earlier under the scope of linguistic localization. But this time, we’ll dive into the marketing aspect of a book localization strategy.

Localization involves adjusting to the tastes of the target market. The first obvious choice in a book marketing strategy is to localize the book cover. Book covers in general are important for marketability. Although it’s quite unfair to judge a book by its cover, making a good visual first impression is essential in book marketing.

Marketing a one-size-fits-all book cover with the translated text being the only difference might work on specific markets, but this is not guaranteed. Take a look at this informative article on Hunger Games’ various book covers worldwide. See what I mean? Look how different the Japanese book cover is. The publishers took into account unique Japanese norms and adjusted the book cover to make it appear as a Japanese comic or manga to be more specific.

In short, localizing the book cover means incorporating cultural preferences specific to the target market. But localizing also involves avoiding specific cultural, social, political and even religious references. Some audiences are critical of specific references and would find it distasteful if they were on the book cover. Some countries have gone even further, legally enforcing these taboos.

How Can You Assess Translation Quality When You Don’t Speak the Language?

One thorny problem that acquiring books in translation gives rise to is how you can assess the quality of the translation if you don’t speak that language natively. Thankfully, there are a few ways that you can tackle this.

Ideally, you can involve someone bilingual who speaks the language of the original as well as your own tongue. By discussing the prose with them and considering their views, you should be able to form an assessment of the quality of the work you’re acquiring.

If you don’t have a bilingual contact involved, you could source the services of a proofreader in the translated language or a literary translator. Both should be able to provide you with a fair and knowledgeable assessment of the quality of the translation.

Top Publishing Markets and Profitable Languages

The most profitable language in which to publish any book is English, with the top English publishing markets being the U.S. and the U.K. But since we’re in the context of foreign languages, authors can definitely find more success in other publishing markets. Here are a few noteworthy countries where authors may find success as a result of literary translation:

1. China

The Chinese publishing industry, along with the U.S., produces the most titles annually. This is not really that surprising since they’re both the world’s dominant economies. Mind you that translating creative works from English to Chinese is extremely complex since both languages are completely unrelated.

But it’s worth a shot since you’ll be making your work known to an additional hundreds of millions of Chinese readers in mainland China. You’ll also be tapping into the tens of millions of Chinese expats worldwide.

2. Germany

Being the leading economy in Europe, it’s also not surprising that Germany is also the top publishing market in mainland Europe. So it’s worth translating your book from English to German. You’ll also be making your book accessible to regional German speakers that live in countries bordering German.

3. France

The next leading publishing market in mainland Europe is France. You can widen your success in mainland Europe if you also translate your book from English to French and not just English to German. Doing this also means making it accessible to French speakers in Canada.

4. Japan

Japan has a vibrant publishing market. Although it doesn’t boast figures equal that to China or the U.S, it’s still a lucrative market. So yes, translating your book from English to Japanese is worth it—if done right. But like the Chinese language, translating to the Japanese language is also challenging and so is localizing your book cover to accommodate uniquely Japanese tastes.

Don’t Stop With Just One Translated Edition: Final Takeaway

Translating and localizing a book to one language is difficult enough, especially for indie authors when they have to shoulder all of the expenses. But to truly enjoy international success means going beyond just one translated edition.

If the author finds success with a translated edition, they can use the royalties they’ve gained and invest it in their next publishing market. This sharing of their work and creativity means as many people as possible have the chance to read it. By focusing on translation quality for every edition, authors will be doing all they can to impress those acquiring their novels, whether that’s someone buying for individual use or for library stock.

Provided by Shiela May Pulido <Shiela@tomedes.com>

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