"Don’t even get me started on reviewers who fail to name translators, then quote our French, Japanese, Turkish, or Scandi authors extensively ‘in their own words’, in English," writes Louise Rogers Lalaurie. One of the reasons I'm so glad that Lalaurie has accepted my invitation to join our "Allied Interests" panel at Author Day (30th November, one week from today) is that she highlights a shamefully common omission in publishing today: crediting translators. Particularly as the digital dynamic softens borders and opens territories, it's ironic that the industry so frequently "forgets" this essential part of the creative workforce. Her presence at our issues-driven conference reinforces the fact that Author Day is also Publisher Day. Industry players are joining writers in this singular event to look at just such issues, and we're so proud to facilitate this kind of discussion in FutureBook Week 2015. As Lalaurie tells us: "Time to throw off the invisibility cloak, stand up and be counted."—Porter Anderson
'It hadn't occurred to them to name the translators'
I’m looking forward to Author Day, and I’m getting a better feel for what it’s all about from the information and comments posted here so far.
Jane Steen’s call for content creators to assert their presence at the centre of today’s publishing industry goes to the heart of what I’ll be talking about, precisely because her list—"including composers, designers and illustrators"—doesn’t mention that overlooked, unsung band of publishing foot soldiers, the translators.
*Sigh*! as we translators often type on our many professional forums. We are content creators par excellence—the bringers of Stieg Larsson and Elena Ferrante and Muriel Barbery and Arnaldur Indridassun and Guillaume Musso and many more into English. Yet we often go unnoticed, and unnamed.
Almost uniquely among creative professions, we labour (reluctantly) under our very own invisibility cloak.
Of course, Jane Steen’s omission of translators is anything but deliberate or malicious, it’s simply that people forget we’re here. Take some recent examples:
- This year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival gave prominence to an exciting strand of events around translated books. Lots of translator colleagues were speaking (even duelling live!) but not one was credited in the programme, in print or online. #namethetranslator wrote to ask politely if the translators of the books being featured—and, hey, why not?—the translators actually taking part at the Festival, could be named? The response was apologetic. It "hadn’t occurred" to the organisers to mention us, and it was too late now for the online headings to be modified (extra data fields were required). But they painstakingly inserted every translator name into the online body text. Victory!
- BBC Radio 4’s Reading Europe series featured European novels such as Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life (translated by Charlotte Collins). Online, and on air, the many content creators were duly named: the author, reader, abridger, producer, radio adapter…but not the translator. #namethetranslator girded its loins. It transpired that the Web interface used by the independent production company to supply these details to the Beeb did not have enough field names and…it hadn’t occurred to them to name the translators whose work they were adapting, abridging and broadcasting. Eventually, after repeated e-mails to numerous WC1 mandarins, the translators were named on air. Two cheers!
- Don’t even get me started on reviewers who fail to name us, then quote our French, Japanese, Turkish, or Scandi authors extensively ‘in their own words’, in English.
'Translators sell books: give us greater prominence'
All this would be merely annoying for me and my colleagues, were it not for the fact that as many booksellers confirm, translated books fly off their tables. In the UK, translation events at Hay, Edinburgh and Cheltenham are frequently packed out. Readers love hearing about the nuts and bolts of what we do. Translators sell books: give us greater prominence, and everyone benefits.
#namethetranslator is an effective campaign. But acknowledging our existence is just the beginning. Publishers, PR agents, independent authors, and content creators across all media need to:
- #trustthetranslator—no one reads international literature more widely or more critically.
- #involvethetranslator—pay us a decent royalty from the first copy sold, and we’ll work hard to promote the books we translate. Some of us might even agree to [buzzword alert] share the risk with a lower advance.
- #usethetranslator—PR agents and publicity people often declare themselves reluctant to organise book tours or media interviews for non-English-speaking authors, yet they seldom put their translators forward instead. Remember: we love talking to readers, and readers are fascinated by what we do.
Translators bring a unique perspective to the issues and debates foregrounded by Jane Steen:
- The need to assert the centrality of content creators,
- The need for better copyright laws, More diversity in books and awards,
- Proper pay.
Time to throw off the invisibility cloak, stand up and be counted.
Conference update: We expect to close Author Day bookings Monday (23rd November). Hurry to secure one of our last seats for 30th November at 30 Euston Square. Be with us at The Bookseller's inaugural Author Day (#AuthorDay), the kick-off to a big week of #FutureBook15 events. More about Author Day. Booking for our special pitching, networking, and advice sessions is available by email via Sandra Williamson (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- And join us for our 4th December FutureBook 2015 Conference at The Mermaid in London, the fifth annual iteration of the event. Please be sure to see our new digitally readable (YUDU) preview and programme with articles, background and full detail on the event.
Main image - iStockphoto: Dincturk