On Working Directly with the Author

Books, glasses, coffee

The life of a freelance translator? (Photo: Public Domain)

A few people have asked me if I’d write something about my experience of working directly with a self-published author rather than a publisher. I’m not too sure what to say about it but so as not to contradict my own last piece of advice, I’ll try to put my thoughts down in some sort of order.*

The obvious parallel for commercial translators is the difference between working for an agency and working with a direct client. Agencies or publishers offer an extra degree of security but take their cut, (try to) impose their own terms and conditions and so on. With direct clients, things can be much simpler but there may be a greater degree of risk and you’re thrown much more on your own resources. In the case of a book self-published in this way, you obviously also need to take on all the marketing and so on yourselves as well, so it’s essential to have a good business relationship with the author.

For me, the actual translation side has been no different from any other job I’ve taken on, but with the huge advantage of being able to go straight to the horse’s mouth with questions on meaning and also of having somebody reading my translation who really knew the text and could pick me up on things I might have left out or misunderstood (it happens to us all, occasionally). I know that some translator/author relationships have been less straightforward, particularly when the author also speaks or even writes in English and wants to have a say in the translation process, so I it was important to me to make it clear right from the start that as the translator I retain copyright over the translation and thus have the final say over what goes into it. Obviously we both want to get it right, but there has to be a cut-off point somewhere if it comes to haggling over words or beloved phrases. The author meanwhile has copyright of their own text and control over the plot and so on. I don’t get to cut out bits I don’t like, but I can suggest that some little explanatory aside is unnecessary for an English audience, or contrariwise that it might be good to add something to help the reader with an unfamiliar idea.

Contract and pen

As for negotiations, well, there things are different. If a translation is to be published as an e-book, for example, there are aspects of the traditional publishing process that don’t apply, and there are also opportunities to approach payments and royalties in new ways that can be beneficial to both parties. You can arrange your own ratio of advance:royalties and set the threshold at which they kick in and so on, or arrange that royalty payments will be made right from the start.

I would have been far less confident about taking such a project on if it hadn’t been for the positive experience of working with Amelia Ellis and her publishers on Nea Fox – somewhere between the two situations as I had a lot of contact with the author but also a publisher to deal with the nitty gritty. And the advice of the legal people at the Translators’ Association was invaluable when it came to drafting a contract, as was being able to draw on the experience of fellow TA members who’d undertaken similar projects.

I guess what I want to say is not to be afraid of taking on something like this – I understand that many translators had previously turned EXCESS down. I appreciate why they’d be wary, but they’ve missed out on something that’s been a whole lot of fun. Think of it in terms of the translator’s holy grail – a direct client! – and remember that when it comes to translation, you’re the expert. Set your rates and expectations accordingly – don’t sell yourself short because you’re working with an individual not a publishing behemoth, after all your workload is the same – get good advice wherever you can, and have fun…


*Note: This post was originally published on Linguist Blog and republished on Intralingo

About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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2 Responses to On Working Directly with the Author

  1. Pingback: ITD and ITI – a whirlwind weekend, part 1 | a discount ticket to everywhere

  2. Pingback: Found in translation: three literary translators share tips and secrets | Nail Your Novel

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