Dear Texast...

The above chap (at least, I’m presuming it a chap. If it’s a gal, I apologise) left a comment in my ‘off topic, but writing related’ blog defending the rights of translaters to get as much money as authors. And he explained why he thought this was reasonable. I was going to reply in the comments section, but thought, what the heck, I’ll post it here, because I feel strongly enough about it to do so.

so, here goes:

Dear Texast,

If writing was just about sitting there, blithly typing 60 words a minute, 3600 words a day, then every man, woman and their dog who thinks they have a novel in them would probably be published right now (btw, I don’t know many authors who type at that speed. I certainly don’t.)

Translating is a skill, yes, and it’s certainly one that not everyone can do. Or do well. There’s some mighty bad translations out there that prove that. But translation is about translating words and concepts: writing is about ideas, structure, and the craft of words–and putting them all to make a decent, readable book. One is interpretation, the other is creation. There’s no comparison between the two.

In the words of Anna Jacobs, “a translator doesn’t invent the story, he doesn’t spend hours–days, weeks–agonising over characterization and markets, he doesn’t spend months trying to sell it, he doesn’t do the PR, he doesn’t respond to readers, he doesn’t give talks, he doesn’t do the long hours of research, he doesn’t read other books in the genre to make sure of not repeating a story line. Nor does he go for months and months without a pay check coming in to write the story. ‘

And for my part, I’d just like to add that translators also don’t have to wait the two years it usually takes for author royalties to start reaching the author.

Translators get paid by publishers to perform a task–translate the book. We’re talking about a book that has been written, published and sold elsewhere. The translator had no involvement in the creation process, the selling processes, or the production process. Why then, should they be entitled to a percentage of the royalties–at the cost of the people who created it and produced it? I know some authors who get as little as 2% for translation rights. Translaters want to get paid to do their job and get royalties on top of that as well? For what? Transforming words from one language to another? How does that entitle them to part of the ‘creation’ fee? They’re translating–interpreting what is already written. They are not starting from scratch.

As for this–“Without the damn translator, the authors wouldn’t have their words translated in the first place so they could tap into other markets, and then where would they be?”

truth is, they’d probably not be a whole lot worse off. As I mentioned earlier, translated books are generally sold elsewhere first, and make the bulk of their money in their main markets.

Translations, however, can be taken off shore and done. And there’s already several German companies considering doing just that. Authors may lose out on German sales over this–but translators stand to lose a whole lot more–like their job–if the market goes off shore thanks to this money grab. Sorry, I’m all for skilled workers being well paid to do their job–but this goes beyond that. This is a grab for rights to which they have no right.