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Tina Tenneberg: Self-Publishing and Translation

  • By Tina Tenneberg
  • 19th October 2015
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Tina Tenneberg, author of the International Self-Publishing blog, talks about self-publishing and translation and offers advice for those looking to try their hand at it.

When talking about self-publishing as translators, we must first clarify what exactly we are talking about. The most common model is the translator who is contacted by a self-published author. If the author is willing to pay a decent rate – why not? I have one reservation, however: when it comes to translations into English, most non-native speakers have a specific knowledge of their language and might question some of the translator’s decisions, because, as we know, there is not just one possible result, but many, especially in fiction, and everyone has their own voice, including translators. Therefore, I would advise doing a sample translation to find out whether both are a good match.

As I translate into German, I’ve never had this issue; none of the writers whose books I’ve translated have ever spoken my language. I have, however, come up against a different problem in traditional publishing: the low rates of German publishing houses and the high cost of living in London. When I first moved here, I was finishing a novel translation for a traditional publisher, but it didn’t pay my bills. After that, I got into film subtitling, which was ideal due to the similarities between translating novels and feature films, and for years everything was fine. Then, the agencies began lowering their rates even further because you no longer had to work at the companies’ premises; everything could be done online. The rates became so low that I quit again, and my colleagues and I faced the same dilemma as many literary translators: there were many people out there eager to take on this popular work whilst accepting a lower payment for it.

So once again I was looking for new jobs, and because I was interested in writing and self-publishing, I attended workshops. One such event was delivered by British self-published author and blogger Joanna Penn, who told me she was looking for a German translator to work with her on a split royalty basis. By then, I had almost given up on translation, but decided to give it a go as I knew I could learn a lot.

I have now found another way to self-publish, namely using the translation copyright to self-publish out-of-print books. I have written more about this in my blog post Retrieving translation copyrights – Important for Both Authors and Translators.

This method could help you to make a wage from self-publishing, especially if there are a number of out-of-print books that you would like to see published again.

You might also be interested in reading my article ‘5 Reasons Why Self-Publishing Could Help to Get More Books Translated into English’.

Here are seven tips for translators who are up for working in self-publishing:

1. If you are approached by an author who wants to work with you, ask yourself if it’s worth it: will it bring either enough money, enough experience, or – ideally – both?

2. Don’t think you are “just a translator” – your work is vital for the success of a book, so be confident when negotiating terms.

3. Clarify your working terms (i.e. deadlines and terms of payment) with authors in writing, just like with a publishing house. This will help you to avoid misunderstandings and

4. Try to communicate any problems clearly; the earlier potential issues are dealt with, the better.

5. Look out for authors who you would like to translate and approach them directly. Most would be more than happy to be translated, especially into English. It’s not only self-published authors who find it hard to get translated into this lingua franca, either, but most traditionally published writers, too. If a translator likes a book, the work is more fun and the result much better.

6. You can use your translation copyrights to self-publish out-of-print books, as long as the original right holder agrees.

7. The job of a literary translator can be quite lonely so networking is great for your career.

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  • Jorgelina

    I am an ENG<>SPA translator. Recently, I started considering self-publishing as a good option for translators as well. Of course you can always try and retrieve your copyright from an old publishing house, or obtain the author’s approval for translation. While this is definitely the best approach in order to be able to translate and publish the works you -as translator- are personally interested in, you are bound to encounter a lot of difficulties along the way. I’m not sure publishers & authors would be willing to surrender their rights, particularly if you are not a well-known translator.
    Perhaps it would be a good idea to start out by translating and self-publishing works of literature that are already in the public domain.

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