Friday, January 20, 2006

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.


Anonymous Anne Gracie said...

Keri, I agree with you.

It's a case of Texast knowing all about the difficulties of translating, but not enough about the process of writing.

Yes, translating is a skill, and not everyone can do it, and some do it better than others. But it's like the skill of the painters who copy another painter's original works. Lots of people can paint a good or even a brilliant facsimile of the Mona Lisa -- it takes the original artist to come up with the idea and the composition and then bring the concept to life. The actual putting on of paint is just part of the process.

Yes, it takes time and skill to select the correct word -- whether translating or creating. Writers also spend hours researching.

Re co-authorship -- what nonsense! Translation is mostly about words, with an appreciation of craft: authorship is about ideas, structure, art, craft and words. One is interpretation, the other is creation. There's no comparison.

I don't see people lining up in bookshops for the latest translation by X or Y -- it's the author, the creator, the person with the unique and original voice, the person who has created a unique world in a book they're lining up for.

The job of a translator is a skilled work-for hire position and should be paid accordingly. Royalties are for the creator.

3:31 PM, January 20, 2006  
Blogger Amra Pajalic said...

Here, here Keri and Anne. The fact that Texast even compared the role of a translator to that of a typist in order to justify the work translators do implies that they know nothing about the actual process of writing.

As someone who is bilingual I know full-well the difficulty in translating a work. Having translated a story (with my husband's help) for publication in my community newspaper I have experienced this first-hand. It is definetely not that simple because there is a whole cultural context to words that can get lost. Then there is the fact that words do not exist in another language.

But also being a writer there is absolutely no way that a translator can claim that they do the same work as a writer. The fact that they are even suggesting it means they are completely wacked out. While yes they do have to create a reasonance and take poetic licence to get the work across as intended by the writer, they also did not have to do the hard slog of writing, crafting, seeking publication etc (all the things that Keri mentioned).

This is completely unfair and if it goes through then writers (and publishers) should definitely stop translating novels for other markets because it unfairly penalises them both.

9:29 PM, January 20, 2006  
Blogger Rachel Vincent said...

I resent the implication that writing is as simple a process as typing. That's ludicrous. Yes, some writers type really fast. I know some writers who type more than 90 words per minute. But even according to Texast’s theory, at 60 wpm—3600 words per hour—a writer should be able to write more than 115,000 words in four days, assuming my math is right. Who can do that?

No one that I know, or know of. Why? Because there is much more to writing than typing. Much, much more. Writing is a long process, and typing comes in near the end, after the initial idea, the development of the idea, countless hours of brainstorming, plotting, research, note-taking, and character development. Not to mention sweating over phrasing and even individual words.

And even the typing is more complicated than it sounds. It’s not transcription; it’s creation. It’s composition. It’s not like writers have the words in front of them, and have only to type them in (except for those who do their rough drafts on paper, and for those few, typing is even LESS involved in the process). Writers have to think about what they’re writing. Then rethink it. Then rephrase. Then reorganize. Then reassess. Then rewrite.

We’re writers, not typists. Get is straight.

3:04 AM, January 21, 2006  

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