Should Authors Pay for (and Market) Their Own Translations?

Ah, poor St. Jerome.

Over at Love German Books, blogger-translator Katy Derbyshire wrote recently about a foreward-hoping idea of Tom Hillenbrand’s, regarding translation and the future of publishing.

She quotes Hillenbrand as saying:

The market entry costs are now negligible; no one is stopping the German publisher (or the author himself) from translating a book themselves and marketing it worldwide via iTunes and Amazon.com.

Even for a title that doesn’t seem to have great potential for the English-language market, it will still make sense to put a translation onto the market on the off chance. The Anglo-Saxon market is gigantic and nobody really knows anyway why certain books are successful.

A translation only costs a couple of thousand euro, putting the digital book on Amazon is free and then the title is accessible for half a billion readers. It’s cheap, it’s high-potential and so everyone will do it.

For our purposes, please replace the word “German” with “Arab.”

Derbyshire is not particularly keen on the idea:

To my mind, Hillenbrand has neglected one all-important factor in his calculation: the translator. While we are training up professional literary translators in the UK and the US now via degree courses and other programmes, there are still never going to be enough to meet demand should every author start “self-translating”, as I’d like to call it, analogue to self-publishing.

Some of these “self-translations” might be good, of course. The Zaidan Foundation — with a particular nudge from novelist Jurji Zaidan’s grandson George Zaidan — decided to go ahead and “self-translate” Zaidan’s long-neglected (in English) works. They found Roger Allen (who translated Bensalem Himmich’s award-winning The Polymath) for their first project, and the multi-award-winning Samah Selim for the second. Selim’s translation of Tree of Pearls, Queen of Egypt won an award and will be coming out from Syracuse University Press.

Whatever the ultimate financial result, I call those money well-spent.

But, as Derbyshire notes, not everyone will get Roger Allen and Samah Selim. Thus, the issue of “quality and quality control.”

She also questions whether there will be a demand for this (potential) wave of “self-translations”:

With the way things are going, I don’t see demand increasing sufficiently for it to be worthwhile investing – let’s say – €10,000 (for translating, editing and typesetting a short book) on the off chance.

What do you think? Is the e-future a future of self-translation?

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