Crowd-funding Translations?

Earlier this week, I wrote about the possibility of crowd-funding translations over at the KRO blog:

Or so SpringLeaf Strategies says, anyhow.
Or so SpringLeaf Strategies says, anyhow.

About a week ago, I came across a press release announcing a new IndieGoGo campaign to crowdfund the translation of a Greek crime novel.

A week later, there’s no money pledged toward the translation. But it made me wonder: How many campaigns like this are there? Are they ever successful? When/where/why?

Most campaigns seemed to be by writers looking to translate their own work– such as this Singaporean SF writer who wanted to translate her work into Turkish, or this Italian author of a series of steampunk novels looking to break into English — to very little success. This campaign for a German edition of an English-language historical thriller was slightly more successful than most, but still nowhere near its $4,000 goal.

More successful campaigns were for “classics” that have never been translated. Michael Wex raised nearly $28,000 to translate In the Forests of Poland, by Joseph Opatoshu, from Yiddish into English. But the campaign didn’t succeed, as Wex was asking for a whopping $75,000, which was to include a $52,000 salary for himself.

A campaign for a new translation of Brecht’s A Man’s Man got more than a third of the way to its goal — $5,735 of $15,000 — and then continued raising money over at the theatre’s website.

I get regular emails from authors asking how they can get their work translated into English — or, less regularly, how English-language authors can get their work translated into Arabic. As you might expect, and I rarely answer their questions to anyone’s satisfaction.

I did find some successfully funded projects on crowdfunding sites. They tended to be comics projects (this manga project pulled in much more than they asked for) or with some sort of socio-political angle (a translation of a mollecular cell biology textbook into Vietnamese).

So could crowd-funding work for Arabic translations into English? Perhaps in particular cases, when there is a hook or globally well-known author — for instance, if Magdy El Shafee wanted to crowd-source a translation — it might work. Or if a theatre, with an already existing fan base, wanted to crowd-source a translation — well, it might be worth trying.

Might this help indie authors without other publishing resources? Perhaps, although it seems doubtful.


  1. Thanks for this, Marcia – it’s an interesting topic, and one I’ve been thinking about recently, because I’m helping co-ordinate bridge translation for a new collection of Palestinian poetry. We talked about crowd-sourcing funding for the book, although as a publisher has now committed to the publication we’re less likely to go with it – although we may decide to for workshopping the translations or bringing some of the poets to the UK, depending on how some other sources turn out.
    For what it’s worth, my take on this is that crowdsourcing shares the problems of a lot of social media – there are a lot of people who’ve heard a bit about it, think they know what it means, and believe that it’s some kind of magic solution to their money problem. They don’t realise that, like any social media, to make it work, it needs a lot of effort putting in – not just networking it to your mates, but finding ways to get it out there to your networks’ networks. Some people just don’t seem to grasp this, and as a result you get those sad pages hanging there with 4% of their budget raised, a bit like the sad Facebook groups and pages that businesses or projects set up that get 52 followers and then obviously pick up no more once the owner’s friends and family have all signed up.
    And, as you suggest, it also needs a hook. Some projects don’t get funded because they don’t have the contacts etc, but some don’t get funded because they’re simply not that interesting. If no-one’s interested in helping a book happen, is anyone going to want to read it? I think it’s a valid question.
    The Gaza Kitchen cookbook/gastro-anthropology which came out recently is, I think, a great example of what crowdsourcing can do. It was a popular, interesting project which asked for realistic sums of money – from memory, about $3,000 to help with the costs of the two authors travelling to and spending time in Gaza for research. In the end, it got well over that sum. The Palestinian film ‘Two Metres of this Land’ (metran min hada al-turab) also successfully crowdfunded for various production and editing costs – again, a realistic sum for a project which engaged people. Both projects also had demonstrable track records, with part of the work already done and the money being sought for ongoing costs for a project which was already seen to be feasible – I suspect that these probably appeal more to people than those which seem to be starting for scratch, and therefore feel more like a risk.
    I would suspect, therefore, that a successful translation project in terms of crowdfunding would be one where there was, for instance, an author and a translator or a translator and an indie publisher co-operating to work their individual networks, where both were really committed to promoting it, where there was some kind of basis already in place for the project, and where the ‘ask’ seemed reasonable, eg part of the necessary sum but with a publisher or grant funder putting up the rest – or at least the possibility of this, so it looked like the ‘risk’ was being shared.
    Sorry, that’s gone on for a really long time, but I guess the short version is – crowdfunding can work, like any form of fundraising, but it has its own pitfalls, needs just as much if not more effort than conventional funding sources (but may be open to projects which have difficulty accessing those), and doesn’t work for everything.

    1. Well, I feel like swapping your comment to the top & my post to the bottom… Yes on all points.

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