The Holy Quran with Urdu and English translation Speaking a second or third language can be wonderfully rewarding, especially for a writer. Being able to read literary works from other countries opens you up to a whole new understanding of the way language really works, and becoming a literary translator is one of the most rewarding ways to use that skill. UNESCO, the educational and cultural division of the United Nations, has maintained their index of all translated books since 1949. Every year, they add at least 100,000 new titles which span over 1,100 languages. Needless to say, there is a big market for literary translators. They’re often the unsung heroes of a book or book series’ success – would Harry Potter or Twilight be as successful if nobody could read it in anything but English? Can you imagine a world where Shakespeare wasn’t accessible to everyone, or where non-French speakers never got to read Moliere or Samuel Beckett? All of this is thanks to great translation.
1. Breaking In
You may find becoming a translator is really not that different from becoming an author. In the past, many literary translators started out translating other things – work documents, forms, instruction manuals, and more. While most translators still recommend building your track record that way, there’s also the world of online publication. Just as indie authors can e-publish their work on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, you can publish your translations. When an author has been dead at least 70 years, their work is considered public domain, so you don’t have to ask permission to do a translation. If you want to translate something newer, you can always contact the author and ask permission, as long as you have an understanding of U.S. copyright laws.
2. Learning the Industry
Translating requires extensive study of what constitutes staying true to the original meaning of an author’s work. Even then, you won’t always get final say, especially if you work on popular or controversial novels. The case of renowned Scandinavian language expert Steven T. Murray’s translation of Stieg Larsson’s Men Who Hate Women into the more commercial Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an interesting one. Murray felt the novel had been changed in too many substantial ways and opted to use a pseudonym. As a professional translator, he was dedicated to preserving more than just words, but the tone and message of the work. Translators read up on their craft, as well as attending seminars and fairs to meet other people who translate for a living and get a better understanding of the industry’s goals and standards. If you integrate yourself into the translating community, online or offline, you will get a better idea of what veteran translators experience.
3. Finding Work
According to the UNESCO database, quite a few books are translated. The bad news is, very little of this translation work reaches the United States. Finding steady employment as a translator can be hard. Like any writer, you need to market yourself. Amass experience by publishing online and set up a professional website where others can view your work. Then register with the American Translators Association – a sure sign to publishers that you are qualified for the job. After that, you can simply query agencies with a strong focus on translations by providing a resum editing and samples. You can search for specific job listings for translators or simply ask them to keep you in mind. And if you’re attending book fairs and seminars, you’re likely to make some important contacts.
Truly great literary translators can be hard to find, because they must also be great writers. A translated book has to do much more than make sense, it has to preserve the literary value. Readers must enjoy it while also understanding the spirit in which it was originally intended. It’s not the easiest or most predictable career, but it is extremely rewarding for those who truly love words.
Claudia Marone is a producer, screenwriter, novelist and founder of this blog. She was born on March 23, 1981, in Washington, D.C.