Saludos colegas. Acá abajo un corto artículo que me pareció importante compartir con ustedes. Es en lo referente a algunas palabras que, de acuerdo con el autor, no tienen traducción, así como también algunas rarezas de la lingüística. Espero y lo disfruten.
Un estudiante nadaba con una estudiante en el río. La chica era una deportista y él en cambio era un nadador desastroso. La chica lo amaba perdidamente y tenía tanto tacto que nadaba igual de despacio que él. Pero cuando la natación se acercaba ya a su fin, quiso pagar rápidamente la deuda que tenía con sus aficiones deportivas y se lanzó con rápidas brazadas hacia la orilla. El estudiante intentó avanzar más rápido y tragó agua. Se sintió humillado, puesto en evidencia en su inferioridad física y sintió lítost.
Milan Kundera escribió estas líneas en El Libro de la Risa y el Olvido, publicado en España por Tusquets y traducido casi en su integridad. Casi. Hay una palabra, ‘lítost’ que se mantiene en el checo original. Hace referencia a la agonía que se siente al ser consciente repentinamente de la propia miseria. “He buscado vanamente en otras lenguas el equivalente de esta palabra” asegura Kundera, “me parece difícil que alguien pueda comprender el alma humana sin ella”.
Decir que el español es muy rico es como decir que el gotelé es muy sufrido o que el Rey es muy campechano. Un lugar común que a fuerza de repetirse ha perdido ya su contenido. Según afirma José Antonio Pascual, vicedirector de la Real Academia de la Lengua Española, en el diccionario se registran 88.000 palabras; el inglés (que se suele poner como ejemplo de idioma pobre y con poco vocabulario) registra más de 170.000 definiciones en su diccionario de referencia, el Oxford, aunque también es cierto que ellos abusan más de las palabras compuestas.
“Se suele estimar el léxico de una lengua añadiéndole un 30% al que recogen los diccionarios”, asegura Pascual. Pongamos entonces por caso que hay cerca de 115.000 palabras en castellano. Son muchas, sin duda, pero no suficientes. Cada idioma tiene sus matices, sus inflexiones y sus palabras imposibles de traducir, lítost es solo una de ellas, hay muchas más.
Si un idioma es un reflejo de sus hablantes los alemanes cumplen los tópicos y se revelan como unos trabajadores incansables. Torschlusspanik es el miedo a que las oportunidades disminuyan a medida que nos hacemos viejos,freizeitstress, el estrés del tiempo libre y todas las actividades que haces para ocuparlo.
Pero hay otra palabra, schadenfreude, que ha cobrado más relevancia e incluso se ha tomado prestada en distintos idiomas. Hace referencia al sentimiento de gozo que se produce al observar el sufrimiento ajeno. No es sadismo, no es envidia, es un término intermedio que encarna a la perfección ese ansia (tan común en la prensa rosa) de asistir a la caída a los infiernos de los ídolos, esa risa involuntaria que brota al ver una caída ajena o el gozo interno que nos invade cuando vemos al final de la película que el villano de turno recibe su merecido.
Tenemos que irnos al otro extremo del planeta para encontrar el antónimo de schadenfreude, hablamos de mudita, un concepto budista que hace referencia a la felicidad que genera la felicidad ajena.
También el japonés refleja en su vocabulario la cultura trabajadora de sus gentes, desde la castrense kyoikumama(madre que presiona despiadadamente a sus hijos para que obtengan logros académicos) hasta gaman, la determinación para afrontar los obstáculos en la vida, de persistir frente a desafíos que parecen insuperables.
Pero el término psico-laboral más extraño que tienen los japoneses no es ninguno de los anteriores, es karoshi, una palabra tristemente de moda en el país que hace referencia a la muerte por estrés laboral.
Gigil expresa en filipino lo que sienten todas las abuelas cuando cogen a sus nietos en brazos, esas ganas de morder o pellizcar algo insoportablemente tierno.
Tartle se utiliza en Escocia para denominar ese momento de vacilación cuando vas a presentar a alguien y no recuerdas su nombre.
Boh es probablemente la mejor expresión que tiene el italiano, sirve para decir con solo tres letras que no tienes ni idea.
Más románticos son los árabes que al pronunciar ya’aburnee (literalmente, tú me entierras) aluden al deseo de morir antes que su interlocutor para no tener que soportar su pérdida. Y seguimos con el macabro tema de la muerte, solo hay un idioma conocido para nombrar algo tan desgarrador como la pérdida de un hijo. Hay huérfanos, hay viudos, y en Israel hay hore shakul.
Los franceses no son de palabras sino de expresiones únicas, y sorprenden nombrando conceptos tan concretos como el ingenio de tener la respuesta acertada cuando es demasiado tarde (l’esprit de l’escalier) o pasar la mañana vagueando en la cama (grasse matinée).
No hay nada intraducible y los que se dedican a ello profesionalmente son conscientes. Todo puede solucionarse con un circunloquio, con una palabra equivalente en el fondo y distinta en los matices. Tampoco existe nadie que domine todos los idiomas del mundo (7.105 según ethnologue), así que es un poco exagerado asegurar que hay palabras únicas. Pero sí que existen palabras sin equivalente en la mayoría de los idiomas conocidos, conceptos que por su mayor uso o por la evolución idiomática han derivado en pequeñas rarezas lingüísticas. Joyas hechas palabras.
Vladimir Nabokov, además de escribir Lolita, la tradujo del inglés al ruso, esa y muchas obras más, propias y ajenas. Era un defensor de la traducción literal, sin cambiar ni un ápice (a pesar de que fuera el responsable de que en Rusia no hablen de Alicia sino de Ania en el País de las Maravillas).
Sin embargo, reconocía que había palabras que no tenían traducción posible y hacía hincapié en una: toska. “Ninguna palabra del inglés traduce todas las facetas de toska”, decía el autor.
“En su sentido más profundo, es una sensación de gran angustia espiritual, a menudo sin causa específica. En el aspecto menos mórbido es un dolor sordo del alma, un anhelo sin nada que nada haya que anhelar. En su nivel más bajo, se reduce al hastío, al aburrimiento”.
Tanto toska como lítost hacen referencia a sentimientos. Haciendo un breve repaso nos damos cuenta de que la mayoría de palabras sin traducción lo hacen. Y dicen más de lo que encierra su estricto significado, dicen cosas sobre quien las habla.
Why I Publish Ebooks, or the Future of Literary Translation
20 May 2013
—EJ Van Lanen
It so happens that I’ve been publishing literature
in translation for a few years, almost ten by now, and as with all other kinds
of book publishing pursuits, though it’s made for a pleasant sort of life, it’s
been a struggle—whether in trying to succeed with translated books at a larger
publisher, finding allies in the internal, and eternal, fight for institutional
attention, or at a smaller publisher, where simply maintaining forward
momentum, feeling as though you can afford to continue to publish next month’s
or next season’s books, let alone have the resources to find the readers your
writers deserve, can feel like an overwhelming task. It’s a struggle because
the market for translated literature in English has become a small one, one
whose size is reflected in the number of books vying for its attention—around
four hundred new translated books are published in the US each year, a
vanishingly small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of
books published each year. The usual scapegoats for this imbalance are the big
commercial publishers, for abandoning the field; the national chain bookstores,
for destroying independent book-selling, refusing to stock translated books,
and, lately, for disappearing; Amazon, for being Amazon; readers, for their
lack of curiosity; critics, for their insularity; the media, for ignoring our
authors; and the internet, for irreversibly damaging our ability to focus.
Given the array of difficulties arrayed against us, publishers of translated
fiction would appear to be fighting a losing battle.
However, there is a less frequently discussed
source of our problems, one that we have a better chance of addressing and
changing: ourselves. There are many things we—publishers and agents,
translators and editors—are doing to make the whole business difficult for
ourselves, a whole a raft of assumptions we have been making for so long that
they no longer seem like assumptions, and we’re currently being given a chance,
if we take it, to reassess our situation and find new ways to work together to
continue to publish the books we love. I’d like to talk about some of these
assumptions; about what effect they’ve had on English-language translation
publishing; discuss how and why my publisher, Frisch & Co., was created as
an ebook publisher to address some of these assumptions; and suggest new ways
to publish translated fiction.
. . .
First, and for some of you this will be a bit boring, we should discuss how
things are traditionally done, and for that it’s necessary to start at the
Before you can publish a translation, there has to
be an original book. So let’s make up one that we can use as an example: we’ll
call our book ALTBERG and our fake German publisher Verlag Verlag.
Now, as an editor at an American publisher, and one
who (still!) doesn’t read German but who has an interest in publishing
translated books, how do I find, out of the hundreds and hundreds of thousands
of novels that are being published each year world-wide, any number of which
might be interesting to me as a publisher, and given the generally high quality
of the novels which are available, since these books have already been
published by, in many cases, prestigious publishing houses, to wide acclaim,
often internationally, and have won numerous prizes, etc., and given the relatively
high percentage of these books for which rights are available, that number
approaching one hundred percent, the translation into English market being
almost completely wide open, how do I find ALTBERG?
To find these books, I need intermediaries, often
an entire network of intermediaries, to guide me toward those books that are
most suitable, whatever suitable might mean, for me. And there are many types
of intermediaries: institutional ones, the original publishers themselves for
example, whom you might meet at book fairs and who send you catalogs of their
latest titles; cultural ones, such as the German Book Office, the French Publishers Agency, or the Finnish
Literary Exchange, who promote their national literatures by
sponsoring trips to their countries or through the publication of sample
translations of their important authors; individuals, whether they be
translators, bloggers, critics, or other authors, who provide sample
translations and make pitches, write reviews, and make recommendations;
literary agents, who represent an ever-increasing number of authors; magazines
and newspapers, such as Words Without Borders, Granta, orAsymptote, who publish sample translations, or organize themed issues around the
literatures of certain countries or languages; or perhaps your publisher has an
established network, made up of an amalgamation of these people, who make
regular recommendations. Traditionally, it has been important to maintain
contacts with all of these groups, to poll them regularly, to read their work,
to travel to their countries on editors’ trips, and by pulling together all
these disparate bits of information, to choose which books you would like to
publish. Managing this whole process, getting to know it intimately so it can
begin to work for you, is the work of many years, and the whole business is a
black hole which is capable of absorbing all of the energy you direct toward
it—no amount of effort will get you close to knowing all there is to know, or
to meeting everyone there is to meet, or to reading everything there is to
Despite the long odds, lots of books come through
the process and find their way into English, and for the purposes of this
example, let’s say ALTBERG is just such a book, that it has gotten
good reviews in Germany and found an audience there, that it has been selected
for New Books in German, has had a
sample translated for that publication, was pitched to me by Verlag Verlag at
the Frankfurt Book Fair, was recommended to me by a friend who works at a Dutch
publisher, and so on, and that there’s something about it that stands out from
every other book from every other country that has been pitched to me in the
exact same way, that I find it compelling to read, or hope it might be from the
forty pages of translation I was able to read, or that a translator I like sent
me a small sample of the book, on the off-chance. . ., or I read about the book
on a weblog, etc., etc., and it seems like it might sell, that is,
be worth the effort of paying for the translation, printing, distribution, then
I might find my way to deciding to publish ALTBERG.
. . .
If I’ve decided to pursue ALTBERG, I need to
acquire the rights to publish the book in English from Verlag Verlag. When
Verlag Verlag bought the rights to publishALTBERG in Germany, they also
bought the translation rights, so they can sell the book to other publishers in
territories around the world—France, Spain, etc. Some of these languages have
their territories split up into different countries. In English, for example,
you can buy the rights to publish a book in the US, in Canada, the UK, etc., or
some combination thereof. If I’m an American publisher, then, who wants to
publish ALTBERG, I would typically buy North American (NA) rights to the
book, meaning I can sell the book in the US and Canada; it’s unlikely that I
would have the resources to publish the book in the UK, or
Australia—maintaining separate offices in the US and the UK is expensive, as is
printing in one country and shipping the books to another, and it’s rare that a
publisher in the US or UK has the media contacts, bookstore relationships, etc.
to be successful in the other—so the original publisher holds on to those
rights and tries to find publishers who reside in those territories.
To buy the rights to ALTBERG, I need to
negotiate an agreement with Verlag Verlag, and the way this is typically done
is through the payment of an advance. For most English language translations,
the offer is quite modest, in the neighborhood of a few thousand dollars. Let’s
say the offer for ALTBERG is $1,000 USD, just to make the math a
bit simpler, for NA rights, with a royalty of 10% on net sales of the paperback
edition—and 10% is, again, just to make the math simpler; paperback royalties
can start lower and escalate after a certain number of copies (or just be
lower, or higher, it depends). This means that Verlag Verlag is guaranteed to
receive $1,000 USD, no matter what else happens. After they “earn out”
that $1,000 USD, they will get 10% on each copy sold. This is a tricky
point, and not being a math person, it took me awhile to wrap my mind around
it, so maybe an example would help. Let’s say each copy I sell of the
English-language edition of ALTBERG nets me $10. Verlag Verlag would
get $1 out of that $10. But since I already paid them $1,000 as an advance,
Verlag Verlag wouldn’t start getting that $1 per book until after I had sold
1,000 copies. From copy 1,001 until our contract expires, Verlag Verlag would
get $1 from each copy sold, but only $1.
The use of the advance/royalty structure makes a
lot of sense: When I buy the rights to ALTBERG in English, I have no
idea how many copies I’m going to sell. Neither does Verlag Verlag. I want to
sell as many copies as I can, while keeping the advance I pay for the privilege
to sell those copies quite low. In other words, I want the
advance to earn out, because once the advance earns out, I’m making 90% of the
money (setting aside all my costs for the moment). Verlag Verlag is hoping to
get as high an advance as possible, so they’re guaranteed to get some money for
the rights, while protecting themselves by getting a royalty in case the book
sells a lot of copies. The reason I get 90% is because I’m taking the lion’s
share of the risks—the book may sell nothing at all, in which case I’m out the
advance to Verlag Verlag, the translation costs, the distribution costs, the marketing
costs, etc.—and without me, Verlag Verlag wouldn’t be able to realize anything
from the foreign rights that they control. So we compromise: I take the risk
early, before the book is published and just after it’s published, and they
take the risk late—the book may sell more copies than they expect, and they
would only get 10% of those sales.
. . .
Now that we have the rights to ALTBERG, we’ll
need to have it translated into English, and that means we have to find a
translator. Often, a translator is attached to the project already—perhaps they
approached me in the first place, translated a sample for the original
publisher, or they have a standing relationship with the author. Sometimes, you
have to find a translator on your own, which can be as much of a dark art as
discovering a book in the first place. You have to find someone whose work you
like or, if you don’t know their work or they’re just starting, ask them to
translate a sample for you (often on spec); they have to have time to take on
the project, which can range from 3-4 months to more than a year, or years,
depending on the book; and you have to hope the translator likes the book
enough to take on the work—a vanishingly small number of translators can make a
living from literary translation, it’s a labor of love.
If you’ve found a translator, and she has time, and
the inclination, the two of you need to sign a contract for the work.
Translation contracts also often work on an
advance/royalty basis, though they can just as often be simply fee-based. The
amount of the advance/fee is generally in the amount of $100 USD per
1000 words, though that can be higher depending on the translator or project.
Since book lengths can vary widely, anywhere from 30,000 words to as high as
300,000 words, or higher, the advances can also vary, in these cases from
$3,000 to $30,000 USD, and they’re sometimes accompanied by a small
royalty of 1 or 2%; I always think of this small royalty as the
in-case-of-One-Hundred-Years-of-Solitude clause—were the publisher to sell a
million copies, at least the translator would see some of that windfall.
For publishers, the translation costs are a
significant burden—they’re almost invariably higher than the costs of buying
the publication rights and are usually higher than the costs of printing the
books—so publishers do as much as they can to keep these costs low, most often
by applying for translation grants to cover some portion of that outlay. These
grants are usually paid by foreign cultural organizations—like the Institut Ramon Llull for Catalan authors,
the Goethe-Institutfor Germans, or the Fundação Biblioteca National for
Brazilians—though there are funding sources in the US and UK as well (ALTA has a big list of funding sources here). But, in most cases, these translation grants cannot be applied for
until after the contracts with the original publisher and translator have
already been signed, and they’re not paid out until after the
books are published. There are also no guarantees that publishers will be
granted these awards, nor how large the grants will be if they are awarded.
Things to note: 1) translators are usually paid
before the books are available for sale, and well before any grants are
received; 2) translators are paid a fee and can’t expect to see any benefit
from book sales; and 3) publishers depend on grants to support translations.
. . .
The large publishers have decided that publishing
translations is a waste of time, effort, and money, leaving a gap that has been
gamely filled by smaller publishers. Smaller publishers have limited financial
resources, however, and publishing books, it turns out, is an expensive
business. But how much does it cost? Well, assuming the work of editing,
designing, and promoting the books is done by fairies, and we’re only talking
about the costs associated with the creation, marketing, and distribution of
the books, with actually getting your books to the marketplace and making some
small effort to get them noticed, it would look something like this (though
these numbers are highly variable):
oPrint Run (2,000 copies @ 200 pages each): $4,000
oTranslation Cost: $5,500
oAuthor/Publisher Advance: $1,000
oTotal for one edition: $16,500
But if you’re a publisher, you’d like to do more
than one book per year, so you can expect your costs to be a multiple of that
number; let’s say you would need $165,000 to publish ten books each year.
Assuming you’re selling your books to retailers at a discount—you’re always
selling books to bookstores at a discount—you would need to sell around 2,750
copies of each of your books. The problem, however, is that translated fiction
doesn’t regularly sell in this range, or at least not regularly enough to rely
on reaching that number, and once you take salaries into account (sadly, there
are no publishing fairies), you can expect your publisher to be operating well
in the red.
This creates a gap which much be bridged, and
translation publishers are forced to find this bridge-money from third parties,
often by becoming non-profits. They generally find the money in governments,
whether local (the National Endowment for the Arts, the Arts Council England)
or foreign (the Austria
Cultural Forum,NORLA, The Icelandic
Literature Fund); through rainmaker donations, like the one given
to the World Republic of Letters and at Universities, where the losses publisher incur are
supposedly offset by the benefits they bring to the University community.
Being dependent on subsidies affects these
publishers a great deal. They have to spend significant time fund-raising,
writing grants, organizing fund-raising campaigns, and cultivating donors. They
have to use their lists creatively, occasionally by creating large, and
well-funded, publishing initiatives, which help paper over the revenue gap but
at the cost of clogging up their pipelines with books they might not otherwise
have chosen to publish. They need to rely on their reader donations to fund
critical infrastructure maintenance, like Greywolf did with
their website. They have to publish books that are funding-friendly, which can
result in a kind of tacit censorship—will I publish books I know have little
chance of receiving funding? Partnering with Universities also complicates
matters: budgets subject to the whim of ever-changing administrations, and at a
time of increasing cost-cutting; classes to teach; student interns to manage;
numerous campus stakeholders to satisfy.
There are, of course, for-profit translation publishers,
like AmazonCrossing, about which it’s probably necessary to say nothing; or New
Directions, who are supported by a strong backlist; or Europa Editions, which
was founded by a successful Italian publisher, but even for-profit publishers
take advantage of subsidies to support their translators and rely on sponsored
editors’ trips to investigate local publishing scenes.
In the main, translation publishing is subsidized
If ALTBERG was our example for how things usually to work, I’m going
to use my publisher, Frisch & Co., as an example of one way things could work
and explain how I’ve structured the publisher to address some of the
assumptions which have become embedded in translation publishing.
. . .
I’ve spent a significant amount of time staring at
the submissions in my inbox, both on my computer and at the seemingly asexually
reproducing piles on my bookshelves, wondering how to make sense of it all:
Translators send samples of various lengths in English, which must be read;
rights agents send pitch letters attached to books in French, German, Italian,
for which you’re supposed to find readers (for free) who will write reader’s
reports, though you have no readers, and you would have no way of judging their
reports, for good or ill, since you chose them mainly because they could read
French (and would do the work for free); publishers send seasonal catalogs
which describe their recently-published books, and some of the catalogs are
even in English!, though occasionally in such tortured English that it’s
difficult to tell what the book is about, let alone whether or not it’s
interesting to you; agents email you about their clients, each one more
decorated than the last, hoping you might be interested. And in looking at
these piles, and the unending list of unanswered emails, in collecting at these
samples, hints, in sifting through the recommendations, I would wonder from
time to time: Am I treating world literature like a slush pile? Since all of
this information is coming from people I’ve come to like, admire, and respect,
is it strange that I am treating it, treating them, like a
slush pile? With all this information, with all the time I’ve spent pursuing
more and more of it, have I done anything, really, to draw closer to
discovering good books, that also might sell? In these moments, and
more and more lately, it struck me that the entire exercise, as frustrating,
pleasurable, and interesting as it was, smacked of hubris: Who the hell am I
to. . . ? You know? And then, finally and most of all, couldn’t there be a
Of course, there’s also a reason things are done
this way—it works, somehow. I’ve published lots of books I’m very proud of, by
incredible authors, and they all came from engaging in exactly this kind of
process. I’m sure most of our favorite authors were translated into English in
the same way. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to have achieved
these kinds of results, and it is very expensive (in all senses
of the word) to do things this way.
It occurred to me that if I wanted to start my own
translation publisher, and fill so many of the necessary roles myself, that
this process was too expensive; and that much of the reason we had done things
the way we had, and for so long, was simply because we had, and for so long;
and that I would need to find a way to draw a circle around what I could
reasonably expect to do. This labor-intensive discovery process fell outside
the circle. Once I settled on the necessity of constraint, I had to find a way
to make sure that whatever process I did decide on would have good results; I
wanted to continue to publish books that I could be proud of.
One of the reasons why world literature could be my
slush pile is because there are so few books translated into English, which
means that few foreign publishers, including the most significant ones, with
long histories of publishing their country’s great authors, could expect to
sell the rights of their books into English. If they wanted to sell those
rights, find English readers for their authors, they are completely dependent
on this convoluted discovery process. They can make every effort to promote
their books abroad, but in the end, someone has to approach them and say, We’d
like to publish this book in our language. It works in Europe, for the most
part, because Europe has a polyglot culture, (and interestingly, and crucially
for me, one where English is the lingua franca) and, from an outsiders
perspective, European authors move relatively easily from one language to
another. But when it comes to the English-language market, this process breaks
down. If you look at the list of translations that Chad Post has created and go
to the trouble of finding out who originally published those books, you’ll see
that, with a few notable exceptions, many of the great European publishing
houses are simply underrepresented in English, especially given their outsized
influence in their local literary cultures. To the foreign publisher, the
results of this discovery process are consistently disturbing.
It’s obvious that a German editor has a better
sense of what important books and writers are being published in Germany than I
would. But for some reason, we publishers have tended to ignore their advice or
treated it, at best, as just another piece of information to consider, which is
why you see English translation publishers cherry picking authors from
publishers all over the world (to be fair, it pretty much works this way
everywhere else as well). But the prestigious publishers are prestigious precisely
because they have a history of publishing important books and authors, and
if the results of the usual discovery process are more or less random anyway,
and I don’t see any other way to describe it, you could do worse than limiting
yourself to choosing authors and books only from these publishers, or some
group of them (the same could be said of of highly successful commercial
publishers). These publishers make it their business to be expert in their
literatures, to choose books that have significant literary merit and, since in
most cases they still have vibrant literary cultures, ones that sell too.
Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel.
What I eventually decided to do was to collect a
group of these kinds of publishers in different countries and partner with
them. Each year, we’ll choose a few books from their respective lists to publish
in English. Rather than treating their tips as a small subset of the larger
group of tips I was receiving, I now think of these publishers as a variety of
literary scout, or as publishers who, as a part of their normal publishing
process, also throw off a kind of literary scouting product; I can use this
publishing surplus to guide my own publishing program, and I don’t have to
disappear down the rabbit hole of nearly-limitless choice. With a group of five
of six partners, I can easily find ten books each year which are both
interesting to me as a reader, are important works of literature, and have a
good potential of finding an English-language audience.
There are downsides to doing things this way, of
course. You’re not casting your net as widely—there are certainly worthy books
that Frisch & Co. will miss out on, and ones that I would like to
publish—and there is something exciting about feeling as though the world is
yours to choose from (I think it was Barbara Epler who described it as picking
your favorites from a field of flowers), but it’s a far more efficient process
and one that keeps alive the possibility of discovering new and exciting
writers, both of which are important to a small publisher like mine.
These kinds of partnerships benefit the original
publishers as well. Publishers can guarantee that a certain number of their
books will be translated into English each year, no small claim given the facts
on the ground. Having an English translation can be a boost to foreign rights
sales and can attract authors, many of whom would like to reach an English
audience. And what’s more, it can allow for a new kind of relationship to form
. . .
In changing the cost structure of publishing,
ebooks have also removed a few of the costs that necessitated the
advance/royalty structure. The initial costs assumed by the translation
publisher are much lower—distribution costs aren’t encountered until after the
books begin to sell, there are no printing costs—so they are assuming less risk
in acquiring the rights to these books. Therefore, there is less need for them
to receive a higher royalty rate to offset their initial outlays. Since the
translation publisher can take a lower royalty, there is less of a need for the
original publisher to ask for a large advance; they can work with a lower
advance in exchange for a higher royalty. And since ebooks are sold online,
there is less need to split the rights into different territories. It’s
possible for translation publishers to reach a large audience without
necessarily having an especially large network of on-the-ground media contacts
in different countries, and it may be more efficient to sell English language
rights to a single publisher, increasing their overall potential audience.
Partially because of the risks in print publishing,
inter-publisher relationships have tended to be one-off and have an adversarial
feel—I’m trying to pay the original publisher as little as possible and they’re
trying to get as much as possible, and once we’ve agreed on a contract, we may
not speak again until, or if, we happen to find another book to work on, or
when the royalty statements are due. This adversarial tone also dictated, in a
sense, the advance structure we’ve been talking about. But if publishers could
form longer-term partnerships, ones that extended to multiple books, perhaps a
less adversarial relationship could emerge. When I began to think about what
these new partnerships might look like, it occurred to me that, in a certain
light, Frisch & Co. could be seen as a service. A service
whereby publishers release a few of their books into the English-language
market each year, but without incurring any of the up-front costs that would be
necessary to launch such an effort on their own. And if I could gather several
prestigious publishers together, their books would support each other; in the
end, they would be participating in a consortium with other European publishers
who have come together, through Frisch & Co., to publish their books into
This is a far different sort of relationship than
publishers usually have with one another, and it calls for a different kind of
advance/royalty structure as well. For example, the original publishers could
see their participation in this ‘consortium’ as a kind of investment, foregoing
the traditional advance/royalty structure for a higher royalty that would
commence much earlier, perhaps with the first book sold. If the books don’t
sell, they have lost very little; due to the particularities of the English
market, these rights have, for the most part, gone begging anyway. But if the
books do sell, they would stand to benefit a great deal, much more than they
would by accepting a low advance and a small royalty. Either way, they’ve found
a way to reach the English market at a very low cost, and without having to
rely on a process that has benefitted them unreliably and only occasionally.
. . .
Like inter-publisher relationships, the
translator/publisher relationship has also tended to have an adversarial undertone,
and for similar reasons. From the publisher’s perspective, translation is a
huge cost, and one they’d like to do everything they can to keep low.
Translators know that publishers stand to benefit financially from their work,
and they know they can expect to receive relatively little pay for that work,
especially considering what they’ve paid, both personally and financially, to
even put themselves in a position to begin to do that work,
not to mention the unpaid legwork they do in discovering many of these books in
the first place, the unpaid translation work they do to create samples, and the
unpaid agenting work they do to try to get these books published.
Paradoxically, the subsidies available to
publishers have allowed translator rates to remain steady, if still too low,
while simultaneously preventing translators from accessing the actual
profit-making part of the whole enterprise—the royalties—and ensuring that
there are a limited number of translation opportunities available. Like with
the advances to the original publishers, translation publishers are willing to
pay an advance to translators if they can make sure that they would receive
most of the profits, assuming there are any, later. And small publishers can
continue, for the most part, to offer these advances because they have access
to funding. For translators, the positive side of this arrangement is that they
are protected in case the book fails: if the translator gets a $5000 fee and
the book sells 200 copies, well, that’s a pity, but at least they were paid
$5000 for their work. On the other hand, if the book sells 20,000 copies, they
still only get $5000. Realistically, however, the number of copies sold tends
to fall somewhere between these two extremes, though closer to the lower end of
the scale, and it’s this imbalance—that the translator’s ‘high’ advance plays a
role in making publishing these books, without support, financially
difficult—which lowers the number of opportunities translators have to
translate. By having to rely on subsidies to pay advances, publishers are
forced to limit the number, and type, of translations they’re able to do. Of
all the players, translators are most dependent upon, and most vulnerable to,
the granting organizations.
If publishers and translators were willing to share
more equitably, to function more as partners than adversaries, this situation
could change, and more translations could be published from more translators
and for a wider variety of books. But for this to happen, both sides will need
to compromise: publishers will need to share the profits from their sales with
the translators at a higher rate, and translators will have to be willing to
forego higher initial advances, taking on a larger share of the risk, in
exchange for a larger share of the profits. Both parties have to agree to
succeed and fail together, to the level that they’re comfortable with, whatever
that mean for each specific project, and to choose the books they work on
I’m trying to build these kinds of relationships at
Frisch & Co. It goes without saying that I will continue to work to find
grants for my translators, but my goal is to find a way to publish translations
without having to rely on grants, by sharing the profits from the sales of the
ebooks with the translators more equitably, which will, I hope, result in
translators continuing to be able to pursue the work they care about.
. . .
Around the world, subsidies for culture are being
cut, and given the increasingly grim economic news, it’s seems there’s a good
chance that these subsidies may shrink further, to levels which won’t sustain
translation publishing as it currently exists. We should, of course, continue
to fight to reverse this trend, but at the same time, we should be preparing
for their reduction or eventual end. What would translation publishing look
like if subsidies ended tomorrow? How could we continue to make these books
available to English readers without them?
By necessity, Frisch & Co. was created to
function well in a reduced-funding environment, and ebooks make functioning in
this way possible. Let’s look at what it would cost to publish an ebook, for a
book that sells for $10:
oPrint Run: n/a, $0
oAuthor/Publisher: ~$3 per copy
oDistribution (Amazon, iBooks, etc.): ~$4 per copy
oShipping: n/a, $0
oTotal: $7 per copy sold
Since we’re publishing ebooks, there are no
printing costs, and the distribution costs are only charged on a per-book
basis—there are no up-front distribution costs. And we don’t have to ship the
books to any bookstores, or reviewers, so this cost is also zero. This leaves a
‘profit’ of $3 per copy sold for the translator and publisher to split.
There are good and bad sides to publishing only
ebooks: if you can manage to keep your other up-front costs low—rights,
translation, discovery—or move them to royalties as well, you can publish books
very inexpensively (again, assuming publishing fairies). Since your initial
costs are low, you can afford to publish whichever books you like, without
needing to have worry about subsidies—instead of being a necessity, grants
become very nice, you don’t need to rely on them to make your
publishing program work. You can distribute your books world-wide, increasing
your potential audience beyond the US and the UK; your books would be available
to anyone who can read English. The downsides are many: a portion of $3 per
book is not a big number, so it’s necessary to be, or to remain, a relatively
small publisher; there are no established marketing methods—like sending out
physical review copies, for example—and your readers are in many, many more
places, meaning you have to make a bigger effort to find them; the size of the
market for ebooks of translated literature is a complete unknown (though I
imagine it to be a growing one); it’s uncertain how reviewers will treat the
What’s important to me, however, is that ebooks
will allow me to continue publishing literature in translation; I couldn’t have
raised $200,000 or more to found what was likely to be a money-losing
proposition anyway, given the realities of traditional print-based translation
publishing, and having to face that reality necessitated finding new ways to
work. Dedicating my publisher to ebook-only publishing has allowed me to create
a structure that distributes both risk and success more equitably. And this is
a model that any number of smaller and start-up publishers could
. . .
Publishing is changing, and it’s not going to get
any easier, especially for those of us who want to publish translated books.
Difficulty is no excuse for not trying, however, and if we hope to continue
bringing authors into English, we need to seriously examine our expectations—of
process, of readership, of scale, of guarantees, of what must be done and what
can be done; to find new way to collaborate—to consider experiment and risk
failure; and to take advantage of the opportunities which these unasked-for but
undeniable technological changes have provided.
La Facultad de Traducción e Interpretación (FTI, antiguamente ETI) de la Universidad de Ginebra ofrece, desde 2005, un Báchelor (primera formación universitaria) en Comunicación Multilingüe, un Máster en Traducción que se decanta en cuatro especialidades posibles (traducción especializada, traducción especializada con enfoque de traducción jurídica, traductología y tecnologías de la traducción) y un Máster en Interpretación de Conferencias, entre otros.
Diego Guzmán Bourdelle-Cazals es licenciado en Lengua y Literatura Modernas Francesas y maestro en Traducción Especializada por la Universidad de Ginebra, donde trabaja, desde 2012, como asistente de investigación para el Centre d'études en traduction juridique et institutionnelle. Ha trabajado como traductor para la ONU en Ginebra, la OIT y agencias de traducción. Participó en el V° Seminario de Jóvenes Traductores Literarios Hispano Americanos, organizado por el IFAL. Actualmente, es traductor independiente y se encuentra terminando su segunda maestría en la Universidad de Ginebra, en paralelo con la preparación de un proyecto de doctorado en traducción jurídica.
Georganne Weller es licenciada en Relaciones Internacionales, además de traductora e intérprete por el ISIT, es también maestra en sociolingüística y doctora en lingüística aplicada. Tiene una vasta experiencia académica, tanto en universidades mexicanas como en instituciones en el extranjero. Tiene una experiencia de 30 años como traductora independiente y 15 años como intérprete de conferencias. Es miembro de diferentes asociaciones profesionales de traducción mexicanas y estadunidense. Actualmente coordina la Maestría en traducción e interpretación de la Universidad Anáhuac.
Queridos colegas, En estas
fechas, el Círculo de Traductores está cumpliendo un año. En este
año han ocurrido muchas cosas, planeadas y no planeadas, pero todas
buenas. Hemos conocido a muchos colegas nuevos, gente que nos ha
escrito a la cuenta desde muy diversos lugares y con quienes hemos
podido entablar intercambios de lo más interesantes. Muchas gracias
a todos. El Círculo de Traductores es básicamente una red de
colegas que comparte información, ideas, invitaciones, convocatorias
y oportunidades que puedan resultar útiles e interesantes para el
surtido de gente que formamos este gremio, así que a las cuatro que
lo animamos nos resulta muy gratificante que crezca y se
fortalezca. Como regalo de cumpleaños para todos ustedes y
para ampliar la red, dimos un gran paso tecnológico y estrenamos una
personalidad en facebook, como pueden ver en este
O simplemente busquen Círculo de Traductores en el facebook y
entablen amistad con un simple clic.
Este es un buen momento
para que inviten a más personas a unirse a la red del Círculo.
Aquellos de ustedes que son maestros en alguna institución, inviten
a sus alumnos a sumarse, ya sea por las redes sociales o escribiendo
a esta cuenta de correo, para que les lleguen los materiales y
avisos. Si son alumnos, inviten a sus compañeros y profesores. Si
son traductores independientes, freelanceros, inviten a los colegas
que conozcan. También hágannos sus sugerencias de temas para las
charlas, envíen material para circular, etc. Para todo eso es la
Una parte central del Círculo son las charlas mensuales
sobre temas específicos relacionados con traducción. En este primer
año se realizaron doce sesiones presenciales en el Centro Cultural
de España, sobre muy diversos temas. Hasta el momento, estamos en
deuda con los videos de estas sesiones, que esperábamos ir subiendo
sobre la marcha. Es un asunto que está en manos de alguna deidad
tecnológica que al parecer no sabemos invocar como es debido, puesto
que no nos responde, pero esperamos que esto no tarde mucho más,
para que podamos ver y oír nuevamente a quienes este año fueron
compartiendo su experiencia, conocimiento y entusiasmo, siempre de
manera generosa y solidaria. Sirva este mensaje para reiterarles
nuestro agradecimiento. En nuestro blog pueden consultar los datos de
las próximas sesiones: circulodetraductores.blogspot.com
saben, un importante modelo y fuente de inspiración para el Círculo
es el Club de Traductores Literarios de Buenos Aires, diligentemente
dirigido por Jorge Fondebrider, así que aprovechamos también para
enviarles un saludo a nuestros colegas del otro hemisferio y a la
gente del Club. Otra inspiración determinante fue 17, Instituto de
Estudios Críticos, en particular Francisco Pérez. Con 17
incursionamos en los cursos y talleres de su área de Extensión, que
está siendo una experiencia intensa e interesante. También los
próximos cursos y talleres los pueden consultar en el blog.
en todo cumpleaños, llegó la hora de la piñata, que en este primer
cumpleaños trae un surtido rico de archivos adjuntos que nos han
enviado los colegas. Esta piñata no viene muy caramelosa, sino que
trae un aire de desafío a las políticas lingüísticas de las
instancias españolas que se erigen en dueñas y recaudadoras de una
lengua que construimos día a día entre todos. Creo que la van a
1. Silvia Senz y Jorge Fondebrider enviaron
un artículo de Juan Jesús Zaro cuyo título ya lo dice todo: "El
'desafío' austral: las relaciones entre las industrias traductoras
argentina y española”; es el capítulo 4 del libro de M. C. C.
Vidal Claramonte y M. R. Martín Ruano (eds.), Traducción,
política(s), conflictos: legados y retos para la era del
Comares, 2013). Este artículo se publicará próximamente en este blog y en el del Club de Traductores Literarios de Buenos Aires (http://clubdetraductoresliterariosdebaires.blogspot.mx/)
2. Estos debates entre España y sus ex colonias americanas se
vienen arrastrando más o menos con los mismos argumentos desde el
siglo XIX, como muestra el artículo de Graciana Vázquez, “La
lengua española, ¿herencia cultural o proyecto político-económico?
Debates en el Congreso literario hispanoamericano de 1892”,
publicado en Revista Signos 41(66), 2008, pp. 81-106 (disponible en:
3. También los desafíos a la norma tienen su
historia, como lo vemos en el artículo de Gerta Payás que envió
también Silvia Senz y que va adjunto: "Tradukzión i rrebelión
ortográfika”, publicado en TRANS: revista de traductología núm.
12 (2008), pp. 15-28 (disponible en: