Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Things I've Learned: Ask the questions that need asking

This starts with the contract. So many questions that you'll have along the way can be answered while discussing the contract. Feel free to start with the offered contract, or with the PEN model contract, and work from there. Figure out WHY things are done the way they are. For example, if your contract is a work for hire contract, that actually means that you'll most likely have little to no say in the editing process, for better or for worse. But ask up front. "How involved will I be expected and allowed to be in the editing process?" Will I ever see my translation between the final draft and the published book?

Another thing: payment. Maybe you're going to get paid upon final delivery. Great. But is that payable on receipt? Is it Net 30? You'll feel better if you know when your money is coming in, and if you know it sooner rather than later.

Next, before you even start translating, talk to the editor. After you've read the book send her/him a list of stylistic questions. "How do you want me to handle the historical present tense?" "How much slang are you comfortable with this character using in English? There are equivalents to XYZ in the original."

Just ask. Ask your editor, the admin assistant, anyone who's involved. Don't be afraid of asking stupid questions, because chances are, they'll all be important at some point.


P.S. This was a tough love letter to myself. Dear Allison, I'm writing to you. Fix your mistakes. Learn from them. Do better next time. I know you can.

Things I've Learned: Research Early, Research Often

Seriously. Just do it.

Oh, more information? Right.

I thought I was being very smart, researching all the vocabulary I needed as I went along, as well as most of the historical references. (Did you know, for example, that Nadar was a pioneer in both photography and hot air ballooning, making him the first aerial photographer?)

But as it turns out, I had always left a few terms in each chapter to look up later. To check with other sources, other people. And then there was the pesky little problem of primary source translations. Some of a famous French author's work would undoubtedly be translated into English, no? So those translations should probably be the ones cited in my work, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel and do them all myself.

All this work kept piling up, and suddenly, I was three weeks from deadline with only enough time budgeted to finish a few last translations and re-edit everything. This, folks, is what you call a time crunch. And I got it done, because that's what you do.

But there is much more to translation than just translating. There is searching, and researching, and re-searching, and re-researching. There is asking around, and begging, and digging, and hunting. There is editing, and proofing, and rereading, and storming around the house because you can't find that one perfect word. Then, when you find what you were looking for, you realize it doesn't actually work.

Oh, and translating also includes the mountain of daily emails, and marketing yourself, and doing samples, and looking for new clients, and keeping existing clients happy. Literary translators usually have other work to keep themselves afloat.

It's a delicate balancing act, keeping all of that up in the air. But it's doable. And kinda fun.

"And I know things now, many valuable things, that I hadn't known before..." - Little Red, Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods"