Translations of Published Works

Reply Wed 14 Dec, 2022 08:00 pm
One of my karate teaching apprentices in India has been working on a Tamil translation of Volume 1 of my book series. Another of my students in Argentina wants to do the same into Spanish for his dojo, and my teaching apprentice in Germany wants to tackle the same. I'm delighted that they think the books are worth such time and effort. Translation of entire texts (400 to 600 pages) is quite a project!

There are three volumes in English already, and I am working on the 4th.

My question is, when someone translates a work like that, do they normally own the copyright to the translation (not the original, of course)? Does the translator normally give a percentage of the profits back to the author?

I understand that translators actually get very little for their work, especially if the author is alive and the copyright is still in effect. While I am not able to actually pay them for it (I never asked for translations; they do this voluntarily), I want to be generous with whatever profits come from the sales in their countries.

I guess it boils down to whatever I want to allow since it's my own work, etc. But I wonder if others here have any experience in this, and any advice.

Of course, any authorized translation will bear the caveat "If in any case the translation of this work or any part thereof is in question, the original
English version will take precedent".
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Reply Sun 15 Jan, 2023 05:37 am
Seizan, I asked a friend of mine who has experience with translation if he could help and this is his reply. I hope it's useful.

The translation rights issue: Normally, an author signs a contract with the publisher and the publisher takes care of everything. In academic publishing for example, unless the author is a superstar, you get a royalty consisting of some percentage of the sales revenue. Or you might get a flat fee. Or you might get nothing, other than professional renown, which is significant for academics.

If there is to be a translation, the publisher hires a translator, sometimes in consultation with the author if the author has clout. But the publishers have their own process for vetting a translator, usually dependent on that translator’s previous experience with that genre of text, and the translator has to submit a sample before the publisher offers a translation contract. Typically the translator will get a flat fee or a tiny part of the revenue. Unless they’re a superstar translator, like the guy who did all of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ work or the woman who does Elena Ferrante’s writing.

But it sounds like this work is self-published, maybe published only in electronic form. The author doesn’t even mention a publisher. So I have to assume that the author retains the rights and has not sold them to a publisher. In that case, the author can make whatever arrangement they wish to make with the translator. I would strongly suggest that a contract be drawn up making clear that the author retains the rights not only to the original but to the translations, and how the translator will be remunerated, flat fee, percentage of revenue, etc. Otherwise, anything could happen once these books get out. The contract can make it clear that the translated text is the responsibility of the translator but the rights are retained by the author.

I think you can see how this would work much more smoothly with a publisher contracting with the author and with the translators. Here it sounds like the author is acting like the publisher. If that’s the case, they should do what the publisher does in contracting with translators.
Reply Sun 15 Jan, 2023 11:54 pm
This sounds quite reasonable, thanks.

I am the author and publisher (I self-publish). I will come to an agreement with the students who wish to translate my works. I'm not too worried about profits, etc. My target audience is rather small, and I doubt sincerely that the books will sell in a big way. Translating these will be a bear!
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