Digital Publishing: Same Ol’, Same Ol’ for Translations, but New Opportunity for Translators

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In the run-up to the Frankfurt Book Fair, Anne Trager, founder and president of the translation publishing house Le French Book, discusses the impact of the digital age on translation publishing.

Le French Book - French books you'll love in English

French books you'll love in English

The best is still to come: getting more great stories to more readers.

After the initial effervescence of the expected e-book revolution, the publishing world has been all excited about global reach and distribution. And with global reach comes the issue of translation. In an ever-expanding digital landscape, just how much has translation publishing changed?

Anne Trager, founder and publisher of Le French Book, a New York-based publishing house focused on translations of commercial fiction from France, will address this question at the pre-Frankfurt Book Fair Business Club Breakfast dedicated to “Rights, Translation and Discovery in the Digital Age.” Here she shares some of her ideas.

What’s the best part of the digital publishing era?
The best is still to come. Only now are people starting to focus less on format and more on stories, and getting those stories to more readers. The digital age is full of opportunities, but they are not necessarily where we thought they would be. Let’s face it, everyone who thought e-books would change the face of publishing now probably agrees that e-books themselves are not a panacea. In fact, they add a layer of complexity to workflow and distribution. We need better tools.

But haven’t e-books changed the business?
E-books in and of themselves haven’t changed the basic model—particularly in translation publishing. Publishing is still a lottery, and you still need a big seller to pay the bills. Furthermore, as good as e-books are for backlists, the up-front costs connected to translation remain the same. Digital doesn’t change that. How do you fund the translation? How do you deal with different editorial traditions and reader expectations? In addition to the obstacle of high translation costs, translated authors are usually totally unknown in the destination country and can’t speak the target language to promote their books. So how exactly do you get your authors discovered worldwide?

Where are the opportunities?
Clearly not in the obvious places, but they are there. We now have the game-changing opportunity to distribute worldwide. This is key for works published in or translated into languages with worldwide reach. Furthermore, publishers, authors and translators have greater, more direct access to readers.

What next then?
In translation publishing, we now need to nurture a new kind of translator who will step up to the plate as a partner in getting books published and discovered. Publishers need to give these hybrid translators the support they need, and those translators need to get involved as authors of their translations, they need to be more proactive and play a more prominent and daring role in publishing. Authors develop their names as brands. Translators need to start doing that now.

What does this mean for translators?
Translation has traditionally been a thankless job. Translators were shadow figures, with their names in small print if mentioned at all, decried by editors, lambasted by the original-language authors, and the first blamed by critics for any weaknesses in a text. In addition, the usual model gives translators such a small percentage of royalties, if any at all, that they never earn out their advance.

Now, however, new models are opening up options to translators. These include revenue sharing, which means translators have a greater stake and potentially greater rewards and more recognition. This ultimately propels the translator to a rightful co-author status. As authors are learning these days, for a book to be successful, authors—and therefore translators—need to be entirely involved in the promotion and online presence. Translation and translation publishing is a team effort. That’s what we do at Le French Book.

About Anne Trager and Le French Book
Anne Trager is the founder and president of Le French Book. This publishing house brings mysteries and thrillers from France to new readers across the English-speaking world. Although Le French Book started digital-first, for Anne and her team, it’s all about the stories, and not at all about the format. A book is a book is a book. Now their titles are widely available in print and audio as well. Anne is American and comes from a background in translation and publishing.

©2014 Le French Book

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