3 Characteristics Your Literary Translator Should Possess: A Guide for Authors

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If you’ve already published a book, whether in English or any other language, you might be thinking about taking it to new markets to expand your fanbase and grow your income. One of the best ways of doing this is by having your work translated into a different language, giving readers in other parts of the world the opportunity to fall in love with your story. If your book isn’t in English, tapping by far the biggest market is a must; if you’ve already published in English, it’s important to remember that while this is the most widely spoken language on the planet, the majority of people still don’t speak it. 

Reaching new markets means hiring a literary translator who can not only render your book into another language but also another cultural context while maintaining your style, tone, and voice. You can’t just shove your manuscript into the hands of a bilingual friend and expect them to do a professional job—translation, especially literary translation, is a lot more than that! A literary translator needs to deliver the same feel—the same nuances, style, and tone—as your original prose, which requires special expertise.

Finding a legitimate, experienced freelance literary translator on the internet is no easy task as there are plenty of fakes and amateurs out there. Professionalism truly matters in literary translation because sloppy, unnatural, or confusing renditions of a text will break your readers’ immersion and ruin their experience. If you’re ready to partner with an experienced professional translator, reach out to our literary translation team and start dreaming on a global scale!

Not sure what to look for in a literary translator? Let’s take a look at some of the most important characteristics they should possess. 

1. Love of books

Literary translation is unlike any other type of translation because it focuses on conveying the meaning and message of an entire book. Your work may contain myriad cultural references, wordplay, double meanings, or subtle literary devices that can’t be rendered into another language literally, forcing your translator to dig deeper to find the best solution.

To master the craft, a literary translator should possess a strong background in literature or at least a deep knowledge of it. Translating a full manuscript requires a specialized set of creative and academic skills that come from being well-read and understanding literature from different time periods and cultures. 

This is incredibly important since successfully translating a literary work doesn’t require merely mastering the source and target languages but also grasping the cultural connotations and conventions that set them apart. Your literary translator should thus have a solid grasp of both cultures as well as what constitutes good writing in both languages, all while conserving the style and tone of your original prose.

There is something special about literature—about its flow, deeper meaning, and penetrative look at the human condition—that a good literary translator will keep in mind to ensure that the text maintains its richness. Sure, you could hire a translator who works with marketing copy or video subtitles, but they’re unlikely to have the literary knowledge required to convey the depth of your writing in another language. Literary translation is one of the most demanding niches in translation, and not all translators are cut out for it.

2. Strong creative writing skills

A literary translator must also be a good writer because they’re not just substituting words in one language for words in another but retelling a story to a new audience while keeping its characters and narrative arc intact. They need to possess creative skills to make your writing sound just as evocative in another language and to retain your voice and style throughout the translated work without losing the flow of ideas and language that you worked so hard to perfect. 

As an author, you know writing skills aren’t easy to cultivate, and certainly not everyone has the skills to tell a story effectively, so you want to make sure your literary translator does. In some cases, a literary translator may have to take a great deal of creative liberty to preserve the feeling of the source text. For example, if your story contains a poem that’s supposed to rhyme or a catchy business slogan that relies on alliteration, your translator will have to come up with entirely new content that still fits the overall theme and serves the purpose of the literary element to maintain the rhyming pattern or alliteration.

Ideally, you want a translator who likes your book and gets your message, but even if your work doesn’t resonate with them, a professional will make sure they understand your motives and meaning so that they can replicate it. This love for narrative and storytelling is usually cultivated through creative writing, and it’s not something every translator out there possesses. 

If you’re unsure about a translator’s writing skills, ask them for a creative writing sample. They should be a native speaker of the language they’re translating into, so they may not have any samples in English. If they do, it’s a good way to gauge their skills, even if English isn’t their first language, since writing skills transcend language.

Other types of translators don’t necessarily need exceptional writing abilities to succeed. A simultaneous interpreter, for example, doesn’t need to hone their storytelling skills because they’re focused on relaying the exact words and messages in real time, but a literary translator must immerse themselves in the language, read and reread their sentences, and compare their output to the original text until it feels the same, even when seen through a different cultural lens. 

3. Rich experience in translating books

This might sound obvious, but if your goal is to sell your book in foreign markets, you don’t want to entrust its translation to an amateur or a translator who’s never worked on a full manuscript before. 

It’s important to hire someone who understands the rules and techniques of literary translation—such as linguistic amplification, elision, borrowing, adaptation, and compensation, among others—to ensure the final product is just as clear and engaging as the original. Since every language has different literary traditions and conventions, you want a translator who fully grasps what makes a good, professional book in their language.

Professional literary translators have experience using these techniques when necessary to make sure the overall meaning of your book is understood by the audience reading in the target language, even if it means rearranging some sections, excluding or adapting puns and jokes, or explaining a concept in greater detail. 

A savvy author may be able to pinpoint elements in their work that could pose a translation problem and provide instructions for the translator, which could be in the form of a general direction or a translation-safe rewrite of the element in question. That said, you still want to hire a translator capable of handling these issues on their own. An inexperienced one may not know how to use literary techniques to their advantage, and the quality of your translated book will suffer. 

To avoid dealing with inexperienced or unqualified literary translators, check out our literary translation services and talk to our team of experts. Whatever language you want your book translated into, we will find you a translator capable of delivering a polished text ready for publication and sale in other parts of the world. 

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