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Mount Orégano
Sue Burke
Guide to International SF/F (Part I ) 
24th-Jun-2009 05:36 pm
SF Signal's Mind Meld has begun a discussion: "What is going on right now in the international sf/f scene that anglophone readers might be missing out on?"

This week features answers from Israel, Greece, Cuba, Peru, Poland, Turkey, Spain and France, including a comment by me.


Some of the commentators ask why works aren't being translated into English, or even demand that publishers get busy. But, as a translator, I already know why it's not happening.

Money. Translators don't work for free. Professional rates for speculative fiction short stories are 5 cents a word. Professional rates for translators are 10 cents per word or more, though they can be persuaded to cut their rates out of love for literature, but it takes a lot of work and time to translate a novel.

Genre publishers don't have a lot of money to toss around. In fact, a number of them are going under in the current economic crisis. Unless foreign authors or translators are willing to donate their work or at least accept cut-rate pay, the money's not there for the extra costs of translation.

There's another problem. As the Mind Meld responses indicate, English-language works dominate the market. That means foreign-language publishers only have to watch what's going on in the English-language market to spot books they would like to publish, and it's easy to find information about that with publications like Locus.

English-language publishers would have to watch the whole world: dozens of languages, and who provides a convenient, authoritative analysis of, say, the latest Greek or Russian works? There's not a language barrier, there's a language labyrinth.

Yes, Anglophones are missing a lot of good literature. But it's not because they're evil, don't care, or are culturally closed. Their problem is that they don't have a money tree in their backyards.
(Deleted comment)
24th-Jun-2009 05:54 pm (UTC)
Good question. There is sometimes a money tree: sometimes governments subsidize translations. Language politics are fierce in Europe.

In any case, foreign language rights are usually smaller than original language rights. Also, translators are easier to come by overseas, and they will work for less.

But mostly, it's that foreign publishers try to buy sure things. They snatch up the best-selling authors, George R.R. Martin rather than Joe Belowzero, and that makes the book more profitable because it will sell well. No risks.

To some extent, that is a cultural bulldozer. The winner of the Hugo gets more prestige than the winner of the Ignotus (the equivalent here in Spain). And, at least here in Spain, local genre writers rarely sell as well as the English-language ones, and in fact some authors used to have an English-sounding pen name. Spaniards have trouble believing that their own authors can write as well as Americans or Brits, at least in some genres.

And, as well, there is a dearth of material, or rather, a lot more material in English on some subjects, and it comes with a proven sales record and a ready-made publicity program.

All that makes foreign books attractive to publishers. Some books, that is.
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