“There's really no difference between authors and translators,” Carsten Peters assures

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I've just got back from the 52nd ATA Annual Conference in Boston and I'm really excited about the sessions I was able to attend. My head is swimming with ideas and I'll be posting some modest reviews on each interesting topic, so stay tuned!

During the 52nd Annual Conference organized October 26-29, 2011 by the American Translators Association (ATA) in Boston, I attended a one-hour presentation entitled Translators and Authors in the New Publishing Industry, given by Carsten Peters, translator and owner of Ceditora, a fairly young publishing house based in Austria. He opened the session assuring that the work of authors and translators is one and the same. “My wife is a writer and I asked her once if there was any difference between what she does and what literary translators do... She almost asked for a divorce!” he jokes.

Peters is a native-speaker of German, has a background in technical translations and partnered with his Brazilian wife Tânia Maria Rodrigues-Peters to move into the literary world. When he started thinking about the differences between his line of work and the new niche they were going into, the first thing he noticed was that technical translations usually need constant updates, depending on improvements made to the product or system covered by the translated material. Accuracy is another important part of technical translations, since instructions and specifications must follow the original to a T. However, literary translations are literally a different story.

“A literary translator translates the thoughts of an author, what the writer might be thinking in the first place,” Peters explains. “As a publisher, I'm not worried about a translation being 100% accurate when compared to the original. I want my translators to have freedom and do what's best for the translation to be successful in the target market. I ask them to rewrite the book, rather than simply translating it.”

Communication is The Key ― To assure that the production team is on the same page, Ceditora facilitates communication throughout the process and puts authors and translators in direct contact. And, since they're on the same level, Peters believes translators should have the option to be paid the same way.

As the translator-turned-publisher clarified, authors usually receive an advance and then earn royalties for sold copies. His translators have an option to subscribe to the same payment plan, receiving a percentage over the volume that is sold. “In Germany, the law says that translators must get 0.08 € on net receipts for hardcover copies and 0.04 € for paperbacks after a book reaches 5,000 sold copies.”

Additionally, his translators can get further recognition with each title. “We also put their name on the front cover and we always dedicate two pages at the end of the book to their short biography and contact information.”

When asked about Ceditora's practices of giving such recognition to literary translators, Peters says that discriminating against translated literature is something of the past. “It's a publisher's misconception that putting the name [of the translator] on the cover would be the 'kiss of death' because readers would rather read an original book than something that was translated.”

Shifting the paradigm ― Another old concept that, according to him, will go through changes in the new publishing industry concerns the issue of copyright. Traditionally, publishers want to have control over the complete creative material, so authors agree to release their rights in exchange for seeing their work published. In this model, translators are caught in between, acting merely as independent contractors who are not part of the whole process, “just work for hire,” as Peters puts it.

At his publisher, however, authors keep the copyright of their original material, translators get the copyright of their translation, and Ceditora gets the rights for publishing and distributing the book. “That is what a publisher does,” he says, “so why would I want to keep rights on both the original and the translation as a publisher?”

Peters also described the more diversified marketing channels that come with the new industry format. “We have a lot of word-of-mouth advertising, social networks, book clubs and even the Tupperware model,” he says, alluding to the direct-marketing giant that has advocates within social circles. 

There are also the so-called “bait books,” Peters mentions, remembering that he once read a very good and well-written book that was being distributed completely free as a self-published effort on the Internet. When gathering more information on the author, he realized that the first book was free, but the second one was on its way. If readers liked what they saw the first time around, they would get “hooked” and most likely come back for more and gladly pay for it.