In this article I'm going to offer a few suggestions based on my own experience as a “technical” translator working with Italian publishers (for a comment on the word “technical”, see below).
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My own experience
The first time I translated a book for a publisher was in 1996. I graduated in psychology at Padua University in 1992 with the highest grades and specialized in cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy a few years later. In 1996, I was translating a psychotherapy book that I thought could be useful to my work as a psychotherapist. In fact, not only I was interested in psychology, psychotherapy and humans sciences but I had also a passion for writing, and it would have been just perfect to find a work where my interests combined. As I thought the book I was translating could be useful for my colleagues psychotherapists also, and I knew there was a publishing company that would publish exactly that kind of works (practical handbooks about cognitive-behavioural interventions), I decided to ask the publisher if they were interested in publishing my translation. They weren't, but when I asked them if they were interested in hiring a psychologist translator, they gave me a translation test. It was quite long: it was ten pages of a book they where translating. I tried hard to do the best that I could: I paid a lot of attention not only to the correctness of the translation but also to its fluency, to the linguistic style I used – I tried to reproduce the wording and even the sentence structure style of the books of that same genre – and to grammar, spelling and punctuation. Clearly, I checked the concepts I was not sure about on my psychology books. Moreover, I chose the same font as that of the source text! My work was very appreciated and I was given almost immediately a book to translate.
Since then, I have been translating almost incessantly dozens of books and articles about psychology, psychotherapy, psychiatry, counseling, education, special education, health, social work, sociology and so on – but also interviews, conversations, and tales - for that publishing house. Being appreciated not only as a translator but also as a scholar (I stopped practicing as a psychotherapist but went on studying, writing books and articles, and giving lectures), the chance has been given to me to propose books to be translated, to add prefaces or forewords and footnotes to some books I was translating, and to adapt some translations to the Italian culture. I have never been paid for that but it has been an important acknowledgement of my expertise.
As there have been times when the work was not enough for my living, I have sent my CV to different publishing houses as well, and I have worked also with two different Italian publishers.
That been said, here are some suggestions based on my own experience. Of course, I cannot guarantee that doing what I did will be necessarily successful!
Content knowledge – love for writing
In my experience, in “technical translation” – where “technical” means that the emphasis is on the meaning of text, not on its form – being knowledgeable about the content of the texts you are going to translate, and loving both that subject and writing in our own language, is much more important than any academic qualifications. Translating requires mainly two things: To be able to understand what the author of a text meant to convey, and to be able to express those meanings correctly and fluently. The former requires mainly content knowledge or skilfulness in getting information, the latter requires love for and skilfulness in expressing ourselves in writing. So many highly qualified translators have been rejected by publishers because they miss a lot of implicit meanings or can't express themselves in a proper manner in their own language (see the Quality section below).
If the editors of a publishing house are satisfied with a translator's job, it is unlikely that they will substitute him or her. So, there are three main circumstances under which they will look for another translator and we have a window of opportunity to get a job:
– when a publishing house has just begun its activity;
– when one of their translators has just been fired and they haven't found any substitute yet;
– when a publishing house is growing and the rate of the publications in one of its series is getting faster, or one or more new series are going to appear.
Therefore, we have to be very lucky or well-informed to pick the right time to get in touch with a publisher, with a call, a letter or an e-mail to the editor in chief, in which we present ourselves, our expertise and past experiences.
What a publisher expects from a translator is a translation which:
– is accurate;
– doesn't sound to the reader as a translation, but as a text originally written in the target language;
– is a coherent, cohesive, and fluent text (this is “very difficult” to do using CAT tools!);
– is a correct and orderly text;
– is coherent with editing criteria possibly given to the translator in advance;
– is delivered within deadlines.
Moreover, in my experience a publisher needs collaborativeness.
Often, I have been asked to write a description of a book I had translated: About its strengths, its main content, its possible readers and so on. In-house editors would use it in preparing information sheets for booksellers, product details for their web page or catalogue, or product brochures. Often the person who translated a given book is that who knows it better than anybody else - so he or she found him/herself in the better position to do certain jobs, like the aforementioned or others like highlighting some parts of the book, adapting its content, deleting some sentences, writing footnotes, check acronyms, etc. Actually, the border between translating and editing is not well-defined. Usually those tasks are not rewarded. The payment agreed upon for a translation may comprise tasks like those and others. The work you do for free on this occasion might be paid for on the next. You have to flexible.