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Recently one rather famous author wrote a new book in English. Since I'm a fan of his writing and know that he's quite well recognized I thought that it would be great to translate it and publish in Russian (my native language). This has already been done for his other books.

There's a rather good publishing house in the region where I live so I emailed the house and informed them about the book. Their reply surprised me - they said they knew about the book but the author would refuse to license the translation.

To me (I don't have commercial publishing experience) this is strange - it seems a win-win for an author. He already finished all the hard work, he could just license the translation, the local publishing house would do all the rest and he'd get royalty.

Why would an author refuse to license translation of his book to a foreign language?

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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

There ARE authors who don't want their work translated because they can't approve the work, or because they feel that the word choices of the translator wouldn't match the artistry of the original prose.

But there are also authors who have already sold the rights for translated works to their original publishers, and therefore cannot license someone else to do it.

Without more information on this case, it's hard to speculate further.

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or because they feel the work is impossible to translate, typically poetry and some forms of comedy relying heavily on word use. E.g. Terry Pratchett in Dutch translation (which does exist for at least some books) is terrible (were I the author and able to proofread the translations of those I'd reject the translations out of hand). –  jwenting Nov 30 '11 at 13:01
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That's what I meant by "words of the translator wouldn't match the artistry of the original prose". I wasn't being facetious, or at least not totally facetious. Authors sweat over their word choices, and it's hard for a translator to replicate everything exactly. –  Kate Sherwood Dec 1 '11 at 0:09
    
wasn't thinking about the artistry as much as the restrictions of languages to convey thoughts in the same way as others. IOW the translation (however well intended) might never be able to convey the same message as the original. –  jwenting Dec 1 '11 at 6:19
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A couple of thoughts in line with previous answers.

Ideas are hard enough to translate from one language to another even without trying to preserve wording, tone, rhythm, etc. To a certain extent, each language (and those speaking it) encompasses a unique world view. For example, the English word, "computer" gives the idea of something that calculates a result, but the French word, (ordinateur) has connotations of putting things in order - a very different meaning. Idioms, cultural references, and humor (often critical to the feel of a work) are very hard to translate and are often without effect.

If you want to have fun some time, go to the book of Genesis in the bible and find one of the more esoteric passages like the one about dividing the waters below from the waters above and look it up in several different bibles. Some of the translations/interpretations are almost unrecognizable as having come from the same source.

Translating The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy into another language (although it has undoubtedly been done) would be a complete nightmare. Translating it into a film certainly was.

The wording is determined by the world view and depth of understanding of the translator and sometimes by ulterior motives as well. These can never be identical to those of the original author.

If you think editors can be challenging, translators, by the very nature of their task, are an order or two of magnitude beyond that.

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Just a little bit of conspiracy: Negotiation between the author and a publisher (translator) are in progress so the author does not want to jeopardise the desired agreement. Negotiating with more (possible) publishers (translators) can render the author untrustworthy.

No conspiracy, just the author is cautious.

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