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Publishers receptive to preexisting translations?

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I didn't see much in this board section addressing my situation. I have a 22kw, 14-chapter EN translation of a very old DE classic children's tale, pretty much polished up, with 15kw front/back matter. In a perfect world it would be liberally illustrated with simple, classic, and economical line drawings.

I have already approached a hybrid publishing concern that had no complaints about the subject or quality, but passed anyway, citing insufficient sales potential.

Is there any particular or unique strategy I should adopt when approaching publishers and/or agents with this work? And which standard publishers are more likely than others to be receptive to handling classics?
#1 - December 13, 2015, 05:19 PM
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First thing that I would want to know is do you have the rights to this story? Or is it public domain? If the publisher or author or author's estate still holds the copyright, you'd have to get in touch with them as the rights would be theirs to sell, not yours. And then I think it's the purchasing foreign market that finds their own translator.

If this is a public domain story, you may be able to publish a translation but I am not 100% sure how that works. What qualifies as public domain will vary from country to country.

Also, is it a direct translation or a retelling? Retellings I think are handled differently than translations.

As an SCBWI member you could try posting any legal questions on the Ask A Lawyer board. I'm not sure about what publishers to recommend as I'm not sure what you actually have.
#2 - December 13, 2015, 05:28 PM
« Last Edit: December 13, 2015, 05:33 PM by Artemesia »
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Yeh, guess I thought "very old" implied public domain. Author died 1822. There have been maybe a half-dozen earlier EN translations over the past 150 years, but mine is totally de novo and straight translation, no retelling, liberal adaptation, or text abridgment.
#3 - December 13, 2015, 05:50 PM
« Last Edit: December 13, 2015, 05:53 PM by A. S. Templeton »
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Very old doesn't always mean public domain. Rights can be passed down or purchased. If newer printed editions have been published a new copyright might exist. The rights to Peter Pan were given to a children's hospital. Even if you think a story is old enough that it should be public domain, it doesn't always mean it is. You should always check for existing copyrights.

I am no expert though. My books have sold foreign language rights to three other countries, but I don't know exactly how translating a story not your own works. But the first thing you should know is if you have the rights to.
#4 - December 13, 2015, 05:58 PM
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I'm cautious about public domain, but 1822 IS public domain, anywhere in the world. So you're safe there. I think you're best off handling this as a manuscript submission, frankly. I'd cast my net pretty widely if I were you, since there is no telling where you might catch someone's eye, though I wouldn't bother with the big commercial houses.

I can't think of any recent precedent for this. The closest would be a retelling of a British classic of around 100 years ago (not Peter Pan...), by a well-known author, pubilshed I think by Candlewick. I can't remember the title, unfortunately, but it's recent.

If you don't get anywhere with the manuscript, you can at least fall back on it as a sample of your skills as a translator.
#5 - December 13, 2015, 07:37 PM
Harold Underdown

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I remember hearing some kerfuffle recently about people self publishing public domain works, but they didn't use the original source, they used a more recent version that a publisher would have had a copyright on for the edits or updates or whatever. Have you heard anything about that Harold? Would that type of thing matter here?
#6 - December 13, 2015, 08:18 PM
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Artemesia, that would only be a problem if the edits or updates were significant -- since this is a translation you won't get word-for-word correspondences between it and source--OR if you included a translation of a foreword or similar material that a publisher had added. Penguin, for example, publishes a lot of classics with introductory material written by scholars for their new edition, in order to make it unique.

But as long as the OP was working from the original, very old text, and not some significantly abridged or edited version, I don't think there is going to be a problem.

And in any case, that's exactly the kind of thing a publisher would check before publishing. All the OP needs to have done is reasonable diligence, and they can leave the final legal check to the publisher, if it gets that far.
#7 - December 14, 2015, 06:01 PM
Harold Underdown

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It's really interesting, Harold. Thanks for the info!
#8 - December 14, 2015, 06:16 PM
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I find copyright law interesting but of course I'm just a layman. There was an interesting story today on the Publishers Weekly website about a lawsuit over copyright on a few JD Salinger stories that are PD in the US, but may not be PD in translation in all countries.
#9 - December 14, 2015, 06:20 PM
Harold Underdown

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I'll look for that! I'm not a translator or anything, but I find these things interesting and often helpful to know, or at least have a basic understanding of.
#10 - December 14, 2015, 06:23 PM
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KUNG POW CHICKEN 1-4, Scholastic 2014 :chicken

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Very belatedly, thanks for this enlightening topic and conversation! I would second what was mentioned above, "it's the purchasing foreign market that finds their own translator." A risk any translator incurs when pitching a title is that the publisher could take an interest in the book, but choose to work with a different translator.

This has not stopped me from contacting publishers judiciously about works I love, as a translator. It is the case, however, that most translators of children's lit receive their work on commission—after a publisher-to-publisher deal in which the foreign house has acquired rights, and seeks a translator. I write more about that here:

https://www.scbwi.org/translation-some-frequently-asked-questions/

I don't wish to discourage you, but it's good to know of the "usual model" and potential risks associated with departing from it. Please keep us posted on how this goes! Best of luck!!
#11 - April 17, 2016, 09:45 PM

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