• >
  • How a Translator Can Help Get an Academic Book Published

How a Translator Can Help Get an Academic Book Published

by Guest Blogger | February 18th, 2019



Ruth Ludlam





Most translators of academic material usually translate articles and lectures. I want to share my experience with translating academic books and helping my customers to get them published. I translate from Hebrew into English, and the books I’ve worked on have been published in the US, UK, and Europe. I don’t have experience with the Israeli publishing world.

lping my customers to get them published. I translate from Hebrew into English, and the books I’ve worked on have been published in the US, UK, and Europe. I don’t have experience with the Israeli publishing world.

Some translators prefer to work only on translating a given text, leaving the author to handle all the additional aspects related to the publishing process. I like to offer my customers a full package to help them get their book published. I choose to do this because when I translate a book, I feel some responsibility for the outcome, get intellectually involved in the ideas being expressed, and consider the translation as just part of a wider professional service that I can engage in. I also enjoy the collaborative relationship with the book’s author and learning about the world of academic publishing.

This service involves work beyond translation, including some administrative, graphic design, and research assistant work, and this should be taken into consideration in the pricing of the job. The contract between the author and the translator needs to be carefully negotiated, in terms of both the translator’s renumeration and the delivery deadlines. When the author has a binding contract with the publisher, the translation must be delivered in time for the author to review and, if necessary, revise the text before submitting it.

There are two options when translating an academic book for publication. The first, more common option is that the book is translated and then the author submits a query to academic publishers. The second option is that the author submits a query to publishers first, and then the book is translated once a publisher has accepted it.

The query (or book proposal) to the publisher usually includes some or all of the following documents, which the translator can help the author create: curriculum vitae and list of publications; synopsis of the book (a few pages); table of contents; abstract of each chapter; list of similar or competing books, pointing out the proposed book’s unique selling points; description of the target audience, and whether the book could be used as a textbook in courses; and a list of experts who would be willing to read the query and make a recommendation to the publisher. Some of these items may be included in an Author Questionnaire. Publishers may also ask for a sample chapter, or a few pages of a chapter, at this point. If the book has already been published in another language, the publisher will be interested in its sales and reception.

A book should not be submitted to more than one publishing house at a time. This means that the author has to wait for an answer from one publisher at a time, and to submit to another only after a rejection is received. The waiting period can last a few weeks or even months. This can give the translator time to get on with the translation. The advantage of translating before or during the query stage is that the English manuscript exists and can be made ready for submission quite quickly when the book is accepted. The disadvantage is that the publisher may require substantial changes to the manuscript, including shortening it, which would make some of the translation work already done redundant, or adding an Introduction, Preface, or Conclusions chapter, which would require translating later.

The advantage in translating the book only after it has been accepted by a publisher is that the publisher’s guidelines and requirements can be applied already during the translation process. The disadvantage is that once the book has been accepted, the publisher’s contract with the author has a strict delivery date and the translator must commit to completing the required work within this time.

During the translating process, the translator should, of course, be very consistent with terminology and style. The manuscript must use either US English or UK English, and the references should follow a consistent style. There are also issues of transliteration, if the book uses non-Latin terminology. In some cases, the author and translator will have to decide whether to make local references more universal, depending on the expected knowledge of the target audience. Professional terminology has to be accurate and consistent. If the author invents new terms, the translator and the author must work together to find appropriate terms in the target language.

Another aspect of academic translation is locating quotations in the target language. If a book in Hebrew contains quotations that have been translated into Hebrew, either the author or the translator must locate the English version of these quotations where relevant. Where references are made to specific page numbers in a Hebrew translation, the equivalent pages in an English source text or English version have to be located. This can be time consuming even now that some texts can be found online.

Some publishers expect the book to be formatted according to their guidelines before submission. This can involve inserting the document into a pre-existing template, checking things such as font size, line spacing, the use of footnotes or endnotes, various levels of section headings and subheadings, and so on.

Once the book has been submitted, the final stage before publication is checking the proofs and creating the index. Usually, the author reads the proofs, but in some cases the translator can read them too. The index can be created by the publisher, usually at additional cost to the author, or else the translator can create the index for the author. This involves taking the index of the source language book, translating the entries and sorting them into alphabetic order, and then adding the relevant page numbers from the proofs. The proofs are usually sent as a searchable PDF, so this task is relatively easy to automate.

Translators sometimes receive official credit in the book, or at least a mention in the Acknowledgments. Academic books can be rather expensive, and the author typically receives a limited number of free copies, so while the translator should, ideally, receive a copy of the translated book, it’s worth stipulating this in the contract.

The process of working on a book takes several months. It does give the translator an ongoing income source, but at the same time, it can require the translator to refuse other work during this time, unless the schedule is flexible enough to fit in occasional smaller jobs. Translators who work with regular customers may not want to jeopardize this relationship by having to say “no” to them while working on a book.

I find my work on academic books to be satisfying on the intellectual, creative, and interpersonal levels, and have gained some transferable skills from it. Experienced academic translators may find that working on a book and helping with the publication process expands their horizons beyond just working with the text itself.