In the wake of last week’s International Booker Prize longlist announcement, the Chair of the 2022 Judges, Frank Wynne, has called for publishers around the world to reward translators more generously for the part they play in creating books. In particular, he urges publishers to offer translators royalties on book sales.
Frank is the first translator to chair the International Booker jury and his call to action builds on the campaigns waged by other translators and writers, including the recent debate led by 2018 International Booker winner Jennifer Croft, whose translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob is on this year’s International Booker Prize longlist. On International Translation Day last year, the Society of Authors in the UK launched a campaign for full book cover credits for translators. The accompanying open letter has so far garnered over 2,500 signatures including those of Neil Gaiman and Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row this evening, Frank explained that the lack of diversity in translation can in large part be explained by the precariousness of the work. Like many careers within the arts, it is likely to predominantly be freelance and therefore unpredictable. However, promoting best practice within the publishing community, paying fair rates, ensuring that translators, like authors, share in the rewards when their books are successful will make a career in translation more accessible and financially practical to those who might not otherwise consider it. Royalties form a part of standard translation contracts in the Netherlands, Germany, France and Spain, but are less commonly offered in the UK.
The European Council for Literary Translators Associations recommends that translators share in any profits from the sale of the books they have translated.
Although few works in translation will ever earn royalties, it is only fair that translators benefit from bestsellers and prize-winners that they have helped to create. While most independent publishers offer fair royalties, many of the larger publishers do not, or do so only to a small number of translators.
While remuneration is always a matter for negotiation between translator and publisher, the Translators Association in the UK does monitor rates and fees on an ongiong basis, sharing observations about the minimum rates that most publishers seem willing to pay - though some publishers still offer rates that are lower than these.
Translation, like other creative work, also deserves legal protection. Granting copyright to the translator does not guarantee the translator the right to receive an income from his or her work, especially from film adaptations and other derivative works, but it underscores the rich creative input of translators and should become the industry norm. Two of the 13 books longlisted for the International Booker Prize this year do not assign copyright for the translation to the translator.
Complementing The Booker Prize for Fiction, the International Booker Prize is awarded every year for a single book that is translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. It aims to encourage more publishing and reading of quality works of imagination from all over the world, and to give greater recognition to the role of translators. Novels and short story collections are eligible. The contribution of author and translator is given equal recognition, with the £50,000 prize split evenly between them. In addition, for the first time in 2022, the shortlisted authors and translators will each receive £2,500, increased from £1,000 in previous years - bringing the total value of the prize to £80,000.
This year the judges considered 135 books, with a record number of submissions received. The longlist was selected by the 2022 judging panel, which consists of: translator, Frank Wynne (chair); author and academic Merve Emre; writer and lawyer Petina Gappah; writer, comedian and TV, radio and podcast presenter, Viv Groskop; and translator and author Jeremy Tiang. The longlist of 13 books is dominated by small independent presses and includes a book translated from Hindi for the first time.