Closet Translations

Is this book actually a translation? As dumb as that sounds, we ask that question all the time here in the office. Translations published in the US are often disguised as English originals, and it begs the question, who is it that cares so much about keeping this a secret?

I just spent a good 20 minutes this morning searching for the translator of Frank Schatzing’s newly translated book Death and the Devil. In the information age, 20 minutes is a long time! The translator was not listed on Amazon, in the book description, in the Publishers Weekly review, or on the HarperCollins website. I had to open the super slow “Look Inside” feature from HarperCollins and scroll to the front matter to find the translator’s name.

Are publishers that afraid of translations? Are readers? As a reader, would you shy away from a book that said “translated by so-and-so” on the cover? Maybe the issue is familiarity. As readers, we are grossly unaware of awesome translated literature because it is not very available. Only three percent of our books are translations. Low sales numbers make publishers reluctant to take a chance on future translations, which makes readers less aware and willing to buy them. Ugh.


Author: Hannah Johnson

When I first came to New York City, I almost ran over Liza Minelli with my suitcase. Then I got a job in book publishing.

One thought on “Closet Translations”

  1. I like to see the translator’s name when I pick up a book in a shop, and I like seeing the translator’s bio next to the author’s. I’m certainly more likely to buy a book I haven’t heard of if it’s a translator I know I can rely on (for example, William Weaver).

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