It’s my delight to feature this guest post from author Nicki Chen. Many of you already know her through her lovely blog, Behind the Story, or her novel Tiger Tail Soup (see my interview with Nicki on her book to learn more). Today she shares the behind-the-scenes tale of how she had her novel translated into Chinese — read on!
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It’s springtime. The author and the translator are sipping cappuccinos or red wine at a sidewalk café. The translator flips through his dog-eared copy of the author’s book and stops. When the author to finds the same page in his own copy of the novel, they discuss the meaning and intent of a certain phrase. The translator takes notes, and they move on to another page, and then another.
They order more drinks and some snacks. Hours pass. With the sun low in the sky and falling fast, they make plans to meet again. There is much to discuss. Or maybe they go off together to eat at a restaurant they already know well.
I’m not sure where I picked up that rather romantic image of translation. But that’s not the way it works. At least it didn’t for me.
In fact, I wasn’t planning to have Tiger Tail Soup translated.
My publisher doesn’t do translations, so I’d put the idea out of my mind. Then one day Siobhan Daiko, who interviewed me on Asian Books Blog, suggested I check out Fiberead.
Fiberead is a translation and publishing company based in Beijing. It’s quite new, but I think they have a good model. The author pays no upfront costs, and the profits are shared—30% for the author, 30% for the translators, and 5-10 % for the editor. The rest goes to Fiberead. Fair enough, don’t you think?
The whole process, from submitting my document and being accepted all the way through publication, took a little over six months. Recruiting and choosing the translators and editor took six weeks. Thirty eight translators applied. Three were chosen: Ethan, Yang, and Echo (who served also as editor). Sadly, I never had the opportunity to sip wine or coffee with them. Our discussions took place online.
So how do three people translate one book? Well, they simply start at the beginning. (I take chapter one; you take chapter two; you take chapter three.) When they get to the end, they start over again, proofreading their own chapters and the chapters of the other translators. By the time they finish, everything has been gone through by each of the translators at least once.
The translators were great! I really enjoyed working with them, discussing names and places and the feelings and intentions of my characters. Echo, the translator/editor, studied at Xiamen University, so he was familiar with Xiamen and Gulangyu where my novel was set. Ethan talked about spending a week on Gulangyu Island before he left for England to get a Masters in Translation. All three of them had excellent English skills and were unfailingly professional and courteous.
In China, the translation of Tiger Tail Soup is available on Amazon.cn and on DouBan. It’s also available in the United States on Amazon.com. It’s only being sold in digital form, but who knows? If it sells well, I might put out a paperback edition in Chinese.
I appreciate this opportunity to tell you about the translation of my novel. Thank you so much to Jocelyn for her friendship and support.