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Thread: Writing in Spanish, publishing in English

  1. #1
    Couchsurfing Gardel's Avatar
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    Writing in Spanish, publishing in English

    Hello, this is my first post in the AW forums. I read the FAQs and searched the forums but found no thread or question addressing this topic, so here goes:

    I'm starting to write my first novel, which will belong to the historical fiction genre. I plan to find an American agent to submit it to when I'm finished, as I prefer to get it published on the US market. My first language is Spanish, and although I have a pretty good command of the English language (I am the proud bearer of one of the scant perfect TOEFL scores awarded in my country), the quality of my writing in Spanish is naturally better than the one done in English.
    So... do I write the novel in Spanish and then hire an experienced fiction translator to render irt in English, or do I simply take the plunge and write it in English right from the start? My guess is that an experienced fiction translator is much more attuned to editor's tastes regarding wording than I am, and thus his finished product would be more polished than mine.
    Any comments or suggestions will be highly appreciated, thanks!

    Gardel.

    P.S. I have published several dozens of bilingual articles in non-US national magazines since 1997 but this is my first foray into fiction.
    Last edited by Gardel; 09-09-2009 at 07:39 PM. Reason: couple of typos

  2. #2
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    I'd say write it yourself, in English. Then run it past some beta readers who are native English speakers.

  3. #3
    Ich heiße Superphantastisch! Stunted's Avatar
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    Or, if its a matter of getting words on paper, you could write it in Spanish and then translate it yourself. Going line by line like that would be a great way to edit. And then, yeah, English-speaking betas.

    good luck

  4. #4
    I create people Telstar's Avatar
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    I'm in the same situation as you (but I have almost finished my second draft), and I dont think that my command of English is good enough for fiction. I wrote the outline and world building notes in English without issues, but fiction at a professional level is another beast.

    I will try to translate it myself into English, taking all the needed time, and then finding an editor. I dont think betas can be enough. Lots of way of speech and sentence structure are totally different from latin-based languages. Spanish is one of the closest to Italian along with Romanian.
    "Story is life, with the dull part taken out." -A. Hitchcock

    [please note that English is not my first language]

  5. #5
    Kill your television Ardent Kat's Avatar
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    I think it would be best to write it in English the first time rather than going from Spanish to English. There are expressions, metaphors, and pretty phrases that might work great in Spanish, but fall flat in English translation. Go with English the first time to make sure you're saying exactly what you want to say.

    Besides, an outside translator for a novel-length work sounds expensive, especially if you want one to do an eloquent job making pretty prose instead of just dumping over the meaning.

    Besides, you want to write for a living and not just be a one-hit wonder, right? In the long term I think you'd want to learn to write in English first. It might be painful the first time through, but you'll learn a LOT from the experience.

    Best of luck!

  6. #6
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    I guess I'm once again in the devil's advocate position.

    I say write in Spanish and sell to a Spanish audience. It depresses me to see people give up other languages for English. It's not like nobody publishes Spanish books, you know.

  7. #7
    Join us. We have cookies. Pesimisticus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RG570 View Post
    I guess I'm once again in the devil's advocate position.

    I say write in Spanish and sell to a Spanish audience. It depresses me to see people give up other languages for English. It's not like nobody publishes Spanish books, you know.
    I'm sure he knows that. However, if he wants a shot at being the next King/Patterson/Rowling/Whatever, he'll have one less hurdle to jump over by writing in English first.

    To Gardel:

    My friend wanted to publish some of his own manga in Japan after moving there. He could speak the language, but it is so vastly different from English, that speaking fluently on a technical level is practically worthless, since the language is so vague that each sentence, as well as each kanji, seem to each have their own associated meaning that is simply learned via living in the culture for ones life.

    Anyway, he went the have-a-native-translate-it, and he basically spent the majority of his positive earnings in payment to have his manga translated and analyzed to be relevant.

    Everything you've written has been on par with native English speakers. If you read a lot of English books, I'd say write in English, have some native English readers go through it, and they'll tell you if something hiccups or makes them scratch their head.

  8. #8
    Couchsurfing Gardel's Avatar
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    Smile Sympathy for the devil's advocate

    Quote Originally Posted by RG570 View Post
    It's not like nobody publishes Spanish books, you know.
    Yeah, but the ratio of active fiction readers (and buyers) in Spain and Latin America is 1:200 compared to the US, UK and Canada. Very sad, yes, but also a fact of life and business.

  9. #9
    I create people Telstar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ardent Kat View Post
    I think it would be best to write it in English the first time rather than going from Spanish to English. There are expressions, metaphors, and pretty phrases that might work great in Spanish, but fall flat in English translation. Go with English the first time to make sure you're saying exactly what you want to say.
    What if he cannot?

    Writing with looking up at a dictionary every minute kills your inspiration and ideas pretty fast.
    "Story is life, with the dull part taken out." -A. Hitchcock

    [please note that English is not my first language]

  10. #10
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Joseph Conrad, a native Polish speaker, did pretty well writing directly in English.

    Adding a translator to the mix adds a rights question, and adds expenses that may never be recouped.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gardel View Post
    Yeah, but the ratio of active fiction readers (and buyers) in Spain and Latin America is 1:200 compared to the US, UK and Canada. Very sad, yes, but also a fact of life and business.
    I really can’t believe that Spanish speakers read less than English speakers, and I’ve always believed that there are slightly more Spanish speakers in the world.

    Technically therefore, you would better off trying to publish in Spanish.

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    Couchsurfing Gardel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LuckyH View Post
    I really can’t believe that Spanish speakers read less than English speakers, and I’ve always believed that there are slightly more Spanish speakers in the world.

    Technically therefore, you would better off trying to publish in Spanish.
    Here's an eye-opener:

    There are 3,017,000+ articles in English today in Wikipedia*. And in Spanish? 507,000+. Yes, there are more Spanish speakers in the world, but 80% of them belong to developing countries; mind you, the majority of people in developing countries do not read... they have to eat first.

    How about another example? There are 630,000 articles in Polish... and there are only 40 million Polish speakers in the world. Spanish speakers, 350 million. 600,000 articles in Italian, 70 million speakers. And yes, the obligatory reference: there are 309-400 million English speakers.

    Really, most people in developing countries have a hard time just to stay above the poverty line. I have lived here all my life; I know. The minimum daily wage in Mexico is 4 dollars... a day, not an hour. And more than half of Mexico lives on minimum wage or less. Now, taking into account that Mexico, along with Argentina and Chile, is one of the "most developed" countries in Latin America, the general picture might become *a bit* clearer.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gardel View Post
    Here's an eye-opener:

    There are 3,017,000+ articles in English today in Wikipedia*. And in Spanish? 507,000+. Yes, there are more Spanish speakers in the world, but 80% of them belong to developing countries; mind you, the majority of people in developing countries do not read... they have to eat first.

    How about another example? There are 630,000 articles in Polish... and there are only 40 million Polish speakers in the world. Spanish speakers, 350 million. 600,000 articles in Italian, 70 million speakers. And yes, the obligatory reference: there are 309-400 million English speakers.

    Really, most people in developing countries have a hard time just to stay above the poverty line. I have lived here all my life; I know. The minimum daily wage in Mexico is 4 dollars... a day, not an hour. And more than half of Mexico lives on minimum wage or less. Now, taking into account that Mexico, along with Argentina and Chile, is one of the "most developed" countries in Latin America, the general picture might become *a bit* clearer.
    I always struggle with statistics, most of the time they’re meaningless and open to all sorts of daft interpretations.

    We’re travelling down a difficult road, what you appear to be saying is that Spanish speaking people are inferior to English speaking people, when it comes to literature.

    You could transfer that argument to German, French and Chinese literature, and I strongly disagree with you every time.

    Your statistics and assumptions are plainly wrong, literature rises above those considerations, and if you really wanted to be proved wrong, the Chinese were writing profound literature before North America could even write, and ‘Europe’ too.

  14. #14
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    And another reason why i'm annoyed is that I speak Spanish.

  15. #15
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    Proper Spanish, not the Mexican sort.

  16. #16
    Couchsurfing Gardel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LuckyH View Post
    We’re travelling down a difficult road, what you appear to be saying is that Spanish speaking people are inferior to English speaking people, when it comes to literature.
    Hmmm... I thought the issue was comparing and contrasting the ratio of fiction readers in English and Spanish speaking countries, not marking down anyone as "inferior" (your choice of adjective.)
    Please don't reduce this argument to "my country's literature is better than yours" because that is definitely a puerile statement which I have not even suggested. No, this is about the much varying reading habits of people from developed countries and their undeveloped counterparts. If you state that people from undeveloped countries read as much as people from G-5 countries... well, then there's no point pursuing this conversation with you.

  17. #17
    Couchsurfing Gardel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LuckyH View Post
    Proper Spanish, not the Mexican sort.
    Ah, so I'm guessing that you speak "proper" English, not the American sort...

    My, I feel like a reluctant Borat inadvertently bringing out your chauvinism.

  18. #18
    Live a little. Write a lot. Karen Junker's Avatar
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    Hey, Gardel! Nice to meet you!

    I got a chance to hear Carlos Ruiz Zafon do a reading from The Shadow of the Wind a few years back. Mr. Zafon is Spanish, but a fluent English speaker. His book was translated by Lucia Graves.

    He appreciated Ms. Graves' translations of his work - he felt that she brought much to the meaning of some of his prose. Ms. Graves also translates a lot of poetry, too, so she turned the Spanish phrases so that they retained their meaning and yet still had that lyrical sense in English.

    I wish you much success with your project, however you decide to write it!
    Karen Junker
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    "Spend a passionate weekend with your muse!"

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gardel View Post
    Ah, so I'm guessing that you speak "proper" English, not the American sort...

    My, I feel like a reluctant Borat inadvertently bringing out your chauvinism.
    If you’re Mexican, I’ll eat my hat. However, does it matter? I wish you well, whatever language you write in.

  20. #20
    Know what you write...
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    If you want to publish in English, write in English (or write in Spanish and translate it later). You seem to know the language enough to make it work after running it past a couple of betas and editors. If all else fails you can still sell in Spanish and hope the English rights get grabbed.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gardel View Post
    I'm starting to write my first novel, which will belong to the historical fiction genre. I plan to find an American agent to submit it to when I'm finished, as I prefer to get it published on the US market. My first language is Spanish, and although I have a pretty good command of the English language (I am the proud bearer of one of the scant perfect TOEFL scores awarded in my country), the quality of my writing in Spanish is naturally better than the one done in English.
    So... do I write the novel in Spanish and then hire an experienced fiction translator to render irt in English, or do I simply take the plunge and write it in English right from the start?
    Writing it in Spanish, having it translated and then selling it in the English-language market is pretty much a non-option, practically speaking. In addition to the very high cost of a quality translation, just finding the right translator is a major task. Literary translation is a very particular art: to be a good translator, it's not enough for the person has to be absolutely bilingual and highly educated (or otherwise possessed of a very broad knowledge base). They also have to be a talented writer. Being able to translate academic articles or marketing pieces is quite different than being able to translate a novel.

    So your options are: (1) write it in English, get comments from native-English betas and sell it here; (2) write it in Spanish, translate it yourself, get comments from native-English betas and sell it here; (3) write it in Spanish, sell it in the Spanish market and push your agent to work on selling English rights so your publisher will pay for a good translation; or--and this is probably the best option--(4) try to write it in English but let yourself write parts in Spanish if you just feel like you can't say what you're trying to say in English, and then work on just translating those parts before getting comments from betas and selling it here.

    I say (4) is probably the best because I am bilingual myself and in my experience, the most natural thing for a bilingual person is to write in both languages, resorting to the stronger language either when you can't find the right words in language #2, or when you just want to get the story down (i.e. write naturally and quickly) and then fiddle with it later.

  22. #22
    I create people Telstar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald View Post
    Joseph Conrad, a native Polish speaker, did pretty well writing directly in English.

    Adding a translator to the mix adds a rights question, and adds expenses that may never be recouped.
    Yes, that is why I suggested to translate himself, when done, and then have an editor copyedit it (which would not necessarily be paid).

    Also, I'm not always satisfied by Italian transaltions from English authors, and I have done a few myself. As you surely know, fiction prose is harder to translate than technical stuff.
    Doing the translation myself is the only option for me, unless I was able to write my novels directly in Shakespeare tongue. And I think that my case is similar to the OP. If he was totally confident in his English, he wouldn't have asked the question.
    "Story is life, with the dull part taken out." -A. Hitchcock

    [please note that English is not my first language]

  23. #23
    I create people Telstar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ideagirl View Post

    So your options are: (1) write it in English, get comments from native-English betas and sell it here; (2) write it in Spanish, translate it yourself, get comments from native-English betas and sell it here; (3) write it in Spanish, sell it in the Spanish market and push your agent to work on selling English rights so your publisher will pay for a good translation; or--and this is probably the best option--(4) try to write it in English but let yourself write parts in Spanish if you just feel like you can't say what you're trying to say in English, and then work on just translating those parts before getting comments from betas and selling it here.

    I say (4) is probably the best because I am bilingual myself and in my experience, the most natural thing for a bilingual person is to write in both languages, resorting to the stronger language either when you can't find the right words in language #2, or when you just want to get the story down (i.e. write naturally and quickly) and then fiddle with it later.
    The OP is not bilingual. There is quite a difference between being very proficient in a second language and being bilingual, which means native in both or almost native in one and native in the other.

    So, I say once more that (2) is the best option, with eventually a (paid or not) editor in addition to (before) betas.
    "Story is life, with the dull part taken out." -A. Hitchcock

    [please note that English is not my first language]

  24. #24
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    Another vote for write in spanish, translate later.

    You're the author, not a translator. Whenever something is difficult to translate literally, you'll have much more leeway in making changes.
    At least that's the way i'd do it if i tried to sell to english markets. (I don't write in english either)

  25. #25
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    Hi Gardel, and welcome. Your command of English seems completely adequate. My advice is to write your novel in Spanish, and then translate it to English. You are probably perfectly equipped to translate it on your own, but it's not a big deal to ask from help from a few native English speaking beta readers once you are done translating and editing. Lots of luck with your project.

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