During the Blogathon in May, fellow participant and author Jennifer Willis commented to say she would like to see advice for authors who are considering having their book translated but don’t know where to start. Jen’s not the only writer to ask about this, so I thought I’d start a new feature — Advice for Authors.

Do you want to have your book translated? Here are the top 3 considerations when looking for a translator:

* Choose a professional.

Maybe your cousin studied four years of French at university. That’s wonderful, but she is not the best person to translate your book.

Just because someone knows two languages does not mean they can translate. Translation is a skill unto itself, one that needs to be learned and practiced in a professional capacity.

Translators are writers (albeit undercover ones), and as a writer, you know better than anyone the expertise and art involved in writing.

To find the right person to translate your book, turn to professional associations like the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) or the American Translators Association (ATA). The ATA has an online membership directory you can search and ALTA will send out calls to their members via email or newsletters.

* Translators work into their mother tongue.

Let’s use that same cousin of yours for another example. She studied French and got excellent grades. Again, wonderful! However, not only is she not a professional translator, but she would be working from her mother tongue (presumably English) into her second language (French).

On the whole, professional translators work from their second language into their first language. There are very few perfectly bilingual people in the world who have impeccable writing skills in both languages. If you find that person, they’re a catch and I encourage you to work with them.

The vast majority of us, however, may be bilingual but our first language is dominant. There are nuances and subtleties — particularly in writing — that are best conveyed by native speakers.

For example, in my case, I translate from Spanish into English. I lived in Spain, Peru and Mexico for a decade, so my Spanish comprehension, oral and aural skills are excellent. However, I best express myself in writing in English. Personally, I would never attempt to translate any form of literature into my second language.

* Avoid agencies and online bidding sites.

Translation agencies and online bidding sites might be excellent choices if you are looking to have a particular document translated, but they generally do not contract translators who are specialized in literary translation.

As a writer, you can probably relate to the fact that you may be an excellent fiction writer but those skills do not necessarily make you qualified to write articles for medical journals. A whole other vocabulary and writing style are required for the latter.

The very same is true in translation. Most of us specialize in one or a limited number of areas. The translators on the rosters of most agencies and online bidding sites will work in fields like medical, technical or legal translation, but what you need is a literary translator.

There are also other difficulties if you hire a translator through an agency. For one, you will pay more because there is a middleman (the agency) that will want its share of the pie. For another, you are unlikely to have direct contact with the translator, but will be shielded from that by the agency. You can read more about why agencies and literary translation are a bad idea here.

Watch for the next instalment of Advice for Authors! In the meantime, though, if you have a particular question, please feel free to ask it in a comment or contact me directly.