Readers Ask

Every now and then I present questions that readers of Intralingo have asked regarding different aspects of literary translation, along with my answers.

Hi Lisa,

I’m a reader, and would like to read Gerard de Villiers’ book Sabre au Clair et Pied au Plancher. Unfortunately, (most of) this author’s books haven’t been translated into English, and I’m not yet proficient in reading French.

Do you have any contacts who (that?) might be open to translating a 400 page book (not sure of word count, but the type is large)?




Hi Jennifer,

Thanks for your email. I’m not sure this is exactly the answer you’re looking for, but let me begin by pointing out a few things you may not be aware of.

First of all, since translation is a derivative art, translators cannot just translate any work they want to (unless it is for purely personal consumption, to practice and to learn).

To be shared with others, published in any format, we have to obtain the rights to do so from the original author/publisher. This is a process that can take months, if it is ever achieved at all by an individual, since most foreign rights are only granted to publishers.

Secondly, to translate a 400-page book is an artistic undertaking that will require several months. It is not something a reputable literary translator can or would do very quickly.

Related to this — because literary translation is a huge undertaking and can only be adequately achieved by someone with skill and experience — it is also an expensive undertaking!

Based on the above, I’d be happy to hear back from you with more details regarding exactly what it is you need and how I might be able to connect you with the right literary translator.




Hi Lisa,

Thank you for your prompt and detailed response!

It does seem that translation services are quite involved, and priced accordingly.

As my current objective isn’t publication, perhaps what I need is someone to read the book and then write a detailed synopsis/book report. A friend suggested that I reach out to the French department at Stanford University, which is close to where I work. Do you agree that this might be the most appropriate next step?

It’s possible that at some point we might want to have a foreign work translated and adapted into an English screenplay. Based on your email, it sounds like a professional translator would (first) need approval from the original publisher for this purpose as well, correct?

Based on what you’ve shared, I have a new level of appreciation for authors (and translators) whose works are translated into numerous languages. It’s a large up-front expense for the publishers, which will need to be recovered in a reasonable period of time!

Thank you again for your help,




Yes, I think that if you’re looking to get a gist of what the book says or particular information from it, the best approach right now is a reader’s report. You could certainly check with someone at the French department at Stanford.

I work with a strong network of colleagues, so I can likely help you if they can’t.

As for any adaptation of a foreign work into a screenplay, yes, to be produced and shown to the public, the right to translate the original work will have to be secured. You can begin by contacting the author to discuss the possibility, but, as I said, he or she may not in fact actually own the foreign rights.

Do let me know if I can help further.





Readers, what additional info do you provide to those who don’t initially know that translation is a derivative art, or what it involves?