Crowd-funding Translations

M. Lynx Qualey
June 24, 2013
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About a week ago, I came across a press release announcing a new IndieGoGo campaign to crowdfund the translation of a Greek crime novel.

A week later, there’s no money pledged toward the translation. But it made me wonder: How many campaigns like this are there? Are they ever successful? When/where/why?

Most campaigns seemed to be by writers looking to translate their own work– such as this Singaporean SF writer who wanted to translate her work into Turkish, or this Italian author of a series of steampunk novels looking to break into English — to very little success. This campaign for a German edition of an English-language historical thriller was slightly more successful than most, but still nowhere near its $4,000 goal.

More successful campaigns were for “classics” that have never been translated. Michael Wex raised nearly $28,000 to translate In the Forests of Poland, by Joseph Opatoshu, from Yiddish into English. But the campaign didn’t succeed, as Wex was asking for a whopping $75,000, which was to include a $52,000 salary for himself.

A campaign for a new translation of Brecht’s A Man’s Man got more than a third of the way to its goal — $5,735 of $15,000 — and then continued raising money over at the theatre’s website.

I get regular emails from authors asking how they can get their work translated into English — or, less regularly, how English-language authors can get their work translated into Arabic. As you might expect, and I rarely answer their questions to anyone’s satisfaction.

I did find some successfully funded projects on crowdfunding sites. They tended to be comics projects (this manga project pulled in much more than they asked for) or with some sort of socio-political angle (a translation of a mollecular cell biology textbook into Vietnamese).

Could crowd-funding be a way to bring more translations across language boundaries? Oh, probably not. But it might work every now and again, why not?

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