Translations of J.K. Rowling's newest book expected to lack quality in some languages due to fear of piracy

Anytime an author as well read as J.K. Rowling sets out to write a new book, readers and publishers chomp at the bit for a chance to read it. This time around, however, the English author's newest novel The Casual Vacancy will not be ready as quickly all over the world as her famed Harry Potter series was. The reason? Piracy. Rowling's first adult fiction book is set to be released in September in the UK, but her literary agency is withholding copies from publishers in several countries, including Italy, Finland and Slovenia. "We have agreed to let publishers in some countries publish simultaneously with the English-language release, as some publishers are better able to handle the security demands of a simultaneous release," noted her literary agent, Zoe King in an interview with Publishers Weekly.

Otava, a publisher in Finland, won the bid for the translation of Rowling's newest book. Jill Timbers, an independent English to Finnish translator blogged about the upset among English <> Finnish translators in May. She writes, "The upcoming book is due to have 480 pages. Translators may not see it before it is published. (Usually translators can prepare by reading preliminary texts in advance.) The translator has to agree, sight unseen, to turn in the finished copy in three weeks, by October 18, in time for release for Christmas sales. That’s 23 pages of polished final text every day for 21 days – without time to read the book beforehand!" To most of us who work in this industry, the idea of this is simply insanity. However, most will note that the book will be finished in time, although many of the finer nuances of the novel may not be portrayed in the translation due to the rush.

Rowling's agent, Neil Blair mentioned that the English, French and German versions will be published within a few days of each other, and most other languages will be released later. He adds that the Harry Potter books followed similar courses, as none of the novels were published at the same time in all languages. Ariel Bogle of Melville House, an independent publisher in New York, writes about the fear of piracy with releasing the book too early, "The concern is that if other authors follow this example, quality of translation will be markedly different between bestsellers and other books that don’t have such high security concerns."

This brings up the question of a rush translation and the risks taken when clients request rush jobs. A friend of mine asked me what kind of rush fees Rowling's agency might incur as a result of the delay in publication due to piracy suspicions. Certainly we'd all like to think that translators can pump out a translation in no time, but the reality is that translation, like most professional services, is a fine skill. It's not something that can be rushed easily, especially when it involves literary nuances and fine details that add so much to a book.

When clients ask us for jobs to be rushed, we always let them know that there are rush fees involved, as the amount of text they wish to have translated is more than what is feasible in such a short amount of time. The reason for this is not simply to make an extra profit, but truly, our translators, proofreaders and project managers will have to work overtime in order to get the translation finished on time and with the standard of quality we deliver. I stress the latter.

Quality is of utmost importance. If one cannot ensure it in our industry, then even without rush rates, what can be expected of jobs that run on a regular time line? An agency always has to know and be aware of its limits with certain language pairs and specializations, and if it means turning down the translation of a world-renowned author's newest novel, then so be it. Now, I just need to find a Finnish person to read both the English and Finnish versions of the book this fall to see how the story turns out.