The World of Literary Translations

Category: Languages


Literary translation accounts for 2.6 million book sales in the UK alone. Its unique combination of language translation and ghost-writing opens authors up to wider audiences and readers to new ways of thinking.

Reaching worldwide audiences

Translation is about more than simply writing something in a different language. There’s an art to understanding the meaning of a writer’s words and communicating it to a new audience. Accompanied by a literary twist, a whole other aspect of writing needs to be considered.

Writing aesthetically

One major distinctive element of literary translation is the focus on the aesthetic nature of the language used. Even in genres and works that are less literary in terms of their choice of words, it’s important to convey the aesthetics of the source text when writing in the target language. This means a translator needs to have a grasp of the language that extends beyond technical usage and professional terminology.

Ghost-writing for the international market

As well as providing an accurate translation and paying heed to the aesthetics of literature, literary translation involves many aspects of ghost-writing that aren’t otherwise present in the translation business.

Ghost-writing is the process of writing on another person’s behalf – often uncredited, though not always – in a way that it still sounds like the voice of the original author. Sometimes this is done in tandem with a popular author so as to increase their output, while at other times it’s part of a commercially created author’s brand. In regard to literary translation, ghost-writing involves communicating the writing style of an author in their native language in a language they aren’t proficient in writing in. 

Famous literary translation – who’s writing what?

In terms of translated works, the UK market has been successful across multiple genres and styles, from authors all over the world. 

  • Japanese author Haruki Murakami, a writer of surrealism and magical realism.
  • Jo Nesbø is a Norwegian thriller writer, who, alongside Swedish writer Stieg Larsson, opened up English-speaking readers to the world of Scandinavian crime novels.
  • Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series originated from Poland and has so far inspired three video games and a Netflix series.
  • Leïla Slimani, born in Morocco and living in France, won success with her thriller, published in the US as The Perfect Nanny and the UK as Lullaby

With the market expanding, each of the writers above represents just a small fraction of the work entering the UK.

Authors writing in English enjoy similar access to new markets through literary translation, with their work becoming more known to people all over the world. 

How does it work?

A combination of translation and ghost-writing, literary translation requires familiarity with both the author’s style as well as the language they are initially writing in. A good literary translator endeavours to maintain the original author’s voice while communicating the euphemisms and subtext in language and phrases that are better understood by the new market.

Want to know more?

Interested in the world of literary translation? Trying to share your story with the whole world, but feel stuck behind a language barrier? Get in touch with us to discuss how we can help bring your book to new markets with our experienced team of translators. 

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