How to ask an author (in Japanese) for translation permission

By | September 8, 2017

These days I’ve been pretty active translating a variety of Japanese novels (in part or in full) to English and posting them on my blog. Whether the original work is published online somewhere or with paper media, I highly recommend getting the author and (if applicable) publisher’s permission before you post anything translated online, even if it just a personal blog.

Over the last year or so I’ve contacted several authors (10+) and gotten their permission, and my success rate is pretty good (80-90%). I have gotten questions from several readers about how to go about asking authors for permission, so I thought I would write an article describing the process.

Keep in mind that a majority of these are novels or short stories that are published freely on sites like Kakuyomu or Shouetsuka ni narou, and I am not aiming to make any money off these translations. If the original work was published through a proper publishing company, and/or my intent was monetary profit, I think the process would be much more involved and probably require negotiation and possibly even filling out certain types of paperwork. But I’m just going to keep things simple here and assume you are talking to an author of a freely available story and you are not trying to make money.

Before I show you a sample email template (based off an email I have sent recently), I want to emphasize that in my experience a majority of authors who have not formally published are happy to have their work translated and published, even in an informal way like on a blog. However, there are a few reasons your request may be declined, for example if they are planning to publish their work in more formal media, like a printed literature magazine such as this.

While you could do this via a few smaller emails back and forth with the author, to save both your time and the author’s I suggest sending one longer email to try and lay out all the key points at once. These include:

  • The reason you want to translate their work (For translation practice? Because you think it’s well-written?)
  • That you will not be making any money off the translation
  • That you will give them proper credit
  • The location you will be publishing it (link to your blog, etc.)

In terms of the Japanese you use, while I have noticed a tendency for certain mistakes made by non-native speakers to be forgiven, at minimum you should use basic polite forms (です・ます), and always use the proper name suffix (さん). If you are comfortable with more advanced 敬語 (like 「いらっしゃる」) feel free to use these, but steer away from using expressions you haven’t seen used by a native speaker.

Since you should have a certain level of fluency before posting translations online, I am not going to translate each sentence of the template email here. I’ll just highlight the parts you should fill in yourself, mad-lib style.


Email title: 「[Full name of work you want to translate]」の英訳の件

Email body:
[Full name of author, last name followed by first]さん、

初めまして。[Your name]と申します。

[Below is some personal details about myself, please adjust these to describe yourself]
[Link to your blog or other site where you will be publishing the translations]
この間、[Authors full name, as above]さんの[Name of work you want to translate]という作品を見つけて [Here describe something that made you start reading the work] 読み始めました。[Describe why you want to translate it here] 翻訳もやってみたいと思います。
当然のことですが、[Author’s name]さんのお名前もリンクも(あれば他の情報も)ブログに載せます。
[Optional: give reason(s) here you think translating the work will benefit the author, for example his/her readership will grow]
[your name]

Keep in mind this is just a template to get you started. Rather than cutting and pasting my own template, instead I write these emails by hand each time and add various things depending on the situation. For example, in one case I added that I had discovered a website created by the author to show my interest.

Please be aware that I will not claim the above email template is 100% native-level, natural Japanese. There are probably some areas that can be refined. But I have used similar emails successfully several times.

If you don’t get a response in a few days, say a week, then you can ping them again. In a recent project of mine, the author didn’t respond after a few days and I pinged him via another mechanism (Twitter), whereby he gave me permission after a brief chat.

If you get turned down, don’t take it too hard and just move on. The only exception would be that if you feel the author misunderstood something you said (maybe you didn’t communicate it clearly enough), in which case you can give more details and tell them if they change their mind to please contact you anytime.

If you do get permission, be sure to send them an email containing a link to the translation once you publish the first chapter (and maybe subsequent chapters as well). You may also be able to ask them to link to your translation in the description (or some other place) on the page containing the original work.

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