STF 2018 retrospective: a year of translations, books, and contests

By | December 31, 2018

As the year is about over, in this post I’d like to take a step back and talk about a few of the things I did in 2018.

First, to give some context: In 2016 I did a little translation work as a side-job at Gengo, the online translation platform, and began to do translations of various works, some of which I have been posting on the site you are on now. In 2017, I continued doing hobby translations, and perhaps my highlight of that year was the series Rainlands, one of my favorite blog-published translation projects to date. (You can still read it in full here).

After spending so much time doing translations and giving them many editing passes with the intention of creating a professional-quality result, I realized that out of respect for my work, and of the stories themselves, I would be better off making full E-books––at least when the content was long enough.

By devoting a large portion of my free time to these E-book translation projects, I managed to publish a total of five books this year. The first was a list of short stories by Juza Unno, a forefather of Japanese SF, immediately followed by his Eighteen O’ Clock Music Bath, a quirky Dystopian novella that is perhaps the first known Japanese dystopian work. Then I switched gears and published a book of children’s tales by Mimei Ogawa, this time with parallel English translations. After that I published “Two of Six: A Captain’s Dilemma”, a cynical SF novella which touches on important topics about artificial intelligence and humanity. Finally, I just barely managed to finish “Tales of the Disturbed”, a set of dark, introspective pieces by author Yoshio Toyoshima.

Each of these projects was very enjoyable, and frankly couldn’t have been done without the support of several people to assist with research, proofreading, cover design, etc. While I had the final say in all decisions, whether they be creative or linguistic, without people supporting me it would have been impossible to publish these books with the quality level I managed to achieve. Whether family members or friends, everyone involved was a pleasure to work with, and that makes the process that much more enjoyable.

Besides all the knowledge I gained about Japanese, translation, and the process of producing E-books, there was another unexpected discovery as a byproduct of these projects (only one of which can really be considered modern)––I realized how much great writing there was 50, or even 100 years ago. Logically, I have known that human beings have been writing for probably thousands of years and some famous works, like Don Quixote, have been around for over 400 years. However, in my personal reading I have tended to keep to books in the last quarter to half-century, thinking that stuff much older than that either would be too difficult for me to understand or appreciate.

However, it was a pleasant surprise to be able to appreciate works that are, in at least one case, over 100 years old. That fact those works were in another language, written by someone from another country, made it even more great. One thing I felt from reading these older works is that as a race, we haven’t changed that much (at least in terms of our fundamental emotions). Even with respect to the art of story-writing, of course there are many stylistic differences across eras, but much of the fundamentals stay the same over time. This is another thing I logically “knew” but didn’t have enough experience to confirm.

To be honest, one of the reasons I have been using mostly older works is because those stories are often in the public domain (there is more to it though…), hence rights are easier to get as compared to a work from a living writer. But now after doing these projects I know there is so much great Japanese classic writing out there just waiting to be found and translated (and surely this applies to any language). Also, even though older works are generally linguistically harder to fully understand and translate, I have found that makes that process that much more rewarding.

No matter how much I tell myself I am doing these projects for enjoyment, or to give back to the community (in terms of making works available in English that had not been), it’s impossible me to completely disregard book sales. Knowing that it is difficult to sell significant copies of anything in the book industry, I decided to do at least a light marketing effort, spending roughly a total of several days on each book––doing things like posting on forums and sending out emails. The hardest part is not trying to be too annoying, and I am referring not just to others but also to myself (since I do not consider myself a marketer by trade or interest). I’ve found that with marketing, just like with writing and translating, real thought and creativity is required to really get things done.

And the results? Well, since I had somewhat low sales expectations from the beginning I would say I have been too disappointed, at least given the amount of time I spent on marketing. My total sales count has only been in the three-digits, but considering those were all non-free books––and that this is the first year of self-publishing on a small budget––I think it’s an acceptable result.

For me, 2018 was also about translation contests. Early in the year I held my first translation context, which had a small but satisfying number of participants. I also participated for the first time myself in a translation context. Finally, I was involved peripherally in a few other contests, whether it was reading part of the source text or just seeing what it was about.

When in the middle of a translation project, as a rule I would try to only post one article a week so I would not loose focus on the book. However, I still managed to get a lot of articles out and, thankfully, my total views for 2018 increased over 40% compared to 2017. Perhaps this is partially due to my marketing efforts, but I hope I can continue, or exceed, this trend in 2019.

As for goals in the new year, I’d like to break through four digits in book sales in 2019, hopefully publish a translation of full length novel, and/or have a short story translation published in a magazine. I’m hoping to hold another translation contest this year, and ideally participate in one or two again myself.

Happy New Year! Let’s all make it one to remember!

2019年もよろしくお願いします。

(Note: featured image from Pexels.com)

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