One could think that a translator’s greatest enemy would be conjunctivitis. Or back pain. Or perhaps diabetes, since we work long hours sitting behind a desk and never get enough exercise. While all of these are huge threats to our health, they pale in front of the one who has given many a translator insomnia, hypertension and lack of appetite: the title that won’t fit on the cover.
You see, not all languages were made equal. Some tend to have longer words and sentences. While “longer” doesn’t necessarily mean “worse” in the age of the e-book, when it comes to words that have to go on a book’s cover, there are still lots of tears to be shed.
Suppose that you wrote a historical romance titled “In Shiny Armor” (I don’t know if such a book actually exists. I just made the title up. If it’s a real book, I apologize with the author). The closest translation I can think of would be Armatura scintillante (I’m dropping the preposition because it would just look too weird inside an Italian title, and because my job is already complicated as is). The problem with that? It goes from the original 14 characters, spaces included, to 21. That’s 50% longer! To make things worse, twelve of those character belong to a single word, which you obviously cannot break on a book cover. To avoid the cover designer’s wrath, I would have to come up with an alternative title that both reflects the book’s content and is short enough to fit on the cover.
“Wait, what do you mean an alternative title? You want to change the title of my book? I’ll die before that!” Please don’t. I may not know you, but I certainly want you to stay alive. And if you want to bless more readers with your wonderful book, you need a title that doesn’t need to be size 10 in order to fit on the cover. That means the Italian edition of your book will have a different title than the English one. It’s not a big deal. It happens all the time, both in traditional publishing and with self-published books.
Back to our example! To find a good title, I would carefully study the original. Is it a quote from one of the characters? Is it symbolic? Is it open to different interpretations?By answering those questions and more, I can come up with some solutions to submit to the author, who will them choose the one she thinks better.
Let’s say that the “shiny armor” of our imaginary title is the one don by your heroine to fight without being recognized as a woman. In this case, the fact that the armor is shiny is less important than the fact that it protects her from both harm and public shaming. Considering that, I would make suggestions like these:
- Corazza (literally “cuirass”): this one is fairly literal. It puts the garment, with all its symbolism, at the center of the attention (and probably of the cover too), emphasizing its protective value. It loses the “shiny” part, but we are presuming that it wasn’t important in the first place.
- Senza paura (literally “without fear”): this one plays on the fact that “cavaliere senza macchia e senza paura” is the Italian equivalent of “a knight in shiny armor”. The armor itself isn’t mentioned, but the symbolism is there.
- Dietro l’elmo (literally “behind the helm”): this one is the furthest from the original title, but it’s worth mentioning because it sounds like “behind the mask,” both in English and Italian, and refers to the helm behind which the heroine conceals her identity. An advantage in working with a translator to produce a new title is that the author gets to see her novel from different angles, as the translator proposes titles that, in his opinion, sum up the book’s content and are captivating at the same time.
All these titles are appropriate (at least, I think they are), and they are all 14 characters or less. The author may choose the one she likes the most, and everyone will be happy. Including the cover designer.
Do you want to know more about the world of translations? Are you the author of a book titled “In Shiny Armor” and want to make an Italian edition of it? Contact me, and don’t forget to look at my Translations Made Easier page.