On August 31, writer and literary translator Jennifer Croft, known for her International Booker Prize–winning translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, made a resolution and shared it with her 10,000 Twitter followers: “I’m not translating any more books without my name on the cover,” she wrote. “Not only is it disrespectful to me, but it is also a disservice to the reader, who should know who chose the words they’re going to read.”
Replies poured in from writers supportive of her decision and other translators who have felt overlooked by publishers. Croft, who translates from Polish and Spanish into English, had clearly struck a nerve.
One month later, for International Translation Day on September 30, Croft turned her personal resolution into a public campaign. In an open letter published on the website of the U.K.’s Society of Authors and cowritten with novelist Mark Haddon, Croft called on writers to ask their publishers to give translators cover credits and coined the hashtag #TranslatorsOnTheCover. “For too long, we’ve been taking translators for granted,” the letter reads. “From now on, we will be asking, in our contracts and communications, that our publishers ensure, whenever our work is translated, that the name of the translator appears on the front cover.”
The Authors Guild quickly backed the idea. “It is long past time that translators be acknowledged for their contributions by including their names on the book’s cover,” said Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild. “That’s only the first step, however; translators should also receive royalties and a share of subsidiary rights.”
The issue of crediting translators on book covers has been a topic of discussion within the literary translation community for decades, and little has changed over that time. But by harnessing the power of social media, Croft’s push is gaining traction in the rest of the literary world. To date, the letter has received about 1,800 signatures, including from such writers as Alexander Chee, Chris Kraus, R.O. Kwon, Jhumpa Lahiri, Yiyun Li, Olga Tokarczuk, and Bryan Washington.
“Putting our names on the covers of the books we wrote every word of takes two seconds and zero dollars,” Croft told PW. “Why not make that change?”
Of the 368 English-language translations of fiction and poetry published in 2021 that are in the Translation Database hosted by PW, only 162, or 44%, credited translators on their front covers, while 206 did not.
Croft’s own experience with cover credits has varied by publisher. She cited Bloomsbury, the Feminist Press, Transit Press, and the U.K.’s Charco Press as publishers that put her name on book covers “as a matter of course.” This, she said, is how it should be. But often translators must negotiate for months over cover credits and royalties.
“Some publishers aren’t even really willing to negotiate with translators,” Croft explained, “which goes back to the underlying issue of publishers just not being willing to recognize us as co-creators of the work—as artists in our own right.”
Croft also cited practical reasons that readers and publishers alike would want translators credited on covers. “The reader deserves to know upfront who wrote the book they’re about to purchase,” she said. “Just like when you’re deciding what movie to watch, you might want to know who’s in it as well as who directed it.”
She used the example of audiobook narrators as a parallel for literary translators. “I often choose audiobooks based on who reads them,” she said, adding that this helps her find titles she might not otherwise have heard about. “The same is true for translations: if a reader loves a translation by Damion Searls or Ellen Elias-Bursac, seeing a book with one of those names on the cover might prompt them to try out a new author.”
Translators are often the ones pitching American publishers the foreign-language books they want to translate, rather than the original authors. They are, in other words, essential to the process even beyond the work of translation; they are not the equivalent of automated translation services. When a translator chooses to translate a book, it usually means that they love it or think it’s of particular importance, and they believe that like-minded readers will feel the same about it.
So why might a literary publisher choose to omit a translator’s name from the cover? “I would love to hear an editor or publisher explain their motives,” Croft said. “I honestly can’t understand what they might be.”
But it seems more consumers are taking notice of these omissions. When FSG shared on its Instagram the cover of the forthcoming short story collection The Trouble with Happiness by Tove Ditlevsen, translated by Michael Favala Goldman, some commenters noted that Goldman’s name was missing from the cover. “List the translator,” one wrote. “Exciting,” said another. “Only thing missing is the translator on the cover.” (FSG did not respond to PW’s request for comment.)
Some publishers approach cover credits on a case-by-case basis. New Directions, one of the foremost independent publishers of literature in translation, published 22 translated titles in 2021; of those, six credited their translators on their covers. In a statement on behalf of New Directions, a spokesperson said that the publisher doesn’t adhere to “a cut-and-dried formula” for cover text. “We believe that readers respond to the book they see,” the statement continued. “Its design has been created to convey the essence of a work and springs from a great deal of respect for all who contributed to it. If the translator’s name is not on the front then it’s always featured prominently on the back, and in all our efforts we are extremely diligent with highlighting, honoring, and acknowledging the work of our brilliant translators.”
Other publishers have a more consistent approach. Kendall Storey, senior editor at Catapult and Soft Skull Press, didn’t mince words: “What is there to be gained by leaving the translator’s name off the cover, anyway?” she asked. “Is it to trick unsuspecting readers into thinking they’re buying an English-language original? How long will that ruse last?”
In a joint statement on behalf of Archipelago Books, associate editor and director of publicity Sarah Gale, editorial and development associate Emma Raddatz, and publisher and founding editor Jill Schoolman echoed Storey’s sentiments. “It seems natural to recognize [a translator’s] role in a prominent place,” they said, “so that any reader who picks up the book knows that they’re holding a work of collaboration.”
Both Catapult and Archipelago include translators’ names on the front covers of all translated books.
One small press publisher of literary translations, who spoke with PW on the condition of anonymity, took issue not with crediting translators but with the #TranslatorsOnTheCover campaign itself. “I think the issue is more complicated,” the publisher said, “and that the campaign is conflating not being on the front cover with not being recognized at all,’ which I think is kind of disingenuous. I think translators’ names should be on the cover—just not always on the front.” The publisher feels there “are better ways to highlight and support the translators” by focusing on issues like royalties, rights, and pay—as echoed in the Authors Guild’s statement—rather than using cover credits as “the centerpiece of some sort of PR campaign.”
For Croft, cover credits are an important way to elevate translation in the minds of publishers and readers, showing that it is also a kind of authorship. “Having our names on the covers of our books foregrounds the collaborative nature of translation in a wonderful way that I think readers will really respond to,” she said. “There is no reason to keep concealing our identities, as if languages other than English were something to be ashamed of.”