So you want to be a web novel translator…

You’ve read the novels or seen the online scene mentioned in media interviews.

You, too, cut your teeth on fantastical Chinese dramas with beautiful leads and flashy special effects.

Or did you give yourself nearsightedness by sneaking old wuxia books under the covers when it was past bedtime?

Maybe you’re already in the translating profession and are excited to share these sometimes 8D novels with the world.

‘ey there. I’m etvolare (more about me here) and I’ve been around the Chinese web literature scene for roughly four years. Kernels of ideas for this article have been floating around for quite a while, and a behemoth of a future monetization announcement from the leading web novel platform finally galvanized me into action.

I’ll be sharing thoughts based off personal experience in the scene, starting from when there were no companies present. Other caveats include my background: US-centric and a previous finance career.

So. You want to be a web novel translator because…

…you like the novels and have some free time on your hands.

Do you also like digging holes? 😀 Translation is very much like digging holes, and an endless amount at that.

I first encountered this particular metaphor for translation by the founder of Wuxiaworld, Ren Woxing, way back in 2015. It’s stuck with me since because it’s so vivid and so true.

When you embark on the dao of being a web novel translator, you’re making a commitment to the readers, the author, the publishers, and yourself to see it through. Whether life gets busy or you hate the current arc, the translation must go on!

These days, the standard release schedule is 14 chapters a week, or two chapters a day. If you’re fully bilingual and can jump right in, that’s wonderful! You’ve already got a leg up on many other aspiring translators.

Or, you might be like me, an ABC with a decent enough grasp of Chinese…

…completely poleaxed when faced with the actual nitty gritty of translating.

Chinese idioms? Popular culture references? Slang? And to have them make sense when translated into English?? I almost quit a few times in my first year of this new hobby. No, we cannot just skip whatever it is we don’t know. No, close enough is not good enough. XD

So, given that my first year of this new hobby was as much translating as it was really learning Chinese all over again, I’d give a conservative estimate of taking three hours per chapter.

This also includes post-translation editing, because my creative writing skills had declined an appalling degree since college. Good writing skills are critical, because a mess of grammar/conventions/style in the most humdrum tone is a chapter no one wants to read.

For more on the technical difficulties of translating web novels, please check out this write-up I put together. If reading that is difficult, please do reconsider and save yourself the agony of digging all those holes.

This means if I were an aspiring translator now, I’d be dedicating six hours a day to wading through a chapter of 3,000 Chinese characters, Chinese and English dictionaries in hand, and trying to figure out how to make something like ‘Explode Star Point’ sound like the badass martial move it is.

Six hours a day.

Man. That already sounds more like a chore than anything else.

It really is. Day in and day out, trudging through chapters, battling Chinese and turning it into English. The allure of sharing stories of hot male leads or epic battles wears off after a while, and what’s left is the chore of translating daily. Tough, continuous work like digging holes.

The holes need to be dug, everyday, regardless of how you feel about them that day. Most schedules tend to block in recharging and socialization on Friday – Sunday, work or studies from Monday to Thursday. Now, add in another 6 hours of daily hole digging, and those holes don’t go away if the previous day’s quota was missed.

If that sounds painful, that’s because it definitely can be.

It can feel like a drag even if your novel gets a foothold into mainstream popularity, because Chinese novels are long. One of mine called Sovereign of the Three Realms has 2,374 chapters. I’m only just now wrapping it up after four years! (Granted, that was because I started off as a hobbyist fan translator at 2x a week.)

Are you ready to dedicate years of your life to translating a novel? This isn’t crazy talk, truly. Remember the commitment one makes at the start of picking up a novel.

And what if your novel doesn’t take off? What if…

etvo! I’m just in it because I like the novels! I don’t want to do anything crazy like dedicate six hours a day, seven days a week of my life to it! (and earning some pocket money while I’m at it is also nice)

Sure thing, so three chapters a week AKA nine hours a week sound much better, right?

Are you ready to have no readers? Because that’s what will happen. (‘course there are always exceptions, but… please don’t go into this betting on that.)

Almost double digit hours worth of work a week for a few hundred pageviews, if even that. I’ve seen translators put out 5x a week and get less than a hundred pageviews per chapter. In fact, there was a period of time when one of my novels got ~400 views a month for each chapter.

There were 300+ chapters already translated in that novel, meaning a year’s worth of work.

In ad rev terms, that’s less than $100 a month. So after a year, I had barely any readers and sure as heck wasn’t earning much pocket money. Honestly, getting good at League of Legends and becoming a paid booster would be much more fun and pay better.

Slow release schedule = no readers = low motivation = fewer chapters translated = slower releases = a fantastic negative feedback cycle.

This is the sad barrel a translator will be staring down at if the novel that flops. A lock into years of hole digging and no audience. It goes without saying how incredibly demoralizing and depressing that prospect is.

…because you hate your future career path/current job.

Sitting at home and earning money banging on a keyboard sounds great, and it is! But… significant sacrifices are made in the form of employee benefits and relating to others if you hop into full-time web novel translating.

Remember the current standard of 14x a week? Let’s go with that, since one needs to maintain that schedule to even have a hope of making this a full-time job. As a general rule, slow releases = no readers.

Two chapters a day, all day, everyday. Whether rain or shine, sickness or good health, vacation or getting stood up on a Friday date.

You could take the weekends off or go on a break for vacation. You just have to dig more holes on remaining time or forgo the earnings. No work = no pay.

Just opting out of pay is kind of not an option when it pertains to a job, so on a recent family vacation, I booted up the laptop every night when we got back to the hotel. I was translating on the plane and during trip downtimes. The alternative was to dig even more holes beforehand so I could vacation without work.

Incidentally, this standard was 5x a week a few years ago, then 7x a week. It was a definite struggle to scale upwards when the standard progressed beyond a chapter a day. Ideally, it’s good practice to translate more than one’s daily releases, for those inevitable sick days, off days, and vacation time. So when the standard is 2x a day, I should at least be doing 2.5x a day. Thankfully, translation speeds eventually improve so that I’m not locked behind a laptop 8 hours a day for 2.5 chapters.

That’s just time, let’s also talk compensation and the whole package.

In web novel translations, there’s no such thing as annual reviews, raises, promotions, or a career path. You, your novels, and you. That’s it.

In most jobs, employees get 401(k) matches, annual bonuses, health insurance, vacation days, and sick days. Jobs can also offer some sort of pension/portfolio advantage/ESOP/related, employee discounts at affiliated brands, points for usage of company credit card, company parties/retreats, and others.

Fully loaded, the entire package is a lot more than just the salary figure, and all of that goes away when becoming a full-time web novel translator.

There’s also the intangibles that I feel are a very important part to consider. Like it or not, we function in a society. Being a translator usually means working alone, and becoming disassociated from society is an entirely real thing. That can do a number on one’s mood and self-worth as an individual.

For example, the translator schedule is completely different from a typical working professional’s. One can easily go an entire day without human contact. There are numerous topics that translators no longer have in common with their social circle (crappy boss, annoying clients, inclement weather affecting commute, etc).

When peers are making senior manager or vice-president later in life, the translator will forever be ‘just’ a translator. I’ve come to expect comments such as, “Wow, it’s such a shame you gave up your former career,” or “Don’t you feel like you wasted your education and work experience”?

…because you want to make the big bucks.

Wot, did that earlier section not scare you off yet? Alright, alright. TL;DR: web novel translating isn’t the key to striking it rich.

Let’s look at some numbers.

Whether you already have a job or are looking to enter the workforce for the first time, 99.9% of web novel translators are contractors, meaning that monthly expenses look different from a 9-5’er.

Taking the wildly successful novel figure from WW’s future monetization post, a translator can bring in $5,000 a month for luckily having their novel take off. This is not the norm, at all. Given the type of person who can translate Chinese into English (please refer to the translator section below), it’s likely they live in a first world country.

Federal tax @ 22% (singles rate) = $1,100
State tax @ 9.3% (California) = $465
Health insurance (21 yr old @ ValuePenguin): $221
Car insurance (@ The Zebra): $143
Rent (SoCal @ Rentcafe) = $1,469
Utilities + internet (Daily Press): $150

Income left after monthly recurring expenses: $1,452

Gas isn’t included in this rough estimate. This is it. For food. Clothes. The pair of glasses accidentally crushed one night which the catastrophic insurance plan doesn’t cover. Anything for entertainment and fun. Christmas presents for family. Charity and contributing to the local community. Saving for retirement. As this was for a young, healthy single, it can easily go into the red when kids and elderly parents are thrown into the mix.

The monthly paycheck is always an unknown in web novel translations.

My numbers are a daily obsession for a gauge of the current month’s take-home. Are they cratering because of a slow arc? Are they shooting back up because it’s a holiday? Every month is a surprise, and it can be quite frustrating to have results be wholly irrelevant to effort.

In my previous 9-5’s, health insurance, retirement savings, on-site daycare, mileage reimbursement, plenty of discounts and tuition subsidies were included. There were raises and annual bonuses. The neighborhood web novel translator has to pay for everything out of pocket, from a pot that we’re never really certain of how it’ll shake out.

What about other compensation methods?

Some platforms take the uncertainty out of the equation and offer flat pay for chapters. Sounds wonderful, until you realize this also places a cap on your earnings when royalties are taken out of the picture.

For a while, there was an influx of new translators in the scene because some platforms offered ~$40 a chapter. Folks saw that as an opportunity to run chapters through Google translate, edit it up some, and collect easy money for quick work.

That’s absolute bollocks for long term career stability. It’s how one’s reputation gets trashed, readers not touching anything the translator puts out because it’s frankly awful, and that $40/chapter quickly dries up when the platform realizes the novel isn’t bringing any readership/money in.

Some translators join teams and turn in work to a head translator. That can go hand-in-hand with a lighter schedule and fewer holes to dig. It’s sometimes viewed as all of the payoff with none of the responsibility, as someone else is on the hook for mistakes. However, this also doesn’t get one far in this scene as it’ll be the head translator associated with the novel, and pay going through one more middleman.

Web novel translating isn’t the path to big bucks, it really isn’t.

…because you’re already a translator.

If all the uncertainty hasn’t deterred the translators reading this write-up, the actual skillset required might. Reality is rarely what’s imagined, even for those with experience in the field.

Being part of the largest translator groups in Taiwan, I’ve had the opportunity to take a close look at the lives of professional translators. I field a lot of questions from interested hopefuls, so I get this, I really do.

Aside from those who have consistent, long term cases (such unicorns), the downsides of being a translator include dealing with horrific clients, shifting deadlines, subpar source material, and constant uncertainty with not knowing where the next case will come from.

Thus, peers are always curious about this different world, interesting subject material that bring up childhood nostalgia, or something that’s simply a different pace from their usual.

As we’ve established already, unpredictability is such a huge thing in this field. It can be exceedingly stressful to not know how well your novel will do, how much you’ll earn this month, and having to keep digging the holes despite all that. Incidentally, the skillset needed here is different.

You don’t need a PhD in Chinese literature. You don’t need decades of experience teaching Chinese. In fact, classically trained translators don’t have an automatic edge over everyone. The first two were once two separate applicants to volare, and I failed applicants with translation degrees all the time because:

English writing ability is crucial.

This may come across as nonsensical, because right, we’re translating from Chinese into English. Of course we need to know how to write in English.

But do you know how to write a novel in English?

Or let’s take a step back, because original writing isn’t on the line here. How are your creative writing skills? This is the requirement for a good end result, not straight 1:1 literal translation into English.

In my view, readers need to get lost in the story, not the foreign-ness of the written word and how weird it reads. They should experience the same emotions we did when reading the Chinese, and feel just the same sense of wonder, curiosity, or fury. For more on translating web novels, please click here (write-up is in Chinese).

I am firmly of the belief that it is sufficient to master just enough Chinese to understand the original text. More of the focus should be on how to recreate that literary world in English. To this regard, widely read English writers tend to end up wielding significant advantage over classically trained or highly experienced translators who haven’t touched web novels before.

Okay all of this is depressing and sounds like a shitty job, why did you quit finance for it?

Haha alright, despite the absolute wall of text up to here, here I am, four years into the scene. Even with all the drawbacks, I chose this path and stuck with it.

I’m absolutely blessed and lucky that my passion puts food on the table.

That’s the long and short of it. Having seen some pretty impressive stuff in my past life as a M&A consultant and corporate banker, it was definitely a gamble to distill that experience and move into another field with it. Thankfully, the bet paid off, even though I still have close family members who scoff at what I do and mutter about getting a ‘real job’.

It absolutely is a gamble. You never know if your novel will find mainstream popularity, or if an arc will be so boring it craters your monthly earnings into nonexistence. Maybe a new novel will launch on your publishing platform and it’ll distract your readers for a while. Or maybe another novel will host a huge event that draws all the eyeballs for a good couple of weeks. Even I find digging holes tedious at times.

However, every reader comment, breathless theories of things to come, fan art, and tricky passage that I get to sound just right brings a smile to my face. To be able to share these stories with a receptive and enthusiastic audience is this bookworm’s dream come true. I love what I do, and have found living through a developing industry very interesting. And that’s probably my ultimate answer to “so you want to be a (full-time) web novel translator”?

Make sure it’s passion that drives you, and make sure you’re able to put food on the table until it can sustain you.

Derp. I’d actually wanted to make this post about monetization in the scene. XD

Review of ‘A Hero Born’ & some thoughts on wuxia translation

A Hero Born. Hailed as the Chinese ‘Lord of the Rings’, 300 million copies of series have been sold in Chinese. To the great excitement of the world, this masterpiece received an official translation that was published in 2018.

It’s 2019. Why is this review coming out only now?

Straight off the bat, I must apologize. MacLehose Press was so gracious as to send me a review copy and I never got around to it. I happen to be a Chinese fantasy translator myself, running in a cohort of likeminded folks. We were naturally tremendously excited to see an emblematic work come out in our sphere, and I personally looked forward to putting the novel up on my shelves as a reference guide for my own work.

Then, one of my colleagues got his hands on a digital review copy before my physical one came and our happy expectations came crashing down. More on that later.

So as a forewarning, parts of this review will be highly critical, as evident in how long it took me to eventually get to it.

Off topic: I like the cover design very much so. Michael Salu marries well the Chinese elements with English reader appeal. Covers sell books, and I definitely would’ve stopped in the bookstore when seeing this. I also love the insert art within the pages. They’re the perfect touch to bring the scenes to life.

So what kinda punk am I to not see Mt. Tai?

I belong to a group of online wuxia/xianxia translators, and have been in this scene for almost four years, witnessing firsthand the rise of online Chinese pulp fiction around the world.

We’re a bunch of wuxia fans, bookaphiles, or drama addicts who started out just wanting to share these awesome stories with those who didn’t know Chinese. We grew up binging on Jin Yong novels under the covers or cooing over the male leads in a wuxia drama. Some of us even take martial arts lessons, or tuned into the online Chinese literature scene when it took off more than two decades ago.

As the scene grew to a more developed, mature industry, some of us turned from hobbyists into full-time translators. I personally left behind a M&A consulting/corporate finance job to walk the jianghu full time.

Most translators work with web novels and churn through anywhere from 6,000 to 9,000 Chinese characters a day. While high literature and web novels aren’t typically mentioned in the same sentence, it’d be no hyperbole to say that those of us who’ve been around have handled several hundreds of millions of characters in a few short years. To quote what a friend in the scene once said, at some point, quantity becomes quality through sheer force of volume.

In short, we’re some uber fans who live and breathe this material daily. Naturally, we’ve got some opinions on translation styles and principles, yours truly included.

You say tomato, I say tomahto. So what’s in a name?

So we come first to one of my primary gripes about the translation — the names. Names are an absolutely crucial part of a novel, if not part of the heart and soul. They can make or break the audience resonating with a character, or turn an awe-inspiring fighting move into one with the force of a limp noodle.

In ‘A Hero Born’, we have male lead Guo Jing, son of Skyfury Guo, and female lead Lotus Huang.

A simple one-liner about the cast was enough to send me into paroxysms of horror when I first picked up the book. Some readers might look at me blankly and go what’s up? It’s all pinyin and Chinesey, ergo it looks fine in a Chinese fantasy novel?

There is so much wrongness here, but let me raise Harry Potter as an example. Since it’s originally written in English, that make it more apparent just how jarring the naming scheme is.

We have Harry Potter, son of James Potter, and a student in house Gryffindor (but could’ve gone Slytherin). He eventually marries Ginny Weasley.

Or rather, what if we had Harry Potter, son of Potter Zhanmusi, a student in house Gelanfenduo (but could’ve gone Slythern). He eventually marries Weasley Ginny.

And that, right there, is my biggest beef with the translation of ‘A Hero Born’ and why I couldn’t bear to read it. There’s a smattering of translated names in Western syntax. There’s pinyin names in Chinese syntax. There’s partially translated names in… an east-meets-west-and-they’re-still-fighting syntax.

To be clear, I’m not saying that translating the names into English is wrong. That’s a translator judgment call and reading about Skyfury Guo and Ironheart Yang is certainly much more intuitive and descriptive than Guo Xiaotian and Yang Tiexin.

However, consistency is key.

For non-Chinese speakers, is it readily apparent that Guo Jing and Skyfury Guo are related? I might just think they share a same name, like James Marshall and Marshall Lee, but they have nothing to do with each other. It’s an enormous cast to keep track of, and wouldn’t Guo Jing and Guo Skyfury be more intuitive that there’s some sort of familial connection?

Does that syntax feel weird? Sure, but these aren’t Western culture characters. It’d be stranger still if their names made perfect grammatical sense in English.

And why on earth do the two main leads have different name syntaxes? Guo Jing vs Lotus Huang. Was Lotus adopted by a Western family or raised in an English speaking world to justify the mish-mash of syntaxes?

This is often a judgment call to be made in wuxia translation. We’re dealing with a ton of pinyin, which is absolutely exhausting to keep track of in an epic-length novel. ‘Forefather Qianye’ makes much less of an impact than ‘Forefather Thousandleaf’. I chalk up the use of pinyin in names and honorifics as a stylistic choice, but the principle underpinning it all has to be consistency. The syntax and style must remain consistent.

For further reading on pinyin in translations, please refer to a semi-diatribe I once wrote.

Setting aside the fact that I don’t like Huang Rong being English-fied, interactions between characters that wasn’t present in the original had to be added in the translation to illustrate the use of ‘Lotus’. If a step like that had to be taken to explain a translator decision, doesn’t that hearken to the notion that this might not be a good idea?

I understand that Anna needed to indicate that the ‘Rong’ was a character used only in girl’s names, but alternatives would’ve been a footnote or (what I usually do) clarification of the character within the dialogue. The ‘rong’ character is also generally understood as a reference to the hibiscus flower…

Y’all need to get off your high horses!

But perhaps me and my colleagues are a bunch of purist translation snobs. Just as food doesn’t have to be prepared by a Michelin chef to be delicious, neither does a translation have to be the most accurate one in the universe for a novel to be enjoyable. We are hardly the authoritative experts when it comes to translation.

Ready to eat humble pie, I introduced the book to bookaphile and Chinese drama friends when it came out. I especially pointed it out to ABC friends with enthusiasm. These are folks who grew up watching the dramas with their parents and couldn’t fully read the originals due to the language barrier. They were absolutely perfect target audiences who would respond favorably to this masterpiece finally getting translated.

I ran into similar feedback, and noted the same with other online reviews. How the names are handled throw so many people off. I was bombarded with complaints from those I’d recommended the book to, with some going more in-depth in saying that the writing lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. To which, I wonder if Anna Holmwood’s background factors into it.

Anna Holmwood is a wonderful writer — despite my immense gripe about the names, the prose itself was lovely to read. Given her work with the Emerging Translators’ Network and previously as editor-in-chief for Books from Taiwan, her expertise and abilities are not to be doubted.

However, I don’t see many wuxia, xianxia, or xuanhuan works in her resume. For all we characterize wuxia as Chinese fantasy, it’s very much a genre and world of its own. Notions like the jianghu and wulin are completely absent in other genres and fantasy at large. It’d be similar to having a romance author write a litRPG novel. The end result would still read smoothly, and it’d be a great story, but the tone just wouldn’t be quite right.

…this all further reinforced my inertia to crack open the book.

You really are just a snob, etvo. Fite me with your kung fu.

What does wuxia experience matter? Literature is literature is literature.

Alright. Wuxia knowledge is imperative when it comes to naming martial moves and referring to quintessentially wuxia concepts.

Martial methods, weapons, and treasures are the bones of a wuxia novel and critical for the story’s structure. I found the translations in ‘A Hero Born’ to be very literal. ‘Bare Hand Seizes Blade’ or ‘Open the Window and Push Back the Moon’.

The Nine Yin Skeleton Claw, though I personally might’ve replaced Skeleton with ‘Bonecrusher’ or reworked the name entirely.

While those can barely work, something like ‘Twice Foul Dark Wind’ is off the mark. It’s a reference to a couple who practices the famed move Nine Yin Skeleton Claw. And the translation places the focus on the entirely wrong subject.

I’m really, really sorry, but a dark wind that’s twice foul… makes me think someone is letting loose with one helluva fart due to the ‘breaking wind’ idiom. More accurately, the translation should’ve been something like ‘Twin Devils of the Dark Wind’ or something like that. Tweak as one will for style and preference.

Whenever qinggong is mentioned, it’s done as ‘lightness qinggong kung fu’. I understand the struggle to translate this, I hate doing this term as well and opt for levitation skills (with a footnote) or immense leaps/jumps or qinggong. But so many words to describe one martial concept illustrates the ongoing struggle throughout the novel to accurately define the notion. In the end, the reader gets bogged down in the redundancy.

Being literal VS localizing more in the target language is a translation debate that will likely rage forever on. I fall on the latter side of that argument, and feel that it’s part of the translator’s job to translate the essence and meaning behind a phrase, rather than just parse a singular Chinese character into an English word.

Literal interpretations breaks immersion into the story and cuts into the flow of a fight at the very least, at the worst we get something that sounds kind of right, but isn’t. This is when knowledge of wuxia plays a role, especially in the world of xianxia that I play more in, where golden cores, nascent souls, and internal manors play a role in cultivation levels and dao.

For example, the ‘Supernova Point’ is a move that comes up in one of my own novels. Translated literally, it would be ‘Explode Star Finger’. Using that in a fight would be almost hysterically comical, not to mention the localized translation paints a more vivid picture on what the move actually does.

And this, this right here, is the bones of a wuxia novel. Treasured weapons clanging against each other in the pursuit of justice and revenge. Magnificent moves with immense schools of thought behind them being executed in their refined glory.

And in the midst of all that, an incredible farting villain dashing in and out of it all. Oh dear.

Incidentally, why is the Wades-Gilles spelling of Taoist used in the novel, but hanyu pinyin for all other Chinese words?

Here comes the rest of the kitchen sink…

Speaking of fights, some of the sound effects in them are straight up pinyin. I’m curious as to why ‘sha, sha, sha‘ was chosen over ‘whoosh, whoosh, whoosh’ in some aspects, but not all. Additionally, I might’ve missed the definition of wulin when it first comes up, but this critical wuxia term is referred to over and over again without immediate explanation. There’s a nod to the metaphor of ‘martial forest’ in the intro — who reads those though?

The moves in general are often referred to as kung fu in the novel. Though Anna gives the technical definition of kung fu as anything that takes dedicated practice or time to study (possibly to head off the exact point I’ll make, heh!), it’s hard to get away from the popular culture conception of the term.

Whether it be Jackie Chan, breaking bricks with one’s head, or high pitched screeching while bouncing on the balls on one’s feet, it seems to me that the term has moved slightly away from the notion that’s being referred to in ‘A Hero Born’. Language is a moving, breathing concept and it’s important to factor in its changes.

Translating the measurement units of jin, li, etc would’ve enhanced understanding of the novel without taking away from its authenticity.

I’m also not a fan of how all the titles were capitalized. “Only bad Emperors keep bad Chancellors.”

Suppose the bad Emperor only became bad because he lost his Sword to the bad Chancellor, who took it because his Teacher was secretly a Spy from another Nation? The Emperor was a good Emperor before!

When everything is capitalized, nothing is special. These are just little nits that would’ve gone a surprising distance to making the novel more accessible and digestible.

PS. The irresistible urge to giggle visits whenever I read ‘devilnuts’ flying around. Was there really no better alternative? Perhaps Chinese caltrops? That would’ve been a perfect subject for an illustration.

This Jin Yong guy seems kinda famous huh?

At the end of the day, why should one pick up a 400+ page book when there are so many adaptations, reboots, remakes, and remakes of the remakes, each with their own delectable cast and increasingly lavish sets to choose from?

And that brings me to a tangent. The dramas.

I’m not joking when I say that even the remakes have remakes. Jin Yong is SO beloved and SO iconic that there are nine versions of the Legends of the Condor Heroes drama alone. The last one was greenlit just this year. There’s three movies, an animation, manhua (comics), computer games, musical theater, even broadcast theater. This is all for just one of Jin Yong’s series.

There is so much history established with this series that it’s baffling for ~50 years of precedence to be bucked when it comes to naming. Surely it was foreseen ahead of time that the backlash would be enormous, yet the editors still decided to go with the executive decision of an inconsistent naming scheme. For being most concerned about the reactions of Chinese diaspora and Jin Yong fans, as Anna expressed in a CNA interview, this just seems odd.

Plus, this also comes across a missed marketing opportunity. Generations of Jin Yong readers are already out there, setting the stage for success from day one for the English series.

We get it, you obviously hate the novel.

At the end of the day, it’s a very well written novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the prose, especially compared to the web novels I usually have to wade through. Anna’s writing flows smoothly, and I really got vested in the pacing of the scenes.

If one is going into it without much knowledge of wuxia and is looking for a solid introduction to a Chinese classic, this is a solid pick.

If one wants to first read up on the Legends of the Condor Heroes before diving into one of the billion adaptations, this is also a solid pick. If one wants to revisit childhood nostalgia, this is fantastic.

If one is an opinionated bilinguist who counts themselves a ‘xia fan, this would not be the novel for you. You’d be spending too much time nitpicking over name translations and wuxia concepts to enjoy the work, and you’d still be unhappy at the end of the day. This here grouch is going to get off her soap box now, thank you for tuning in.

SOTR 2000 Chapterversary & $4K USD CONTEST!

I transmigrated one day and somehow translated a novel to its 2000th chapter.

Wut.

XD

HAPPY 2000TH CHAPTERVERSARY SOTR!

We’re kicking off the celebrations early for this milestone because it’s a humdinger of a writing contest! This special event is a blast from the past and revamped in conjunction with writing community Moonquill and LitRPG author Pegaz!

Thank you to all you wonderful readers who have followed SOTR from day 1 or day 1000. The journey started four years ago! Entry tickets to JC’s old men harem for all of you! XD We’re throwing a party that everyone can participate in, and that focuses on the best parts of SOTR.

CONTEST LOOT

SHORT STORY CONTEST PRIZE POOL:

  1. Samsung Galaxy S10 to solve all the communication issues in SOTR. GPS tracking for Ling Bi’er! Facetune so JC would’ve known Nian’er is his kid. Facebook to show off his old men harem! (Eh, wot?)
  2. The elos Skateboard Classic is the closest thing we have to Starfate on good ole Earth. It’s just as retractable!
  3. One winning entrant to be illustrated as a 22-page manga with a colored cover. All those times we laughed at the wanted posters on MAI? Here’s your chance to see how it’s done!
  4. One Razer Death Adder Elite Mouse (SKT T1 Edition)in honor of my favorite LOL team. This is to all the times we bet chapters on the outcome of games! And Worlds 2019, moar betting!
  5. Cold hard cash prize of $300.
  6. Cold hard cash prize of $150. We can never have enough spirit stones, eh?

POEM CONTEST PRIZE POOL:

  1. Nintendo Switch (neon blue and red joy-con) in honor of Jiang Chen’s gaming/gambling/betting addiction.
  2. Logitech G513 mechanical gaming keyboard. Do you have the OP MC aura in your games?
  3. Bose Quiet Comfort 35s for when you need to meditate for a breakthrough at a party.
  4. The modern jade slip, a Kindle Paperwhite!
  5. Cold hard cash prize of $200.
  6. Cold hard cash prize of $100. MOAR spirit stones!

HOW DO I ENTER & WHAT DO I WRITE?

Jot down your best inspiration for a short story or poem and submit it through the Moonquill site! There’s no real deadline before the event ends, but remember voting starts on Oct. 1! Get your entries in before then for the best chance of winning~

SHORT STORY PROMPT (1000-5000 words):

Illustrate what happened to certain characters or locations while they were “off-screen”, or go off the rails and take the story in a completely different direction! What if a battle hadn’t turned out the way it did? What if best girl was someone else, or Jiang Chen had a different personality? Would it still be Sovereign of the Three Realms?

POEM PROMPT:

Write a poem that ties into a facet of SOTR. This can entail things such as Jiang Chen’s old man harem, the infamous fart that kicked off the story, or any other facet of the story.

ONLY ONE ENTRY PER PERSON, PER CATEGORY IS ALLOWED. So everyone can submit one short story and one poem, and that’s it! Pick your best for folks to read~

Submissions start Sept. 2, and voting starts Oct. 1. Anyone is free to read and vote on the Moonquill site. There will also be cash prizes for random voters, so cast a vote for your favorites! Winners will be announced in November. They will be able to pick their prize from the pool in descending order.

ETVO I HAVE A QUESTION!

  • How are you choosing the winners?
    • Five for each category will be decided by reader vote, which opens on 10/1. Remember, you might win $$ simply for voting!
    • A sixth for each category will be chosen by me, Pegaz (who generously sponsored some prizes), and Moonquill staff (the heroes behind the submission/voting infrastructure and consultants of writing contests!)
  • Who is this Pegaz guy?
    • Just your neighborhood nice author who got excited for SOTR’s milestone and decided to kick in some prizes as well! Thank you Pegaz! <3 He specializes in LitRPGs, so if that’s up your alley, idle games got nothin’ on The Idle System!
  • It’s really hard to ship to my country!
    • Indeed, some places are hard to ship to. We’ll work something out!
  • I don’t read Chinese web novels. Who the heck are you
    • Haiiii! I’m your neighborhood friendly fluff aka etvolare aka former NYC finance professional now full-time xianxia/CN romance translator.
    • SOTR is my first novel from when I first set foot in this scene four years ago. I may eat dirt for a few months for this contest, but this milestone deserves a celebration! CN web novel authors need to publish ~10k characters a day, so the finished product here might be different to what English readers are used to with published works. But it’s still a good time!

It’s been an amazing rollercoaster, here’s to the end of the novel in ~400 chapters! Submit your entry and vote by clicking me~

Not a SOTR reader? No problem. Click me to start reading!

Stay up to date on the contest via my Twitter!

<3 etvo

Mandatory text something something about how I reserve the right to change the rules and conditions at any time etcetc.

Grab a sleepy etvo pin today!

What do wuxia translators do most of the time…? We’re diligently at work. Ahem yes, mos def!

Not falling asleep halfway through a chapter. Oh no, not I. XD

Please support your local Chinese fantasy/romance translator with some personal merch!

 

The sleepy etvo pin will go out to July/August patrons @ patreon.com/etvolare. 

Thank you all for helping keep the lights on. 😀

 

武俠翻譯根本不難嘛!

首先,請容許小女子看到標題後立刻昏倒。etvolare.exe has shut down. Reboot required. 您好,我是etvolare, 少數在寶島的武俠,古代言情中翻英者。etvolare是我的筆名,是拉丁文 飛翔 的意思。

幸運的是,周遭的親朋好友幾乎不會提到標題的驚呼,倒是常在採訪時被問到 『小說翻譯的困難度在哪裡?』

近年聽到這問題時就有點想扔下『都難啊!』後落跑,但這總是有點不太負責任呵。因此,帶上累積四年的小說翻譯經驗,有了寫這一章的靈感。

在此之前,我得先澄清中文非我母語,所以文中任何奇怪文法的地方敬請見諒。(詳細請參考何謂英文網文?)我四年前踏進文學的圈子,專攻於武俠,仙俠,以及古代言情。(本文十月十五號發佈,因網頁排版問題所以把日期往後調)

翻譯不就是一個字一個字轉換到另個語言就好?

講到這個職業時,反應其實兩極。很多人會覺得很難,立刻苦惱武俠招數怎麼翻。(先說,降龍十八掌我翻Eighteen Palms of Dragon Dominance,拜託別再來考我 XD) 有些人則是無感,覺得翻譯沒什麼大不了。而這開頭的問題竟然還是曾經字幕翻譯的家人問的。

先不討論翻譯到底難不難,歡迎不覺得難的勇者抓幾個譯者問問。若問十位,則是絕對有十一位不可置信,咬牙切齒,腦神經斷線,想認真跟您討論重新投胎的譯者。

離題了,回到小說翻譯這一塊。

如果真是一個字一個字的轉換,翻出來的成品絕對沒有人想讀。或許這在專業詞彙以及語言要求精準的文件上行得通,例如合約,但在寫作則是完完全全不行。

寫作?

是的,在我看來,小說翻譯其實就是寫作。譯者要看懂原文的意思並且完整的把一樣的情緒,意境,人物發展移到新的語言。若在小說裡好人與壞人大戰了三百回合,有淚,有血,有激昂,有犧牲,那我最後寫出來的英文一定要帶到一樣的情緒。

我如果看字翻,或用個死氣沈沈,沒人想讀的歷史課本口吻敘述,那這… 誰想讀啊?寫出來的東西不僅文法怪異,也會有很明顯的翻譯痕跡,這會導致英文讀者完全不想碰。

舉個今天早上網文譯者群組裡問的問題:

“我媽為了集團,連命都搭進去了,憑什麼最後要便宜別人?”

照字翻: “My mom for the group, even life also ride into it, basis what last to cheap others?”

這到底是… 我這樣寫絕對被作者告。在仙俠小說裡最如容易看到更離譜的,很多打鬥場合都是逗點逗點地形容一系列的動作。照字翻的話會寫出一個五十行的完全亂七八糟看不懂的英文句子。都太可怕了,我看過就趕快忘記。那天又碰到時再補上。

照字翻但文法正確: “My mom even used her entire life to build the group. Why should she let someone else take advantage of her work?”

好,看得懂,沒什麼大問題。除了一個大缺點:

沒有表達到原文的情感。

這有點太平淡了,中文裡用到 “命都搭進去了” 以及 “憑”,所以應該有一定程度的憤憤不平或不可理喻。而且老實說,以上版本寫得好無聊啊。 我要是讀者大概早就跑去追劇,打遊戲,或是其他三百萬個我可以做的事。我完全沒有沈溺在小說裡的境界。

本人的版本:”My mom poured her entire life into the company group! Why should someone else enjoy the fruits of her labor??”

運用標點符號以及哪裡該斷句是譯者需要做的很重要的判斷。中文文法跟英文的很不一樣,常常需要前後掉過來,而中文也常常用逗點串個很長的句字。翻譯文章時,句子的高低起伏非常重要,畢竟會嚴重地影響傳達的意義。

以上還有個很重要的點,就是我使用了英文慣用語。這其實是如何把中文小說翻成英文的精髓之一。

只要會英文就可以翻小說啦!

在創立以及營運volarenovels這些年,我常常收到中文很厲害的申請。有中文博士,中文老師,或深深了解中文文化的人才。這些人都非常令人敬佩,而全部都是中文母語,英文是第二個語言。

並不是說英文是母語才能翻小說,但英文程度真的是要到可以寫作的程度。中文程度只要達到能看得懂作者寫什麼就夠了,而英文絕對不能在日常生活水準而已。

畢竟我最後的作品是一本英文小說,而非中文。所以以上的強大人才在第一關測試都… 陣亡了。

我們先前討論過照字翻是不可行的,那只要文法正確就好就可以囉?

那也只是僅僅寫出文法正確的英文而已,但並不是一本文學作品。我常說小說翻譯就是用英文來完整詮釋原文的意境,情感,人物等,那翻譯的作用是重新建造這書中的世界。我們要的是英文讀者,就像中文讀者一樣,深深沈溺在這文字裡的世界,而非一直被奇怪的寫法拉回現實。

當文法正確時,奇怪的地方往往是兩個語言的習慣差別。無論是成語或歷史典故,或是上一段最後提到的英文慣用語,這都會判定英文讀者是否辦法理解原文的意思。當然,若是在對話裡,俚語和火星文也須考量。

剛剛的fruits of her labor就是個英文慣用語。我會選擇使用它是為了延續媽媽在集團投資的努力。能在地化就在地化是我現在的習慣,我以前是作者給什麼我就寫什麼。那來舉一些貼切一點的翻譯例子吧!

『心涼了』若是翻成 “his heart grew cold” 是正確的文法,但是英文讀者只會覺得這個人物心臟有問題。我可能會寫 “a sinking feeling in his stomach”. 雖然器官換了,但表達的是一樣的情感。

『省小錢花大錢』是個白化,但是我們常會用到的詞彙。”Saving small money to spend big money” 則是文法正確,但翻譯痕跡太明顯的寫法。讀者一看到就會停留在『好奇怪喔…』而非句子的意思。不如直接用 “penny wise, pound foolish” 吧!

這些例子我常常會在Twitter上分享,而你可以點擊我來看一些歷年來的收集。

題材知識和經驗也很重要喔!

這一年來,金庸的神鵰俠侶系列被英國出版社出正式英文翻譯在武俠翻譯圈造成了極大轟動。這麼經典的大作,這麼代表性的武俠教父,終於有出版社願意投資源了!華文圈獨特的武俠文學終於要見天日了!

我與同行都非常非常興奮,我個人準備好好膜拜這一系列,看看大師們怎麼翻的,以及我如何更上一層樓。但無奈的是,出版社寄給我們的review copy到時… 滿懷期待的心頓時涼了。這肚子裡的洞是大到不能再大啦!

我覺得一切的問題來自於譯者對武俠的不熟悉。我在書評裡大大鞭了一番,可點選我看英文書評。 譯者 Anna Holmwood 是非常厲害的譯者,這無需質疑。她出過許多書也在許多機構工作過,但她背景裡沒有寫到接觸武俠的經過,也因為對武俠的不熟悉下使她許多地方處裡的不當。

當第一本出來時人物名稱就被罵了半邊天。黃蓉 變成 蓮花黃,郭靖的爸爸有個英文名子,有些人物是中文名子等等的各式各樣不協調的地方。但我覺得更嚴重是招數名子等錯了。

修煉九陰白骨爪的黑風雙煞被翻成 “Dark Wind Twice Foul”. 我在書評裡提到因為英文 “breaking wind” 的慣用語,以及譯者 “dark and foul” 的用法讓我覺得是個排氣又臭又長的恐怖夫妻。當時看到就整個傻住了。

這就是完完全全的照字翻,英文的每個字都對得上中文。譯者很明顯地不懂這個名諱的主角是夫妻雙煞二人組。英文名子把重點放在 “風” 上面,是個雙倍難聞的一股風。這就是沒有武俠背景,但是是厲害譯者會留下的痕跡。

這也是為什麼當朋友知道我的職業,七嘴八舌問我武俠招數怎麼翻時,我都不敢回答。我得知道每個字每個字的意思,招數的效果,使用者的人格及背景。即時我們小時候在電視節目上看過,但終究沒研究到這種程度。一個不小心我也就把聞風喪膽的壞人變成諧星了。

希望這落落長的一篇有稍微揭開武俠翻譯的神秘面紗,手指頭已打到沒力氣提到古代言情裡的建築,服飾,官位,以及後宮鬥的措辭。若還有疑問的朋友,歡迎在Twitter or Instagram上詢問!

最後來個幕後花絮,因個人背景,常被詢問類似的問題,比如說:

最常收到問題之:怎麼捨得離開以前的金融業?

這是第一次認識我的人,或是第一次接觸的媒體的必問。以上已經算是婉轉的版本,有時也會聽到『不覺得浪費了之前的學位和證照』或『你怎麼會這麼想不開做這什麼翻譯』等等。更刺耳的版本我則是自動忘了精光。至於為什麼會這麼問?歡迎查詢英文版本的about me.

先說,這裡頭的個人偏見也太大了哈哈!俗話說『行行出狀元』,但似乎相信這一句的人不多。撇開金融業的高度壓榨環境以及緊繃心態(我印象最深刻的是有次家人從台灣來看我,本來約好的晚餐,我在開飯前三十分鐘取消。沒辦法,當天得加班,工作為上,沒有比它更重要的),我就是真的很喜歡翻譯小說。

以前的Excel model or PowerPoint做得再厲害也就… 那樣。但現在每天都有很多人等著看我的文章,每個月都有好幾百萬的點閱率關心著我的作品。除了出書接受採訪,我還被邀請開自己的podcast節目以及出周邊。每天都兩眼閃星的過日子,跟以前實在是差太多了。

最常收到問題之:做翻譯真自由,都不用上班

!!!

我不上班的話… 我會餓死 lol. 我們只是不需要進辦公室,但一樣的每天得乖乖地坐在電腦前面好幾個小時。口譯的同行還得跟客戶到處跑,隨時在現場standby.

我通常一天處理一萬個字,平均打六個小時的電腦。最近要開一本新書,裡面把中國風水結合在仙俠的陣法裡,這可是要做很多功課的。剩餘的時間跟讀者互動,維持自行品牌的活動,或是處理當月特殊活動。每個十二月我都會辦寄聖誕卡片給讀者的活動,當月卡片會寫到手廢掉…

可以完完全全安排自己的時間是優點也是缺點,壞處就是我隨時隨地都在工作。朋友常常不解我為什麼每次去哪裡玩都帶電腦。Well, 只要有空擋我就會工作啊。若庫存不夠,我又同時請病假或休假,那… 那個月的收入就很少。週末也工作喔!

An interview with etvolare: “From Wall Street to Chinese Web Novels Translations”

Hey everyone, part II of the Peking University series, back when etvolare still ran volarenovels! This was quite a bit of fun to do, and you’ll also see some outdated information when it comes to the novel lineup since the interview took place at the beginning of May 2017. Note: etvo no longer runs volare~

The Chinese reading community delineates quite definitely between “male” novels and “female” novels. Basically, any novel with a harem, tons of violence, and basically a male MC is a “male” novel, and any novel with lots of fluffiness and female MC is a “female” novel. Hence the categorization of volare as a “female novel site” due to our higher weighting in romance novels. This certainly makes explaining volare’s “off the beaten path” focus an interesting exercise.

From Wall Street to Chinese Web Novels Translations—Interview with volare novels Founder etvolare

By Yingxuan Xiao (Peking University Chinese Department)


To start off, can you introduce how exactly volare was started? I heard that you lived in America for about ten years and worked in New York in the finance and accounting industry. How did you begin translating Chinese web novels?

etvo: I grew up in Taiwan on a steady diet of wuxia TV shows and romantic novels. I was, without a doubt, an unabashed and utter bookworm. This love has always been with me. I would occasionally do some work with translation agencies amidst work and studies. Translating online literature was actually something I began inadvertently.

I was on the web one day looking for new works to read and somehow landed on an online literature translation site, leading me to try translating myself. The more I translated, the more interested I became, so I set up my own website. In one respect, it was my hobby and a desire to share Chinese literature with the world. In another respect, translating web novels imparts great feelings of accomplishment. I always highly anticipate the responses from my readers.

Were you still working in New York at that time? In everyone’s eyes, Wall Street’s banking industry is very busy and highly financially rewarding. You were still able to find time to translate, choosing to do something with much fewer returns under those circumstances. You must’ve relied on your love and passion in order to persevere! Are you now running volare full time? Resigning from your job requires so much courage!

etvo: That’s right. Work was indeed very busy; not only was I translating, I was also managing volare, so I translated rather slowly. I resigned from my job on January 1st of this year (2017). New hopes for the new year! I then returned to Taiwan and registered volare as a company. Making this decision definitely required enormous courage. Even now, some of my family doesn’t understand, but I feel that everyone wants different things in life. Many people yearn to be part of  New York’s financial sector, but only after joining do some realize that reality is not what they had imagined it to be. After working for many years, I felt that its atmosphere did not suit me, along with the fact that I was just a little hot blooded—why have Western works influenced the entire world so much, and yet Chinese literature has barely made its way out? I hoped to improve this situation.

I’m actually a conservative person, but if I didn’t take this risk, volare would never truly be established. This is possibly the greatest gamble I’ll ever take in my entire life!

You’re so bold! Though what you obtain in return definitely makes it worth it. I’ve noticed that volare’s web page is very concise and straightforward, making it very user friendly for those who access the site for the first time; it must have been pretty hard to design this. Did you do this yourself, or did you ask someone specializing in web design and development to help?

The website can be divided into two parts—frontend and backend. I did the initial frontend, the part of the website that we can see, and was forced to self learn it at the time. The backend I couldn’t do, so I invited a specialized backend developer. With the recent addition of a marketer, operations improved one step further. Besides luck, I believe my previous profession had a lot to do with why I was able to accomplish these things. Since I was already used to how big companies operated and had obtained some knowledge in regards to this field, applying it to running the website was relatively easy.


volare’s Distinguishing Quality: “Alternative” Works and Female-Oriented Novels

At the end of November 2015, you started translating your first novel, Sovereign of the Three Realms (SOTR). In December you founded volare and began releasing chapters for SOTR, later publishing them on Wuxiaworld as well, while your second book, Great Demon King (GDK), initially started on Gravity Tales but later returned to volare. It appears that volare had a deep relationship with Wuxiaworld and Gravity Tales when being established. I heard that you began translating GDK because you really liked it, and saw another translator drop it after only translating the first few chapters. In terms of the translation community for Chinese novels abroad, what’s the present situation for how its members interact with each other? Can you give us a simple introduction about the current state of affairs?

etvo: When I discovered this field, Wuxiaworld was the first large scale website I stumbled upon. I didn’t understand anything at that time and sent an email to RWX, bouncing off the walls in excitement and randomly dishing out a self-introduction. (etvo note: Ren… I hope you deleted that monstrosity!) I told him that I thought his website was really great (cue mad sparkling eyes) and asked him if he needed any help. We would chat on and off when we bumped into each other online later and gradually got to know each other.

Then why didn’t you just join Wuxiaworld or Gravity Tales, rather than start a separate website? It’s so hard to maintain a website by yourself!

etvo: Indeed, all I wanted to do in the beginning was to have a place to store my translations and hadn’t planned on managing my own website. It is indeed quite troublesome. However, after thoroughly understanding this scene, my deep rooted hot-bloodedness came out to play once again. I saw that a lot of lady novels, as well as alternative novels, didn’t seem to get a lot of love. Everyone seemed to prefer wuxia and xianxia. I brought it up to RWX once before, but perhaps he has less interest in women’s literature because he’s a guy? Not to worry, come one come all to me! This consequently brought about my ideas of establishing a website, gathering such works, and putting them on the site.

Yet right now, I see that among volare’s 27 novels (May 14 increased to 28 novels), the number of male-oriented and female-oriented novels are roughly split evenly (male 14, female 13). The genres also seem to be a motley collection. How did you choose these books?

etvo: English readers don’t actually delineate by male or female literature that clearly, and rather use the genres of wuxia, xianxia, xuanhuan, modern, comedy, and so on. I have introduced some male readers to women’s fiction—they too love to see the scheming between characters or the domineering female protagonist trampling the villains. Readers on both sides likely have different preferences, as many Western male readers also like to weep and rail at the novels they’re reading!

I would term all the other works on volare as “alternative”, which includes genres such as comedy, science fiction, etc. volare’s selection does seem a bit scattered at first glance, because I focus on the story itself and the author’s writing skills. Trite and cliche plotlines such as the rich, handsome guy falling in love with the silly, pretty girl; the rise of the trash cultivator, etc. are ones I’m not as interested in. This is why the works on volare all have their own unique flair and loyal readers.

That must mean that every book is one you’ve filtered and believed to have distinguishing qualities?

etvo: Yes. Every novel on the site has been carefully chosen. Of course, after finding a good translator, the most important thing is seeing what the translator wishes to translate, as well as the authorizations for the work. This year, thanks to the attention of various corporations this year, volare has already received multiple indications of partnerships. We also have a small library of pre-authorized works waiting to be adopted by their translators.

I understand now. On one hand, you are searching online for translators who already have translations; on the other hand, you have a library of authorized novels waiting to be translated . Do you usually read more Chinese novels or English ones? For Chinese literature, do you go on each site and view their novel rankings, or do other readers give you recommendations?

etvo: I have a wall full of English books in front of my table, but my computer and cell phone are filled with Chinese novels, split roughly fifty-fifty. The Chinese novels I read are typically dependent on the recommendations of other readers, as I don’t really look at the novel rankings that much since they rarely have books with the “unique twists” that I like to read.

As of now, the site has 27 novels. I find the distribution of their raw sites rather unexpected:  10 Qidian, 3 Qidian MM, 3 JJWXC, 2 Yunqi, 2 Xiang5, 2 iReader, 1 Tadu, 1 ReadNovel, 1 Zongheng, 1 17K, and 1 XXSY. It is very understandable that the male-oriented novels are mainly from Qidian, but the female-oriented novels are a bit different than what I had imagined. I originally thought that there would be more from JJWXC, and there is surprisingly not a single book from Hongxiu; however, there are actually 2 books from Xiang5, which is not that popular in China.

etvo: I didn’t know that Xiang5’s popularity was that low. In the very beginning, it was a translator called Ruyi who was translating their novels, and since I wanted to establish an official company, I went to chat with them about a partnership. We have also already reached an agreement with iReader and are presently talking with 17K, Zongheng, and other websites.

The most important thing is to first obtain authorizations of the novels on the site, and it might not be as relevant to reach out to Hongxiu about partnering when we currently don’t have any of their works. (Clarification note: Hongxiu is owned by Qidian’s parent company.) As for JJWXC, I really do want to work with them, but after reaching out to them, I realized that the expectations for both sides are slightly different, so we haven’t been able to reach an agreement for the time being. I feel that this is a real pity and will try contacting them again in the future.

If volare plans to lean towards female-oriented novels, would you consider adding boy’s love, slash fiction—these types of genres?

etvo: I currently don’t have any plans for these two genres, since for one, I still haven’t reached an agreement with JJWXC, and two, this subject matter is indeed a rather sensitive topic.


volare’s Translators and Editors

What are your requirements for translators and their translations?

etvo: Quality above all. Since we are “human translators” and not “machine translators”, the works that we translate should seem like they were natively written in English. Only in this way do we not let the authors, readers, and ourselves down.  Speed is certainly also important—if we translate slowly, it will be hard to be warmly received by the readers, though I wouldn’t sacrifice quality for speed.

Is there a fixed criteria? Such as each a certain number of chapter releases each month?

etvo: There isn’t. I feel that this type of fixed criteria would actually restrict the growth of the translators. My only hope is that they translate well and happily. As for factors such as forming a conducive and supportive environment for the staff and ensuring the speed of updates for readers, this is responsibility that lies on the shoulders of the person in charge. Of course, many translators enjoy interacting with readers and will set a minimum rate for chapter updates.

Currently, what countries or regions are the website’s translators roughly from?

etvo: As of now, there are about 30 translators who come from all around the world, including North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, etc.

Then how do they know Chinese? Are they all ethnic Chinese? I know that RWX is ethnic Chinese, GGP (Gravity Tales founder) is American born Chinese.

etvo: Most of them are ethnic Chinese and Chinese living abroad. A small number are Westerners who have learned Chinese.

I’ve noticed that for every book, besides the translators, there are also many editors. Are these editors also filtered and invited by you? Or are they fans who decided to volunteer? What is their main job?

etvo: The editors have an extremely high proficiency in English, and are responsible for polishing the flow of the writing and structure after the translator has translated a chapter. They will not, however, look at the original text and make guesses about what more to add or delete. The editors are mostly filtered by me, though some are those who have been working with their translators for many years.

Can you thoroughly explain the filtering system by which the translators and editors are chosen?

etvo: Before hiring an editor, I would first personally audit the first round and give them a sentence that had been purposefully restructured into a mess. If they can correct it properly, I would then give them a chapter that’s approximately 3,000 words. During this process, I also chat with them about their interests and preferences. If they are also able to pass the second round, then I recommend the editor into one of more appropriate translation teams according to need. The lead translator would then test them with a chapter of their own novel and start working with the editor after this process is complete as well. Translators also go through a similar filtering process.

Then do these translators and editors do this full-time? Or are they all concurrently working other jobs? For each novel, how are the incomes of the translators and editors distributed?

etvo: Some do it part-time; only I work full-time. The incomes are distributed by the lead translator; I occasionally check in to make sure there aren’t any problems, though I don’t regulate how income is distributed.

Then where does the income come from? How does volare currently earn revenue?

etvo: Because I have contact with Wuxiaworld and Gravity Tales, based on my understanding, our business models are all similar to one another—reader donations, crowdfunding (Patreon), and advertisements. In the future we may place more emphasis on ebooks, mainly platforms like Amazon. Overseas readers are already rather used to reading ebooks, so there shouldn’t be much of an issue with this aspect.

Do you have any books that are currently being sold on Amazon?

etvo: Not yet. This is part of our future plans. (etvo note: DCF will likely be the first novel we publish, and we’re looking forward to getting that started this year!)


volare’s Readers

I saw that in a previous interview, you brought up that 30% of volare’s readership comes from America, 5% from Canada, 10% from Western Europe, and 12% from Southeast Asia. Are there any new changes to these numbers?

Etvo: Western Europe has increased to 17% or so lately, with the remainder holding steady.

You said volare’s monthly visitors (unique IP) has already reached the millions; however, I’ve noticed that there aren’t many comments left under the translations. Why is that?

etvo: Some readers like to comment, others like to lurk. We also have reddit and Discord that others may utilize more often. [Note at posting: interviewer was looking at TOC comments and not chapter comments.]

From my understanding, reddit is a forum that resembles Baidu Tieba. Discord is something similar to QQ and WeChat groups?

etvo: Yes, Discord is similar to QQ groups or Wechat groups. We have many groups and actually, all of the translators in the scene communicate with each other often. Some use Skype, others use Discord—sometimes for the members of an entire site or just one novel. volare’s Discord has more than 1,500 members (note: volare’s Discord has grown to 2,500 members in mid June. Further note at time of posting: we actually have 2,800 members as of July 1.)

Wow! That is a super huge group! Have you paid attention to their discussions? Why do you think that overseas readers are so interested in Chinese web novels? Could it be that a great majority of the readers are ethnic Chinese? Or are a lot of them “true foreigners” who have great interest in Chinese culture?

etvo: I will occasionally read the comments, though I usually rely on volare staff to help me keep an eye on them. I think overseas readers like our fanciful flights of imagination, out-of-the-box thinking and innovative topics. A major advantage of online literature is its adaption speed, with many current events or trends easily being written in. For instance, one of our recent novels that we’re collaborating with iReader for, “Red Packet Server”, is about a chat room that links to the Heavenly Court. The MC interacts with them through the group and competes with the Monkey King and other deities in the group for red packets. Readers can also understand much about Chinese culture through the novel, making it quite fascinating. This is something you’d never see in Western literature.

I feel that most of the readers are likely “true foreigners”, Chinese overseas may not wish to read translated webnovels? Because if they can’t read Chinese, they may want to watch dramas instead. After all, a real life Yang Yang is much more handsome than any dashing male MC, haha!

The process in producing English bestsellers is a well oiled machine. There are essentially books of every genre. Besides being able to quickly add new elements, what other advantages do Chinese web novels have?

etvo: I really love the interplay between characters in webnovels, and the emotions in Chinese web novels are very rich. Perhaps I need to revisit my favorite English novel, but I always feel that the love, hate, passion, and animosity written in Chinese web novels are more able to touch people’s hearts.

In that case, between Chinese female-oriented novels and English romantic fiction novels, such as Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, do you feel that there are any essential differences?

etvo: Besides the differences between authors’ writing styles and that both sides write about very tried-and-true  topics, the one biggest distinction is that because of the contrasting backgrounds of Chinese and Western novels, the way they look at and depict things are also different. Other than new and original topics, plots with current trends integrated into them, and abundant emotion, I feel that Chinese web novels have another advantage: it’s currently in vogue with Western readers who may view them as a new toy. There’s a surge of interest in it currently, but this type of passion may fluctuate uncertainly.  


Chinese Gay Lit: What is Danmei?

Danmei (耽美) is something that always seems to make readers shriek and fangirl online. Especially with recent mega-hits from MXTX, images of flowery elegant gentlemen have captured the imagination and made girls swoon.

Modaozushi written by MXTX

In a nutshell, danmei is a genre that is written by, consumed by, and targeted for a female audience. It’s wildly popular in online Chinese literature, with adaptations for the big or small screen mostly scrubbed of overt homosexualism.

The term itself translates to “indulgence in beauty” and symbolizes the (over)romanticizing of male-male relationships, sometimes to the point where aesthetics overcome the importance of plot and character development.

There are a few speculations as to why this phenomenon came to be and how they might be compared to its Western equivalent: slash fiction.

  1. The systematic ban and the socially taboo nature of homosexual/homoerotic content in China
  2. Gender inequality and inequity in society where women feel oppressed and objectified
  3. Inevitable ties and constraints in a conventional romance, which end in marriage and childbirth – and ultimately interfere with an idealized concept of love

The first two points aren’t unique to China and apply to most of Asia, where civil rights haven’t transformed as they have in most of the West. The emergence of slash fiction coincided with the gay rights movement, although it tends to be more centered on fan fiction.

Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise to find that danmei or yaoi (Japanese term for boy love, whereas yuri is the term for girl love) is very popular with female audiences in those places, as well. Just as pornography set in a classroom or a religious facility invokes naughtiness, danmei provide readers with the rush of witnessing something taboo and forbidden – and the forbidden fruit is sweet.

Along with that comes the freedom and privilege that a male-submissive character represents, because men can often continue their lives without any fallout (or so the female writers think) that might otherwise affect women, such as slut shaming, virginity complexes, and pregnancy.

This leads to the third point, which suggests that in danmei, the characters aren’t as concerned with marriage and children. Same-sex marriage isn’t allowed in Asia except in Taiwan (where it was recently legalized), and children don’t have to be involved in the couple’s lives (no shotgun weddings!).

This allows “pure love” to exist in the danmei world, where two characters stay together solely because of love, and not because of societal expectations or social responsibility.

Without a widely observable homosexual community in China, life as a homosexual man was both mysterious and romanticized. At the same time, it served as a blank canvas for writers hoping to create a form of “pure” romance without the conventional restrictions.

However, this same lack of understanding also brings an interesting pattern found in danmei – the submissive partner is often portrayed like a woman with feminine exterior and interior traits, only she has junk in her trunks. This is probably the most obvious difference between danmei and slash fiction.

Slash, on the other hand, grew out of fan dissatisfaction with canon relationships. For instance, in the Star Trek fanfiction circle, stories are written about Kirk and Spock because fans felt that canon lore served the two short.

The genre name comes from the practice of putting a slash between the names of two characters that are “shipped.” This often involves romantic or erotic elements that extend from friendship and companionship. Subplots from canon are elaborated, and darker themes are explored such as domination and violence.

In other words, it’s often whatever fans wanted to see happen, but the original writers didn’t make happen.

For more about danmei, and English translations of these novels, please visit Chaleuria.com.

[Updated] Impressions of “Legends of Ogre Gate” & why you should try it

It’s not everyday a Chinese wuxia/xianxia translator gets to publish their own writing.

It’s not everyday I know the translator doing so.

Thus is the big disclaimer for my post — I received a copy of this THICC novel (it really is satisfyingly thick) through some twisting of the arm, kidnapping of baby DB, tampering with soul lamps, robbing of sect foundations — er, let’s rephrase. Jeremy “Deathblade” Bai was very nice to send me a review copy. 😀 Since the novel was launched just in time for World Book Day, I wanted to get out a first impressions post after reading the first 100 pages.

WHO THE HECK IS THIS REVIEWER?

I’m a big fan of the cover art and wanted a physical copy of the novel because of it. It’s infinitely satisfying to hold in one’s hands. And for those who don’t know me, I’m etvolare, another translator of Chinese fantasy (wuxia/xianxia) and romance. The gobbledegook I sprouted above is common tropes in xianxia, and what I comment on may be colored by my experience.

As long time readers of web novels will know, online wuxia/xianxia tends to be heavily formulaic. After a while of reading, you always know what twist is coming. Most open with some shocking event — a battle, a relationship betrayal, the final lucidity of the last moments of life, or enemies at the door.

LOG is no different. A shocking battle, unexpected subterfuge, and a prophecy to be fulfilled. There was a comfortable amount of confusion — who is Hui? She’s not one of the names in the summary. Where did the artifact take her? Did she transmigrate? To ancient China or…? Was she reborn?

It all sounds rather typical of a fantasy novel, but it’s executed quite well. It’s most telling as opposed to showing, and neatly sidesteps a lot of the info-dump-repetition-filler-filler-filler potholes that a lot of web novels are littered with. DB’s years of experience show through in the deftness of how he sets the beginning of the novel.

WHAT’S THE NOVEL ABOUT?

We’re in a non-typical cultivation world, where qi is actually brought to the world by a… stranger? Demon? Alien? Ghosts of Christmas past? Combining it with traditional martial arts gives us our much beloved cultivation system. We get to explore the process with Sunan, and the way DB chooses to tackle this is really lovely.

Instead of an info dump, we follow a country boy’s journey of discovery of this mysterious new energy. We see through his unlearned eyes how his strength builds and experience how killing intent appears. A fresh twist is that he doesn’t start off as cultivation obsessed. In fact, his hilariously verbose friend Sun Mai is the one who encourages to explore more.

There’s an enormous villain on the scene, so naturally the ultimate goal is to take him down. The journey is the main premise of the novel, and I really wonder how two blank sheets of canvas will be able to rise up and contend with someone who seems to have already reached grand perfection in their cultivation.

Just when we really start to bond with Sunan — the boy’s basically using his knowledge to be an MMA fighter! — we’re left with a killer cliffhanger. Thanks DB, you really learned from the web novels.

The perspective pivots, and generally that’s accompanied by an amping down of the tension. Not so here. We meet the other MC, Bao, and it doesn’t take more than two pages before I’m baying for blood on her behalf. This was a gut-wrenching twist, and I’m purposefully being vague so I don’t spoil things. Five more pages in, and someone hand me a spear!

The action is fast and furious, and though she’s a noble girl, she’s the last thing from a helpless damsel distress there is. She fights, she kills instead of cries, and it seems that she… has a gift for prophecy? Whatever her hidden talents are, I love that she’s no wilting flower that Sunan will have to rescue over and over again.

Her story line seems rather different though, as she’s off in the wilderness, fighting ogres commanded by the Demon Emperor and running around with bandits. Sunan’s off in a city, dealing with the ‘mundane’ hardships of day to day living. I’m quite interested to see how the two will meet up, and where’s Hui?

I am also a fan of how realistic the novel is. We’re in a xianxia world with fantastical creatures, artifacts, and cultivation. But that suspension of belief doesn’t come with deus ex machina, plot armor thick enough to kill the reader, or two-dimensional characters. So while the setting itself may require a suspension of belief, what happens in the story and the characters is anything but.

In fact, how the characters and supporting cast are drawn out is possibly one of my favorite parts. I care about them, and I want to know more about them.

IS IT ALL SUGAR AND SPICE?

If I were to point at anything I didn’t like from my initial impressions, it’s that there’s too much pinyin in the names for my taste. Cities, mountains, deities, and of course the cast are all pinyin. Kong Zhi for Confucius (assuming that’s the reference), shan/mt./mountain for mountains, shen for god, etc.

Even as someone who’s very comfortable working with Chinese, I found my mind wandering and skipping over the names. As someone who doesn’t like to read with a map in hand, I already know the geography of LOG will remain somewhat obscure to me.

[addendum] The importance of reading afterwords is that we learn there the names are a result of the game that the novel is based on. I remembered that vaguely, but it didn’t register for me since the novel works wonderfully as a standalone piece of work. 

Despite being friends with DB for a while, I have to admit I’ve never really read his original novel. …in fact, I may not have clicked on a single chapter. Oops, don’t hate me man. Still buds?

SHOULD I TRY IT?

There were always too many interesting Chinese translations to get to, that I never felt this way or that about originals. After this first peek, it’s definitely vaulted to the top of the reading list for me. 

This is novel for those who are tired of the same old in cultivation. This is one for those who want a twist on xianxia. If you’ve ever been on the fence about originals, want a novel with legit dual MCs, or simply fare that sidesteps filler and wordcount padding… grab a copy by clicking me. 😀

[UPDATE] COMPLETION OF READING

Bottom line is, I liked it. The plot moves at a fast pace, there’s a good mix of action and philosophical introspection. Betrayal, intrigue, mystery, and romance all play good parts. The romance doesn’t factor in as heavily, which could be a pro or con depending on what folks are looking for. 

I would read it again, and I do recommend LOG to everyone. It’s a wonderful twist on an origin story for long-running, hardcore xianxia fans, and a perfect intro for those just dipping a toe into Chinese fantasy.

DO THE GOOD VIBES CONTINUE?

We left the first impression with me recommending the novel after 100 pages, and it’s a good ride all the way to the end. The writing doesn’t fall off, and while I feel that some of the villains fall in a rather anti-climatic way — e.g. Bao’s personal demon seriously needed to die in a more gory manner. More humiliation. Or maybe my appetite has been much too enlarged thanks to typical xianxia web novels. Overall, the ending and loose ends are wrapped up in a very solid manner.
 
Apart from the pinyin, there was also one point about the novel that I wasn’t the biggest fan of, and I left it for the full readthrough to see if it would still be an issue. While DB sidesteps the plot holes, filler, and nonsensical developments, the slightly choppy, web novel way of writing actually crops up for the initial chapters. Granted, it’ll be more apparent to me because I’m a fellow translator, and I’m constantly analyzing other people’s writing styles on the path of improvement.
 
When I brought it up to him, he mentioned it was a conscious stylistic choice, and that he switches out of it. My personal speculations are that maybe he did so to ease the transition for web novel readers, to bridge the typical web novel style for something much well-written and logical, in a more traditional publishing style.
 
Things do clear up around chapter 18, where I noticed my mental voice stopped getting tripped up by sentence structure. It’s a really nice read from that point onwards. 
 
LOG is based off of the board game, Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, screenshot below.
 

FAVORITE PART OF THE NOVEL?

To be honest, I hadn’t expected to enjoy the process of building a cultivation system as much as I did. I touched on it briefly in my first impressions above, but this part really played hugely into why I like LOG.

Experienced xianxia readers will be very familiar with the cultivation system, with levels, realms, breaking through, and heavenly tribulation. Mystic treasures, spirit creatures, inter-dimension travel, gods, and souls are par for the course. 

But none of that structure is present in the LOG world. A lot of trial of error is present — how to meditate most effectively? How to recover energy? How to use energy in fights? How to develop techniques? And the notion of breakthroughs isn’t even quantified until Sunan and his friend Sun Mai achieve several of them. The reader really grows with them, and it’s a very fresh twist and neat avoidance of several chapters of world description.

It also leads to some hilarious moments, as how one character defines the system might not match up to another character defines it. One man’s cultivation system is another man’s gibberish. We also get to see how cultivators would appear to regular folk.

“What did you just say?” she asked.
“Huh?”
“You just yelled something. What was it?”
“Um… Dragon Cleaves the Clouds?”
“Yes, that was it. Dragon Cleaves the clouds? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Uh, that’s the name of the move. The technique I just used.”
“You name your moves?”
“You don’t name your moves? But… doesn’t everybody do that?”
Bao chuckled. “You name your moves? What are you, a child?”

I can totally hear the internal voice scream, chuuuuuni!! Weirdo. Lol.

KEY TAKEAWAY?

Honestly, I’m really looking forward to more books from this world. The huge spoiler is that good eventually triumphs in the end, but there is a lot more material that we can explore. The barebones of cultivation are established in the end, and we see the rise of martial heroes with the budding formation of a wulin, but there’s also a lot of room left to establish mature factions, a regular tourneys, the formation of secret realms, etc.

There’s also a god/demon trapped in the crown and some vague references to other ancient Chinese gods. I’d love, love to see more of them and see from their perspective how they view the arrival of qi and development of cultivation in the mortal world. The underworld is also mentioned, and some of their creatures are seen. There’s definitely a societal structure there that we haven’t fully seen yet.

There are some loose ends left that don’t impact enjoyment of the story, as well as a whole load of new names and slight gibberish that the main villain voices at one point. I definitely want to see that developed more, and also see more of where Sunan and Bao journey to. 

Grab your copy of LOG by clicking me. 😀

Here’s to prosperity in the year of the pig!

It’s already February of 2019 and the year of the prosperous pig! Hope y’all caught the giveaway on Twitter and IG, and more to come~