Is your book a good candidate for translation to other languages?
Before the coolness of the in-translation idea hits home, dial down the enthusiasm. Don’t imagine translating your book into a bunch of languages simply to try to put it in front of more people. Translation is a lot of work and comes with considerable cost. We wrote about translations and translators awhile back, now let's take a closer look...
Lost About Translation?
Ask if you have a specific reason to think that this book will sell well in that other language. Is there a clear and identifiable fan base, and do you have a way to contact it directly? If their language is one you don’t know or know well (if, for example, you’re not able to do the translation yourself), the chances are not great you’ll be able to market well there.
Now and then it works, sometimes in a big way. You’ve seen those bestselling Scandinavian mystery/thrillers, nearly all in translated-to-English editions, or any number of other translated books. There’s money to be had in this area, right? Yes, but only in limited cases.
If you think translation would work as part of your book marketing effort, start by getting educated on legal rights, exclusivity and contract terms. Any progress you make is contingent on getting that framework understood and set up properly.
You can skip the translation effort yourself and simply sell the right to publish in other languages. By contacting agents and other go-betweens on the site PubMatch.com, you may be able to negotiate sales into some languages that will net you one-time fees of anywhere from $500 to a few thousand. PubMatch acts as a kind of online matchmaking platform so you might even be contacted by a foreign publisher who is interested in obtaining foreign rights to your book(s). (That will happen, of course, only if there’s real interest in your book, and probably a strong sales track record in English as well.)
The site Self Publishing Questions noted the case of “Steve [who] has sold rights in Russian, simple and complex Chinese, Polish, Czech, Thai, and other languages. The prices are pretty good. It’s around $900 to about $4,000 per deal. Since he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to publish books in these countries on his own, it’s like found money. Steve prefers publishing in languages where you don’t have any ability to publish via a platform like Amazon.com or Kobo. He keeps the rights for his books in Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Hindi.”
You may not have counted on the cost of paying a translator, which you should do unless you are extremely fluent in the other language. In some cases, you might be able to split royalties with a translator, if that person thinks sales down the road will be substantial enough. But you’d have to do a great job of selling your book’s prospects to make that work.
Translation for Hire
If you want to try translations personally, and don’t have immediate access to a translator or the bucks to pay one, explore Babelcube (as in the Bible’s tower of Babel).
Babelcube links authors/publishers and translators in a sort of matchmaking service. You set up an account, describe the books you want translated, and wait for offers from translators (you get to choose who you want to work with), who would get a share of the royalties. They service translations (at this writing) in Afrikaans, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese and Spanish. The translator would send a few pages of translation, which you could review, though that’s of use mainly if you know someone already fluent in the language who could review the work for you. Babelcube then sends the books out through various online sales channels, including mostly-English operations like Amazon and Nook, but also a bunch of others that do business primarily in other languages.
If you want to hire your own translator, make sure you have a clear contract with that person.
If you have the book translated, you still should have it edited (in that language, of course) by a competent copy editor—someone else you will have to find.
Once translated, getting the book printed or e-formatted is practical in most cases, albeit not always simple. Amazon, for example, says: "Authors and publishers can upload and sell books to customers in the Kindle Store worldwide with book content and metadata written in these languages: Afrikaans,Alsatian, Basque, Bokmål Norwegian, Breton, Catalan, Cornish, Corsican, Danish, Dutch/Flemish, Eastern Frisian, English, Finnish, French, Frisian, Galician, German, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Luxembourgish, Manx, Northern Frisian, Norwegian, Nynorsk Norwegian, Portuguese, Provençal, Romansh, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish, Swedish, Welsh."
More work is often involved, however, in preparing the book file for Kindle status.
Of course, you need to ask how many of these languages would actually be profitable in translation. That may be in the real limiting factor in translating beyond English.
Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear every other week.
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