Translated editions can be a great way to reach a wider audience. But they’re expensive and risky to fund yourself. A translator has to reinterpret and rewrite your book, and that level of expertise isn’t cheap.
Sharks and scammers abound, especially as it’s hard to evaluate the results. Then how do you get the translated edition proof read? How do you market in a language you don’t speak?
For years I’ve been exploring options to get my books translated but so far I’ve had false starts. I’ll share a few cautionary tales below. But the reason I’m writing this post is because Amazon Publishing has opened up an important new opportunity. Its imprint AmazonCrossing, which publishes works in translation, has announced it’s seeking submissions from rightsholders, including indie authors (apply here).
This would be a publishing deal, of course, so much depends on whether you’re a good fit for their market as they would be making a substantial investment. But I feel it’s a significant opportunity. Here’s why.
Indie translation options
Paying a translator
A quick question on Twitter produced the following figures. London literary agent Charlotte Seymour
Harvill Secker senior editor Alison Hennessey concurred
Those are hefty sums. There are no guarantees of sales afterwards. And how do you recognise whether the translation is worth the price? I googled ‘bad translations’ and found no shortage of horror stories and warnings, such as this site.
Several authors I know have formed partnerships to produce books. This requires trust and a long-term view, but can work if you know the right person. Joanna Penn is one pioneer here, with several experiences to share.
If you are signed with a literary agent, it’s worth having a conversation about your self-published titles to see if there are any markets worth approaching.
Here’s a beware, though. A few years ago, an author friend made a translation deal, through an agent who specialised in representing indie work to foreign markets. Hurrah, I thought, and contacted her. I received an offer – only it wasn’t. It was an invitation to pay for a spot in one of her ‘catalogues’ of indie books, which she would take around the trade fairs. There were several price tiers as well, with bronze, silver and gold service, according to how much effort she would put into sales. No thanks.
Babelcube is a community where authors can meet translators. You complete a profile describing your book, including a sample for translators to use as an audition, and wait to see who’s interested – like a dating site. What’s more, they provide the author-translator agreement and distribute to online retailers.
It seems like a smart answer to the problem, although you still have to find the foreign-language proofreading professionals. But some indie authors have been very happy with their Babelcube experience.
So I tried offering Nail Your Novel. Plenty of translators had a go at the sample, and I amassed a group of Facebook friends with good enough language skills to evaluate the results. Their responses were an eye opener.
Some of the applicants had made the kind of mistakes that commonly happened with Google Translate. Was that, indeed, what they were doing, running my book through an algorithm? Others had made accurate translations, but were too literal, or muddled up their tenses, or lacked the flair and positive spirit of the original book. Many of them had solid CVs, but were probably most competent in technical translation – not the kind of work where much of the message was in the writing voice. I withdrew Nail Your Novel from Babelcube.
And here I am
So you can probably see why I’m excited about AmazonCrossing (if you’re still unconvinced, here’s a post by Porter Anderson at Writer Unboxed ). At the moment they’re seeking fiction, so I’ve sent my two novels . Here’s the submissions link again . I’m guessing they will have a hurricane of entries, and many of us won’t be a good fit. So I’m sending my novels – with everything crossed.
Meanwhile, have you had any adventures, good or bad, with translations? Any tips or advice? Share them here
26 thoughts on “Real opportunity for indie authors who seek translators and foreign language editions”
Hi Roz, I am an Argentine literary translator and writer in the making and found your post interesting from both the writer and translator point of view. Translations prices vary widely depending on the language you want to translate to, and where you are hiring the translation service as well, so that might also be something worth considering. Thanks for sharing your experience and information!
Good to get your perspective – thanks!
Hi Roz – Fascinating article with useful links. Your point about getting your voice translated is key. We often read prose or poetry that has been translated from European languages. It is interesting to see the variety of “interpretations” that make it into English.
Being part of the translation process in Silicon Valley, my team and I wrote in English to be translated into many languages. Simplifying sentences, word choice, and getting a grasp on the writing suggestions of the translation house is very helpful to an author.
Even if you don’t choose to translate right away, it is sobering to keep in mind writing well enough so your work may be translated later. Thanks for sharing your helpful views – mrb
Hi Mark – and what an interesting example you have there, of writing with the translator in mind.
Reblogged this on s a gibson.
Thanks for sharing this, Roz. Submitting my first book right now!
Good luck, Nicole!
Babelcube is rubbish. Don’t use it! Unfortunately, there are more bad translators out there than good ones. I’ve worked a bit in the industry and am familiar with it. Some tips for getting a good translator:
-Don’t to go to sites like Elance/Upwork. Those are festering pools of bad translation. The prices may be better than what you’d see elsewhere, but it’s not worth it. Non-native speakers of languages bid for jobs on there. The cardinal rule of translation is you ONLY translate into your native language, so if you natively speak English but learned Spanish at university, you’d only translate into English, not Spanish as well. It’s the best way to get the nuances in the text to come across.
-On that note, you have to use caution even on translation-specific job boars like translatorscafe.com. There are many perfectly competent translators on there, but there also really terrible ones, unfortunately. Most decent translators DON’T usually use such sites to find work.
-Translation is expensive because it is not easy to do properly. Get rates from several people and go with the highest you can afford. Trust me, in translation you get what you pay for. A low rate will yield a crappy translation. A higher rate will give you a better translation.
-As you noted, literary translation is very different from technical translation. Most professional translators specialize in some sort of technical field (medical, patents, finance, etc.). Literary translation does not pay well AND is very hard to learn, so many people just don’t do it.
Hope that helps!
Natalie, thanks for these very useful tips. I’d also heard that rule about translating only into your native tongue, not out of it. That doesn’t surprise me when I think of how much time I spend on the nuance of each phrase in my books, and how much of my judgement is gut feeling, or the shape of the word on the page, or the memory of all the times I’d seen it in other books and how it made me feel. That baggage all adds up to word choice and nuance and the writer’s individual style.
I also like your point about good translators not using those sites to find work – as I think my experiences demonstrated. Indeed, some of my applicants had barely any experience in publishing but had worked in the tourist industry.
And thanks for your closing point about the specialisations. As with journalism, there are many ways to use writing professionally and each discipline has its own demands.
I totally second this. I’ve been working on Babelcube for a while, and as a translator (hopefully not a rubbish one :D) I can say that this kind of websites does NOT encourage one to work well. Working without knowing if and how much you will get paid (pro tip: you won’t earn a living wage), while having to deal with an interface that seems designed to cause insanity AND with Babelcube’s nearly complete lack of transparency is not the recipe for quality work. Workind conditions of this kind make me feel like an idiot wherever I put my best effort into a translation project. Unfortunately, many “translators” simply do not care.
Thanks for adding your perspective, Ernesto. It’s as I thought – I suspect Babelcube is well meaning, but actually not workable for many professional translators.
Fantastic to see your question in the Twitterverse. I’ll echo what’s been said about sites like Elance and most of the other so-called “online options” out there.
Reedsy.com has been consistent in its vetting process, and I’ve been seeing a lot of good over there, on both sides of the editorial desk. No idea about translation services, but it’s something I bet they’re working on if they haven’t set it up already.
A newer site, similar to Reedsy but still in beta, to my knowledge, is BookGarage.com: https://www.bookgarage.com/
I’ve yet to use the site except to set up a rough profile, but their language offerings for the site itself make me hopeful it’ll be a good place to look for translation services.
I’m also on Pronoun.com, but, as with BG, have yet to conduct any business through the site, so can’t offer much by way of review. Pronoun, unlike either Reedsy or BG, is supposedly a “free to use” site for both service providers and authors seeking services.
One last thing I’ll mention is my alma mater, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey – the Translation and Interpretation program attracts and produces some highly qualified folks, usually people looking to work in politics or other diplomatic milieus. But you may have luck finding translators there if you get in touch with the Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation.
Hi Aaron! Nice to see you here. Thanks for these tips. It’s interesting to hear your view of Reedsy and how it’s progressing. Vetting is a major problem in this online world of author services, so if they’re doing this in a reliable way they’re worth looking at. I didn’t know about BookGarage or Pronoun!
Not had any experience to be honest! But wanted to thank you for sharing your experience and this news! X
Very interesting and informative article, Roz. My problem is having a collection of eleven trad published Walker, S&S, Random House etc etc) but currently out of print children’s/Young Adult titles now re-published as e-books – professionally designed cover images and well-edited. I’d be very interested in marketing foreign rights (I have an agent, but she isn’t interested in doing this). I’d love to hear from anyone else in this situation, and how they’re handling it. My husband, David, set this up for me, did the formatting etc, and we even invented a publishing name – eleven books justified that, we felt – but sadly he died two years ago.
Hi Enid! Nice to see you here.
I also tried asking if my agent was interested in marketing my foreign rights. And I even had a big Spanish publisher approach me about one of my novels, but the editor then left the company and his replacement never followed it up. My agent’s view seemed to be that the returns wouldn’t be big enough for them to get a decent cut – though of course, that’s because they deal with much bigger fish. They took Nail Your Novel to Frankfurt last year but I never heard anything about how it fared. I’m guessing there wasn’t much interest (though I do think they were a bit rude in not letting me know). So foreign deals are completely my department.
I didn’t know you had as many as eleven books. I did, of course, know about David, as I remember your posts on Facebook. Is it really two years? It seems far more fresh.
Reblogged this on sherriemiranda1 and commented:
I honestly believe my novel will be much more popular in Spanish, as Latinos like to know about their fellow Latinos and their countries. And Spaniards would likely be interested because of the importance of the Catholic Church in my novel.
Now would be a great time to get this translated and released in Spanish with the popularity of Pope Francis, as well as the beatification of Monseñor Romero, who looms large in my novel.
Not sure if I’m asking too much, as I want a Salvadoran author (preferably fiction) translator, preferably female. I want the translation to have the “Salvadorismos” in it as Salvadorans love to play with their language and add new words. Then there’s also the words that come from the Pipil Indians and other Indigenous people.
As Roz says, translating fiction is very difficult. The translator needs to be completely fluent in both languages. Fortunately, I have friends (ex-in-laws that I really still consider family) who can tell me if the translation is good. In fact, I even know someone who is retired that could do the final editing of the Spanish version. 😉 ❤
I know I can't rush this, but I also don't want to put it on the back burner either. Please wish the best for me in this process.
Even a translation into a ‘standard’ language, if there is such a thing in discerning circles, is tricky. But your case is even more particular, Sherrie. Definitely wishing you the best.
Thanks so much, Roz! You are a Godsend to the writing community. I have been following your advice since I first started writing my ms. And I still am following you now that my novel is out.
All the best,
Ooh, didn’t realise I wielded such influence – your comment was a real pick-me-up this morning. Thanks, Sherrie!
Thanks for the link, Roz! I’m happy my modest blog has been of some use to you 🙂
My pleasure, Ernesto.