What Indie Authors Need To Know Before Translating Books

by | Feb 10, 2020

By Ofer Tirosh

Translating your books into foreign languages opens up larger markets. The big question is how to get your book(s) translated. Today we have a great guest post by Ofer Tirosh about the pros and cons of the various translation options for authors.

There may be more money to be earned from indie books translated into foreign languages and selling in foreign markets than in your original ones.

Managing foreign rights and getting exposure to overseas readers once was a privilege reserved for only major trade publishers. But lately, indie authors and freelance translators are teaming up with digital publishing platforms to create intriguing new self-publishing combinations.

Main Approaches to Translating Indie Books

In the last decade there have emerged two basic ways for indie authors to translate their pride and joy into a new language and sell it to a foreign language market:

  • working with a translation company with experience in translating books
  • hiring a freelance translator in the required language pair

While these two routes remain viable, both put the financial burden on the indie author to foot the translation bill and neither really tackles the all-important book marketing component.

We won’t be talking generally about how to publish a book, about physically building better books or the ins and outs of book binding. We will laser-focus on how to get superb translation and translated book marketing done on a limited budget.

Translating Your Book into Another Language

Let’s start with the basic question: How to translate your book into another language?

In recent years, new hybrid combinations have emerged to tackle indie book publishing in foreign languages and marketing them abroad. We’ll consider those options as well, along with tips and tricks for translating covers and landing pages as crucial first steps in foreign language book marketing.

Let’s say that you believe your book can be a bestseller in the huge Indian market. Thanks to British colonial rule for more than a century, many people in that vast, second-most populous nation speak some English, but most do not. Hindi is in the world’s top five languages in terms of the number of native speakers (more than 260 million). So how do you go about getting your English to Hindi translation? Do you go looking for a Hindi translator yourself? Or do you work with professional translation services to get the job done?

Working with a Professional Translation Service

Professional translation services have been around for centuries, and decades in the digital age. But still, fairly few translation companies specialize in books, whether fiction or non-fiction. Most agencies specialize in business translations, or marketing collateral or reports, and are unfamiliar with the specialized requirements of undertaking an indie book project.

So you need to do your homework to filter out those that excel in this area.
Usually a translation or localization company will advertise this capability on its website, but not always. A quick query and request for references will clarify the situation.

Advantages of Working with a Translation Agency

There are many advantages of working with a translation agency that commands book-translating experience.

  • If you plan to translate your book into more than one language – and you probably should – the agency can provide a one-stop-shop with likely economies of scale for managing a multilingual project.
    While some agencies are strictly focused on the translation task, others shake into the content marketing and book marketing areas, with local contacts and content marketers in the relevant foreign markets. Ask about these before you get started.

  • Another advantage of working with an agency is that you retain all rights. The agency is translating for you, taking money for the service but not retaining any rights. They should set you up as the sole owner of your work. This understanding should be clear and codified from the outset.
  • A third advantage of working with an established agency is lower risk.

The leading translation agencies command a network of dozens if not hundreds of translators per language and per country. They can select the most suitable candidate(s) for your job, and then they manage and take responsibility for your project from start to finish, ensuring the meeting of deadlines and the quality of the translated results. There’s a better chance that a translation company can find a translator not only in the language but also the genre or (for non-fiction) domain you require.

Disadvantages of Working with a Translation Agency

The disadvantage of an agency, relative to alternatives, is cost.

You will pay a premium for the professionalism, experience, and resident expertise of a translation company. The base rates are typically quoted per word, according to the source manuscript. So you should definitely do some comparison shopping and keep your eyes open for any additional fees beyond the per-word translation charge.

Working with Freelance Book Translators

Those who experience sticker shock when soliciting quotes for a book translation should consider the option of finding a freelance translator in the target language.

There are several marketplaces providing a platform for freelance professional services, including translation. Check out, for example:

Specify the language pairs you need and specific “book” and “fiction” or “non-fiction” as your case may be.

It’s also a good idea to go into some detail about the genre of your work, since the best translators, like the best authors, are specialized and self-categorized along these lines.

You can check out their profiles and ratings, read the reviews of their work, and then solicit bids from them.

You can ask them questions and negotiate terms and conditions. It’s a highly competitive marketplace, so you should be able to get your book translated at a fraction of what a translation agency would take.

However, looking for a translator for your literary baby in this way is a bit like hunting for a bookmark in the book stacks. It may not be the best use of your time.

An alternative approach is to seek out the most translated books in your field or genre, translated literature that appears well done, and then reach out to that translator. Or seek out the most translated authors and ask for their guidance. Many will be glad to help!

New Translation and Marketing Options for the Indie Author

Babelcube is a platform that brings indie authors and publishers together with translators in a partnership and revenue share arrangement that reduces risks and costs for authors, while exposing their books to new markets in translation.

Instead of paying up-front for the translation, the author agrees to assign the lion’s share of early revenues in a foreign market to compensate the translator. Then, as book sales increase, the author’s shares does as well, though the translator retains a significant stake in the success. Babelcube, for its part, takes a 20% cut regardless.

Jen Minkman, a Dutch author of more than a dozen YA and romance titles who started self-translating into English, expressed amazement with how many of her titles were snatched up by Babelcube translators: “I never expected to get this many ‘takers’ for my books in the first few weeks after launch, but it didn’t take long before every single one of them was spoken for by translators from Spain, Italy, Portugal and Germany. This is the most brilliant idea in years – and it opens up completely new avenues for indie writers like myself!”

Babelcube distributes books in over 15 languages through a worldwide array of global and regional retailers and libraries. You can even find a Hindi translator to do English to Hindi translation.

However, Babelcube is not the only innovator in this space.

  • Fiberead focuses on translating books into Chinese and also undertakes marketing and sales services for those works. The company has been promising to expand to other languages, but so far those plans have not materialized.
  • TraduzioneLibri out of Italy also seems to have similar ambitions, but they’re still working on their own English website translation, so maybe they’re not quite ready for primetime.
  • There’s also a cool collaboration feature on the site BundleRabbit, which seems to allow authors to rev-share with translators. Check it out.

Three Translation Tips and Tricks for Marketing Your Book in Foreign Markets

  1. Title First
    For heaven’s sake, don’t assume that a “straight translation” of your cover title will be optimal in each foreign market. Titles are sensitive issues. Pay a few bucks for a handful of translators on Fiverr to suggest 10 title translations each. Then hire a few more to rank the list.
  2. Covers Count
    Invest in them. Cover designs sell, so make sure they work in every language. If there is text on the front, make damn sure it is correct in every target language. Back cover text is critical as well. Don’t just run this through Google Translate. Pay for a professional to do this right, in each target language.
  3. Landing Page
    Re-use your back cover text in each language, for which you paid good money, for the landing page on Amazon or wherever else you sell.

Do you have experience with translating your books into foreign languages? Tell us about it in the comments.

Ofer Tirosh is founder and CEO of Tomedes, a translation company supporting more than 100 languages and 1000 language pairs, with book translating among its specialties.
Photo: BigStockPhoto

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  1. IPO Review

    Could not agree more what you have written. Translating in different languages is also good for marketing of your books and written work.

  2. Ernie Zelinski

    You ask, “Do you have experience with translating your books into foreign languages?”

    As a matter of fact I do. As a mainly self-published author whose books reached the milestone of having sold over 1,000,000 copies in September, 2018, my books have now been published in 22 languages in 29 different countries. In the last three months, I negotiated a deal with a Vietnamese publisher to publish three of my creative works: “The Joy of Not Working”, “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”, and “Look Ma, Life’s Easy.” In late 2018, I negotiated with Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA in Germany to have my “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” published in German in 2019.

    In short, the best way to have my books translated into other languages is to have foreign publishers pay me an advance and have the foreign publishers pay for the translations costs. The key is to have written great books that foreign publishers want to publish. This has resulted in my having negotiated over 117 book deals with foreign publishers around the world without my having to use a North American foreign rights agent.

    • Kumar

      Great article. And Great additional info in the comment above. Thanks.

    • Belinda Pollard

      Did you approach your foreign language publishers, Ernie, or did they approach you?

      • Ernie Zelinski

        Belinda: It’s actually a combination of both. Way back in the mid to late 1990s, the first foreign publishers to approach me to publish my “The Joy of Not Working” were surprisingly Chinese, Japanese, and Korean publishers. Later I sent hard copies of my manuscripts by mail to foreign publishers. In fact, years ago I sold the foreign rights for my inspirational fable “Look Ma, Life’s Easy” to French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and
        Russian publishers without the book even having been published in English. I also sold the rights to my “1,001 Ways to Enjoy Retirement” to three foreign publishers and the book has still not been published in English. One of the weirdest things I was able to pull off was emailing the manuscript of my “The 777 Best Things Ever Said about Money” by mistake to the a Japanese agent. The Japanese agent had a publisher come into her office two hours later and she sod the rights to this Japanese publisher for a $8,000 US advance. I agreed to the deal about 6 hours after my mistake of emailing the manuscript to the agent.

        If you go to this webpage of mine,


        and go to the bottom part where it says, “How to Generate Foreign Rights Sales for Your Books”, read the last paragraph and you will see links to two related articles. One is “How to Sell $40,000 in Foreign Rights,” in which John Kremer interviews John Penberthy on how John P. sold $40,000 worth of foreign rights. There is also some useful information in the Huffington Post article, “Foreign Rights: How Authors Tap a Rich Vein of Royalties,” by Karen Dionne.

        I hope this helps.

        Ernie J. Zelinski
        International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and
        Unconventional Career Coach
        Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild,
        and Free”
        (Over 400,000 copies sold and published in 10 languages)
        and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
        (Over 310,000 copies sold and published in 17
        foreign languages)

        • Belinda Pollard

          Thanks Ernie. Much appreciated. I’ll check out your link. I’ve published one translation, and it’s a good translation, but not really a sustainable model for the translator or for me going forward, so I’ve been wondering about finding a publisher instead for the next book.



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