I’ve been on an “authorpreneur” kick lately, which basically means I’ve been focusing more on the “running a business” side of things than on the “writing more books” side.
Really, in an ideal world, I’d be able to do both. I’m getting there, but for now I usually have “writing” days and “everything else” days.
One of the items I’m attending to on the “everything else” days is book translations.
In an ever more worldwide culture and economy, it’s important to realize that not only are there English-speaking (and reading) people all over the world, there are lots of people who want to read your work in their native language.
For me, that means I have to have my work translated.
Translations can be a great revenue stream
For us fiction writers, having your work translated to another language can be a great boost to sales. I’ve noticed more interest in my English titles in general, thanks to having translations of them for sale in international markets.
Since “books are forever,” your work can be translated into another language, forgotten, then found again years later — all in time to start paying you royalties.
Books are products, and they stick around until you decide to remove them for sale. By adding translated versions of your books to the marketplace, you’re only increasing your chances of a reader finding it, at little (or no) cost to you.
Translations can be a great way to find new markets
They can also be a fantastic way to find new readers, whether or not you’re making a lot of money from your translated works (more on that later!). Just because the Amazon.com (US) market is massive doesn’t mean it’s equally large (or present) in other countries. And just because there might be a similar amount of books available for those people to purchase, not all of them are going to be in their native tongue.
Another upside to having your works translated is that you never know how popular a subject could be somewhere else in the world. Maybe vampires have had their heyday here in the states, but what about in New Guinea?
(I actually have no idea, so if you’re a vampire book fan in New Guinea, please let us know!)
Your book might not make much of a splash here at home, but maybe it’s the next big hit in Germany, Russia, or Brazil?
Translations are a great foray into the world of “authorpreneurship”
“If you’re not focusing on the non-writing aspects of being an author, you’re not being an author.”
Basically, you need to think about where you’re books are being sold, how much they’re being sold for, and such. You also need to be on top of other non-writing topics like accounting/finances, marketing, advertising/promotion, etc.
One of the easiest ways to branch out of the “I’m just a writer” mindset is by having your books translated — you’re operating as part director, talent scout, and part project manager.
How to get started
I have used a service called Bablecube for both The Depths and The Golden Crystal (still in production), and loved it.
The service operates as a matching service, pairing up authors with translators. You, as the author, choose which language(s) you’d like the book to be translated into:
You can set up your author profile, add books, and have them translated for free.
Babelcube operates on a revenue-sharing model, with a sliding-scale royalty structure for both author and translator. If any of that confuses you, it simply means:
- Babelcube doesn’t charge author to list their books, or to have a book translated
- All parties only make money when a book is sold (after it’s been translated)
- You split royalties with the translator on a sliding scale (they make more than you until a certain number of sales is reached)
- 15% of all sales go to Babelcube
Babelcube becomes the publisher
One thing to note with this model, though, is that you are giving Babelcube the rights to market and sell your book (the translated one). They’ll put it in stores (the big ones like Amazon, as well as over 300 regional stores and libraries), and they’ll handle the payments and reporting.
You’re not giving up the copyright, you’re just licensing Babelcube to be the exclusive distributor for a while. After five years, the author has the option to continue with the same structure (giving Babelcube the exclusive rights to distribute the translated version), or to pull it and handle that stuff on their own.
For more information about rights and the process, check out the FAQ here.
Potential problems – and my thoughts on them
As with any system, there are downsides.
1. Poor sales. The first is the potential that the book just doesn’t sell well. For whatever reason, be it poor/nonexistent marketing or just poor quality, sometimes books don’t sell. If that’s the case, having your book translated could seem like a waste of time.
For me, it doesn’t matter — it was really no work at all to add the book to the website and wait for someone to come along and ask to translate it. That happened relatively quickly for me, so the Spanish version of The Depths (En lo Profundo) was available within three months!
If the sales don’t come in, it doesn’t matter much — they’re sales I wouldn’t have gotten anyway, and I can always relaunch the book later.
2. Great sales. Some worry about the possibility of making a lot of sales with their translated books, and that they won’t then have control over them and/or have to share the wealth with Bablecube and their translator.
Again, these are sales you wouldn’t have gotten anyway. You did nothing to translate the book, so giving up some of your royalties to break into new markets should be an easy call to make.
3. Quality control. A big one for me was the quality control issue: how do I know my book is being translated well? After all, I don’t speak that language natively.
I headed over to my favorite $5 store (no, not Subway): Fiverr.com. There’s a whole subcategory in the Writing section of gigs called Proofreading & Editing, and I was able to quickly find three top-rated proofreaders who spoke and read in both English and Spanish. I purchased one $5 proofreading gig from each of them, and sent them this message:
Hi! Thanks for doing this — I don’t actually need this proofed, just read. I’m attaching the first ten pages of my novel, The Depths, translated to Spanish (using Babelcube). It’s longer than your requested word count (3,175 total), but only do a few pages 😉
Here’s what I’m looking for:
1. Is the Spanish coherent, fluent?
2. Is it primarily Latin Spanish, or Castilian?
3. Should I continue with this translator?
Then I sent them the first 10 pages (it’s a Babelcube requirement for the translator to send over the first 10 pages for the author to approve or request changes), and waited.
A few days later, I had all three answers from the proofreaders. Basically: “This is great! Wonderful translation, and you should definitely continue!”
Three $5 gigs later, and I was on my way to a professionally-translated book!
I love Babelcube, and I think authors should consider adding their books to it if they don’t currently have translations available. Again, it’s not enough anymore to “just be a writer.” We need to work and write, and part of that “work” is to seek out alternative/auxiliary markets for our books.
Being an author these days is an amazing journey, and it’s one that simply wasn’t available to us even ten years ago. As we see more and more of these “author services” firms and websites pop up, it’s important to evaluate each one to see if they would help us maintain our edge in a competitive market.
What do you think? Have you used Babelcube or another translation service before? What were the results? Leave a comment below!