OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
It is an incredibly exciting time to be a writer!
Indie authors can now publish in 190 countries (and I have personally sold books in 68), and in ebook, print and audiobook formats. Indie authors can get film deals and print distribution deals with bookstores and even with Walmart!
Indie authors can also get their books translated to start reaching readers in other languages. There is very little we can't do these days …
But of course, all these things have their challenges!
Today, I'm excited to announce Profanación in Spanish, which is Desecration translated by Alexandra Ferrie. It's free on Amazon 19 – 23 November, 2015, so click here to download a copy if you read Spanish, or please do share with Spanish-speaking friends.
What are your options for getting your books translated?
You have a few options:
- Work directly with translators as I have done, either paying for the translation or doing a royalty split deal. I've detailed my own process here along with interviews with all my other translators. Basically, they complete the manuscript and I still self-publish the book through my own platforms, retaining control.
- Self-publish through a website that specializes in translation. Currently the sites available are BabelCube and FibeRead (for China)
- Try to sell the rights yourself directly. I did this with Desecration-Verletzung in German which is published with Ullstein-Midnight. You can also use sites like IPR License or PubMatch.com.
- Use an agent to sell your foreign rights. This option is really only open to top-selling indie authors.
There are a couple of good resources that take this further:
- Adventures in self-publishing translations. Details about each of my translations and interviews with translators.
- How to self-publish in Germany with Matthias Matting
- Self-Publishing Questions: 4 ways to reach a foreign market with Steve Scott
- How indie authors sell foreign rights – from the Alliance of Independent Authors
- How to get your books into foreign markets – on Molly Greene's site
What are the challenges of translation as an indie author?
As we all know, publishing is not the hard part these days. The hard part is writing the book and marketing it.
The translation aspect is the ‘writing,' and it has to go through an editing process as much as any book in English. Of course, you won't be able to read it yourself, so you'll need to get some native speakers to read the book and try it out. This is also challenging because we all know that readers like different kinds of books. It's definitely a risk and you have to trust that the translator cares about their reputation as much as you do. It's also worth noting that non-fiction is likely to be easier than fiction to translate as there is less nuance in the language.
Marketing is difficult for books in your own language but for translations, it is even more so because it's hard to start an email list if you can't communicate without paying for more translation.
Plus, you need more than one book to make any sort of dent in the market – if you have one book in any language and it's not selling, the advice is always to “write more books” these days! That is more difficult with translations.
If you already have a book trailer that is image and text based, this can be an easy win in terms of marketing as you can just replace the text. Here's the book trailer we've done for Profanación (or click here for YouTube). You can also see the original in English here.
Of course, you can use free and price promotions if you use KDP Select or make one book permafree. There are some promotional sites for free and reduced price books e.g. Ciberlibros.com for Spanish and XTME.de for German. You need reviews on the book to make the most of those sites.
Essentially, the challenges of marketing are even harder when it's not your language, so you need a marketing partner. That may be the translator, a local publisher or paid promotional services. But it's unlikely to be the author!
Should you try translation?
It's definitely an advanced publishing strategy and I think it's still early days for foreign language ebooks. Although the ebook market is mature in English in the US, Canada, UK and Australia, it is still only just getting started in other countries, and ebooks are where indies make most money. Germany is the next biggest market but is dominated by traditional publishing, and I've heard some consider Portuguese for Brazil to be the next possible market.
But even if you're not ready for translation, then you can still focus on international sales of books in English. English is the most international global language and my own sales outside of the four main markets continue to grow.
Interview with Alexandra Ferrie, translator for Profanación
Tell us a bit more about you
Art is my passion and I devote most of my waking time to it. I'm Spanish-English and travel between England and Spain regularly. As well as being passionate about language, I live a creative life focused on performance, mainly contemporary theatre and dance.
I belly-dance, and also practise Butoh, Clown, Buffon, a variety of types of mask work, contact improvisation, five rhythms dance, movement medicine, trance dance and shamanic journeys, as well as improvisation as a techniques for movement and theatre and a practice in itself. I enjoy collaborating with musicians and other artists and companies for specific projects. In quiet time alone, I write.
I have worked with professional theatre companies such as the November Club, done dubbing jobs, Commedia De’ll Arte, green screen, short films, with multiple appearances as a supporting artist in TV series, as well as danced in a range of contexts. I enjoy working in the film industry, in front and behind the camera, as assistant director, in production, art department, as an actor or an extra. I started when I was only fifteen on European productions and sometimes I would do interpreting work for the cast and crew, which led to me doing more interpreting and later translating jobs.
Working in applied arts for the community is another type of work I enjoy, I have the pleasure and privilege of working with many people, including individuals with learning difficulties, disabilities and autism. One of my favourite activities is telling stories, creating music and singing with autistic children in a sensory space. I believe art has a whole range of social functions and one of them is healing the soul in a therapeutic manner, personal development being another.
What made you want to translate Desecration?
I saw it as a personal challenge where I would have the chance to develop my linguistic abilities and knowledge of language further. I have done a lot of interpreting and translated plenty of texts, but often the kind of texts that people want translated are not what you would choose to spend your time reading for pleasure!
Desecration is a fascinating story and I wanted to immerse myself fully in its dark themes and confront some of the taboos it explores which I happened to find very interesting. As well as the fascinating questions relating to the body and the soul, ideas and taboos surrounding death, I was drawn to the consideration of how some people choose to modify their bodies while others born deformed into this world without any option, and have been considered monsters by society’s standards.
I thought the language was accessible and the story exciting, a thrilling page-turner, but one written with great philosophical and emotional depth.
What are your tips for authors looking for translators?
I would recommend establishing a good working relationship with the translator so that there is good communication and understanding of the job. That way you can get your objectives across as an author and make your expectations clear and direct. It is important that there be a professional relationship.
Perfect translations are time consuming and the translator has to have high standards. People willing to work cheaply or do it only for the experience will rarely produce a good translation, in most cases they will not even be competent. Any information you can provide with regard to technical details and cultural context can be of great help to the translator.
I would also suggest allowing certain creative and technical freedom for the translator to adapt the language in the most precise way possible and in order for this to work there has to be great trust in the translator. I think that it is good to work with clear deadlines while being realistic, reasonable and flexible to a certain extent.
Of course you have to establish a time frame in which to work because it is a long and detailed process that sometimes requires considerable going over to perfect the quality of the text as much as possible. My advice to the author looking for a translator would be to make sure that the translator has a genuine interest in the text since they will spend a lot of time in the author’s world.
Ensure that the translator has relevant experience, some kind of track record, qualifications and a level of education that indicate a great knowledge of the languages involved. Being a native bilingual speaker would seem to be minimum requirement from my point of view. A translator must not only understand the target language but also they must have a flair for using it with creativity and dexterity.
Have you tried translation? If yes, what are you finding works for marketing books? Please do leave a comment and join the conversation below.