Cynthia Madison

How to translate your book and become an international bestselling author


If you love expressing your thoughts and sharing your life experiences in writing, you probably grew up dreaming of becoming a writer, signing copies of your books in quaint bookstores and making your work known to as many readers as possible. Although making a decent living out of writing remains almost impossible unless you’re a famous author or a public figure, it’s easier to sell a book in 2018 than it was in 1998. You have platforms such as Amazon to sell your books in digital format, you can promote your work on social media and reach out to publishing houses for a contract without actually having to go to their door. In fact, gaining a few fans locally is not that difficult and you can become a bestselling author in your country if you’re talented and know how to market yourself. The real test, however, comes when it’s time for your work to cross borders and reach international readers. You can leave it in English, of course, but that might not be so well received. According to a 2014 survey, people prefer reading in their native language, so unless you’re J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin, people will not be buying your work in English. You will have to translate your book and the way to tackle this process plays a massive role in how well it sells. Here are some tips to prevent your work from getting lost in translation:

1. Only hire native translators

Starting from the obvious fact that you couldn’t translate your book yourself even if you had the language skills, the first thing you need to check when outsourcing book translation is whether or not the translator is a native speaker of the target language. Even though at first literary translation might seem to be easier than technical, legal or medical translation, it’s actually more complex, because the translator has to preserve the flavor of your style of writing and render colloquial language as accurately as possible. No matter how much you study a foreign language in school, you can’t do that unless you’re a native or you’ve spent years in that country. The translator also has to find an accurate equivalent for cultural references and puns. When a foreign reader opens your book, it shouldn’t feel translated; it should read as it was written in their native language and didn’t go through the hands of a translator. If the phrases are awkward and don’t read well, readers won’t be able to understand your message. No matter how brilliant the source material is, your book will not do well internationally unless it’s translated properly.

2. Find a translator who has done similar work before

To someone who doesn’t have the academic formation of a translator, all books look the same, but they are huge differences between them. Translating poetry is one thing and translating a novel is another. You can’t trust someone who has translated small recipe books all their life to translate 400-page a steampunk novel or the other way around, because they would be dealing with unfamiliar terminology. So, when interviewing translators, ask them to show you their portfolio to have an idea of what they’re good at. If their work is inconsistent and feature a couple of translations from different genres, it’s best to keep looking.

3. Once you’ve found a good translator, stick with them

Did you translate your book and it sold more copies than expected? Congratulations! You may now be thinking of publishing one of your other books on the same market, so you need a translator again. If the one you worked with the first time is still available, hire them again, because they are one of the factors that contributed to your success. A good translation service provider is hard to come by, so once you’ve found them, stick with them. Not only do you have the peace of mind that they are doing a job, but also benefit from consistency. A translator who has worked with you before is familiar with your style of writing, understands your creative process and your literary perspective. You don’t have to explain everything to them all over again, which makes the translation process faster and easier on their side.

4. Communicate with your translator

If your book isn’t technical in nature and translating it involves understanding metaphors and subtle cultural references, make sure you have a few discussions with your translator in advance to clarify the most sensitive topics. This will make their work more accurate and relevant. Also, tell them not to complete the entire book translation in one go and send you chapters as they finish them. Then, you can ask them if they had any questions or if there were some words/phrases they didn’t understand.

5. What about the price?

Translating a book is no easy task. There are a lot of things to consider and before you even get to the specifics, you probably want to know how much of a dent translation services will make in your budget. The cheaper translation services are, the more appealing they sound, so you will probably be tempted to sign up for a free translation website or outsource parts of your book to different freelancers to pay less, but that means compromising on quality and delivering inconsistent work. In translations, you get what you pay for. Even if working with a translation agency or reliable independent translator costs more, it’s worth it in the long run because you can become a respected author on a foreign literary market and sell more copies of your book.

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