DIY: Translate Your Book


Are you fluently speaking French or Spanish beside your mother language English?  Or any other language for that matter?  Maybe English is your second language?  This way you have a great benefit compared to those who are speaking English only: You might be able to translate your book(s) without paying top dollars for a professional chartered translator.  The only expense would be the usual fees for an editor who cleans up and improves the manuscript before it goes to formatting or a print book designer.

Why Translating Your Own Manuscripts?
In one sentence: More money, more books to offer, a completely new readership, you double your success. Even if you are not self-publishing, and going with a trade publisher, it’s possible to have your book(s) in other languages – provided you have retained your publishing rights in other languages than English.  Repurpose the hard work you put into writing the English book – in all formats, such as the digital version, a print book or audio book version.

Translating also helps you to avoid “writer’s block” due to the outlook of an upcoming new book that requires less work than writing a completely new one. And while you translate, you might even get lots of ideas for your next title.

Who Would Be Your Readers?
For example, if you translate your book(s) into Spanish, you are able to sell them not only in Spain, but in the USA, with more than 50 million Spanish-speaking citizens, and also in Mexico, Venezuela, Columbia, Argentina, and many more countries.  See a language map for details.
Or take French: It is the mother tongue of about 7.3 million Canadians (22% of the population).  Worldwide there are over 270 million people who would be able to read your books, including France.  Most second-language speakers reside in Francophone Africa, in particular, Gabon, Algeria, Mauritius, Senegal and Ivory Coast, where almost everyone uses an iPhone to read e-books.  In 2015, the French language was estimated to have 77 to 110 million native speakers (mostly France and Quebec), and 190 million secondary speakers. Approximately 274 million people are able to speak and read in French.

Well, and if you are from China or you are fluent in Mandarin, I don’t need to tell you how many potential customers you could reach with a translated book: 848 million readers.

Consider These Points When Translating:
Translating your book is not a process to translate it word for word. Don’t follow the text exactly to the point.  Every language and every part of the world has its own culture. Keep this always in mind, and don’t be afraid to subtract or add paragraphs. Read as many books in your genre as you can get in the language you want to translate it into.
If your book is not yet published, translating it into another language allows you to see it from a different perspective.  You might even consider to rewrite it until it flows smoothly in both languages.  Another benefit: you will sharpen your editing and revising skills as well.

Translating your own unpublished manuscripts is not as restricting as translating texts that have appeared in print (either yours or someone else’s) or which have been requested by a client.  Don’t force yourself to follow the text exactly.  Although your first draft will probably sound like a word-for-word translation, during the revision stage feel free to add, embellish and change any word, sentence or paragraph.

The main of the translation work can even be done by a computer program.  Those for professional translators might be too expensive.  But there is one that can help you immensely and has even an editing program before you hand it over to a foreign language human editor who is a native speaker. MemSource Web Editor is a fully web-based translation environment.  Its desktop alternative, MemSource Editor, is available as a free download. Both connect seamlessly to translation projects, translation memories and term bases in MemSource Cloud.

If you think about selling your manuscript/publishing rights to a trade publisher, you may want to mention in your cover letter that your submission is available in another language as well.
Distribution of Your Foreign Language Book
To sell your foreign language e-books or the audio version in countries like France, Japan or Brazil through Amazon is just one more click at the upload process. Distribution of print books is a different story…
Many of the Print-on-Demand companies don’t have contracts with retailers or wholesale companies in these countries – even if they claim to distribute your book “worldwide”.  An exception is LightningSource which has their own Print-on-Demand branches in Milton Keynes, in the UK and in Scoresby, Victoria, Australia.

Bestselling author and publisher Aaron Shepard wrote once:
“Lightning’s print operations are truly massive and expanding rapidly. 1.6 million titles from over 11,000 publishing clients—many of them self-publishing companies but also small publishers.  As a distributor, Lightning’s importance and effectiveness in the U.S. are largely due to a unique advantage: It’s part of the same company that houses Ingram Book Company, the biggest U.S. book wholesaler.  Almost all bookstores in the country, as well as many libraries and schools, order books from Ingram, and as you might expect, Lightning and Ingram work together closely.”

Foreign Language Marketing
Expanding your website or blog for your new readers is not a big deal. Just add a new page and a link featuring the flag of the additional language. Translate the information about your book, and add sales links in these specific countries.  Another benefit for your readers (and a marketing bonus for you) would be the addition of several articles about you and your books. Or just general blog posts – which could be interesting for your foreign readers.
Translate your tweets and posts for your social media appearances, always using your book’s sales links in specific countries.  And don’t forget to add as many readers as you can find in these countries to your social media following.
At Goodreads and your Amazon author page (and even on LinkedIn) place the same information about you, your book and any editorial reviews (not reader reviews) to your appearance.  Try to get as many reviews as possible on the sales pages of these countries, e.g. get French-language reviews in Quebec, France, etc., in order to be placed on or websites.

Last But Not Least
You might even become a publisher for foreign books in your native language.  Translate these foreign books into English and publish them for sale in English-speaking countries.  First, you have to buy the right to translate it into the desired language.  This can be obtained from the rights department of the original publisher; if they don’t have the rights anymore, they will direct you to the author or agent.  Another possibility would be to agree on both sides on a commission basis, starting once the book is translated and published.

Selling your books written in only one language, such as English, you will effectively eliminate the majority of this planet’s books from your pool of potential readers.

Read more:
Translation Questions and detailed answers by PEN


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