How to Translate Your Self-Published Book: A Guide to Multilingual Success

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How to Translate Your Self-Published Book: A Guide to Multilingual Success
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Translating a book into a new language isn’t as easy as plugging it into Google Translate. Christian and Rasmus found that out the hard way years ago (more on that later). So, what does it take? 

The ethical route requires staying true to each chapter's bigger meaning, for one, and then getting an expert’s opinion on it, which usually requires multiple rounds of revisions. At least, that’s how to make your book accessible to an international audience without sacrificing quality or losing the original essence. Then, of course, there’s always the question of budget. 

In this article, we'll guide you through the necessary steps to translate your self-published book into a new language without making the same mistakes we made. 

Pssst…Wanna see how even the busiest parents and students all over the world are publishing books quicker than ever? Dive into our free publishing training to find out the secret! Some of our students have seen results like an extra $2,000 to even $10,000 a month with our proven system.

Why Shouldn’t an Author Translate Their Book?

Now, this section isn’t meant to scare you; it’s meant to get you thinking about the end product and the type of books you’re trying to publish. 

Here’s why it might not be in your best interest to translate your book yourself: 

  • Lack of Language Proficiency: Authors and publishers may not have the same level of fluency in the target language, leading to errors and awkward phrasing.
  • Cultural Nuances: Translating requires an understanding of cultural contexts and references, which is easy to miss sometimes.
  • Quality and Accuracy: Professional translators will make sure the translation is accurate and maintains the quality of the original text.
  • Time-Consuming: Translating a book is a significant time investment that could be better spent on creating new content or marketing existing works.
  • Complexity of Grammar and Syntax: Different languages have unique grammatical rules and sentence structures that require expertise to navigate properly.
  • Reader Expectations: Readers expect high-quality translations that read smoothly and naturally, which a skilled translator literally trained to do.

Researching the Demand for Translation

If you decide you do want to embark on the translation journey, either with or without help, you’ll want to look for solid proof that the translation process is even going to be worth your time. This requires conducting market analysis, diving into reader demographics, and also taking genre into consideration. 

This might sound complicated, but it’s really not. Let’s break it down! 

Market Analysis

Market analysis is all about what’s on the bookshelves right now. What’s already demonstrating demand? What’s selling? What’s NOT selling? 

Start by researching sales and popular genres in target-language markets. Identify trends and bestselling books to start figuring out whether your books can fill a gap. 

Reader Demographics

Now, moving onto reader demographics, AKA all your readership data, like age, gender, language, and location. Once you have a clear picture of your target readership, you can decide whether your book's content resonates with readers in other languages and cultures. 

You can even use ChatGPT to help you create a demographic profile using bullet points like this:

  • Age: 18-35
  • Primary Language: English
  • Secondary Language: Spanish
  • Location: United States and Mexico

Popularity of Language

Some of the most widely spoken languages include Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and English. However, keep in mind that competition may be higher in popular languages, making it more difficult to stand out. You can use resources like Ethnologue to research languages' speaker populations and rankings.

Genre-Specific Considerations

The last part of the research deals with genre. Different genres fare differently across languages and cultures. That’s just how it is.

Regional crime novels and certain travel guides might be more niche, for example. 

Consider the following factors:

  • Popularity: Is your genre widely read in the target language market?
  • Cultural Relevance: Will your book's themes, setting, and characters resonate with readers from different cultural backgrounds?
  • Market Saturation: Is the market already saturated with similar books, making it difficult for yours to stand out? Or are you right in the sweet spot with some established demand but enough room to rise as the best quality content? 

Another way to refer to this research is “Proof of Concept.” You’ll find that idea sprinkled throughout all our blogs and trainings because it’s the #1 most important step of every publishing project. We don’t want any of our students wasting their time on projects that won’t bring them the greatest ROI (return on investment) with their time or money. 

Translating Books Into a New Language with AI 

Once upon a time, when Christian and Rasmus Mikkelsen, were still learning the ropes of the publishing industry, they used Google Translate to release new versions of their books in the hopes of increasing sales and royalties…and that idea crashed and burned. 

The translations just weren’t good, which didn’t make for a good reader experience—one of the biggest mistakes of self-publishing. Now, keep in mind that this was years ago, and AI is moving at breakneck speed. By this time next year, we’re almost positive that AI translations will be even better. 

OpenAI just unveiled its real-time translator last month, and it was already insanely accurate. But in the meantime, it’s probably best to go with a professional translator if you care about the quality of your work (and you absolutely should). 

Finding a Translator

Finding the right translator consists of three steps. 

1. Decide on Professional vs. Freelance Translators

There are two main categories of translators you can consider: professional and freelance. 

Professional translators often work for translation agencies and may have certifications or degrees in translation studies. These individuals often have a higher level of expertise and may handle large-scale projects. On the other hand, freelance translators may have varied backgrounds in terms of education and experience. However, they can be more affordable and flexible in terms of availability and project requirements.

To find the right translator for your book, consider using platforms like Reedsy, where you can find freelance translators with experience in literary translation. 

2. Verifying Credentials

Before hiring a translator, you’ll want to verify their credentials and find out more about their experience. 

Some important points to consider include:

  • Education: Check if they have a degree or certification in translation studies or a relevant field (definitely not required, but doesn’t hurt) 
  • Experience: Confirm that they have experience translating books or similar literary works. Ask for samples or references (don’t skip this!!) 
  • Language Proficiency: Make sure that they are actually fluent in the source and target languages and have a deep understanding of the cultural nuances of both. 
  • Check Their Reviews: Read reviews from previous clients or ask for recommendations from fellow authors and publishers (but don't let one poor review or a lack of reviews scare you away either)

3. Establishing Deadlines and Fees

Once you've found a translator, it's time to discuss deadlines and fees. 

This conversation can be uncomfortable if you’re new to working with freelancers, but it sets the tone for the whole project and makes sure you're all on the same page. 

Here are some factors to consider:

  • Word count: The total word count of your book will impact the translation fees, as many translators charge per word. For example, most Reedsy translators charge between $0.08 and $0.12 per word for a ready-to-publish translation.
  • Complexity: The subject matter and difficulty of your book may also affect the cost and timeline.

To protect your investment, make sure there’s a written contract outlining the translation services, payment terms, deadlines, and any other relevant details. This will help you avoid potential issues down the road. 

Translation Process

So, what does the actual translation process look like? 

1. Initial Translation

This is pretty self-explanatory, but the translator will do a first run at the book from cover to cover. 

2. Editing and Proofreading

After the initial translation, you’ll move on to the editing and proofreading stage.

There are three levels of editing you might consider:

  • Machine translation with human editing: With this approach, software translates your book, and a professional editor refines the translation.
  • Human translation and proofreading: This option involves human translators who thoroughly edit and proofread the content.
  • Professional translation and editing: The most comprehensive approach, a translator team, and an editor ensure the highest quality translation.

3. Localization and Cultural Adaptation

How do you make sure your translation keeps the meaning you intended? 

A good translator will be able to tackle this on their own, but you might also consider bringing in a sensitivity reader if you’re really anxious about the quality of your translation. 

They’ll look at the cultural context and preferences of your target audience, such as:

  • Adjusting idiomatic expressions: Modify or replace expressions that might not make sense in the translated version.
  • Adapting cultural references: Change or explain cultural references that the target audience might not understand.
  • Addressing sensitivities: Modify any content that might be perceived as offensive, controversial, or inappropriate in the target language and culture.

Legal Aspects

Copyrights and Contracts

The first thing you need to do is obtain a written contract with the translator you choose. This contract should protect your investment and specify the terms of the translation. This agreement should include details such as deadlines, translation fees, and clauses specifying that the translator must observe copyright laws. You want to make sure you own 100% of the rights to the work after they’re done so that you don’t end up having to pay them a cut of your future royalties. 

You’ll also want to brush up on international copyright laws. Now, this isn't legal advice, but the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works is a good starting point. The Convention has been adopted by many countries and sets minimum standards of protection for authors' and publishers’ rights in literary works.

International Copyright Basics:

  • Minimum Standards: The Convention sets minimum standards for copyright protection in member countries.
  • Automatic Rights: Copyright protection is automatic and does not require registration in certain countries.
  • Duration: Copyright generally lasts for the author's lifetime plus 50 to 70 years, depending on the country.
  • Moral Rights: Authors and publishers have the right to claim authorship and object to derogatory treatments of their work.

Intellectual Property Rights

You’ll also need to consider the intellectual property rights associated with the translation.

  • Translation Rights: Refer to the permission granted by the copyright holder (you) to create and publish a translation of the original work in a specific language.
  • Territorial Rights: Deal with the markets where your translated book will be sold. These rights can be sold in specific languages and territories, depending on the agreements you make with your translator and potential publishers or distributors.
  • Exclusive vs. Non-Exclusive Rights: Decide whether to grant exclusive rights to one translator or publisher in a specific territory or language, or non-exclusive rights that allow multiple parties to use the translation.
  • Duration of Rights: Specify the duration for which the translation and territorial rights are granted. This can help you renegotiate terms or seek new opportunities after the initial period.
  • Royalties and Revenue Sharing: Clearly outline how royalties and revenues will be shared between you and your translator or publishers. This ensures transparency and fair compensation for all parties involved.

This is just another reason self-publishing is 1000% better than going the traditional route. You remain in complete control of your work!

Formatting and Typesetting

After the words and context are finalized, you’ll be ready to move on to formatting and typesetting. 

Here's a checklist to follow when formatting and typesetting your translated book:

  1. Text direction: Make sure your layout accommodates the text direction of the new language (some languages are read right to left, opposite of how we read in the US & Canada)
  2. Font choice: Select a font that supports the characters and glyphs in the target language.
  3. Text alignment: Choose the appropriate alignment for the new language (left, right, or justified).
  4. Line spacing: Adjust line spacing based on the specific needs of the language you're translating to.
  5. Margins: Consider wider or narrower margins depending on the length of words in the new language.

If you need a little help, check out this list of eBook formatting services.

Cover Design and Localization

Just before publishing, you’ll need to consider your cover design and localization. A well-designed cover that appeals to readers in different markets will help boost sales and promote your book to a wider audience. Seriously, it sounds simple and obvious, but there have been countless times when a small change in the cover has made a huge change to the royalties (for better or worse). 

Here are some factors to consider when it comes to creating the perfect cover:

  • Font choice: Choose a font that's easily readable in your target language, especially if there are special characters.
  • Imagery: The images on your cover also need to be culturally appropriate for your target audience. You might need to modify or change the image altogether to better resonate with readers in a different region.
  • Color scheme: Building off the last point, colors can evoke different emotions and meanings in various cultures. Make sure your color choices don’t unintentionally convey a negative or inappropriate message to readers in your target market.
  • Title and tagline translation: Keep in mind that idiomatic expressions or cultural references in your title or tagline may not translate well into another language. You may need to adapt these elements to better reflect the intended meaning or appeal to readers in your target market. Consult with your translator or a linguistic expert to make sure that your title and tagline convey the right tone and message.

Pricing Strategy

Once you’re ready to publish your translation, you’ll follow all the same steps that you would with any other book to upload it to your Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing account. Then, you’ll have to decide on a price. 

Here's a simplified guide to conducting a cost analysis and getting the most royalties possible:

1. Estimate Your Translation Costs

2. Calculate Potential Sales & Revenue

Basically, we’re trying to figure out how long it will take to recoup your translation costs. 

Here's what we’ll need to calculate how to price your Kindle book:

  • Cost to Translate: The total amount you spend on translating your book.
  • Expected Monthly Sales: The number of copies you expect to sell each month.
  • Royalty Rate: The percentage of the book price that you earn per sale.
  • Book Price: The selling price of your book.
  • Payback Period: Divide the total translation cost by the product of your expected monthly sales, your royalty rate, and your book price. This tells you how many months it will take to recover your translation investment.

Example:

  • Translation Cost: $1000
  • Sales: 4 copies per day
  • Royalty Rate: 70%
  • Book Price: $12
  • Payback Period: Approximately 1 month

Comparative Market Pricing 

  • Check prices of similar books in the target language market
  • Consider factors like book length, genre, and purchasing trends of the target audience
  • Compare your original book price with the translated version
  • Adjust the price to be competitive while ensuring profitability (AKA just slightly above the competition to give your books a more premium feel) 

Distribution

Digital Platforms

Making your new translation available on platforms like KDP or Kobo as an eBook is a no-brainer, but to reach an even broader audience, you can also use book aggregators like Draft2Digital or Smashwords. 

Pro Tip: Remember to format your translated book properly, as each platform may have specific formatting requirements.

Print on Demand Options

KDP and IngramSpark also offer print on demand services for paperback and hardcover books. These services allow you to upload your translated book, set pricing, and generate physical copies only when a customer places an order, AKA this eliminates the need to invest in large print runs and minimizes inventory storage costs. 

Print on Demand Providers:

  • Amazon KDP Print
  • IngramSpark
  • Blurb
  • BookBaby

Collecting Feedback

After translating your self-published book into a new language, you’ll need to collect feedback to gauge how well your book is received by readers who speak the new language. 

There are two main aspects you can focus on: Reader Reviews and Sales Tracking.

Reader Reviews

One of the best ways to collect feedback on your translated book is to pay close attention to reader reviews. These can be obtained from online platforms such as Amazon, Goodreads, or regional reader forums. 

By examining reviews in the language your book has been translated into, you can gauge the quality and accuracy of the translation, as well as the overall reception by the new target audience.

To make it easier for you to analyze reviews, consider organizing the feedback into categories such as:

  • Translation quality: Did readers find the translation accurate and easy to understand?
  • Story and engagement: How engaged were readers with the storyline and topics in the translated version?
  • Market appeal: Did the book appeal to the target audience in the new language?

Keep track of both positive and negative feedback, as this can help you identify areas for improvement in future translations or editions.

Sales Tracking

Another way to measure the success of your translated book is to track sales. Sales data can provide valuable insights into the market performance and potential growth opportunities for your book in the new language.

You can track the following metrics:

  • Total Sales: The number of books sold in the new language.
  • Sales per Month/Week: The average sales for a specific time period.
  • Royalty Rate: The percentage you receive from each sale.
  • Conversion Rate: The percentage of people who purchase your book after viewing it on online platforms or in bookstores.

Revisions Based on Feedback

One of the great things about self-publishing with Amazon KDP is the flexibility to update your manuscript whenever you want to. If any major issues come up after your book is published, you can always go back into KDP to make revisions or publish new versions.

To make this process smoother, consider staying in touch with your translator. They can help you address any feedback or corrections that may arise, ensuring your book remains accurate and well-received by your audience.

Regularly updating your manuscript based on reader feedback can improve the overall quality of your book and keep your readers satisfied.

Is It Possible to Translate My Book Into Another Language for Free?

Although it's definitely possible to use free online translation tools like Google Translate to translate your book, these automated translations typically lack the precision and nuance required for a high-quality book translation…at least, for now. 

Self-publishing is a business, which means you have to weigh the pros and cons of your short-term and long-term options. And what’s easier in the short term isn’t necessarily going to produce the long-term results you’re looking for. Just food for thought. 

What Is the Average Cost for Translating a Self-Published Book?

This is another one of those questions that’s hard to answer. Hearing “it depends” gets kind of old, but it’s the truth!

The cost of translating a self-published book varies widely depending on factors such as the number of words, the language pair, and the translator's expertise. 

Rates commonly range from $20/month with AI software (you'll have to do the math on our usage to figure out the exact cost per word) to $0.11 - $0.15 per word for professional human translation and editing, but you’ll find translators for every budget out there on places like Fiverr and Upwork. 

Are There Any Reliable Online Services for Book Translation?

Places like Reedsy, Mincor, and BabelCube all have decent reviews for book translation services, but you definitely don’t have to go with an agency or company at all. There are thousands of freelancers and contractors out there who would love to work with a small indie publisher like you!

Can I Translate My Own Book if I am Bilingual?

We’re not here to stop you from experimenting with your publishing business or running it how you want. You’re your own boss (how cool is that?)!

If you’re bilingual and confident in your language abilities, you can totally translate your own book. Hiring a professional editor with experience in the target language is still recommended to double-check the accuracy and quality, but you get to make that call. 

We’ve had some students who didn’t speak English as their first language and they still completely crushed it in the markets with their books, like Irenne: 

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