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SPQ 060: Foreign Translations: 4 Ways to Reach a Foreign Market

Written by Steve Scott on March 23, 2015. Listen to SPQ: iTunes | Stitcher | RSS Feed
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Thank You Word Cloud printed on colorful paper different languages

The Question

Eric of Copy Dojo, and author of “Mastermind Your Business,” asks: My question is about translating your self-published books. Is this something you’ve done? If yes, what languages have you focused on? If not, is it something you’re considering for the future? Finally, is translation something you’d recommend to other self-published authors as a means of generating additional revenue?

Biggest Takeaway

Steve’s Answer

Steve loves this question because this is something he’s currently testing. He thinks the ebook market is growing outside the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The short answer is yes, it’s something he’s testing and he recommends that people do it.

Once you start getting into foreign translations, you need to understand your rights, especially exclusivity. If you’re not careful with contracts, you can lose some of your rights. Before you start working on foreign translations, check out The Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook.

Steve has been testing this strategy for about eight months, so he recommends four different tactics you can use.

  1. Sell rights to other countries.

This is easy to do but hard to systematize. If a book is selling well, companies will often come to you and ask you to sell the rights to your books. Steve has done this, but it’s hard to find some of these companies. He has sold his rights to ten different companies, but it’s hard to find other companies in the industry.

One of the resources he found is PubMatch.com, which has a large database of agents and traditional publishers in other countries. Steve hasn’t really solicited any of these companies because it seems like cold emailing, and he’s not really comfortable doing that.

Steve has sold rights in Russian, simple and complex Chinese, Polish, Czech, Thai, and other languages. The prices are pretty good. It’s around $900 to about $4,000 per deal. Since he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to publish books in these countries on his own, it’s like found money.

Steve prefers publishing in languages where you don’t have any ability to publish via a platform like Amazon.com or Kobo. He keeps the rights for his books in Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Hindi. These markets are growing, so he wouldn’t have to go through a publishing company to publish in those languages.

This is a very lengthy process. It might take four to six months—or more—before you ever see a payment. Steve sometimes forgets to check for payments because it takes so long.

  1. Use a site like Babelcube.com.

This site is similar to ACX. They host and market the book, acting as an intermediary. You get on the site, find a translator, and do a revenue-sharing arrangement. It does require some effort because you have to make sure the book is formatted correctly. You also have to make sure you get a translated ebook cover.

Steve has done a total of 14 translations on Babelcube, making a whopping total of $400. He also feels he’s lost the rights to 14 of these translations because you have to sign a five-year deal. It’s like working with a traditional publishing company because you lose your rights and don’t get much in return.

Steve emailed Babelcube a few days ago to see if he could get back the rights to those books. They responded favorably, stating that if it was okay with the translator, he could have his rights back. He plans to give the translator some money so she gets paid for her efforts.

Steve doesn’t like how the company is structured, but it seems like they are willing to work with authors. They are not as strict about contracts as other companies. BabelCube might be a good option if you don’t have any other options.

  1. Work with a marketing/translation partner.

This is Steve’s favorite strategy right now. He has been pretty successful with this in the German and Brazilian Portuguese languages. You want to find someone who can not only do the translation, but work hard to market the book.

You really want to draft a contract with this person. The contract should have business language. Your contract might say that you supply the book, some guidance, and a partial investment. The marketing/translation partner might be responsible for providing the translation, marketing support, and a partial investment.

You also want to make sure the translator uploads to your author dashboard. Steve wouldn’t take advantage of a partner, and everybody he has hired has been honest, but he wants to maintain control over how the book is marketed and presented.

It’s also necessary to pay for editing. You don’t want to publish a translated book until you have an editor go through and make sure the book is as good as it could be. Have your partner find some beta readers to leave reviews. Do a 50/50 split with your partners and start using KDP Select to get some initial sales.

When you get started, test one book to see how it works in a particular language before you scale up. This can help you avoid wasting time and money.

  1. Pay for translation.

Steve is currently testing this option. With this strategy, you take the idea of a revenue split out of the equation. You find someone who is good at translating in a particular language. You have full control and keep all of the profits.

Steve recommends trying this in languages you can upload directly to Kindle Direct Publishing: Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, and Italian. There are a lot of people who speak these languages, and ebooks are a growing market for these languages.

Take a look at your books and see which ones sell the best before you decide which ones to translate. The drawback of using this strategy is the significant investment required. It can cost five to ten cents per word for translation, and you also have to pay for cover design, translation, and formatting. It can be $2,000 or more to finish a translated title.

Steve recommends five steps to using this strategy.

  1. Post a job to Elance.com or Odesk.com to find a translator. Don’t hire someone right out of the gate.
  1. Find two to three translators. Pay them to translate 400 to 500 words of your book.
  1. When you get the samples back, go to Fiverr to find a proofreader in that language.
  1. Ask for honest feedback about the translations. Some words don’t translate well in other languages, so you want to make sure your translated book makes sense.
  1. Hire the best translator. Work with this person you feel has the best overall translation skills.

From here, you should scale your business. You can make good money by adding more of your existing books in a particular language. You could also have your lead magnet translated into another language so you can build new email lists. Steve did this with Brazilian Portuguese.

You should also run KDP Select promos to get a lot of visibility in other languages. Then scale by translating your books to more languages.

Steve is really excited about the possibilities with creating foreign-language titles. Amazon UK and Amazon Australia are becoming very competitive platforms. You need to think about how you are going to leverage your content.

Resources and Links

Mastermind Your Business: Learn how to start a successful mastermind group to grow your business

Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook: Protect yourself by learning about contracts and other legal issues faced by business owners

PubMatch: A database of agents and publishing companies for people interested in buying or selling international book rights

Babelcube: Connect with translators and sell your book globally

SPQ on Facebook: Get exclusive content from Steve of SPQ

  • With the rise of the Spanish-speaking population in the US I think having a book in English and Spanish will soon be a table stake in the self-publishing game.

    • Yes, I could see that. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen my books sell that well in Spanish speaking countries–even the ones that are translated. I’m definitely going to explore this language, but I think it’s a matter of waiting until more Spanish speakers adopt the eBook reading platform.

      • Oludayo Bewaji

        Hi Steve, am sorry I have to digress from the subject of discussion. I bought your book- ‘how to write a non-fiction eBook in 21 days’ and it was really awesome and fantastic. Have been writing about career advice for some time now with the aim of publishing offline until i came across your book, hence i decided to self publish on eBook platform. However i cannot commit to the 2hrs per day recommended in your book at the moment due to a few overwhelming commitments. I was wondering if you could link me to a dependable freelance writer who can write in an engaging and easy to read manner. Thanks.

  • Pingback: Self-Publishing: T is for…translation | Elodie Nowodazkij()

  • Pingback: Translation For Indie Authors Plus Profanación in Spanish | The Creative Penn()

  • Elena Tereshchenkova

    Hi Steve, thanks for sharing you experience! I’m a professional translator and it’s always interesting for me to read about authors who self-publish their translations.

    A small addition: now you can actually self-publish your translations in Russia. There’s a new platform that allows you to do that. It’s called Ridero. Unfortunately, their website is not localized, but they have English speaking personal assistants and I’m sure the translator you’ll be working with will be happy to help you with that as well.

    Another thing I feel is important to point out is that general freelancing websites are not the best place to find translators. Fiverr is not a place where I would look for proofreaders either. Few professional translators use such websites to find clients and it can result in the low quality of the translation (perhaps that’s the reason for the low sales of your books in the Spanish speaking countries).

    I have a series of blog posts for indie authors on my website with more information on both topics. Let me know if it’s ok to share the links here.

    • Elena Tereshchenkova

      Oh, and by the way: have your books been published in Russia?