Book translation – where to start

by CJ McDaniel // November 17  
This guest post was written by Louise Taylor. She’s the manager of content for Tomedes, a translation company that provides translation services around the globe, covering over 90 languages.

Publishing your book in your native language (we’ll assume for the sake of this article that it’s English) is a huge undertaking. However, once it’s complete, the sense of accomplishment is well worth the effort. But while the English-reading audience is enormous, there is also a potential market for your book outside English-speaking countries. Especially when you use book translation services.

As the world becomes more globalized, the demand for translated literature is growing.

Having your book translated into other languages by an agency creates an opportunity to increase your revenue and can enable you to become an international author. However, there’s a dearth of easily accessible information out there on how to get started.

This article will guide you through the practical side of book translation. With a little effort, you can add another income stream to your arsenal and open up new opportunities in other markets.

Getting Started with Book Translation

If you’re considering getting your book translated, start by being certain that you are satisfied with the most recent version of it. Make sure the text has been proofread and edited, and that you are happy with the final product. After all, you don’t want the parts of your work that you’re not satisfied with to be translated into other languages!

Next, figure out who your intended audience will be. While you can get your book translated into any language, you should have a solid reason for doing so. Perhaps you want to access a particular target market because of the revenue possibilities. Or maybe you are intent on spreading a specific message so that it has a more global reach.

It is essential that you have a clear and well thought out “why” in mind before you begin. Whatever your motivation for considering translating your book.

If you have a lot of foreign readers visiting your book’s promotional blog or asking if you will be translating it into other languages, this will help sort out which language you should translate it into first. After all, it doesn’t make sense to translate your text into a second or third language if the people in that market are not interested in your subject matter.

A little bit of market research should precede any book translation project. This is a crucial step to determine if it will be worth your investment.

Beware Machine Translation!

The most important thing you will need to decide upon is which translator you will use. Translation software like Google Translate is not up to the task of translating books. Any attempts to use this kind of machine translation engine to translate an entire book will result in an inaccurate and potentially embarrassing translation, which is unlikely to sell well or garner good reviews.

While machine translation is a helpful tool for understanding certain text and phrases in other languages, it is simply not an option for a proper translation.

Technology has advanced in significant ways as far as translation is concerned. There are some excellent software packages out there that professional and literary translators can use to work faster and smarter. These serve as aids to those who undertake translation; however, they don’t undertake the translation itself.

There is no substitute for human translation, whether it’s through a freelance translator or a translation agency.

Using A Freelance Translator

Translation is highly specialized and requires someone who is a native speaker in the language in which you want to publish your work. This is an absolute must.

A bilingual native speaker of the language will be able to translate your book with its meaning intact. Moreover, getting a native speaker to translate a book will save you more time and resources.

It is also helpful if the translator lives and works in the area in which your target audience resides. Every language has variations and rules that may change how your translation is interpreted by your target audience. A translator who understands these differences and can edit your book in such a way that it makes true sense to the locals. These individuals are known as localization specialists.

In some languages or cultures, your book may need a great deal of localization if it is to convey your sentiments adequately. In such cases, be sure to hire a localization professional and explain that pure translation will not suffice. This is a good move if you do not know anything about the language and culture of your target audience.

Jokes, metaphors, slang, comparisons, and much more may need to be altered so your readers can understand them in another language.

Translators who are also localization experts have the job of translating your book as authentically as possible so that it compares well to the original version. This can cost more than a straight document translation; however, it is the best way to achieve a translation that the target readers will be able to relate to.

Quality Control

You will need a native editor who can review your book translation. They see how it stacks up with the original and assesses it in its own right. The editor will need to be bilingual so that he/she can compare the work. This is a crucial step in the literary translation process. Editors of translated books will help with the flow and accuracy of your words, ensuring that your book is of the highest quality for its new audience.

Book Translation - Tips to Start On Your Very Own Way

You can find translation and localization professionals, along with bilingual proofreaders and editors, on freelancing platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer. Be sure to read their reviews before hiring. You can also search online directories found on translation organizations’ websites, or seek these individuals out on social media sites such as LinkedIn.

Working with A Book Translation Company

Another way to publish your book abroad is to work with a company that specializes in hiring the best translators.

A translation agency is probably your safest bet if you want to translate your book into multiple languages. Sometimes the cost of these services can be slightly higher than recruiting a freelancer directly. However, they save you the time and effort of having to locate and hire a freelancer who’s a good translator.

Translation companies focus on projects like book translation every day, so they have plenty of expertise to bring to the process. They are also well-staffed with teams of translators, localization experts, and proofreaders. This can be a safer bet than hiring a freelancer, who could get halfway through translating your book and then break an arm.

Many translation companies even have project coordinators in place to help keep things on track and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Hiring a professional translator, securing your own bilingual proofreader or editor, and drawing up contracts can all seem much easier when you work with a company that offers all-in-one translation services and can take care of these tasks for you.

When hiring a translation agency…

Before hiring a translation agency, you need to tally the entire cost of the project. It’s also worth establishing who your contact person will be, how frequently you can speak with him/her, and how long the project will take. Don’t forget to put in place a solid agreement that you will retain full rights to your translated book.

As you can see, there are a few things to consider before you translate your book into another language. Each author will have different, and sometimes very personal, reasons for wanting to undertake their book translation. While it is a financial investment to consider carefully, it can have many benefits.

Translating your book can expand your world and put you in touch with people you would never have met, paying off in rich cultural experiences. Moreover, it can also serve as another source of income from your writing. Finally, there’s also the badge of honor: Once you have published your translated book, you can call yourself an international author—and who could possibly not like that idea?

Translating Books for Self Publishing on KDP, Createspace & Babelcube

A video by Self-Publishing with Dale on translating books  on Self Publishing on KDP, Createspace & Babelcube

Author Bio

Louise Taylor manages content for Tomedes, a translation company that provides translation services around the globe, covering over 90 languages. Louise has worked in the translation industry for many years. She holds qualifications in multiple languages.


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About the Author

CJ grew up admiring books. His family owned a small bookstore throughout his early childhood, and he would spend weekends flipping through book after book, always sure to read the ones that looked the most interesting. Not much has changed since then, except now some of those interesting books he picks off the shelf were designed by his company!