Want to reach more readers by translating your book into foreign languages? Be sure to read this article to see if it’s a good idea for your business.
Many indie authors are interested in translating their books into other languages to reach as many readers as possible.
As the publishers of our work, we own the rights to translate our words into any language, which is pretty amazing.
However, translating books can become an expensive endeavor with very little return if you don’t think through every aspect of the publishing process.
Foreign publishers contacting you
Sometimes, a foreign publisher will contact you offering their translation and publishing services of your book into their language.
I recommend hiring a foreign rights agent to help you negotiate these contracts so you get the best deal possible.
Contacting foreign rights agents
John Penberthy received almost $40,000 in advances when he sold the foreign rights for his motivational self-help book, To Bee or Not to Bee, to multiple foreign literary agents.
He researched the email addresses of foreign literary agents and sent them a descriptive email, including a link to his book trailer.
This effort resulted in offers and translation rights in Korean, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Slovenian, Chinese, and Romanian.
He said, “I strongly recommend using literary agents (as opposed to contacting publishers directly); they are worth their weight in gold.”
If you’re interested in learning more about translating your fiction/nonfiction, head to ALLI’s blog on how to sell your foreign rights.
For children’s book authors, keep reading.
You’ve been warned—this is about to get ugly.
Translating Children’s Books—especially those that rhyme
Working with foreign rights agents may work well for straightforward fiction and nonfiction, but it’s a different story when it comes to children’s books—particularly books written in rhyme.
Balancing proper rhyme, meter, story plot, and reader interest is difficult to do in any language and often doesn’t translate well.
Rhyming books will never translate directly between any two languages (nothing ever does), and the language for children needs to be applicable.
This always results in the creation of a new storyline.
Oh, and you’ll need a snappy new title with market appeal in your target language.
A revised storyline requires one of two approaches:
—commissioning new illustrations ($), or
—shoehorning your new story to match your existing illustrations.
Translating a rhyming children’s book can become quite expensive for the indie publisher and difficult to market if you don’t know the language.
My experience translating English rhymes into Swedish
When I originally planned to publish my books in two languages—my native English and my adopted language Swedish—I didn’t fully grasp the consequences of my idea.
I was naive in thinking that since my books were short children’s books, we could find words that rhyme in both languages.
It doesn’t matter if your books are 300 words or 3,000—if there is rhyming involved, you might want to reconsider taking on this arduous task yourself and pay a foreign rights agent their hard-earned 20%.
Merely finding a Swedish author to help me take on this task took a few months.
I reached out to numerous children’s book authors who wrote in Swedish rhyme, but nobody seemed interested. It’s a tough job!
I finally connected with a local author, Veronica Linarfve, who was a delightful collaborator and relished sinking her teeth into a new project so different from her novels.
Veronica had to do the heavy lifting as I could not offer intelligent alternatives to improve the meter. I can barely trust my ears to hear meter cadence in English, let alone detect it in my second language.
Fortunately, Veronica is super talented and stuck with me. We found words that worked and Swedish kids and parents absolutely love the book.
Ohh, but merely translating the words does not a book make.
You may need new illustrations ($$)
Fortunately, I was able to crosswalk most of the existing illustrations from the English version and repurpose them for the Swedish book.
Kevin the ghost needed a new costume with the words “Bus eller godis” but otherwise remained the same
Other considerations included a new book title, book cover design, title page, copyright page, ISBN, updated sales page description, and a marketingplan.
You’re definitely going to need a new title
Your translated work may have a completely different title based on the market appeal and genre of your book.
“When the clock strikes…” is a well-known phrase in English, but it doesn’t mean anything in Swedish.
The new title has to mean something to potential readers, so we changed it to, “Vi firar halloween” (Swedes don’t capitalize their titles like we do in the US/UK) which translates to, “We celebrate Halloween.”
It doesn’t have quite the same gravitas as “When the Clock Strikes…” but Swedish readers are enjoying it and that’s the most important part.
How are you going to market your translated book(s)?
Oh yeah, marketing, don’t forget about that! No book sells itself, and neither will your translated book(s).
If you don’t know the language, you’re going to struggle to get it in front of potential readers. Google Translate will only take you so far.
Writing persuasive copy in your native language is tough and now you’re in charge of doing it in a foreign language? Ehh, ok.
I live in Sweden, so I can take my book around to markets and stores and sell it in-person.
If you’re translating your book into Korean and you live in the US, how are you going to get it in front of Korean readers?
My long-term solution is to get my Swedish books into the Swedish version of Amazon (bokus.se) via a local fulfillment center.
Until I can get the books in circulation, I’m selling them on my Shopify website, which has been quite simple to set up and get moving.
I’m directing traffic to that site via Facebook ads.
None of this is remotely easy as I’m working in my minority language.
Again, Google Translate can only do so much.
US-based solutions, like Shopify, are super helpful but their buttons aren’t in every language so some English may remain on your page.
Here’s what my Swedish book looks like on my Swenglish Shopify page.
An Alternative Solution for Rhyming Books
But wait! I don’t come to you with only problems, I also offer potential solutions.
Tamara Rittershaus is an experienced poetry coach and editor living in Mexico.
Her family is trilingual, and she understands the need for books to be available in multiple languages.
“You need a translator and editor experienced with stories for children, because translating stories is it’s own art form,” Tamara explains.
“The translated text not only has to convey the story itself, but the jokes and puns still have to be funny, the language rich and beautiful, and the vocabulary simple and accessible to children.”
Tamara has teamed up with other bilingual professionals to offer translation services for children’s book authors in English and Spanish.
If your story is in rhyme, you have options:
1. The story in verse can be translated as a story in prose. A good translator can use rich language to bring your story to life without using rhyme and rhythm.
2. The story can be translated to have a lyrical, rhythmic feel, but not be in rhyme. This is a step harder for the translator. He/she will need the freedom to change small details, like the order of words or the details described, to make the meter work.
3. The story can be translated into poetry in the target language. Most likely, this is only possible with straightforward texts. It will probably require editing some details of your story and maybe even changing the illustrations. Depending on the topic and tone of your story, it may not be possible.
Note that Option 3 is the path I chose for my Eng-Swe books. I wouldn’t really recommend it to everyone.
Be sure to contact Tamara about these options and discuss your manuscript with her team.
They can help you decide which option is best for your story.
Pro tip: Wait until your manuscript is FINAL before attempting any translations whatsoever
If you’re publishing two separate editions —an English edition and a Spanish edition— wait for translation services until everything in your original version is finalized.
If you’re still making changes to your text or illustrations, it’s not time to start another language edition yet.
If you’re publishing a bilingual edition, you need to have your bilingual text ready for the illustrator early on so he/she can create the space required for the text within each illustration. As you make changes, you’ll need both an English and a Spanish editor to review the finished manuscript before publication.
Tamara and her team offer a complete translation & editing service:
– Professional translation services
– Professional editing in English and Spanish
– Digital text placement for your bilingual or Spanish edition
They also offer marketing assistance to help you sell all of those beautiful books you had painstakingly translated.
I will admit that I was a bit ambitious with my first books and eager to get them to market despite it taking an entire year.
It will take time for me to get the books into Swedish circulation but I know that it’ll be successful once it does. We learn by doing, which is often a bit painful and expensive, but that’s how we make progress.