Babelcube beware: what authors need to know before signing a Babelcube contract

Boudicca German web

The German edition of Boudicca was beautifully translated by Christina Loew. Thanks to frequent communication and Ms. Loew’s professionalism, the translation process was smooth and easy — exactly what most authors are looking for when joining Babelcube.

If you subscribe to this blog you know that in 2016 I took my books deeper into the global market.  After an exasperating fore into the Chinese market via Fiberead, I had high hopes for Babelcube, a platform for translation that mirrors many of the features familiar to authors who use Amazon’s site for audio production.  But as with ACX, successful production and publication requires understanding the system and knowing how — and when — to walk away from something that is not working.

The ability to walk away is important for independent authors because a poorly translated book is damaging to the author’s brand; it reflects on the author as much if not more so than the original editions written by the author in her or his native language.  Therefore an author’s career is at stake each time the author signs a translation contract.  Don’t mess with this, my friends.  As much as you want to be sweet and nice when it comes to dealing with potential translators your life depends on you being picky and walking away when you can from any deal or possible deal that doesn’t uphold your author brand.

The first place you can walk away is when a translator first sends you an offer to translate.  This is the best time to fully vet the candidate.  Don’t skimp on this and do not feel obligated to accept any particular offer. We all want to be nice and we want to give people their break into a new career.  The problem with doing that is you may end up with poor quality work because the person has never been tested in the professional world as a translator.  Before signing anything TALK TO THE TRANSLATOR — don’t just look at the profile and give the person the benefit of the doubt because s/he seems likable.  Remember that this is a form of job interview and treat it as seriously as any job interview you’ve been on.  If anything does not smell right or you aren’t sure of anything at all politely decline.

But let’s say you’ve accepted the contract.  The next place and final place you can walk away is when the translator submits the first ten pages. In evaluating these, don’t just look at the words on the page but the FORMATTING because, as with your own books you self-publish, the formatting and editorial can make or break the book.  If anything seems like you would not submit those ten pages as a stand alone, polished work DECLINE THEM — this is your last and ONLY chance to get out of the contract.  Despite what you may see in the system, this is the actual point of no return for you.  Once those ten pages are accepted you are committed to publishing the book — no matter the quality of the final product you are given.

And this is the part that no one ever mentions to you:  you cannot decline to publish a completed book on Babelcube — even though there is a button in the review process that says “decline this translation.”

What happens if you do hit the “decline” button?  Firstly you are asked to confirm and warned that confirming the decline will open a dispute with Babelcube.  What this means is that they will investigate and make a ruling.  If they rule for you, the translator has to fix the errors.  If they rule against you then you owe the translator an undisclosed amount of money.  But the system doesn’t tell you that.  I found out by asking via email after I reviewed the final document on one of my books and deemed it of such poor quality that I was not comfortable with continuing.

In essence you have to approve the final book.  You can ask for some changes (hit “return” and then send a message to the translator to do so), but you actually DO have to hit “accept translation” and then publish the book. “Reject translation” means you are willing to pay for the translator’s time for a book that you will not publish.

For most people it’s far cheaper to enlist the help of someone outside of Babelcube’s system to help you fix the document so you can publish — which is exactly what I am doing right now.

This is why it is critically important that you wait until each translation is complete before signing another contract with a translator. Even after publishing one or two books all the way through the process (meaning the book is live Amazon, iBooks, Scribd, etc.) with a translator, my experience shows that it is best to only contract one book at a time with a specific translator.  Life happens and schedules change.  Limiting yourself to one contract at a time per translator helps everyone balance time and priorities to the satisfaction of all parties and empower everyone to create the best work possible.

In summary, Babelcube can be an excellent platform for translating books into multiple languages.  But success with it requires the author always beware of its inner workings and courageous enough to walk away from any project that does not meet expectations either before the contract is signed or when receiving the first ten pages.

This is your brand.  Protect it.

12 thoughts on “Babelcube beware: what authors need to know before signing a Babelcube contract

  1. October 23, 2016

    Dear Laura,

    I just read your article: “Babelcube beware: what authors need to know before signing a Babelcube contract.”

    Are you saying that before you accept a final translation you get someone to fix its problems and then insist translator fix them? And if she or he refuses, you don´t publish. But maybe you´ll have to pay a fee for translator´s time? And, of course, if the translation is really bad, maybe not.

    Or are you saying that after you accept, you get someone to fix the problems? Then you publish with these changes? But you do this without securing translator´s approval, even though her or his name is shown as the translator, which IMO; legally represents that translation with those changes were translator´s work?

    I hope it´s not the latter because as a lawyer, in my legal opinion that´s misrepresenting.

    Respectfully, I think you should clarify what you are recommending. And if it´s the latter, I suggest you consult your attorney.

    Thanks for listening.

    • I think you completely misunderstand my article explaining how Babelcube works.

      I am explaining that authors need to be very careful when evaluating the work of a prospective translator because after the author approves the first ten pages of a translation, the author is contractually required to publish. Up until that point, Babelcube allows authors to cancel the contract (which is royalty share in all cases). If you approve those first ten pages and then find some defect in the work you have no recourse against the translator. The translator doesn’t have to fix anything — but you do have to publish it.

      • Yes, Laurel, you did say that. And I do understand.

        But you´re not answering my question as to whether you´re recommending that an author accept a final translation, hire someone to fix its problems, and then publish? And she do all this without getting the translator´s approval for these changes?

        That´s my question to you.


      • “The translator doesn’t have to fix anything — but you do have to publish it.”

        Now I’m confused. I thought the author could decline the translation and proceed to a dispute that would be ruled on. Or you could breach the contract and pay a presumed damage amount to the translator. Otherwise, I have a hard time believing that a non-publisher can ever force an author to publish her own independent book.

  2. Babelcube makes you hit “accept final translation.” They make it look like it’s your choice or not, but in fact I found out by speaking to the owners that authors actually DO have to hit “accept.”

    Once the translator submits the book as final, it’s completely out of the translator’s hands. The translator is done with the project. Everything else done with the book from that moment forward becomes the author’s responsibility under contract. That includes all textual editorial, formatting, artwork, etc.

    Does that make sense?

    As for the other remark about when a third person has to come in: I handled that by adding an editorial line to the title page. So by Laurel A. Rockefeller. translator’s named. editor’s name. Babelcube does not allow the editor to participate in the royalty share nor be acknowledged directly in the retail page. But anyone looking at the cover or looking inside the book itself can see that credit.

    • I still don´t think it´s legally correct to edit a translator´s work without her or his permission. Simply crediting a third person as the source of edits does not suffice as permission from the translator. I think it´s a breach of contract.

      But we can agree to disagree: subject closed, ok?

      Aside: I liked your article on the 2nd Amendment.

      • Fair enough! And thank you!

        If everyone agreed about everything we would have a very dull world indeed. So thank you kindly for your remarks. I sincerely hope that this article will help authors be cautious when using Babelcube so they don’t find themselves forced to approve a translation as final and publishing it when the work is not independently publishable. Use the escape window at the 10 page mark. That’s the best way to deal with a project that is not working out!

  3. I’d like to chime in on this issue. First, I am neither a lawyer nor a translator. However, I have been in similar situations before, especially as a former copywriter and now as an editor. Just as with your writing, you are entitled to use an editor, although you do not have to give credit to an editor, It seems Babelcube requires credit for their translator; fine. YOU, the author, still own the work — as demonstrated by the fact you have the right to pay the translator and yet not publish. Unless there is specific language in the contract that prohibits you from obtaining foreign-language editing services after the translation is done, you should still have that right. The translator will get their percentage regardless, at no expense to them. This should be exactly the same as cover art: the artist creates the art, but you should have the right to accept or reject the finished product, or require alterations that more closely represent your novel. Whether or not you can give credit to the “foreign-language editor” becomes another matter, but I don’t see why not as long as you do not call them a co-translator. Ethically as well as legally, how can the translator have the right to “change” what you have written if you do not have the right to ‘fix’ it? They are not the intellectual property owner.

  4. I don’t know if anyone still cares about this comment section, but I am both an author and a translator, wishing perhaps to try Babelcube. I appreciate the advice here for authors. As a potential translator, I am finding that I must try to read the original beginning of a book on my own before deciding whether to translate a sample of it. I simply cannot afford to translate a work that is not well-written and I don’t want to ask authors for samples until I know I want to do it. Potential translators may want to think about.

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