One of the best pieces of advice I ever received as an author was to publish as many books in as many places as possible and to sell on as many websites as possible. The writing profession is a numbers game. To win it (meaning making a living as a writer) you need to be where the customers are and sell what they want to read. You cannot achieve it with a single kindle book sold exclusively on Amazon. It won’t happen — or perhaps it could but your chances of winning the lottery or becoming president of the United States are greater if you lay only the one literary egg and sell it from a single basket.
One efficient way of maximising your exposure is to publish in multiple languages, opening your books for sale in more markets with more readers. As popular as English is with Americans, the reality is that globally there are far more readers outside of the United States, readers who prefer to read in their native languages — not English.
For independent authors, there are three primary methods of reaching this global audience in the form of translated editions 1) contract with a traditional publisher offering translation services, 2) Utilize a royalty share-based translation platform, and 3) hire an independent and professionally certified translator.
I personally use all three. Here are the pros and cons of each.
My Chinese language editions are published with Fiberead, a Beijing-based fusion publisher slash translation service using royalty share to pay the translation team. It works similar to many self-publishing platforms. You fill out a form about your book, provide Fiberead with both the current and blank versions of your cover art, and upload it to their system. A team of translators is recruited and eventually your book is published in Chinese.
blank copy of the cover for Ghosts of the Past that was submitted to Fiberead.
Pros: Getting a contract is relatively painless. It’s a straight forward process setting up your title with them. Publishes to Amazon China, iBooks, and several Asia market retailers unknown to most Americans. No upfront costs to the authors. All the technical details of the publishing process is handled by the publisher; once submitted the author does not touch her book again. Cover art is done by in-house designers from the blank cover provided by the author.
Cons: Once your title is set up, you have little to no control over the book. Author has no input on the translators chosen or quality of the translation. Contract empowers Fiberead with broad editorial powers, including over book content (they can re-write your book if they wish to). Royalty share rate is (currently) 30% for the author — forever. Fiberead forbids translators from providing authors with copies of the final work. Authors cannot control or even suggest the sale price. So for example Boudicca, Britain’s Queen of the Iceni sells for just 1 RMB. Converted to USD the sale price on Amazon China is about 12 cents. At 30% of 12 cents, the per copy payment to me is 3.6 cents USD. It takes 55 copies sold to equal the royalty paid on just 1 copy of the book in English on Amazon.com. Once a book sells, Fiberead does not release any funds to the author until the author earns $50 USD. As you can see from the above figure, that takes a long time. Fiberead does not promote your book either — that’s your responsibility. And if you want a copy to quote from, you must buy it yourself.
Royalty Share Translation Program – Babelcube
The second option for independent authors is to use a royalty share translation platform such as Babelcube which is what I use. Very similar in format to Amazon’s ACX audiobook publishing platform, authors fill out a form with book details and the book copy for consideration by translators in several languages including Spanish, French, Italian, German, Japanese, and Portuguese. Not every language is offered, notably Chinese, but authors are able to upload books published in any language so long as the book is sold on Amazon. Once the book is completed and approved, authors initiate the publication process on both digital (primary) and paperback options.
Babelcube’s incremental payment scale.
Pros: royalty share works on an incremental scale based on royalties earned, no upfront costs to the author, creative control over the final published work, ability to edit pricing and other details by re-publishing after the initial publication, some control over who translates the work. Authors are able to leave reviews for each translation.
Cons: authors need the technical ability to custom format their own work and correct certain errors that can come up in the publishing process. Not all the translators are professionally certified nor in possession of appropriate technical skills. Not all desired languages are available. Some languages offer very few translator choices.
The third and final option is, in most respects, the most traditional. Translators are available globally and discoverable online through search engines, social media, or in the case of my work with Gwenlli Haf of Cyfieithu Amnis Translation, through a personal recommendation from a mutual professional acquaintance. Translation fees are typically word count based, a format familiar to authors who hire professional editors. A down payment is typically required at the time both parties sign the contract. At project completion translators then invoice the author for the balance due. Only upon payment in full is the work released to the author for self publication.
Pros: translators are typically professionally certified with some level of guarantee built into the contract. Authors and translators are able to negotiate precise terms for the project so the details (such as publishing rights) are clear before the work begins. Upfront payment to translator; the author keeps all royalties upon payment of the invoice unless other terms are specified in the contract. Creative control across the entire process.
Cons: word counts in different languages are not uniform, making it easy for the author to underestimate the final word count for the translation. Translators and authors are typically residents of different countries and using different currencies with exchange rates and currency exchange fees varying widely.
Independent authors benefit greatly from expanding into larger, more global marketplaces by offering their books in multiple languages. In my personal experience with all three options, hiring a translator offered me the most flexibility and creative control which I, like many independent authors, tend to value. The professionally certified skills of independent translators offers security and confidence in the quality of work offered. However as with any upfront professional service such as editors and illustrators, this option requires considerable pre-publication investment. Of the royalty share options, the translation publication platform offers a balanced approach. Though great care must be taken in choosing the translator, the author is able to avoid upfront costs while maintaining creative control. The royalty share split is typically fair to both author and translator.
One important lesson learned from all of this: traditional publishing contracts offer less and less value to independent authors. Therefore 21st century authors seeking to prosper in the new publishing market increasingly thrive by handling as much of the publishing process as possible rather than defer to traditional publishers whose contracts increasingly work against the author’s interest, costing authors more while offering less value.