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 ACX.com 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.