Translating Your Book – Is It Worth It?

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There are a lot of people in the world who do not speak English as their native language.  Even most of the people who can get by in English on vacation or for business reasons probably prefer their native language when it’s time to kick back and read a book.

So clearly, if your book is available in their language, it’ll sell more copies! “Where can I get started?”

Not so fast – translating a book is a difficult, time consuming endeavor that is going to cost a lot of money if done properly.

It’s not enough to sort of speak another language – the translator must be a native speaker of the language they are translating to.  For instance, many years ago when I did translations, I would only translate to English (my native language) from Italian (the other language I speak) even though there’s probably more of a market to translate into Italian from English.  To properly translate something, you have to read it and understand it completely – the nuances and subtle meanings and everything else – and then rewrite in your own language in a way that both preserves the original meaning and sounds good.  Most people know that literal translations are not very good, but beyond that, you need to capture the tone and style of the author as much as possible, while still writing something that sounds good in the target language.  Even the reading part of the process, let alone the rewriting, is fairly involved, as you can’t just cruise through the book, enjoying it.  You have to read and fully digest every single phrase.  Then you have to go through, again, reading, writing, and reorganizing, a bit at a time.

It’s a very time-intensive process, but one you don’t want to try and get done on the cheap, because the people reading the results are going to think that the shoddy work is probably your fault, as the author.  Even determining who is a good translator and who isn’t is not an easy process – without speaking the language, you can only go on reputation!

In other words, the whole thing is a headache that you, as a new author, don’t need.  Build up some profits from your writing, and worry about translating when you’re comfortably established as an author, and can afford to get things done properly.

5 thoughts on “Translating Your Book – Is It Worth It?

  1. Technically, Czech is my native tongue. Since I’ve used English as my second native tongue for most of my life, I am equally fluent in both and able to translate even the most complex texts from one to the other with simultaneous ease.
    I completely agree with your point that translating any literary work is quite different from reading a book. On the other hand, as a translator I rarely just read a book. I am always running a concurrent version in my head, appreciating metaphors, stopping at a catchy phrase that would make absolutely no sense if translated per verbatim and figuring it out, playing word games. Translating is not a task if you are simply in love with words.
    As a nation, Czechs are literate, well-read people with true hunger for new authors, especially North American ones. Be it fiction, non-fiction or anything in between, as far as any Czech reader is concerned, Canadian and US writers rule. I would suggest that it would be a wise move for any successful author to consider a Czech translation of his or her work.
    Of course, I would be thrilled to work with writers interested in Czech editions of their works. And yes, I would be happy to read and re-read, digest and evaluate, absorb each author’s style and provide a fluid translation of the author’s voice.
    If you know of anybody who may be interested, please let me know.

    • Hi,

      Sounds like you’re pretty good at what you do. LiberWriter has a lot of customers who are unsure of themselves as authors though, in the sense that they want to see how far they can go, but don’t know, just yet. Our advice to them is to make sure their book is selling well in their home markets prior to investing a lot of money in a quality translation.

  2. Thanks – and yes, your advice to your clients is totally sound. Sometimes, though, there are certain types of books that may never make it here, and yet readers in a foreign country may turn them into a reasonable success. It all depends…. a good tearjerker romance fused into a Western setting, or a hero lawman chasing bad guys, or a decent travel guide, or a farm-based cook book….

    Yep, a quality translation is not cheap, and there really is no other option. However, for someone whose next meal does not depend on a potential sale of a couple of on-demand copies, exploring foreign markets may not be a bad idea.

    Plus, a good translator is not going to spend time on junk, I mean – we do have to read it. If an author’s tome is something I could write, it’is not going to make it here or there, and I would be the first one to let that author know. As translators we are pretty good judges of what may be in demand in a given foreign market.

    Good luck to all your authors.

  3. There is a big problem with Kindle Direct Publishing, it only supports a few languages(Czech is not on the list).
    However, I see books written in non-supported languages available in Kindle format on Amazon. Those books are from small authors, not big publishers.
    Is it actually possible to publish on Kindle in a non-supported language these days?

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