To Translate or Not to Translate


To many of you, the thought has probably entered your head; If I can make money selling my books to the English reading community, why don't I translate them to a bunch of other languages and make even more? Well, there a few things that you might not have considered.

I would say that unless you have a clear reason why you want to translate your book to a different language, as part of a strategy that includes marketing (in a foreign language), think carefully before you attempt it. How much is it going to cost? How difficult is it going to be? What do I hope to achieve exactly? Will it be worth the time, effort and money?

For children's picture books, graphic novels, cook books and other formats with a heavy illustration element the transition could be relatively simple as there is little text and in many cases the images, can be recycled. But to translate a full length novel could be an expensive and complicated endeavour.

Translations are often paid for based on a word count and you can work directly with a translator or with a specialist agency. Useful sites to find out more about translators and fees are and Usually, someone who is specialised in literary translations, will translate the book at a certain rate, then for a lesser rate, another translator will proof read it. Your translator should always be native in the target language. Competition among translators is pretty high and they will often bid to win a contract especially in common languages such as Spanish. However, your book will only be as good as your translator, no two translations of the same work will be alike especially where there is an element of artistic interpretation such as in literary works. I always think that when a novel is translated, aside from the actual storyline and perhaps the perspective, it is not a translation but an entirely different book. It is impossible to translate literally and faithfully without losing the magic, so really the book is rewritten in a different language. After all, languages are not just words. Many times, the translation is very different from the original work but if the writing is good and compelling, sometimes it doesn't matter.

If, for example, you are translating to Spanish, there is enormous regional variation so you probably want a generic Spanish unless your story is based in a specific country and you want that flavour, or you know your potential audience are almost entirely Mexican.. You don't want to alienate readers with a lot of regional dialect vocal. Though its also true that you can't please all of the people all of the time.

The amount your translator will charge may also depend on where they live, or more precisely the strength of the currency where there live.

If you are bilingual, you could do the translation yourself, then work with a native speaker to tweak it for authenticity, then test read it with as many more native speakers as possible to get feedback. Or just pay an editor in the target language.

If your book and circumstances are suited to getting a translation. There are definitely some advantages:

  • Expanding your readership. Reach a whole new market of possible fans
  • Extra income. The obvious upside
  • Less competition. If you can get a few sales it may be easier to climb the rankings -You can recycle many elements of the original book. Style, font and cover (tip: If someone does your artwork, make sure you get to keep a copy of the cover's file with editable layer. Changing the language of the cover should be relatively straight forward.)
  • You can repeat the process. Once you have managed to successfully create a translation of one of your books, you can use the same translator for your others and the whole process will be more streamlined (tip: don't forget that when you get your translation done to include in the price all your promotional material too, e.g. book description, blurb, author bio, an interview etc.)

Monkey Stuff by Rebecca Bielawski Cositas de Monitos by Rebecca Bielawski

The disadvantages to consider are:

  • Dealing with foreign amazon companies. Don't expect to get very far if you have a problem with a book on and try to solve it through
  • Foreign markets may be different in many ways to the ones you are used to dealing with eg. availability of new technology, preference of ebooks or print books, reading habits and trends, book buying habits, reader demographics. Some research will be in order here. You may need to consider whether you need the print version too.
  • Reviews and ranking Foreign Amazon stores are independent and the ranking on one store doesn't directly affect another store's ranking. Also reviews are also independent.
  • You may have no idea what the translated book says. You have to trust that a good job has been done by your translator. Quality control is extremely difficult if you have no knowledge of the target language. You will have to rely largely on reputation and recommendations of other who have used them. It is extremely useful if you know someone who speaks the foreign language in order to get their impressions on all aspects of the writing, are the tone and register adequate? Have the characters been represented as you wish, a million aspects really.
  • Promoting. It's a bit more complicated if you have to work with bloggers, reviewers or the media in the different language.
  • Physical presence. It is more difficult to attend book signings and promotional events when distance and language are issues.


My personal experience is that I have translated two of my children's rhyming picture books into Spanish and am in the process of doing the Spanish versions of a series of three books. I worked as a translator from Spanish to English a few years ago. I translate my books myself, then get several native speakers to edit them (The rhyming is a nightmare!).

On Amazon, sales of my Spanish titles have been very poor. There is little or no reason to leave your foreign title on Select as you can't take advantage of most their promotional tools unless your book is in English, and with the free option my Spanish books seem to be invisible. That said, every book is different and every genre is different and what is clear to me is that if you have books in foreign markets, you need to have a strong marketing plan for them, something which I have not yet done. On the upside, after releasing my Spanish picture books from Amazon exclusivity and going wide, I have seen encouraging sales on GOOGLE PLAY and Draft2Digital outlets. If you think your book is especially suited to a particular foreign market, then go for it, otherwise decide whether it's going to be worth it.