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Translating your book: easier than you may think

As a fairly successful indie author, I've often wondered about new ways to market my work. The most obvious ones are TV/film rights and foreign rights. 

I've had queries about both of those, first from a Spanish publishing house and then from some seriously big-time movie producers. Unfortunately neither came to anything and, without an agent to push me, it seemed like those markets would forever go untapped.

However, I have used Amazon's ACX programme to find a narrator who turned all my books into audio versions, and it seemed to me like a similar system could work for translations. There's a huge market out there for, particularly, German and Spanish ebooks and, if I could just find someone with the skills, surely they could translate my books for me? 

Searching the internet suggested I was right. There's a website called UpWork, where an author can post a job, with all their requirements, and wait for offers from professional translators prepared to take on their project. Very much like ACX in fact.

Before you start it's important to look at your books and the target market. You might write in different genres and what works in one country might not in another. Do Germans care about romance novels? Are Spaniards interested in dystopian sci-fi? I can't answer either of those questions, but, in my own case, I spoke to some German readers of mine who had really enjoyed my novels in their English versions, and asked their advice on what would work best for their fellow countrymen.

My full-length novels are based on Robin Hood, but he's not so big in Germany. I do have a novella, Knight of the Cross, starring a medieval Hospitaller knight though, and my readers thought that would be perfect for the market. Being a novella it was also a safer option than a novel, since it's only a quarter of the length of my novels and translators charge by word count so, if the translation bombs, I won't be that much out of pocket.

So, after you've decided on your market and which book to have translated: post your job on UpWork and find someone to work with.

You can post a sample of your book for translators to work on and send you their results. I suggest keeping it fairly short – maybe about 3-500 words. Long enough to get a feel for the translator's work, but not so long that some will refuse to do it. Time is precious after all.

If you don't speak the language you're having the book translated into you'll need to have someone you can trust to help you out. I was very lucky to have two excellent readers who gave me feedback on each translation that came in and helped me make my decision. You really will need to find someone to assist you there, so make sure you have that in place before you begin this process. 

I had one guy in particular who sent a hugely professional cover letter, had a fantastic CV and even had one translation already under his belt on Amazon. I fully expected his sample to be the best, so I was surprised when both my readers said his work was stilted and unnatural and more suited to a non-fiction book. It hammered home to me the importance of beta-readers who are fluent in the language you're trying to work in.

Once you have some great samples from translators you can look at their fees and make your decision who to hire. To give you an idea of costs, I can tell you I was quoted between $500-$3000 for my 22,000 word novella. Don't let the higher prices put you off though, as you might find the translators asking the lower figures are the best. Put your sample out there and see who applies. If the quotes are way above what you can afford, you haven't lost anything other than a little time – posting a job on UpWork is free.

So, you've found your translator, agreed a fee and a timescale, and they've started work. Funding is done directly through the UpWork site: you send them the money via credit card and they release it to your translator once certain goals are completed, which you can set yourself.

When my translator, Susanne Döring completed each section of her work I forwarded it to my German beta-readers who gave me feedback, which I passed on. Luckily Suzanne was open to their suggestions so the whole process was very easy for me although, ultimately, I bowed to my translator's opinion. If she disagreed with some feedback I let her have the final say – she was the one I was paying after all.

That really was the hardest part of the whole process though, it has to be said as I like to be in control of every aspect of my books. From the formatting to the editing to the cover art, I'm very hands-on and ultimately have the final say. I know what I want and I make sure I get it. But it's a different matter when you can't speak the language your book's being translated into! I actually had some people asking me if I was using Google Translate, but pasting a simple phrase into that will show you it's out of the question if you value your work. Even a simple phrase like “Out now!” can be written in different ways in German as I found out. Similarly, the title, Knight of the Cross, could have been translated into Der Kreuzritter or Ritter des Kreuzes, both having slightly different meanings.

So, all you can do is find a translator you trust and leave them to it.

Once you have your completed manuscript it's just a matter of uploading your new cover art, translated blurb and author bio to the publishing platform you're using. Amazon actually have different Author Central pages for different countries, so make sure you update the particular one your new version is aimed at with your translated bio and, if necessary, a more appropriate photo for that country.

Pricing is something you'll have to think about yourself. It seems obvious that a lower price will attract more readers but as I've recently found that's not always the case. A higher price will also grant you a greater royalty on Amazon's KDP so, in my opinion, you should be looking at 2.99 euros as a minimum, even for a novella.

To get the word out, you already have a couple of beta-readers, so ask them to leave reviews once the book is published as it's always good to get some honest opinions early on. 

It also doesn't hurt to advertise and let people know your new book is available. For Ritter des Kreuzes I've been running a Goodreads ad along with a forthcoming giveaway for signed copies of the paperback version, and a Facebook ad targeted to German speakers. I'm not talking about spending a lot of money here, even £20 is enough to build awareness. My novella has been out for a few days now and is already in the top 20 for Historical Fantasy which is way, way higher than any of my English-language books have ever reached in Germany.

The early success of Ritter des Kreuzes has convinced me it's worthwhile translating my work into other languages and, in fact, I've already commissioned a Norwegian version of my debut novel,Wolf's Head, during which I learnt a valuable lesson about marketing for different countries. In all my press photos I'm wearing a Polish metal band's hoodie, but I've been told by my Norwegian translator it would be better PR for me to have new photos taken wearing a Scandinavian band's shirt. It's a small point, but just goes to show how marketing is affected by every aspect of an author's public face.

Overall, I've found the translation process to be quite easy and straightforward. You need to be careful with some things – for example your book's title in German might infringe copyright laws which wouldn't be an issue in other countries – but for the most part it's been simple enough. 

Since I published Wolf's Head almost three years ago my philosophy has been to put a good portion of my writing earnings back into marketing and exploring new markets like audio. It seems foreign rights will be my next adventure. I'd recommend you look into it yourself – you never know, with the right title and cover art, the Japanese might just love that unsellable horror novel you published five years ago! 

Steven A. McKay lives in Scotland with his wife and two children. He is currently working on Blood of the Wolf, the fourth and final novel in his bestselling Forest Lord series. You can find him at his website, on Facebook, or Twitter.