Thursday, July 01, 2021

The Whys and Hows of Novel Translations

By Ariel Tachna

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: Translating a novel into other languages can add to an author’s sales. Ariel Tachna answers some common questions about novel translations.

When Ariel Tachna was twelve years old, she discovered two things: the French language and romance novels. Those two loves have defined her ever since. By the time she finished high school, she’d written four novels, none of which anyone would want to read now, featuring a young woman who was—you guessed it—bilingual. That girl was everything Ariel wanted to be at age twelve and wasn’t.

She now lives near Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with her husband (who also speaks French), her kids (who understand French even when they’re too lazy to speak it back), and their two dogs (who steadfastly refuse to answer any French commands). The cat pretends they’re all beneath her, no matter what language they’re speaking.

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Take it away Ariel…
Ariel Tachna
As the Translations Director of Dreamspinner Press, I get asked the same set of questions frequently, so I thought I’d break them down and share the answers with everyone here at Fiction University.

1. Why should I care about translations?

The answer to this one is easy. Because it’s a way to earn additional money on a book you’ve already written. 

As authors, we want to maximize our income while minimizing our effort. Translations are a great way to do that because they put books in front of an audience that might otherwise not be able to access it, either because it isn’t available in their market or because they don’t read English. After all, when was the last time you read a book in a foreign language? And, an interesting side note, depending on the market, there is a huge untapped potential. 

For example, more books are published in German every year than in the entire English-speaking world. And while the French don’t publish quite as many books as the Germans, they are likewise voracious readers in all genres.

2. How do translations work?

The answer to this one is a little trickier because it depends quite a bit on your personal situation. If you have a contact with a traditional publisher and/or with an agent, read that contract. Okay, you should have already done that before you signed it, but you might not have noticed what your foreign rights clause says. 

Some contracts include foreign rights, meaning the publisher can translate in-house or sublicense your work to a foreign publisher, and you’ll receive the designated percentage of the royalties once the book is available. The nice side of this is you don’t have to do anything—no contacting translators, no paying for a translation, no marketing the translation once it’s done. The downside is you have no control over if or when the book goes into translation.

If your contract doesn’t include foreign rights or if you’re an indie author, then you have the option to arrange translations for yourself. This does require a certain investment of time, money, or both because you’ll either need to approach foreign publishers or find a translator and pay that person, just like you would pay a cover artist, editor, proofreader, audiobook narrator, etc.

3. I’m an indie author and don’t have a publisher. How do I get my book translated?

My first answer to that would be to start with foreign publishers because they have a staff of translators and editors and are equipped to distribute and publicize the translation in their market. 

Just like in the English-speaking market, smaller, independent publishers are showing up in other markets, and these publishers are looking for material to meet their needs. They also have a much better sense of what will and won’t appeal to their readers, so going with a publisher could help you avoid the mistake of translating and publishing a book that won’t appeal to certain markets. The French, German, and Italian markets are particularly rich in small, successful publishers at the moment, and we’re beginning to see small publishers in some of the Asian markets as well.

4. I don’t want to go with a publisher. Can I still get my book translated?

Of course you can, but this is the most time and money heavy option.

First of all, do your research in the market(s) you’re interested in. Look at bestseller lists, both in your genre and overall. You won’t be able to get sales figures, of course, but if you look at a bestseller list in your genre and the books have certain characteristics, you have a better chance of success and recouping your investment if your book shares some of those characteristics. Then look at the overall bestseller lists. Is your genre represented at all? If it isn’t, you may want to consider if the market is a good fit for you.

Once you’ve established that your book is a potential fit for a particular market, you’ll need to find a translator. I’m not a huge proponent of Amazon on the whole, but in this case, it can be useful because you can see reviews, and reviews of translations often include information about the overall quality of the translation, not just of the story. 

Not all translators work freelance, and even those who do don’t always have openings for new clients, but this is a good way to get a list of names—or names to avoid. Other authors published in translation in the market are also a good resource. They can give you names and contact information of people they’ve worked with to good results.

Some translators want a flat-fee payment. Others are willing to work for a percentage of sales. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Not having the upfront costs of a translation is definitely easier on the short-term budget, but you could end up paying the person a lot more in the long run. On the other hand, the translator has a vested interest in how well the book sells and may give you a boost with marketing.

5. I’ve gotten my book translated. Now what?

Now you’ve got to format it and put it out there. Again, do your research. Buy a few books from publishers in the language. Get a sense of the layout of the book if you intend to format it yourself. You’ll also need to get the word out about your book.

One of the best—and least expensive—ways to do that is to find reader groups in your genre and in the language of your translation and to get involved there. But what if you don’t speak the language? In my experience as an author, groups that welcome author participation are generally so excited to have an English-speaking author interested in their market that they’ll work with the author to include them. 

You might also consider paying a native speaker of the language and reader in your genre to promote your book in the reader spaces they frequent. After all, who better than another reader to give a recommendation?

About Home and Away: A Lexington Lovers novel

Taking their shot at love.

University of Kentucky senior Kit Parkins has his life planned out. He’ll graduate, get a good job, find a better apartment, meet the guy of his dreams, and settle down to a happy life near his brother and uncles, the only family he has left. But meeting Lincoln Joyner, UK’s star basketball player, calls all his priorities into question.

Like Kit, Linc knows exactly where life is taking him: to the NBA and as far away from his hardscrabble childhood as possible. There’s just one problem. He falls in love with Kit, who can’t imagine life anywhere but in Lexington.

Can they find a way to keep their relationship going without giving up on their dreams?

Dreamspinner Press 

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