How to translate your book – a guide for digital publishers

One of the benefits of publishing your work online is the potential to reach a global audience. As an author, this presents an opportunity to share your work with as many people as possible. But if you truly want to go global, you will eventually need to translate your work into other languages. English, Spanish, French, German and Chinese are some popular choices. How can you make sure that your translation will reflect the unique qualities of your work and still read well? We prepared a handy checklist to guide your translation efforts.

1. Ask yourself – do you really need your work translated?

The question might seem counterintuitive, but it’s extremely important. Translating your book also means that you will have to allocate extra time and resources for editing and marketing in other languages. Is that something you’re prepared to do? To avoid disappointment and unmet expectations, you should first do some research about the markets where your book has the most potential. Find out how popular your genre is in the countries or regions you’re interested in targeting. Then choose the right language to translate your work into.

2. Find the right translation service

There are hundreds of translation companies and thousands of freelance translators out there. Which one is the right fit for you? The answer will depend on your budget, your specified timeline (how fast you want your translation to be ready) and the quality of the translator’s work. If you’re hiring someone online, look for transparent pricing, samples of their work, and client recommendations or ratings.Some popular sites to find freelance translators include:

There are also professional translation companies who can find the right translator for you (see for instance: Straker Translations or 7brands), but these will typically cost considerably more than a freelance contractor.

3. Send a sample of your work first

Once you’ve identified a number of translators that you’re interested in contacting, we advise that you select 1-3 pages of your book to send to them as a test project. Choose a segment of your work that is most representative of your writing style. If it contains specific idioms or phrases that you consider unique, even better! This will be a good test to see if the translator has a good grasp on what you’re conveying through your work.Sending an excerpt will also help you determine how fast the translation can be done and if you like the person’s work ethic.

4. Take your time: make sure you’ve got the perfect translator to match your work

If you’ve already received your translated excerpts, you’ll want to spend some time comparing them. Ask a friend who speaks the native language to read them with you in order to determine their quality and how well they convey the intricacies of your original writing. If you don’t have a friend who speaks the native language, hire a professional editor who does and ask the editor to review the excerpt (See step 7 for more on hiring an editor). With a bit of help from an editor or a native speaker, you can decide which translator is right for you.

5. Send an NDA

Once you’ve chosen 1 or 2 translators to request a quote from, send them a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). This will give you some extra assurance that the translator won’t use your work for purposes other than the requested translation. Click here for a sample NDA provided by Elance.

6. Polish off your translation briefing and ask for a quote

After receiving your signed NDA, you can move forward with your translation briefing and request a quote. Make sure to specify which names, phrases and words you’d like to keep intact/unchanged in the translation, and include everything that needs to be translated – such as your author bio. In addition, be clear about your chosen deadline. Select the translator based on their ability to match your budget and meet your desired deadline.

7. Hire an editor that speaks the language at a native level

So you’ve received your complete work translated into another language, that’s fantastic! You’re almost there. The next step is to hire an editor that speaks the language at the native level. Hiring somebody neutral to review the complete translation is extremely important. This will help you determine if you need to make revisions before you hit the market. If you hired an editor to review your translated excerpt (as detailed in step 4 above), then contact them again to edit the full translation.

8. Ask a friend to review the translation

Finally, ask a friend to review the translation as well. Ideally, this should be a friend who has read your original work but also speaks the relevant language. If you don’t have a friend who can help you out, hire another editor or a professional book reader who can evaluate the translated work. A second opinion never hurts. Once your translation has been reviewed and polished, you can format your book and start making an action plan to launch it and market it in the region of your choice. Off to world domination!


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