The Quick Guide to Book Translation

There’s nothing more important to an author than helping their book sell well. Think about it. If it’s the source of your livelihood, then you need to ensure you’re always drawing in new audiences to keep making sales. But how do you keep on drawing new readers to make that happen? One popular answer would be resorting to book translation.

Book translation

We all know that English is a universal language, one people from all around the globe utilize on a daily basis. While that may be true, these same people might not necessarily enjoy reading in it. It makes sense then to approach them in a language they’re more likely to enjoy and be comfortable in. That’s why most writers opt for translating their books.

Is Book Translation the Right Choice?

The first question to ask yourself when it comes to your book is whether or not translating it is going to be worth the effort. If you really think about it, it depends on the market you’re trying to approach. Every country can have a specific niche or interest. If your book adheres to that, then maybe it’s worth the effort. Believe it or not, at times, books and other media fare better in translation than they ever did in their original language.

A good example of that would be with the Turkish show, Gümüş. The show hadn’t made much headway in Turkey, but once it was dubbed and exported out into the Arab world, its popularity skyrocketed. Not only that, but it was the bridge that brought more dubbed Turkish dramas into the Arab world. The same can be said for Japanese Anime. Not that it isn’t popular in Japan. However, it has been dubbed into so many languages and spread around the world. In fact, some people don’t even realize their favorite childhood shows were originally Japanese.

Now onto book translation, did you know that most people don’t realize that The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho was originally written in Portuguese? The book spread like wildfire all around the world! Yet, many people don’t realize that what they’re reading was actually not the original book, but a translation. There are many examples where books fared very well in translation, here are a few.

Native authors have more than enough reason to expand beyond their domestic market. In fact, publishing houses make it a priority to expand their revenues by translating their books and reaching out to global readers. Take a quick read of this resource to learn more about the latest facts and trends in the global publishing industry.

Translating books isn’t anything new. What makes it different now is that there are wider and relatively easier opportunities for indie authors to expand to other markets. The readership base in many countries is growing year after year, so there are definitely good opportunities to take advantage of.

How Do You Translate Your Book?

Now that you believe that translating your book just might be worth it; the next step is to figure out how to go by doing that. There are two different ways that spring to mind when thoughts of book translation come to mind. Learning a new language or hiring a literary translator.

Learning a New Language

As self-publishers, we tend to feel like we need to do everything on our own. Since making money off of our books solely depends on us, we tend to micromanage the entire process. This is why the natural next step would be to learn a new language to translate your book into. However, is it really worth it? The simple answer is no. Let’s consider why.

A. Long Process

Let’s not beat around the bush, depending on the person, it can take years to learn a language. Even if you’ve attended language classes in college from the day that you started until you graduated, it won’t be enough. Even if you continuously rely on the best language learning software, the best language learning apps, is that really the best way to learn a language?

You’ll need to dedicate years of immersing yourself in another country and slowly understanding that country’s literary culture. That is the only way you can write like a true native speaker.

B. Writing Style

Each language has its own institution that governs the prose per genre and writing style. From the lexicon, prescriptive rules, down to the figure of speeches, each language has its own way to convey meaning. Instead of relying on a literary translator, writing in a second language means you can take control of your writing in that language. Sadly, that’s not an easy thing to do, not unless you have native-like language skills.

In the long run, learning a new language is not a practical step to take. It will waste a lot of time, and you might not even do it right. Besides, what if you want to venture into another language and market? Will you learn every language known to man to get your book to sell? Sure, there are popular languages you could concentrate on, but the effort alone is surely not worth it.

Hiring a Literary Translator

Off the bat, we need to talk about why it should be a literary translator and not just any translator. Literary translation is its own translation specialization. It requires long years of specialized training and exposure to the literary world.

Often, literary translators are academic professionals like scholars, college professors, and researchers. For them, literary translation just happened to be their field of expertise. In fact, you can get Masters and Doctorate degrees in literary translation.

If they’re not academics, then they’re usually specialists that also have years of experience and the right expertise under their belt. Their knowledge of the language means that they also understand the psyche of the client’s target audience. They strive to structure the translated prose in a way that resonates well with the local readers.

Need more info on getting the best from your translation services? Click here to learn more.

What Do You Need to Know Before Hiring a Literary Translator?

Being a literary translator isn’t exactly a walk in the park, even for the most experienced translators. With that in mind, clients such as yourself should also be careful in selecting the right literary translator.

A. Where to Look

If you go the traditional publishing route, then your editor or agent will typically have contacts that are literary translators. But if you opt to go the self-publishing route, you’ll be less lucky and need to proceed with caution. You can begin your search with literary translation associations. As guilds, they’re committed to the lifelong development of their literary translation skills by holding conferences, workshops, and even competitions. You can also get in touch with a professional translation company.

Not only can you ask for professional translation services but also proofreading services and editing services. They have global reach with thousands of translators that can handle a variety of translation jobs from technical translation, legal translation, medical translation, and many more niche translation services. Since you’re specifically looking for literary translators, ensure that the translation company you choose has a good history in providing literary translations. That way you can entrust your precious work to the right people and they’ll be able to find the right literary translator for the job at hand.

B. Pricing

Translators typically charge by the word. Indeed which means you’ll need to shell out all the expenses by yourself. It’s worth saying now that you should never be tempted to cut costs using free online translation software. Even with the most innovative translation software available today, they are still nowhere near as good as human translators. Translation software, particularly with deep learning capabilities, are making considerable gains in the technical translation field. However, they are still lightyears away from translating creative works that contain highly nuanced language.

C. Faithfulness to the Original Author

What marks an experienced literary translator from the rest is their ability to be faithful to the writer’s voice and prose. The translated work should still feel like it was written by the original author. Thus, don’t be afraid to do some more digging and ask around about your potential literary translator by getting in touch with their past clients. Did the translator stay true to the client’s writing style? Did the translator insist on major creative changes, albeit in a questionably stubborn way? Your literary translator will be your ‘partner-in-crime’ throughout the process, so it’s a wise choice to find the right person for the job.

What Are the Top Publishing Markets?

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. and China hold the crown for the largest publishing market. The U.S. already has a long history in the publishing industry, and many foreign writers choose to write in English and translate their works to English for that reason. China’s market for literary works comes from its population size, but a huge portion of its demand comes from the younger generations. The UK as well seems to have a large market for translated work. According to research, UK sales of translated fiction grows by 5%.

India is another large market mainly due to their population numbers. Since India has a large English speaking population, English-speaking writers will encounter less trouble in marketing to the Indian market. Other notable publishing markets include France, Germany, Italy, and Japan.

Localizing and Marketing Your Books Abroad

If you’re working with a publishing house, then they’ll be the ones doing most of the marketing. However, you have little say in how they design and market your book. But if you’re a self-published author, all of that is on you. In exchange for retaining your rights and more share of the royalties, you will have to do most of the heavy lifting.

A. Employing Book Editing Localization Strategies

One side of book editing localization deals with adjusting to the target language’s prose, spelling, suitable translation, creative expressions. All of that is covered by your literary translator. The other side in book editing localization has to deal with marketing.

Your first priority should be your book cover. Many authors and publishers had to create different covers for their books for specific markets due to cultural, social, political, and even religious norms. It’s always important to be wary and be sensitive to the local culture. Take a quick look at this cool post that lists a variety of covers of the Harry Potter Series’ translated versions.

Localization factors include color scheme, fonts, illustrations, cultural references, and linguistic nuances. Take the article above, it gave an example of the Harry Potter edition in Finland that renamed Gryffindor as Rohkelikko. It’s an amalgamation of the Finnish word rohkea which means courageous.

Essentially, during the localization stage, you’ll have to make compromises. There will be times where you will not agree with the localized book cover and that is perfectly understandable. However, marketing and localizing do come at a personal cost, one that all authors have to come to terms with.

B. Knowing the Right Book Distribution Platform

The next thing you need to do is find out what the popular regional eCommerce platform in that market is. Depending on the region, Amazon might not be the top platform but its competitors instead such as eBay and Alibaba. It’s best to be present on all of the eCommerce platforms and provide multiple options for your international audience.

But if you’re opting for the digital route, then you naturally look up ebook publishing platforms. Amazon, eBay, and Alibaba also feature ebook options for their listed books. However, you can also directly distribute your ebook on Google Play, Apple Books, Scribd, and Lulu. Essentially, it’s a good policy to have a presence in global and regional ebook sharing platforms.

You can also try ebook aggregators such as Draft2Digital and PublishDrive. There, authors can upload a single version of their book and distribute it to multiple ebook platforms such as the ones listed above. This is a very convenient and hassle-free approach, but that convenience does come at a certain cost in the form of a certain share of your royalties. To learn more about aggregators, you can check out Everything You Need to Know About Aggregators.

C. Connecting with Local Influential Clientele

Now that you have your finished work that’s properly translated and localized, you need to start spreading the word. As a self-published author, you can first try networking with local literary influencers in your target market. That term can encompass owners of notable local book blogs, booktubers, and bookstagrammers. Basically, any literary authorities in that market.

From that point on, it’s going to be an arduous and frustrating process. You’ll be crossing your fingers that hopefully, your work is well received. But you just can’t stop there. Keep connecting with more and more local literary authorities until you make it big.

Finding Your Own Voice in Other Languages

Suppose that you weren’t able to master a second language enough to comfortably write with it like a native speaker. Don’t be discouraged as this happens to more people than you. Still, does that mean you can never make use of that language? Not exactly. On the contrary, you might have even enriched your writing style with the help of that language.

You don’t need to be proficient in your second language to gain inspiration from it. In short, you have more sources of inspiration to develop your own distinct writing style and a strong command of your own voice.

Here are a couple of examples of authors that did just that.

J.K. Rowling

If you’ve either read or watched the Harry Potter Series, then you’ll notice that Rowling heavily incorporated classical languages. She used languages such as Latin and Ancient Greek into the book’s lexicon. She did that through spells, names, locations, and other references.

During her formative college years, Rowling studied French with a minor in Classics at the University of Exeter. From there, she was exposed to classical history and languages. She used her classical background as the foundation in incorporating Latin, Ancient Greek, and uniquely British references in the Harry Potter Series.

J.R.R Tolkien

Tolkien is considered the grandfather of modern fantasy literature. In his primary works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, Tolkien created Middle Earth. Its unparalleled lore is rich in detail, culture, and history.

As a prominent linguist specializing in Nordic and Old English languages, Tolkien utilized his linguistic background to create constructed languages a.k.a. conlangs. He created the various conlangs spoken in Middle Earth: Quenya (Elvish), Dwarvish, and Orcish. Quenya being the most developed, even created dialects to further give authenticity to his lore.


Any writer dedicated to their craft will do whatever it takes to make sure their work sees the light. Even if it’s being seen more in foreign lands than on your own. As such, opting for book translation is a good way to help your book get more sales. You need to also keep in mind that writing takes time. Translating your book takes time. Marketing your book takes time. But everything will be worth it in the end when you’re able to see results. Honing your craft means exploring the world and taking in as many experiences as you can with you.

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  • Eli Murphy

    March 28, 2023

    Thank you for explaining in detail and in a comprehensive way about language translation. I believe this blog will be beneficial to a lot of novice translators who are looking for a way.

    • Kotobee

      April 3, 2023

      Thank you Eli for your positive feedback! We’re glad you found our blog post helpful!


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