What You Need to Know About Translating Your Book

Monday, August 28, 2017

Expanding to a new language market is a huge and exciting step for indie authors. By translating your book into a new language, you give it the potential to expand its reach to hundreds of thousands of new readers. You should be aware, however, that translation is only one step in the process of bringing your book to a new audience.

It’s Not Just about Words

“Write what you know” is common advice given to writers. Setting aside the question of what exactly this means, it reflects a natural reality: we write about things we are familiar with, whether that’s through experience or through careful research. Whatever the case, we must remain conscious that what is familiar to us may be completely alien to people from other backgrounds. On the one hand, this means that what we write might be particularly fascinating and engaging to people from other places; on the other hand, it also might be confusing, unrelatable, or even offensive. The difference between a book that fits in the former category and one that fits in the latter is not only a question of translation; it’s a question of localization.

Localization is a term used in the business world to describe the process of adapting a product to an audience in a new locale. This often includes translation, but it also includes making everything about the product accessible to the new audience—from technical elements such as currency, metric systems, or calendars, to adaptation of concepts or functions to local cultural sensitivities or usages.

When it comes to literature, translation of the text is certainly the most important aspect of localization, but a good book translation is more than simply saying the same thing in a new language. It requires careful adaptation of the tone, message, and structure of the piece to maintain the power of the original without causing misunderstandings. Hiring a professional translator who specializes in the field and/or genre of your book, is a native speaker of the target language, and has a deep familiarity with the target culture is the only way to ensure a high-quality book translation.

Why It’s Worth Hiring a Professional Translation Service

Translating a book requires many, many hours of intensive work by a skilled professional, and as such, it can be a significant expense. You may wonder if it’s really worth the investment.

Remember that as an author trying to get your work to a wider audience, what you are promoting is not just one version or other of your book; you are promoting yourself as a brand. An unprofessional book translation will reflect badly on your brand, and that can negatively impact your sales and your reputation even in your original local market. There is a lot of dialogue between the various language markets; you don’t want a Spanish-language reader to tell his English-speaking friends not to read your book because the Spanish version he read wasn’t that great. To avoid this, you need to make sure your Spanish version sparkles just as much as your English version.

Not every native speaker makes a good translator! Because you usually don’t read in the target language or know a native speaker, you may never know the quality of your product. Your best bet is hiring a reputable translation service with good credentials. 

Researching Your New Market

It would be a terrible shame to invest in creating a beautiful book translation only to have it fail simply because you didn’t understand the nuances of entering this new market. Think about the type of market research you (hopefully) did for the original version of your book: what is your competition? What titles can yours be compared to? What fresh perspective does your book bring to the table? These questions need to be asked again for every market you enter—and unless you read in the target language regularly enough to know the answers to these questions, you will need a professional translation service to help you answer them. Taking this extra step can make a significant difference in how well your book does in its new market.


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Daniella Levy

Daniella Levy is a content writer for Ulatus, a leading translation company providing book translation services. Daniella is an author, translator, and educator living in Israel. Her first book, Letters to Josep: A Introduction to Judaism, is available from IngramSpark, and her debut novel, By Light of Hidden Candles, is forthcoming from Kasva Press.