Jen Minkman writes young adult fiction. In her home country, the Netherlands, she is published by Ellessy and Storm Publishers. Across the border, she self-publishes her work in English. Jen currently works and resides in The Hague, the “second capital” of Holland, with her husband and two noisy zebra finches. Learn more on her site.
Earn more by translating your book
By Jen Minkman
Indie writers don’t always realize that a finished novel is in fact a very multifaceted product. You can publish it as an e-book, arrange for a paperback edition to be created through a POD service so you don’t have any upfront costs, or even get a narrator to turn it into an audiobook for you. This way, one single story can become three separate products catering to different audiences.
What if you want to take it one step further and publish the same book in different languages? Where to start?
Some indies have successfully sold the rights to their books abroad, with the help of foreign agents or by e-mailing publishing houses directly. Getting an expert in the field to advise you on selling rights can be tremendously helpful, but finding one in the first place is tricky. Unless you’ve already sold thousands — if not millions — of books, agents may not be interested in working with you because they only get paid when they sell rights to your book – and a gem of a book without a convincing sales track record may be a hard sell for them.
Global book fairs
One of the ways to get your book noticed is by sending it to a big book event such as the American Book Expo or the Frankfurt Book Fair. Smith Publicity offers slots in multi-author booths to display your books and you don’t even need to be there physically (although that certainly helps). Getting your book into an exhibition booth doesn’t come cheap, unfortunately.
Authors who write in a popular genre of fiction (such as thrillers or romance) often take the plunge and find their own translators to self-publish in countries where e-books are popular. Romance writer Courtney Milan, for example, hired a German translator for her historical romance books and shouldered the upfront costs herself, investing in her future as an internationally successful author.
For many authors, this may not be feasible due to a combination of high financial costs and an uncertain return on investment. The easiest way to break into a foreign market is by doing your own translations if you can and test the waters that way. This is what I did in 2012 – I am trade-published in Holland but translated my own books into English from Dutch to expand my horizon.
Working with a translator
Since I am not what agents call a “bestseller” (yet!), I made my first foray into the German e-book market two years later by paying my own translator. After that, I also found a French translator (on oDesk) and paid her an upfront fee as well. So far, the French e-book hasn’t seen much love, but the German book has been selling fairly well for a young adult dystopia
n book. I haven’t earned out my investment yet, though.
About a half a year ago, I found out about a new website called Babelcube, which matches indie authors and translators who would like to work together and split royalties on books sold. For indie authors who don’t have the funds to finance their own translations, this is a brilliant idea, since it enables them to dip their toe into foreign markets and see what sells well on its own and what needs a lot of promotion, without spending anything upfront. So far, my books have been translated into Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Afrikaans, and some of them have started to take off without any promotional effort whereas others need a bit of a push.
I see a lot of potential in selling my books in other languages. Is it a good fit for yours? You won’t know until you try.
Have you thought about doing this? What do you think is your biggest obstacle?