Today we’re going to talk about the most important thing for those who decide to translate their book into Russian, or any foreign language for that matter. I’m talking about choosing a translation service provider.
I will be quite honest with you: if you’re a self-published author who wants to publish her book in another language I believe that the best option for you is to work with a freelance translator. I will explain my point of view further on. First I will describe the choices you have when looking for a translator for your book. Let’s get right into it!
Bablecube is a service that lets you get a translation of your book without investing money into it. The platform allows authors find translators for their books and pay them after the book starts to sell. It also distributes the translated books to the main online outlets, like Amazon.
Looks like a deal, right? Well, not exactly.
It’s obvious that professional translators translate for a living. That’s how they pay their bills and buy their food. So it’s unlikely that an experienced literary translator will work on Bablecube’s terms.
What if the book never sells? What if you loose interest in the project? What if you decide not to market the book in a country where people speak a different language?
Translation takes time. A good translation is even more time consuming. Few translators are ready to invest time in a project that might not work out well.
Does that mean that you won’t be able to find a good translator on Bablecube? I guess, it doesn’t. There are good translators there, but they might not have experience in translating literature.
Another thing is that books translation is not their only source of income. They have to work on other projects that help them pay the bills. That means that your book will not have their undivided attention. But that might actually work pretty well.
But there’s a catch if you want to translate your book into Russian: as of now, Bablecube doesn’t provide translations into this language.
You probably know what crowdsourcing is: it’s when you ask your fans to help you with the translation.
Today many online companies use crowdsourcing to translate their content into different languages. Think Twitter, Trello or Coursera. But can you use crowdsourcing to translate your book into another language? Of course, you can, but you have to be aware of several things.
First, crowdsourcing can work only if you already have fans of your books among the speakers of the target language. Otherwise, there won’t be anyone who would be willing to do the job.
Second, it’s unlikely that professional translators will be taking part in a crowdsourcing project. There are two reasons for it.
As I already mentioned, professional translators prefer to work for money. But even if they love your book so much that they want to translate it for you for free, they are too well aware of the dangers of crowdsourcing.
Your fans willing to help you share your work will most likely be bilinguals without much experience in translation. So the next question is whether it’s enough to be bilingual to be able to translate literature.
You don’t need me to tell you that being able to write doesn’t make you a writer. Likewise knowing a foreign language or two doesn’t make you a translator. Just like writing translation is a skill that has to be mastered over time.
Moreover, translating literature is different from translating contracts or technical manuals. It requires more attention to style and word choice and more creativity.
If you decide to crowdsource the translation of your book be prepared to hire a good editor who will be able to catch all the bugs.
There’s another reason why hiring an editor in the case of crowdsourcing is a must. Different people have different writing styles and use different words. You need someone who will go through the translated text with a fine comb to eliminate any inconsistencies.
Sadly, even a good editor can’t guarantee the success of the project.
First, the quality of translations done by amateurs is often so low that it’s easier to translate everything from scratch than to edit the output produced by a team of non-professionals.
Besides organizing work on crowdsourcing projects is a difficult task.
Think about it: someone is taking the time out of their day to help you share your work with more people. Of course, they get the satisfaction of being part of the team who’s spreading the ideas of their favorite author. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to support the motivation over the long period of time required to translate a book. What does this mean for you? Well, two things (none of them is good news):
- the translation can take much longer than you expect (and you can’t set any deadlines)
- the translators can change several times over the course of the project, which will inevitably decrease the quality of the final product
Coordination of the whole process takes quite a lot of time, too. Of course, you could outsource this task, but that would mean additional costs.
So, let’s sum it all up:
You can resort to crowdsourcing only if you already have fans among the native speakers of the target language. You should be prepared to hire a good editor and maybe someone to coordinate the work on the translation, which can take an indefinite amount of time. Even in this case you risk to get a low-quality text that will fail at delivering your message or convey your style (or both).
If you decide to hire a professional to translate your book and try to find one using Google chances are the majority of the links on the first page will lead to translation agencies websites. So, let’s have a look at the types of translation agencies that there are out there.
There are small highly specialized boutique translation agencies, then there are big international corporations that offer translations of all kinds of texts from and into all imaginable languages and then there are translation platforms like Gengo.
I don’t recommend you to work with the latter two types of agencies. Usually, they don’t have much experience with literary translation and therefore are not familiar with its peculiarities. You can read this post by Lisa Carter, an experienced literary translator, where she shared her email exchange with one of such agencies and her opinion on working with them for those who want their books translated.
Working with a small boutique agency specialized in literary translation might be a good choice if you want to have your book translated into several languages or if you don’t want to deal with picking a translator. The cost of their services might be higher than that of a freelance translator because of the higher overheads, but that might well be worth it. An agency takes the responsibility of choosing a suitable translator and probably also an editor who would work on your project.
As I said earlier, I believe that working with a freelance translator is the best option for indie authors. Here’s why I think so:
You will get a professional service
Let’s get it clear: the success of your book in a foreign market depends on the skill of your translator. No amount of marketing will help sell a badly translated book.
Freelance translators don’t have a big marketing and sales team. One of their favorite and most effective marketing tools is the word of mouth. Making clients happy often brings in new clients, so they are motivated to produce quality work.
You will be in direct contact with your translator
This is important in any type of translation, but especially in literary.
Of course, if you work with a good agency they will pass the translator’s questions on to you or maybe even put you into contact with each other, but this is where we come to the next reason:
You can get a high(er) quality translation for less money.
Freelance translators usually work from home. Even if they pay for a co-working space their overheads are way lower than those of a company: they don’t have to rent a big office or pay salaries. That is why they can afford to charge less. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you’ll be able to cut your costs in half. Qualified and experienced translators are not cheap, but it’s definitely worth it. And you don’t have to pay the middleman.
Translators are often happy to offer value added services.
Have you thought about marketing your book in a foreign language? Or getting it into the stores in the new market?
A freelance translator can either help you with these tasks herself or put you into contact with professionals in her market and assist during the negotiations.
So, let’s get to the interesting part: where do you look for freelance translators and how can you tell whether they are good?
Places to look for professional freelance translators
The word ‘professional’ in the subtitle is there for a reason. And before I share a list of places where you can find good translators, I will first name a few platforms where you are unlikely to find them. Don’t waste your time on Upwork, Fiverr, and similar websites.
Yes, you can find translators there, but they are either just starting out or are content with where they are and don’t want to move forward and develop (or don’t have time for CPD because they have to translate in bulk to make ends meet). In any case, you don’t want them to translate your book.
There are specialized platforms for translators (like Proz or Translators Cafe) and there you can find real professionals. Just one word of caution: in essence, these are job bidding websites, where translators have to bid against each other to get a project. Don’t go for the lowest bid. After all, you get what you pay for.
Are there any other places where you can find translators? Yes! And I’m happy to share them with you.
Word of mouth is a great way to find good service providers in any area.
Ask your friends, colleagues or other indie-authors if they know any translators. Don’t get discouraged by getting the contact details of a translator who translates into a language you don’t need right now or doesn’t do literary translation. This can still be useful. Usually, translators are happy to recommend a trusted colleague, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.
Browse translators associations websites
Professional translators associations like ATA or IAPTI usually have a directory of members on their websites. You can search the directory and filter results by language pairs, areas of specialization, type of services and country of residence.
Find translators on Twitter
Many professional translators are on Twitter. Their bios often provide a link to their website where you can find information about their areas of expertise as well as customers’ testimonials.
Try to find translators by searching for hashtags #t9n (translation) or #xl8 (translate). You can also tweet about your book project so that an interested translator could find you.
Search on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is widely used by translation professionals to network with colleagues and potential clients. Their profiles contain information about their language pairs, areas of specialization, and background as well as clients testimonials. You have to be a registered user to conduct the search.
Go to the Open Mic
The Open Mic is a new blogging platform for translators. At the moment it’s mainly a place where they can share their experience with each other and write about things that are important to them. But it also has a great search engine to help you find your perfect translator.
Now that you know where to find translators, you need to be able to choose the right one. Here are some tips that will help you do that.
Choose a native speaker
Of course, there are exceptions, but usually choosing a translator who translates into her mother tongue only is the right call. A native speaker will do a better job of conveying the shades of meaning and stylistic nuances of your text in her language.
Pay attention to the translator’s areas of specialization
A good translator has areas of specialization. To render a text into another language you have to fully understand it. This requires not only a good command of the language but also background knowledge in the subject area.
A game localization specialist might not be the best fit for a historical novel. A translator specializing in tourism and travel may find it hard to translate a sci-fi book. Of course, many translators are versatile people interested in a lot of things and there’s always research that most of us are good at but nevertheless areas of specialization are worth paying attention to.
Ask the translator about the latest CPD courses she took
Continuing professional development is important for everyone. Translators are not an exception.
I believe that every translator is a writer, but this is especially true for literary translators.
It’s a good sign if a translator’s list of recent CPD courses and webinars includes some courses on writing both in the source and target languages.
My experience shows that such courses are not only helpful for writing blog posts, but also make me a better translator.
Ask for translation samples
If you have friends who speak the target language you can ask the translator to provide samples of her work. Even if they are new to this niche, they should be able to send you some examples of their translations.
I’ve been translating articles on building and promoting a business, productivity, time-management and living a more happy and fulfilled life for my passion project for the past 9 months. I have lots of samples to send to authors of non-fiction books writing about these topics.
Well, I guess that’s all I wanted to share with you today. I hope you have found the information useful. If so, don’t forget to share the link to this post. As always, if you have something to add or want to ask a question, feel free to do it in the comments or just send me an email. The next post in this series will be about publishing the Russian translation of your book and getting it into the stores, so stay tuned!