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Translating your work is big business

Posted by Tom Chalmers on October 21, 2015 at 9:15 AM

During the recent Frankfurt Book Fair, the translations market has inevitably generated many column inches. One of the main stories being that AmazonCrossing, the literary translation imprint of Amazon Publishing, announced a commitment to publish exceptional works of literature from Indonesian authors translated into English beginning in early 2016. This was said to be part of a headline grabbing $10 million investment by the company to increase the publication of international books into English. Such a commitment should be applauded; after all there is a wealth of writing talent across a variety of territories which should have the opportunity to reach a wider audience.

It’s fair to say that the vast majority of authors would love to see their work sitting on bookshelves across the world in a variety of different languages, and the question we often get asked is - should I adapt my work so it might appeal to a more international audience?

There is no right or wrong answer to this but what we always advise is that first and foremost you should simply to write the book that you want to write. Generally speaking, aiming your work at specific markets is more likely to distract you and weaken the overall copy. If your work is good enough and you do manage to get it in front of the right people then it will have a good chance of being licensed internationally. Having said that it’s worth thinking about how and why your work might appeal in different territories, languages and formats. This will obviously help in terms of potential connections as well as providing a valuable selling point for a particular territory and audience.

And when it comes to translations another common question is - would it help to get into certain markets if I had my book translated first? Our stock answer to this is, not usually. If a publisher wants to take a book and publish it in a different language, they will usually already have set translators that they work with. There are also grants available to them for translation which they may wish to take advantage of.

Getting it translated yourself just with a view to licensing it in a particular territory is more often than not simply a waste of time and money. However, if this is something that you really want to do then let me underline just how vital it is for both the author and translator to be fully aware that translating the text provides no guarantee of the translation being published. And, also as important, is that there should always be a written contract between the author and the translator. This should clarify the rights of each party and how the proceeds are to be divided if, subsequently, a publisher is prepared to issue the translation.

Writing with an eye on being an international bestseller translated into 12 different languages may be a little ambitious, but if your work refers to a specific territory or territories then why not look to maximise the rights in those territories and that includes rights in translation. Whatever way you look at it, translations are big business and knowing how and where to market translation rights, or knowing someone that does, is the key to unlocking this potentially lucrative sector.


Categories: Marketing & Promotion, Promotion, Sales

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