by Jen Minkman @
For indies, getting your book into the hands of foreign readers is no mean feat. Of course English is a global language and is therefore one of the best ways to reach international readers, but there’s still a considerable threshold. For one, people often prefer to read books in their native language, and secondly, some content isn’t allowed to be sold altogether in some nations.
Reach China Via Fiberead
In China, the government screens every book before they allow it to go on sale. And Chinese is, of course, a world language as well by sheer numbers – two billion people speak and read it. This is where Fiberead comes in. At this writing the platform only offers translations into simplified and traditional Chinese, but they plan to offer more languages as the company evolves.
Fiberead brings independent authors and translator teams together. Translators work under a royalty split agreement. Authors can upload books for consideration, and Fiberead gives a shout-out to their translators to see who is interested in working on that book. So the translator and cover art and marketing teams choose you.
The downside is that some books might not get picked at all, but the upside is that once your book does get picked, your dedicated teams work on it. After all, if you don’t speak Chinese, you wouldn’t have a clue how to get the word out about your book once it’s finished. The Fiberead translator team does this for you. They know what vendors to use (for example, amazon.cn and Douban, the first of which is completely inaccessible to indies on their own), because they know the market.
And they have a stake in your success. They only get paid if the book makes money. Indie authors do not need to make an initial investment, besides the time to properly communicate with your translator team.
I first heard about Fiberead and going international on Mark Williams’s blog, and immediately jumped on board by uploading one of my books. That worked out really well, as you can see from my cover above: the Traditional Chinese edition of The Boy From The Woods will go on sale soon! In my case, the entire project took about half a year, which is great. So far, we’ve only talked about ebook sales, but if Chinese publishers are interested in obtaining print rights, I won’t say no!
Why translate – and where?
Translations will enable you to tap into previously unexplored countries without having to come up with a completely new product. Genres that do well pretty much anywhere are romance and thrillers. But not all countries are equally smitten with the idea of ebooks just yet. Germany and Spain are on the up-and-up, Italy and the Netherlands are growing, Vietnam seems to be hungry for a lot of pulp romance especially, but France is still very much fond of paper books.
Getting your books translated into Spanish has the obvious bonus of reaching a lot of countries all at once: Spain, the U.S., but also a whole bunch of countries in South America. If you’re looking for Spanish translators, check out Babelcube (no upfront investment) or services like Upwork (formerly oDesk) or Freelancer.com, or just Google for freelance literary translators. They can be pricey, but they’re usually also worth it.
Having said that, I’m a translator myself for Dutch to English or English to Dutch. So far I’ve translated three books for Storm Publishers: The Boy From The Woods (by me), Heat (by Lis Lucassen) and Defiant (by Mara Li, Lis Lucassen, and myself). All three titles were in Dutch originally. My next project will be a romance novel in English which I will translate to Dutch for a multi-award-winning U.S. author, so I’m really looking forward to that!
How well a book will do abroad is also largely dependent on the culture of that country. If your books are very U.S. focused, they might not appeal to European readers. It’s best to try out some things before committing to translating your entire backlist into a particular language. If sales soar and reviews are great, you’ll know what to do. If the needle on your sales dashboard just won’t budge and you don’t get reviews, it might be time to get some promos lined up, or it might be time to move on and try something else.
If you choose languages other than Chinese and find your own translator, you should upload your books on all the usual channels (Amazon, iTunes, B&N, Kobo, Google Play) but it’s worthwhile to look into local aggregators as well. In Germany, you really need Tolino and Xinxii. In the Spanish and Italian-speaking countries, you need StreetLib.
Marketing and promotion
This is always a tough nut to crack, because in terms of promotional opportunities the U.S. is way ahead of other countries. To my knowledge, there are no newsletters to advertise (cheap) ebooks in France, China, or the Netherlands. There is one in Germany and I’ve found two in Spain, but that’s about it. My advice would be to temporarily make your first book free (if you write series) or to upload a free reading sample with buy links to the full standalone book in the back, because free books are still a lot more special to people in those countries than they are to the average American reader these days.
For the more obscure languages, you might need to contact local ebook stores that sell hardcopies in your chosen language to ask whether they’ll stock your book. If you don’t feel confident doing this, you should work with a translator who has experience with this kind of thing – and it’s very likely the translator will be a self-published author in his or her country, in that case. It’s paramount to work with someone who’s willing to offer help beyond just doing the translation if you yourself don’t know the market you’re selling to yet. You want your new readers to find you, after all, and without any promos or useful contacts in those countries, this might turn out to be tricky.
Getting your print book into stores on a large scale is virtually impossible, as far as I know. You’d have to know about trade-pub book distribution in each of these countries, about the way book stores decide to buy their stock, the way they deal with books they don’t sell, etcetera. Your best bet is to make sure your ebook sells like hotcakes and then reach out to literary agents or publishers in those countries yourself. They’ll know how to get your book into stores, and they’ll most likely do a better and faster job than you.
My translated book sales
My Spanish books are doing well because I used some free samples and/or series starters to advertise the rest of my paid work. My books also do well in Dutch (I write my books in both Dutch and English) and I’ve seen some action in Italy, as well. I’m mainly focusing on getting my books out there in Spanish and Dutch right now, but if my Chinese book does well via Fiberead, I’ll probably look into Chinese for the rest of them, too.
If anyone’s looking for hard sales figures: I sell about a hundred Spanish ebooks a month (one title). I also sell about two hundred Dutch ebooks a month (one title), but that title is part of a serial with cliffhangers, which seems to work really well over here in Holland.
My advice would be to study the market before you jump in. Look at the bestselling lists on Amazon.de, Amazon.nl, Amazon.es and Amazon.cn, but also take a close look at iTunes and Google Books – they might be different. Once you know what sells, you can make a more informed decision about which books from your backlist might be worth investing in. Once you’ve figured that out, either look for translators who will work for you and will be paid a flat fee, or post your book on author/translator platforms such as Fiberead and Babelcube.
You can also offer translators a hybrid deal: pay them something upfront and share the royalties with them for a couple of years. Whatever works for you. And don’t be discouraged if things don’t take off immediately – it might take time for people in foreign countries to discover you, just like it has taken you time to build your presence in the Anglophone book world. On the other hand, don’t beat a dead horse: if books 1 and 2 don’t do it for you, even after you’ve given it time, don’t feel obliged to get more books in the series out. Look for other opportunities.
Jen Minkman was born in the Netherlands and lived in Austria, Belgium, and the UK. She learned how to read at the age of three and has never stopped reading since! Her favorite books to read are YA paranormal, dystopian, and romance, and this is reflected in the stories she writes. In her home country, she is a trade-published author of young adult novels with Storm Publishers. She currently resides in The Hague where she lives with her husband and two noisy zebra finches. Check out Jen’s blog and her Amazon Author Page. Jen is a case study in Self-publishing and Translation in China.
All original content by Molly Greene and guests is copyright protected – did you enjoy the article? You can show your support by checking out Molly’s Amazon Author Page – and hey, buy a book while you’re there! Or, subscribe to this blog and you’ll never miss the weekly posts. Your email will NOT be sold, shared, abused, or rented – that’s a promise. If you’re not already, follow @mollygreene on Twitter. Mwah! Thank you so much.