Would you like to see your book translated into another language, but feel you can’t afford to? One answer — relatively easy, but not completely pain free — is Babelcube. Ann Richardson, ALLi author member, has been working with Babelcube for about a year and this post recounts her experience to date.
Babelcube is effectively an online dating agency for writers and translators. Authors can post their books (together with a description and some paragraphs from each) and translators can post their availability (as well as their experience and author ratings).
You can approach a translator at any time and translators can approach you.
All translations are undertaken completely free, but the translator gets 55% of the royalties, the author gets 30% and Babelcube itself gets 15%. These rates become more favourable to the author once you sell books to the value of $2000. But, in general, it is not a way to make a lot of money.
You, as author, retain the rights to the book, but the distribution rights to the translation remain with Babelcube for five years, after which they revert to you.
The system is very clear, with a set of stages for checking, and contracts at each stage. Initially, the translator must offer a translation of a few paragraphs. If this is accepted, he or she is expected to submit ten pages. If this is then accepted, the translator is deemed to be good enough and continues to translate the book in full, with a set deadline.
When the final version is accepted, the author arranges for the cover to be translated and uploads it for publication. Distribution is very wide, covering Amazon but also other major distributors, such as Apple, Kobo and so forth. You can also do a paperback.
Working With Babelcube
I signed up with Babelcube because I was looking for a French translation of one of my books (on hospice care), which a French friend was keen to promote in France. But I put all my books on the site, since why not? I have contacted ten French translators, but have had no luck to date. I keep trying from time to time.
But much to my surprise, I had approaches from a number of translators in other languages. I now have two published translations of Wise Before their Time (about people living with HIV/AIDS in the early 1990s), available on Amazon and elsewhere. One is in Portuguese by a Brazilian translator and the other is in Spanish by a Mexican one.
I also have Spanish translations of my other two books due to be completed soon.
My real concern throughout the process has always been the accuracy of the translations. A bad translation would be pointless. Of course, they should be grammatical, but they should also read well in their new language. As my books are full of personal quotations, the language needed to be easy and colloquial — not stiff or formal.
The Quality of Translations
Competence in translation certainly cannot be taken for granted. Those purporting to be translators may or may not know what they are doing. This is not surprising, since they are mostly amateurs, although some have been through some form of training.
At each stage, I asked a native speaker of the new language to check the submitted text. No translation fell at the first hurdle, but four fell at the second. The rejected submissions were littered with grammatical errors, suggesting either limited literacy in their own language or, possibly, the use of a translation programme. With regret, I cancelled the arrangement in each case. Yes, you do need to be tough.
But I found the whole exercise to be a lot of fun. Translators and writers can communicate as often as they like and I always made an effort to learn a bit about those working with me. I asked about their location, backgrounds and motivations. This made the process seem much more friendly, but also harder when I had to turn someone down.
Such communication also means that any confusion can be sorted out quickly. One translator asked a host of sensible questions and even pointed out my own occasional spelling error (I always had problems with ‘ophthalmologist’).
And getting a cover in a different language is a huge thrill. It makes the whole process seem very real.
The management at Babelcube has been helpful when needed, including arranging the publication of one paperback when the site gave me problems. The publication process is very slow, however, with the latest taking three months from submission.
Of course, the real point of any translation is getting new sales. But this is a discussion for a future post.
For more information on Babelcube, see https://www.babelcube.com/