British novelist Keith Dixon, who lives and writes in France, considers the potential role of free services for those keen to publish their books in foreign languages but lacking the budget for a professional translation.
I once translated a book from French into English. I charged a good rate, and it took almost a year. Would I have done it for free? Certainly not, but there are actually companies who do offer this service to authors who want to put their books in front of a wider international audience.
The best-known of these sites are probably Fiberead and Babelcube, and as these are the two I’ve tried I’m going to use them as my case studies. Fiberead currently offers translation into traditional and simple Chinese, whereas Babelcube can provide translators for more than ten languages.
Both use translators who work for free, on the basis that the translators and the company will take a fair proportion of any royalties. At Fiberead the author gets a straight 30%. At Babelcube it’s more complicated, but this table explains it simply:
Simple Guide on How to Use Fiberead and Babelcube
- Navigate to the site and create an account.
- Choose to upload your book and go through the process all indies are used to, including uploading your cover and, if possible, the main image without title or sub-titles. They’ll redesign it for Chinese.
- Upload your text in .doc or .docx format.
- ‘submit for audit’ and wait for a confirmation email.
- If accepted, a team is put together by Fiberead to translate the book, under the leadership of an ‘editor’. I believe the team is actually crowdsourced and probably uses Chinese students of English. You get no choice in this matter.
- Prepare for lots of questions, not just about language, but about manners. Metaphors or similes might not be understood. For example I compared an old theatre to an aunt that had been left out in the rain. I got a query stating that Chinese people don’t leave their relatives in the rain, so what was I saying?
- Prepare for a long wait. It took nearly a year for my book to be translated.
- After a round of copy-editing, it’s complete and starts to appear on Chinese ebook sites.
- You don’t get a free copy. I even tried to buy from Amazon.cn and created an account, but in the end it wouldn’t accept my purchase. Fiberead have not been helpful in providing me with one.
- Create an account and add a new book with the usual information, including links to the book’s Amazon, Goodreads and Facebook pages.
- This creates a nice page on Babelcube which acts as an invitation to translators to bid to translate the book.
- If you don’t want to wait for bids, you can look for translators by choosing a language and searching. This pulls up a list of translators and their star rating. You can click on their name to be taken to their own welcome page, then write them a note explaining why you’d like them to translate the book.
- Once you find a translator, both you and the translator sign an online agreement and set a date by which the first ten pages and the whole book will be translated.
- When the sample pages are sent, you can (and should) check them out by asking people who speak the language to read them.
- Once you’ve approved the sample, you wait for the rest of the translation to be completed. You can reject it in the end, but you have to provide full details of why you’re doing so.
- You must provide cover artwork for the translation.
Communication with Fiberead and the Chinese translators was patchy at best. I would hear nothing for weeks or months on end, and then receive a list of over thirty questions to answer. I didn’t mind that, but it led to little sense of being involved in the translation. Part-way through the process, I was connected via Linked-In to a kind of project manager, but after the connection was made, I had no further communication from him.
It took the best part of a year for the book to be finished (on your dashboard you can see it going through the various stages of publication), but when it was completed there was little in the way of communication from the translator(s). Further, I never got to see the final copy. I asked repeatedly but the requests were ignored. They told me Amazon China doesn’t give them free copies, which I understand, but it would be nice to have even the final uploaded version, presumably in Word or similar format.
Eventually the book started appearing on Amazon China and other online stores. It’s currently showing on five of the fourteen sites they list as distributors. I persuaded the translator to give a review, which she did, and after a year I now have six glowing five-star reviews. Sales vacillate a lot on Amazon China. One sale can lead to a rise of several thousand rank positions. But the book has been placed in a bizarre category – ‘Orsay, exams’ according to Google Translate– which no one seems to understand. Fiberead says they can’t change it. The book is about a young actress engaged in a competition for a film role, and Amazon seems to have decided that this warrants placing it in a category for exam crib texts…
Overall I’d say that so far sales haven’t warranted the effort. Admittedly there was little effort other than answering about a hundred questions on the text. But sales have been limited, largely, I believe, because of the bizarre category in which the book has been placed. If Fiberead can change the keywords, as I’ve asked them to do, this may improve. I know others have had some success in China.
I’ve had a much better experience here. The first three translators I accepted for my book Actress, two for Spanish, one for Italian, all withdrew, and I began to have a bad feeling. But then I found a wonderful translator for Spanish, and things got back on track again. I now have three books translated, in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, with three more in Portuguese and Italian on the way.
There was much less contact with these translators than with the Chinese one, but that probably means they were more au fait with the western culture that I was describing. There were occasional language questions but from all three translators I would say there were no more than a dozen. As with Fiberead, your contact is via email mediated through the company’s website – so you receive an email into your Inbox but have to go to the site to use their messaging system to reply. This isn’t a problem because at least you see everything in context and might pick up messages you’ve missed.
Post-completion, you’re told the book is available to download in Word format so you can check it out. This is the raw translation, without the forematter that Babelcube adds: copyright notices, translator and/or editor names. As with the sample, you can and should have this checked out by anyone you know who has the language, or make other changes yourself, before uploading the book back into the system. At this point you add your cover (in the correct language) and can choose the publisher (Babelcube, your name, your publisher’s name) and price and other descriptive information. Babelcube then converts the book into an .epub which you can download for a final check. Once you press “publish”, you’ll start to receive emails confirming the various stores to which the book has been distributed. Amazon can take weeks, for some reason, whereas Apple, Scribd, Kobo and Tolino get it almost immediately.
The problem I see for both of these routes is marketing. I have no idea how to market in Spain, Italy or Brazil. But I guess that’s the next tricky slope of the learning curve.
OVER TO YOU If you've ever used a free translation service, how did you get on? Would you recommend it? We'd love to hear about your experience via the comments box.#Authors - #toptips for using free translation services for your #selfpub books - from @keithyd6 Click To Tweet