This week authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain discuss when it is beneficial for authors to start translating their work and the process that it involves.


Crys: Hello, and welcome to The Author Life Podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my co-host J Thorn.

J: Hey, Crys, how’s it going?

Crys: It is going good. I’m excited to talk about this topic because this is what I’ve been spending a lot of my time on lately. And that is, when should I venture into translations for my work? And because you have had a million ideas for everything, I know that you’ve thought about doing translations, and you haven’t done them yet. So what have been your thoughts up to this point?

J: Yeah, I’m really curious to hear what you have to say. Because a while ago, maybe 10 years ago, I started down the path of translations with Babelcube. I don’t know if they’re still around or not.

Crys: Yeah, they are.

J: Are they? Okay. It wasn’t a great experience with them. I probably wouldn’t pursue that path today. But I think this was when Joanna Penn was really first getting into foreign translations and I was like, wow, that looks cool, and she was giving me some pointers.

I never hired anyone, like I had several auditions and they fell through. And then I wasn’t confident in the platform to deliver. It just felt risky, honestly. And I was like, okay, I’ll just set that aside and I’m gonna wait, and I haven’t ever come back to it. And I feel like it could be money being left on the table.

Yeah, I’m really curious to hear your thoughts on when an author should start thinking about that.

Crys: I feel like I have an easy answer for the ‘when should’, relatively easy answer. And that relatively easy answer is when your book has earned enough to afford the cost of its audiobook, you do the audiobook. And then when your book has, after that, earned enough to do the cost of its translation, you do the translation. Audio first because it is cheaper and easier for you, as the organizer of your business, and returns really well, specifically when you get the bundle out of your series or your group.

We’ve had this conversation a little bit, we don’t know if that plays out the same in non-fiction, but that’s something we’re curious about. If anybody knows, please do let us know. Do bundles of non-fiction make more than individual titles? We know that’s a different game.

So it should be for most authors, unless you are a bilingual speaker, it’s going to be English first, audio, and then translations– specifically German translations, that is the highest-earning market, even though it is one of the smaller populations of speakers. It’s about three countries that speak German, versus Spanish, but they will pay higher rates because all three of those countries are fairly wealthy EU countries. And they are more technologically advanced countries or technologically adaptive, they’ve adopted a greater rate of technology than say most of Latin America.

J: Is that true? Is German true like across genre?

Crys: For the most part. I did see a study as I was doing a deep dive that every country has it’s genre that it prefers more. So like fantasy and sci-fi sell super well in Germany. Self-help, I can’t remember, but the other three countries in this study were Italy, France, and Spain. One of the countries sold significantly more self-help than the other countries in percentages. But as far as total revenue earned, I’m not certain.

I think currently, the general rule is that your total revenue earned is gonna be higher in Germany currently. Even though there are far more speakers of Spanish than German, French, or Italian. French seems to be fairly hit or miss for authors who are translating their work. Some folks are doing really well in French, some are not. The French seem to tend to be really picky, but I can’t find any like correlation of like how they’re picky. What is the things that they like? So that’s something I’m still digging a whole lot of information out about.

J: Give me a sense of what the investment is. You mentioned it’s more than audio. Can you gimme some idea of what is?

Crys: Yep. So I am spending between two and a half cents a word and 4 cents a word for the translation. So the first book I did, my translator did it on a discount as like our trial run, she gave me a 1 cent discount. And that one, the translation itself, and it’s one of my shorter ones, like 35,000 – 36,000, was about $1,200. And then I paid about $450 for the proofread on top of that.

As I’m getting in and I’m familiarizing myself with more translators, because I’ve got several different things going on, I think that’s not the cheapest for good quality that I could have gotten. But I really just wanted to be confident, so I did go with someone that I was like, okay, I’m really comfortable with you, even though I think if I worked at it longer, I could find somebody at a comparable level for a lesser rate. But I’m really pleased so far. Now this book isn’t published yet, like I’m like a week or two out from that. But I’m really excited.

One of the pieces of advice that I’ve been given is just like in the English publishing market, you’re going to make more faster if you put out a full series as quickly as you can. So I’m aiming for one book a month right now. These are all books that have been written. We’ve got 20 plus in this series. So I could go for two years, just publishing one book a month, as long as my translator can keep up.

J: This might sound like a really new question, but do you have to publish that through the German version of KDP?

Crys: No. So you will use your normal KDP, and then I think you set the primary sale price–what all the prices are going to be based off of–the main country, you can set that as Germany. You can limit your book to not go to .com, .mx. You can limit it from the different markets. And I don’t know if I’m gonna go forward with that.

So here’s something I haven’t got any dissenting answers on. Most authors say, I just publish it everywhere. Even if I’m all in on KU, I publish it everywhere. So all my German books are available on the store. All my German books are available in all the Spanish stores, etc. One of the problems I have as a reader is when I go to an author’s page and all their recent books are all their translations and I can’t find the book I want because it’s two pages down. That’s really frustrating to me, but I don’t know if most people look for books that way, so I don’t know if that’s a problem. I’m probably the oddball to be honest, because I generally am in how I look for books. So chances are, I will just publish it everywhere.

Now, one of the interesting things about Germany is that you don’t have to go KU to start making bank right away. The Tolino has 40% of the eBook market in Germany and they use like Kobo readers. I think they’re just rebranded. And so you can go wide in German from the get-go and not risk losing tons of early “easy” money. And I put easy in quotation marks for everyone who can’t see me, because nothing’s always easy in this business.

My brain’s going like 5 million directions, so if you can gimme a question to focus me that would be good.

J: So the other big question I have is how do you find the narrator?

Crys: The translator?

J: Translator. Sorry. Yeah.

Crys: I know that there’s a Facebook group that I’ve heard several authors mention where translators will state their availability and their languages. I went through Upwork. And there’s a book by Sky McKinnon called Translating Your Book Into German that I think is a really great guide. It’s one I forgot I bought until yesterday. And so I went back and I was refreshing myself on some stuff. But I went through Upwork, and the process I used is that I took about 2000 words of my book. And because it has sex scenes, I did choose one with a sex scene just to see if the translators were chill with that.

So then I posted my English to German proofreading sample job and got a bunch of people saying, Hey, I’ll do it for this much, I’ll do it for this much. I went and searched their database for translators like, hmm, they seem like they might be a good candidate, invited them to apply for the job, and then I picked five people.

Point of interest on Upwork, don’t say that your work has sexy stuff in it because some prude might get offended and report you, and then the job gets canceled and then you have to start everything over from scratch. So that happened. And so now everything doesn’t mention it and then as soon as the translator or the proofreader messages me, I’m like, do you have a problem working with this kind of content? And they’re like, Nope. And I’m like, cool. I was Like most Germans aren’t prudes so we’re good with that.

And after I did that, I thankfully have a German friend who agreed to read through the samples and tell me which ones were viable. And only one of them, she was like, that sounds like someone who actually speaks German wrote it. I’m like, cool, I’m gonna go with her. And if I didn’t have a German-speaking friend, what I would probably do is on Upwork or on Fiverr, I would request a German-native reader to read through a sample and give me their opinion on it. And I’d pay like five bucks or 10 bucks for people to do this. That’s how I would evaluate it. I’d probably have five to 10 people do that so that I wasn’t just relying on one person’s opinion, and then just see what the consensus was.

J: So I have sort of another more abstract question. like anything we do as Indies, we pay for it with either money or time, like those are the currencies. It sounds like you’ve paid a lot of this in time, like you’ve spent time learning, reading up on it. I guess what I’m trying to ask is could I just pay for it instead?

Like what if I don’t really want to learn all about the translation world and I just want to pay for it. Is that possible?

Crys: Not exactly, but the shortcut is that book that I told you about that Sky McKinnon has written is all of the information you need, specifically for publishing to German. You’d still have to find the time with the hiring of people to do the things. But other than that, like you can take those old announcements you have about your book, those old newsletters if you wanted to have them translate in German, you just hire someone on Upwork and can be like, Hey, can you translate this newsletter for me? If you were gonna do a German newsletter, I know several authors who only have their English newsletter, they’re not doing German newsletters.

J: Interesting. All right. What is your hope for this? Say percentagewise of your book royalties, what are you hoping to make?

Crys: I’ve seen people quickly getting up to monthly equal with their Amazon US earnings, their English earnings in the US. So that would be delightful. I will probably with this series go into KU because that is what my co-writer is comfortable with. She hasn’t done anything wide at all. But when I get around to translating my personal solo work, I will probably put that in Tolino and KU.

But right now I just want it to pay for itself to pay for the next translation. That’s my hope, that in one or two translations, they are then paying for themselves. It would be absolutely lovely if I could add an extra grand to my pocket every month within six books. If I make more than that, I’m definitely not gonna be disappointed.

J: Yeah.

Crys: But like an extra grand on top of paying for it the next translation.

J: I imagine very quickly, at least at this point, you’re gonna hit diminishing returns on translations if you’re not like a Harper Collins or Penguin Random House. So German was your first choice, what’s next and how many would you go like now? Like how many more would you entertain?

Crys: If I had a bunch of money set aside that I could afford to throw into translations and not expect it to earn out within a year or so, I would probably do French on one series and see how well that did. Spanish, I am hopeful because my roommate’s a bilingual speaker, I’m hopeful that she will have the time to translate them and then we do split profit on those. Because Spanish right now has not yet hit the adoption of eBook technology, but it’s gonna come. And when it does, it would be lovely to be one of those folks who’s already there. Because German two years ago, everybody was just snapping up everything they could indie publishing because all of a sudden like authors started putting stuff out, but it wasn’t saturated yet.

Now we’re on the lower half of the bell curve. So it’s like it’s the early adopters coming up to the middle, not yet to the late adopters. So it’s still a really good time to publish and feel fairly confident that you’re gonna earn back relatively quickly. But in two years it’s gonna be a whole different marketplace.

J: But you’re still selling paper as well?

Crys: Yeah. And paper in the EU sells at a higher rate than the US does.

J: Yeah.

Crys: So, I have no idea what that looks like yet, but I’m super interested. So I will be publishing eBook and paperback right from the get-go.

J: Oh, this is awesome. I’m excited for you. I’m excited to see where this goes.

Crys: That’s one of the things with Spanish, one of the reasons that Spanish translations don’t yet have a good return, is print on demand isn’t as widely available in all of the Spanish-speaking countries with the larger populations.

J: Got it.

Crys: Yeah. My question for our listeners is: what are your thoughts on translation? Is that something super far off down the road for you, or are you hoping to have that sooner in your future? And what are your thoughts about what you’re gonna do?

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