Translation Time

It's reaching a point where significant numbers independent, e-Published authors are making big enough sales to think about getting translated.

I have worked as a freelance translator, and know a number of them. Freelance translators are the best way to go because they cut out the intermediaries and you get better rates.

All this is somewhat beside the point though, and the point is this:

If you already have a book written in English that is selling in the English-speaking world, you can do a simple bit of maths to see if getting it translated will be profitable. Supposing you have a 75k word novel that has sold a total of 5000 downloads for $1.50 (your profit - sales commission already deducted ). If your main market is US English, then include Canada, the UK and Australia to creep up to a population of about 500M. This isn't the size of your market, but it's the only figure you need to work out if translation will be profitable (or when it will be).

France has a population of about 60M. They all speak French well enough to read your book in French. "Standard" French is also spoken as a first or second language in numerous other countries around the world, though experience tells me that estimates of how many speak it as well or nearly as well, or the same way or nearly the same way as in mainland France are deeply suspect. Around the world, though, there are probably at least another 30M people who could read and enjoy your book in standard French, or slightly tweaked French (such as Quebecois). Official French figures put the size of the French speaking world at over 900M if you include all variants and all people speaking French as a second language. I'm going with the lower figure.

That gives you a target population of 90M - call it 100M for ease of calculation, so one fifth the size of the English speaking population. So one fifth of 5000 download sales at $1.50 or nearest local currency; call it $1.45 to factor in currency exchanges and fluctuations: $1450

Your 75k word book will cost you anything from $5000 to $10000 to translate into French. Horrifying isn't it? But anything lower is a slave-wage for a translator - and in any case a literary translation is complex and difficult, and as much a creative as an interpretive art.

You would need to sell 4000 downloads to make a profit. Lets try something a little more expensive:

Your 150k tome currently downloads for $5.99, and to date you have sold on average 500 copies per month. You can expect to sell 100 copies (or less) a month in French. Cost of translation $10k to $15k. You'd take 17 months to break even.

The point is that you can compare your sales in one language to potential sales in another to find out if translation will be profitable. As far as I can see, it should be profitable to translate anything relatively short (less than 80k words) that sells fast. 

I'm already hearing rumours and ideas circulating among translators to set up translation and promotion services for any indie book that is already doing well enough in English to be profitable for translation. The French and German economies are large and affluent, "Global Economic Crisis" notwithstanding, and the sooner you break into these markets independently, the more you will encourage small, targeted intermediaries, rather than trad pub trying to get a stranglehold on translated releases by buying up foreign language rights and thereby maintaining their monopoly - albeit only on translated work.

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