How to Sell Your Book in Foreign Markets: A Literary Translation Guide for Self-Published Authors

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If you’ve self-published your book in English and haven’t looked into translating it for foreign markets, you might be missing out on a lucrative opportunity. There are more than 7,000 languages in the world, and while English is the most widely spoken one, it only accounts for around 13% of the global population, including non-native speakers. 

For many self-published authors, selling their translated books in other countries is a chance to earn more money and win more acclaim, but as with everything else in the publishing industry, it takes hard work, time, and research to make it happen. You also have to ensure you’re hiring the right translator since literary translation is no trivial matter. 

If you’re ready to have your book or finished manuscript translated, check out our end-to-end literary translation services, which can help you grow your international audience and sales. That said, where do you start? 

Finalize your translated book

The first step in this process is finalizing your translated book, which means choosing your target language, hiring a literary translator, and having the work edited and proofread. Your ideal target language depends on many factors, including its number of speakers, the size of its literary market, the popularity of your genre in it, and even your purely personal desire to share your story in this particular language. Once you’ve chosen your target language, we can help you with the rest. You want the standard and quality of your translated work to match your original manuscript, which is why working with a team of dedicated and experienced professionals is key. 

Some of the most popular languages for English-language books to be translated into are Spanish, Chinese, French, Italian, German, Japanese, and Portuguese, but certain genres will do better in different markets. Therefore, it’s important to do your research before choosing a target language as everything, from cultural norms to censorship, can affect your sales in a foreign country. If you’re not comfortable censoring your story to get the green light from deeply conservative or suppressive authorities, consider searching for freer markets.

And speaking of research…

Do your research

Like most aspects of self-publishing, having your book translated and marketing it abroad requires a lot of research. You need to be clear on who owns (or will own) the international, translation, and licensing rights of your translated work before signing any deals. In fact, you should have a solid understanding of these rights before reaching out to prospective agents and publishers. Many self-published authors embark on negotiations without knowing their rights and miss out on opportunities to earn more money, not to mention that losing the rights to one’s own creative work can be demoralizing for a passionate author. A trustworthy literary agent will help you negotiate a fair contract, so it’s important to hire someone who already works in your target market and has an excellent understanding of global rights. 

The same goes for the international publisher you choose to work with—you should check their sales record and experience in your target market and read the fine print on any contract you sign to ensure your rights are being protected. Since you’re working with publishers in a foreign country, remember that they operate in a different cultural environment, so the norms you’re used to may not apply there. Questions like who owns the rights, in which languages and countries, and for how long are just as important as their business and sales plan for your book, their experience, the size of the publishing house, and their track record. This is another area where it pays to have a trustworthy local literary agent fighting for you.

Another option is self-publishing your translated work as an eBook without an agent or a publisher, which can be tough if you don’t speak the target language. Still, it is doable as long as you’re willing to put the time and money into it. Using international sites like Amazon and Apple Books can make your eBook available to a foreign market with a few clicks, but success on these platforms will require high-quality marketing and maybe offering a few freebies. To effectively market your translated work in a foreign market, you should carefully research the culture behind the language and learn what promotional angles are most likely to attract your target audience in that country.

Market your translated book 

Book sales rely heavily on marketing; in fact, it’s the most essential part of selling your book, and the same rules apply to foreign markets. Attending international book fairs, getting reviews written in your chosen foreign language, creating targeted email subscription lists, and placing call-to-action buttons on your website are all steps you can take to get the word out and make international readers interested in your book. Basically, you have to undertake the marketing journey all over again for a new country.

Many self-published authors have found their sales to improve when they offer free eBooks on their online platforms as a way to entice readers, distributors, and even publishers to check out their other works. If it’s your first book, you can offer a free copy for a limited time or a discount for a set number of buyers to increase your chances of being discovered. This can be a lengthy process—it will take time for those free book offers to translate into sales—but it will work if readers love your free offer, so just be patient. Marketing a book is a long game.

Of course, using social media to promote your work is imperative these days, so don’t dismiss partnering with an influencer or paying for ads to get your book in your target audience’s feeds. If you don’t speak the target language, you will need to hire a translator for this entire process although it doesn’t have to be the same translator who did your book—marketing skills are key in this step, and those aren’t necessarily the same as literary translation skills. You should also know the social media platforms that are most popular in a given country, which may even necessitate signing up to new websites. For example, in Japan, LINE will get you much further than Facebook, whose reach is limited in the giant Asian market. Forums and paid sponsorships can also be an effective strategy, but they can be time-consuming and expensive.

Selling your book in a foreign market might sound overwhelming, but if you’ve already written and self-published your book in English, it’s just another step to better sales and a larger fanbase. Take a look at our literary translation services, which can render your book into more than 90 languages and help you reach new readers around the globe. 

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