I would hate for this to be a shameless plug for my book, The Last British President, and that is not the intention, I promise. But getting a book translated and published correctly and using the technology currently available is a major undertaking and isn’t something I would undertake lightly.
Translation By Email And Face To Face
Shortly after publishing on Amazon/KDP in 2019, I realised that because it’s largely set in Buenos Aires, it may appeal more to a Spanish-speaking audience. This led me to trawl around for a translator and as I was doing this, a friend I had known for some years offered his services at a very reasonable rate. In fact, he is Anglo-Argentine, speaks both languages fluently, scrapes a living from translation work, and once translated for the Rolling Stones during their tour of Argentina back in the 90s. What could possibly go wrong?
The key to translating from one language to another is to maintain the original author’s style, flow, and nuance because we all write very differently. Whilst my friend’s Spanish is clearly native, the end result was very rigid, as if the translation was literally word for word. If you’re translating a technical document, say a motherboard manual, it really doesn’t matter if the translation is literal because you’re simply conveying essential information to the user. A novel, on the other hand, is a very different proposition and for those reasons, we parted company. It simply didn’t work.
The same can be said for Google Translate which is excellent for say, quickly translating a news article for colleagues, social media, or a community forum, but not for creative work for the very same reasons I’ve just mentioned. I also considered Babelcube, a translation service mentioned to me by a fellow ex-pat, but I dismissed it due to the 15% royalty and her negative experiences with it as documented in our ex-pat forum discussed in this thread.
So, a few weeks later and purely by chance, my wife mentioned that the daughter of one of her clients was a qualified and experienced translator, but she had never translated a novel before, and was it worth a try? Yes, definitely, I replied.
After meeting for a coffee with my new translator friend, we agreed on terms but then had to decide whether she would go over the previous translation and correct it or start from scratch, bearing in mind that 50% of 130,000 words had already been completed. That’s a painful task for anyone to undertake, so we agreed that she would start from scratch. She began in July last year and would return blocks of ten chapters (out of 55) over a six-month period, which is roughly how it panned out. Well, I was more than pleasantly surprised when I read the first ten chapters because she had managed to perfectly capture the essence of the story without losing the author’s style. Clearly Spanish is not my native language, but I am proficient enough to recognise a superb translation when I see it. In fact, my wife, who is Argentine, agreed – the translator had hit the spot.
She delivered the final chapters by email in December, and in January, a final proofread version was ready for publishing. I would also like to point out that we had regular coffee chats face to face, we understood where we needed to go, and more importantly, we were able to iron out those seemingly small points of semantics and local dialect. Those aspects alone would be difficult to achieve over the ether.
For logistical reasons, I decided to publish locally with a POD (print on demand) company and perhaps internationally later with Amazon KDP. The POD company I chose, also assists with some of the promotion on social media – Facebook and Instagram mainly – which is an area that I’m not particularly skillful with. Added to this, my social media accounts – Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – do not have many followers because I don’t do fashion parades or cat videos. Maybe I should? On the other hand, they have provided me with promotional artwork and social media-friendly graphics which I can use for promotional purposes.
The actual translation work was expensive, but in my opinion, money well spent. I also made another big change and hired a professional graphic designer for the book cover which, as it turned out, is precisely the cover that the book always needed – in your face, controversial and inquisitive.
I can write a little and I know how to sell products, but when it comes to self-promotion, I’m a complete failure. This is why most promotional campaigns for almost anything are carried out by third parties who are experts in this field and are able to put their own spin on the campaign. A large part of selling a book, or any creative media for that matter, is selling the person behind it because you’re not just selling a product, but the whole package. On the other hand, if I were not self-publishing and had been signed up with a major book deal, I wouldn’t have to worry about such tasks because it would all be done for me with a big juicy advance. But where’s the fun in that?
Next month, I’ll be at the Buenos Aires Book Fair, the largest book fair in South America, where I’ve booked a slot with the publishers for signing copies of my book, so I’m sending out invites to all my contacts who may be interested in a copy direct from the author. Being the centre of attention is not something that comes naturally to me because I’m not an actor you see, darling. But on this occasion, I’m planning to be on my best behaviour and I won’t be dressed in a business suit, but in casual biker attire, because that’s who I am.
As I sign off with this article, I’ll conclude by mentioning that we’ve received firm commitments from readers for 20 books and are awaiting a shipment of 50 to arrive from POD in the next few days. That’s the advantage of print on demand – it’s possible to print just one copy or many hundreds. All I want now is to have a copy in my hands and maybe then I’ll feel the salesman in me kicking in.