I figured I should write a post about translations since I have done a few.
This post is purely for translations you do yourself direct. While you can use some of this for things like Babelcube and Tektime, editing/proofing is actually a bit of an overkill there (especially as any good market (i.e. German you should be doing direct). Other markets with less $ equity involved will NOT support you doing paid editing/proofing (e.g. Spanish) as a 3rd party check. Some steps for a translation you will be happy with:
1) Figure out your budget.
Realise translation costs are significantly higher than anything you have paid for, and CAN be higher than even audio. For example, I’ve worked with translators who range in cost from $0.10 a word to around $0.02 a word.
2) Understand the different levels of translation
So for those of you who don’t deal with translations and/or have only have one spoken language, translations come in a variety of formats (and I’m making up the terms here).
You have literal translation. This ranges from Machine Translation (stick work in Google Translate, let it run) to just word for word translation.
This is the most barebones form of translation but is also the cheapest. It can lead to certain oddities.
As an example, if we use a Chinese idiom ‘frog looking out of the well’, you could either translate it directly OR translate it to a localized idiom. With a literal translation, you’d just translate it directly.
This is NOT the kind of translation you want if your work is full of puns (because they don’t direct translate) or have a lot of context derived clues. Also, Germany has a gendered-language unlike English, so ‘they/them’, ‘he/they’, etc. can cause problems when you use things like that. (Nevermind say robots…) After that, you have a more commercial / general translation with minor localisation. Here, the translator is not JUST translating word for word but altering to fit issues like clarity, idioms, grammar and just general flow. They’re often still working from a direct translation of the work, but smoothing it out a little and potentially localizing context (example, they might switch inches to mm, switch a common US politician name to a local politician name, etc.).
Finally, there’s literary translation. This is THE most expensive, and requires a high level of skill. Here, they’re not JUST changing idioms but making up jokes to replace one’s that have been wiped out, etc.
E.g. Flat Out – the title for System Apocalypse: Australia 2 is an Australian joke. It doesn’t work in German. So we have to change it. A good translator can and will find an appropriate joke similar to this, which conveys the same ‘feel’.
Literary translation also deals with things like rhythm, pacing, feelings and other cultural nuances (of both the existing work AND the culture they are translating into).
This is by far the most expensive form and you can see prices heading upwards of >$0.10 a word here.
3)The first check…
Okay, you want your work translated. You have a lot of translators making offers. What do you?
No, I’m not joking. Grab the sample text you sent (you DID send them sample text first, right?) and run it through Google Translate.
Now compare the Google Translate work to what they sent back? If it’s 95% or more similar, auto-reject.
Yes, auto-reject. Google Translate sucks. Do NOT use anyone who is so close to Google Translate you can eyeball it and see it being similar.
4) The detailed check
Now, if they pass the general eyeball, what next? Check with friends. You have friends, right?
Seriously, talk to people who speak the right language and have them read over your sample. Such samples are often 400-1000 words long, and they should be able to do this fast.
If you don’t have friends, ask fans and/or in fan groups.
Failing all that – hire someone. Upwork and other freelance sites have highly rated people who you can pay to verify your translation.
Oh, by the way – certain languages (e.g. Spanish and Portuguese) have regional dialects (Brazilian Portuguese and Portuguese Portuguese are different). Make sure you know which one you want and which one your work is being translated into.
5) Verify deadlines and pricing
Make sure you have deadlines. Anyone offering to get your work translated in 2 weeks is going to do a shoddy ass job. Make sure to find out when they’ll start, when they’ll finish and verify penalties/etc. if they are late.
Be clear that you will be getting proofers/editors involved, so that they know to work that timing in for their own schedules.
Also, verify pricing. Check pricing up against your own budget to see if it makes sense.
6) Get the contract signed
Assuming your translator passes all that. What next?
Contract time! Make sure you get a contract written and signed by both parties. Be aware of differences in contract and copyright law that might affect you (specifically, in Germany – you can’t take away German native copyright. You can get perpetual use rights though with 0 royalties).
7) Pay the deposit
Most translators want deposits. You’ll find 50/50 splits being the most common, though 50/25/25 or 25/50/25 also viable (deposit, first draft, finished).
At this point, you should also be sending the manuscript and any style sheets you have.
8) Await questions.
There should be questions. If there aren’t, you might want to start getting worried.
9) Get the first chapter (maybe)
If this is a new translator or one you’re uncertain about, the first chapter review is good. This should be part of your contract with timelines, etc.
You might get the first chapter before questions arrive (depending on context of the first chapter).
Repeat process of checking the first chapter as per the sample. Verify that this chapter is good. Clarify if there are issues with the chapter if there are any.
10) Wait… and receive first draft.
I call it a first draft, but this isn’t a first draft like a writer’s first draft, but the first draft of the completed work from the translator. At this point, the draft should be finished as far as the translator is concerned.
11) Pass to editor/proofreader
I use editor/proofreader interchangeably here because how much you want to use depends on your budget.
My belief is you should be paying for an editor in most cases. I know some do disagree, but a new translation is basically a new work; with all the errors, overly convoluted sentences, missing spaces, etc. that your first draft going to an editor would have.
If you aren’t willing to pay for a real editor, get a proofer. A GOOD proofer.
Where do you find editors or proofers? Ask around. Upwork is a good site for this in my experience.
12) Return edited and proofed work to translator
Mostly, I’ve found that translators who will slack off will do so halfway through the book. I’ve had that happen once with a translator about 4 1/2 books in. They just switched to machine translation.
My editor caught it, returned the work and went ‘this is bad translation, please have them redo it’. We did, they even tried that again for the next 4.5 books.
This isn’t a full proof method, but making sure you have an editor or proofer involved means your translator, even when they do slack, will get caught out.
13) Get your edited work back.
Once your translator returns your edited work, you should be ready to format the work for publishing. At this point, they expect final payment.
Spot check to make sure they gave you the right document (it happens, by mistake or on purpose) and that the edits were applied.
Tip – change the name of the files (e.g. YYMMDD-Title-Edited.docx) to help clarify.
If it’s all good, pay them.
14) Beta readers (optional)
Can be useful, but if you’ve done ALL the above, you should be good. You can pay for beta readers at this point in lieu of a proper proof, or you can skip it (if your editor is good).
Extra Tip: 15) Don’t forget your blurb!
Yeah, don’t forget you need your blurb and often, things like the author’s note and/or author information for Author Central translated.
16) Publish and watch reviews (within reason).
Understand that based off the level of the translation (and how much you paid!); you might get a few bad reviews. I don’t expect perfect reviews ever; but if I see a few bad reviews when I paid $0.02 a word for my translation, I can understand that. If I paid $0.10 a word and I’m getting dozens of comments about bad translation… something has gone wrong seriously. You shouldn’t, not if you have good editors and proofers working as a double check.
Okay, that’s my giant post on translations. Have fun!
Like the business blog post? Want to support me writing more of them? Want to read ahead (2 weeks) of others? Become a Patron and choose the $2-tier to be able to read the business posts only and ask questions about the business side of writing.