I can speak a few languages and I am just about done with my first manuscript in English. Since I found the translation fun and not too difficult, I translated it into French, German, Spanish and Swedish. I read the versions to some of my friends who are bilingual in those languages and found no faults in the translation

I haven't sent the English manuscript in yet, and so, I haven't made a deal yet. I understand it is putting the cart before the horse, but I am curious. Would a publisher be willing to use my translation? I understand that there are several caveats to this.

1) Assuming my translation is correct.

2) Assuming there is a market for it in those languages/countries

3) I know a publisher would probably only translate it there was a reason for it, like having it sell numerous copies already in English. (My thinking around this part is that if I provide the translated versions, there is less upfront expenditures for the publisher to issue it in those languages. They would only need edit an existing copy, which means less costs to both parties. If the publisher were to translate it, they would take the cost of translation out of the advance/payment to you, which is less ideal.)

4) If the publisher thought that there were not markets for certain languages, or did not want to put in the effort to do the translation, would you be able to work out something to retain those specific rights or just do the translation for them? Or maybe even just self publish those language versions with the publisher's consent? Are languages rights all or none?

I also have friends who would be willing to translate it into Korean, Turkish and Hindi, if it were to be published. I hear that India and South Korea are untapped markets.

4 Answers 4


There are some financial advantages to translating a book yourself, but IMHO, the main advantages are moral advantages.

If you can translate your own books, then you can control how the books are translated. And while some publishers might not pay to have your book translated, they might accept the gift of "two" (or more) for one.

  • That is disappointing to hear, but I agree about the moral advantages. I find that many translation are lackluster. So what you are saying is that they would use the translation without getting a better deal.
    – Icer Box
    May 23, 2017 at 2:21
  • @IcerBox: They might pay you "separately" for foreign sales generated by translations. Say, $5,000 on signing, plus 10-%15% of the royalties generated by the foreign sales.
    – Tom Au
    May 23, 2017 at 15:52

I'm surprised by how often people neglect opportunity cost when considering whether doing something themselves is financially advantageous.

So besides having control of the output, you'll want to ask yourself what you would do with your time if you weren't translating your own work: would you be working on an income-generating job, such as writing another book?

Books for the English (American) market, generally speaking, are the most profitable. If your novel sells well in English, chances are your next novel in English will also sell well—probably better than your translations. In that case, no, doing your own translations would not be financially advantageous.

I suspect that is one major reason successful, multilingual authors leave their translations to others—they've got more best-sellers to write. That, and most people would rather work on something new than rewrite the same story over and over in different languages.


I can't directly address the financial issue. Oviously a good translator costs money to hire, and the translation will require additional editing in that language.

But I just looked up a couple of famous authors whom I know are fluently bilingual. In each case, the author did not translate his own work, but wrote it in one language, with another person (also famous) doing the translation.

Perhaps that's the lifestyle of the famous!

I could translate much of my own writing into gramatically accurate French. What I cannot do is express English street talk in French. A translator, realizing that certain passages were English street talk, would substitute whatever French conveys the meaning, without bothering to say precisely the same thing. The translator has the advantage of mental distance from the work.

On a related note (pun intended): Some of the worst folk-pop songs I've heard, from amateurs, involve setting one or more Biblical passages to music. They insist on preserving the precise language of (say) KJV, even though it does not fit the music. Yet it can be done (Byrds, "Turn, Turn, Turn").

It is a different issue if your work is academic, and uses precise language throughout.

  • Concerning the colloquialisms, I don't have any issue with translating the culture references or street slang. You make a good point though. I didn't write the English with as much slang as I did cultural references. I might consider a foreign co-author only if the publisher wanted it.
    – Icer Box
    May 23, 2017 at 2:17

Leaving aside the reason why would you want your work translated, the short and simple answer is, of course, yes. You can pay for the translation, or you can do it yourself and save money. Translating your own work yourself will also, as Tom Au pointed out, give you an advantage of better control of the outcome, assuming that you are capable of performing the task. How it is all going to play out largely depends upon how you are planning to publish your work. If you are publishing yourself, you are in charge of much more aspects of the process. If you have a publisher, I would allow myself to guess, that all the questions related to translating should be addressed to them.

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