Translation Options for Indie Authors

dreamstime_xs_48570158 translateDavid Vann is one of the most accomplished U.S. authors you’ve never heard of. His award-winning works have been translated into nearly 20 languages, and he’s a former Guggenheim Fellow and Stegner Fellow.

Even though Vann’s books are published by a major publisher, he receives more attention and more sales abroad. He claims he has sold more books in Barcelona than in the entire U.S.

Are you next?

International sales represent a golden opportunity for writers.

Not long ago, selling rights internationally required a network of agents, publishers, translators, and distributors. It was almost impossible for independent authors to break into the market. But social media, email, online retail platforms, and advances in technology have made exploiting international rights easier than ever. Writers can engage with readers all over the world without leaving their desks.

Translation is an art, just like writing. A literary translator must try to capture the original voice, meaning, characters and pacing. Finding a translator is extremely tricky, and the more literary the book, the trickier it gets. But for those looking to dive in, here are some options.

Two newish companies are helping authors and translators connect, Babelcube and Fiberead. We expect others will be entering this potentially huge market. A little about these companies.


Babelcube connects authors with translators and distributes the translated books internationally.

Babelcube’s process is similar to ACX’s royalty-share structure. The author pays nothing up-front for the translation, but shares royalties with the translator and with Babelcube on a sliding scale depending on the total net revenues generated by the translated book. Basically, the more books sold, the more the author earns.

As of November 2015, the basic terms were:

  • For the first $2000 in net receipts, the author gets 30%, the translator 55%, and Babelcube 15%.
  • For net receipts between $2,001 and $5,000, the author gets 45%, the translator 40%, and Babelcube 15%.
  • For net receipts between $5,001 and $8,000, the author gets 65%, the translator 20%, and Babelcube 15%.
  • For net receipts over $8,000, the author gets 75%, the translator 10%, and Babelcube 15%.

Net receipts means the monetary amount (in US Dollars) received by Babelcube from sales of each unit sold by Babelcube and Babelcube’s sub-distributors, less any cash incentives, promotional discounts, sales or use taxes, excise taxes, value-added taxes, duties, distribution fees, and returns.

Similar to ACX, the author posts information about the book on the Babelcube site and potential translators contact the author if they are interested. The author selects the translator and reviews and approves the translation. Once the translation is complete, Babelcube has the exclusive right to distribute the translated version of the book for five years, renewing automatically for one-year periods unless either party gives the other written notice of termination at least 60 days prior to the renewal date. It distributes ebooks through various channels including Amazon, Google, Apple, Nook, Kobo, Scribd and hundreds of regional and country online retailers and print books through CreateSpace.

The author must provide a cover for the translated work. I suspect the author also provides an ISBN.

The author retains all rights in both the original text and the translated text. The translator assigns to the author all rights to the translation, including copyright and moral rights.

As of November 27, 2015, Babelcube translates works into the following languages:

  • Afrikaans
  • Dutch
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Norwegian
  • Portuguese
  • Spanish


Fiberead offers translating and marketing services for the Chinese market.  As of November 27, 2015, they translate into simplified and traditional Chinese only.

China represents a huge market. Who wouldn’t want to jump in. However, writers should be aware that Fiberead’s contract is not author-friendly, especially compared to Babelcube’s. Among other things,

  • Fiberead controls the choice of translators, pricing, and marketing.
  • Fiberead retains all rights to the translated work even after the agreement terminates.
  • Author’s royalties are 30% to 40% of net sales receipts for ebooks, but Fiberead deducts all kinds of expenses from the net sales receipts, including publishing fees and marketing costs.
  • Fiberead claims an 18-month exclusive on the print version of the translated book and a right of first offer after that.

We will check in on the site from time to time to see if they begin to offer more author-favorable terms .

Just yesterday, I engaged a translator through Babelcube to translate Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook into Spanish. I am excited to reach a new audience. I’ll post about my experience as I move through the process.

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5 responses to “Translation Options for Indie Authors”

  1. Thanks Helen for sharing these amazing resources.
    Do you know if I can use the translation provided by Babelcube and print and sell copies myself?

    • Stephane, That is such a good question and one I forgot to ask. I could not find the info on their site so I emailed Babelcube and they told me I could buy the book retail through Amazon. That’s ridiculous. I told them that was not a wise business practice, since it makes sense to give the author and the translator a price break so they could send out review copies and sell and promote the book themselves. They haven’t responded.
      Thank you for pointing this out.

  2. I’m wondering this as well. It’s quite simple to offer a discount through Createspace, on their sales page, and I believe Createspace the platform Babelcube is using. Barring that, a workaround might be to have he books printed through Createspace in your own account, but don’t offer them for sale anywhere (a violation of your agreement, I’m sure), just have them printed in order to give out review copies. You’d have to check with them to be sure you’re not violating the terms of the agreement, but this seems reasonable.

    Any other options for Chinese publishing since your book’s been out? (I bought a copy just for the foreign rights section and was glad I did). I wasn’t comfortable with the contract proposed by Fiberead, so am not going with them (yet), but I was intrigued by their print deal, if you pony up 40% of the print run cost, you can get 50% of the sales. Interesting angle, but not enough to warrant the other points in the contract. Searching for other options.

    Thanks for the great resources, Helen.

  3. Betty Escobosa says:

    If the book being translated is an illustrated children’s book, is permission needed from the illustrator in order to proceed with the translation?

    • Betty, My apologies for taking so long to respond. For some reason, my website stopped giving me notifications when I received comments. First look at the copyright page of the book. It may say that the copyright in the text belongs to the author and the copyright to the illustrations belong to the illustrator. But sometimes the lines are not so clearly drawn. The author and illustrator may have collaborated on the entire project. So it’s best to at least check with the illustrator.

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