Estelle Van de Velde

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How to translate a book yourself?

You’ve got a book and would like to translate it yourself in other languages? Let’s talk about this.

Last updated: January 31, 2023

As you may have heard from my accent, English is not my native language. However, English is an international language spoken by many people. I personally write my stories directly in English, I don’t translate them in English. As it happens, I live in Belgium where we either speak Dutch, French or German (for a small part). English seems like a good choice, as most people will learn that language at school. However, if I wanted to truly reach everyone within my audience, I should translate my books… at least in French. And that’s actually what I did with The Londoners, as people kept asking me for a French version. So here are some tips and tricks on how to translate your book in another language, by yourself or almost.

Translating a book: the hard way

But before we get started, let’s do some maths. To translate a book within a language, you should need a professional translator, right? Let’s say your book is around 50,000 words. On average, the translation cost per word is around 0.12 cents. You multiply that by your 50,000 words and you get exactly 6,000 euros for a book translation. Needless to say this is a huge amount of money. Not everyone is able to pay it upfront, except if you’re going through the traditional publishing path. Which would mean you’d have nothing to pay for any translation as the publishing house pays for everything.

If you’re going the self-publishing way, however, there are a couple routes you could take so you’d see your book translated into other languages.

You could, for example, sell your international rights by territory to a publishing house. Let’s say a famous French publishing house is interested in your book and would like to buy the rights to translate and sell it in France. You could do it and not be bothered by any translation costs, as the publishing house would do it for you. And you’d have a contract and royalties coming from France every now and then.

Translating a book: the soft way

However, if you are fluent in more than one language, you could possibly translate your book into multiple languages without a publishing house or spending money on translations. How? Let me show you how I translated The Londoners in French.

First, you can use an AI algorithm to translate your manuscript for you. I personally use, it’s an effective way to get the first translation super quick and it’s way better than google translate. That’s kind of the easy part.

Once you’ve done that first draft, you’ll have to get to the real work: getting through edits. An AI isn’t perfect and won’t get as idiomatic as a native person would. So I recommend not publishing that AI version, or you’ll get very bad reviews on it because it won’t always make sense. Instead, take a couple days working on editing the freshly translated manuscript. If you’re confident enough with the language, you’ll have no problem going through it all and making it the best version of itself. For the French version of the Londoners and knowing I have a day job and a baby, it took me roughly two months to redraft it completely once. Then I asked someone to proofread it: my mum. Then I went through it again and made a third draft.

If you’re the author, you may not be a professional translator so don’t despair at how many drafts you’re going through before thinking the translation is acceptable. It’s like publishing a whole new book.

But don’t think you should stop there. Hiring a professional proofreader is still a must have. Unfortunately, you won’t find one through Reedsy, as they only work in English (for now). So either you already know a professional proofreader in the language you’re focusing on, or you’ll find them through author recommendations or search engines.

And after all this… that’s it. You’ve got a fully translated manuscript that you can self-publish. Translation that you’ve made yourself.

You can book a consultation with me if you’d like personalised support in your self-publishing journey.

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