Translate your books without spending a dime: the Babelcube way

Babelcube

Image Courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you ever dreamt of having your books translated in other languages reaching untapped regions and markets AT NO COST whatsoever?

“No, this is impossible,” I used to think myself only about six months back.

I had heard about highbrow authors spending thousands of dollars to get their books translated into German, Spanish or even Chinese. But I knew that I just couldn’t afford to take that route at all.

Imagine my surprise when I realised that it is now absolutely possible (and eminently affordable) for us unknown authors too to “hire” translators. And a company known as Babelcube has made it all possible.

Babelcube

Babelcube claims that translators in more than ten languages are registered with them and that they can distribute your translated books to more than 300 retailers worldwide.

To be frank, this sounded too good to be true. So, I was admittedly very, very sceptical.

“Why should any translator take the risk of translating books of an unknown author without charging a hefty fee upfront?” I wondered.

Yet there was another part of me that said what the heck, why not give this concept a try? I had nothing much to lose; except the fear that my books may get pirated. But as I learnt from Paul Coelho, whose books were pirated in thousands in Russian, this may not be a bad thing at all for reducing your anonymity!

It didn’t cost anything to open a Babelcube account, to set up your profile, upload your book cover, add the book description, mention your current sales rank and attach the final manuscript in MS-Word. At the most, it may eat up half an hour from your writing schedule.

So I registered and uploaded all my books sometime in May 2014 and forgot about it. In a few weeks’ time, my reverie was disturbed when I started getting offers from translators from Turkey, Brazil, Italy and Spain who apparently saw a market for my books in their respective countries. This left me pleasantly surprised.

The good news is that you don’t need to pay anything to the translators upfront. What you have to do (and actually Babelcube does that too) is to share royalties with them from your actual sales on a sliding scale. For example, if your book sales be less than $2000, your translators get a 55% share, you as the rights holder get 35% and Babelcube keeps a flat 15% share. Your share keeps going up as your book sales go above the $2000 mark. You can see the details here.

Quality of translators

Some of the offers I got were from very well qualified translators. On Babelcube, you can check the profile of every translator. But many were simply college students looking to gain some exposure (and pocket money) before graduating. I had no problems with college students looking to gain some practical experience BUT was a little hesitant to let my manuscript be used as a guinea pig.

Issue of editor/proof reader

For my English manuscript, I take a lot of care insuring (oops ensuring) 🙂  that my book is error free and reads well. I wanted the same care to be taken with my translated books. Some people advised using Fiverr to find proof readers but I did not know if I could trust such people and whether it would be worth my while to incur costs outside the Babelcube framework.

Just then came my Eureka moment. Why not ask the translators themselves as to whether they work with an editor/proof reader; and if yes, then put their names too in the Babelcube contract with whatever share of revenue they would like to share with them. This would ensure that they both will have a suitable stake in the final product.

Some said that they proof read their own works which made me a little uncomfortable.

However, most of my translators managed to find an editor/proof reader on Babelcube and got their names too incorporated in their offers that they filed. Typically, the translators agreed to split the royalty between themselves and the proof readers in the ratio of 85:15, where the main translator gets 85% and the proof reader 15% (out of the 55% royalty that the translator gets below $ 2000 sales level).

KDP Select issue

Many of my author friends have told me that they would love to get their books translated but can’t because they are enrolled in KDP Select. For those who don’t know, KDP Select is a programme whereby you give exclusivity to Amazon in return for some very powerful promotional tools. This also means that your book (in its digital format and NOT in the print or audio book format) can NOT be made available for sale anywhere else on Apple, Kobo, Nook etc.

Whether this exclusivity will apply to their translated e-books was naturally the question that my author friends were curious to know the answer thereof.

The good news is that it does not. It is perfectly legitimate to have your books translated into other languages, even when they are on KDP Select, as seven of mine are. Surprised?  🙂

Author Steve Scott specifically queried the Amazon guys about this issue. The reply was that a translated book is a different book altogether from the English one. It has a different title and a different book description, so there is no problem. Your KDP Select rules apply only to your English language book and not to the translated ones.

My experiences with Babelcube

In December 2014, my first book ‘How To Cook In A Jiffy Even If You Have Never Boiled An Egg Before’ was translated into Portuguese. The working was smooth. I was concerned a bit about e-book formatting but Babelcube took care of that. My Portuguese translator, Ms. Patricia Chamorro was very pleasant to work with.

The book was distributed to Kobo, Apple, Barnes and Nobles, Baker and Taylor, Follet, Google Play, Scribd, Inkterra, Amazon, 3M, Chegg, Overdrive, Page Foundry, Gardner, etc in just a few weeks’ time. Phew! That’s more than Smashwords could ever manage even for my English books!

I was also pleasantly surprised to find sales immediately rolling in from Google Play and Apple. For others, there is apparently some lag in reporting, because as Mark Dresdner, CEO Babelcube explains, they don’t yet have “live connections” with many platforms.

But there were a few bad experiences as well.

The Negative Experience

One of the translators had agreed to translate my book into Spanish in 30 days. His profile looked very professional. He was a writer himself and had published two books in English on Amazon. I was impressed and decided to sign an agreement with him. A few weeks later, he told me that as he was planning to join a college, he could no longer continue with the translation. So he informed Babelcube accordingly.

David Castillo Dominici

That translator had also taken up other books to translate and he cancelled those agreements as well. This left the authors furious (including myself). As a result, the translator got a lot of 1 star and even .5 star ratings (yes, a .5 star is also possible on Babelcube). This will certainly harm his reputation if he ever tries his hands at translation again.

Image Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This experience was bad but I won’t blame Babelcube for this. The translator was completely at fault in this case having accepted too many offers and then backing out. This can happen to anyone, even outside the Babelcube system, and could be messier if the translator were paid some advance upfront. At least, here we didn’t lose any money and didn’t need to sue the translator to recover that advance. The loss was totally of the translator’s with most authors saying in their reviews that they will not recommend him to anyone else.

So even if a translator backed out of the agreement, there is nothing much to lose.

The Positives

stockimagesMy other translators have been very nice to work with. Some have even asked very intelligent questions. My Italian translator is translating my second book ‘Home Style Indian Cooking In A Jiffy’ into Italian. In India, we use all kinds of cooking oils: mustard, groundnut, soya, sesame, coconut and even olive oil. However, when Italians say cooking oil, they only mean olive oil. So our translator asked us how she should translate this word? I had to tell her that if olive oil was the only kind of oil available in Italy, there should be no problem translating cooking oil as olive oil.

Image Courtesy of Stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Promotional tools

Babelcube has introduced two promotional tools whereby you can make your book free for a limited period (for 7 days) on all e-book retailers or discount your book for 7 days on all retailer sites. This is somewhat similar to the KDP Select promotional tools. However, I have not used these tools so far, so I really cannot comment on their effectiveness. Babelcube also allows you to make your book perma-free (with the consent of your translator of course!) to boost visibility.

Pricing

Babelcube suggests to price your books between $2.99 and $9.99 which is the same as on Amazon.

Paperback

Babelcube has now introduced a Paperback option as well. You use the same manuscript for the e-Book that your translator sent to you without making any formatting changes. Cover design was an issue which I sorted out using the Create Space cover creator using the same image, except for the title that had to be translated. Finally I had to convert the jpeg image into pdf before uploading. There are lots of sites which convert your jpeg image into pdf. Simply google them.

It looks like Babelcube handles the rest through Draft2Digital, which takes some time. In my case, the paperback was published just today, so I will come back to this topic in greater detail the moment I have some more experience.

Conclusion

On the whole my experience has been quite positive with Babelcube. I’ve received interesting offers for all my books, but have inked agreements for the following:

How To Cook In A Jiffy Even If You Have Never Boiled An Egg Before: in Turkish (being translated) and Portuguese (already published).

Home Style Indian Cooking In A Jiffy: in Spanish and Italian

Healthy Cooking In A Jiffy: in Portuguese

If you have not opened an account with Babelcube, I strongly recommend that you do so. It takes some time to upload all your books with your author bio, book description, sales rank, etc but it is certainly worth it.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Babelcube in any way!

Have you ever thought of getting your books translated? Have you had any experiences with Babelcube? Any good or bad experience? I would love to hear your views on this?

Regards,

Prasenjeet

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9 Comments

  • Ionavideo says:

    This was a good article that reconfirmed my good feelings about Babelcube. I’m coming from the translator’s end of things. I am not a “professional” translator, but I doubt people who do this for a living would be attracted to this — it’s too much time and too little [future] money. But for people like me, independent and extremely resentful of the online sweatshop mentality that MTurk and their sleazy spawn have become, something that seems fair and flexible, like Babelcube, is a blessing.

    • Prasenjeet says:

      I agree with you. Babelcube is a great place where indie authors can meet freelance translators. Of course, high brow translators will not join Babelcube. The reason is that their royalty share decreases with an increase in book sales. Most high brow translators will only translate books that sell in millions.

      • Lidia Capone says:

        Not exactly: successful translators have no assurance that they will see a dime for the time spent on the translation and – you knoe – time is money …

        • Lidia Capone says:

          Sorry, know, not knoe! 🙂

        • Prasenjeet says:

          You are right, Lidia! There is no guarantee that translators will make money on Babelcube. In fact that is the harsh reality of self-publishing in general. Most e-book retailers are willing to pay authors 70% of the royalty but there is no guarantee that authors will make even a single sale. However, I still believe, Babelcube can be an excellent way for unknown translators to gain experience. Everyone has to start from somewhere. If you are already an established high brow translator and authors are willing to pay you thousands of dollars upfront, there is no point in setting up a profile on Babelcube. 🙂

          • Cain says:

            I finished my first translation through babelcube some months ago… The translation is on sale from May. So, in about four months I’ve won the atonishing sum on 47 dollars after translating 65,000 words (I even can’t get the money because you need a minimum of 50) . It wasn’t a bad book and it was selling quite well in English. Well, that’s been my first and las time.

          • Prasenjeet says:

            I can totally understand and appreciate your feelings. Babelcube is a good way to gain some translation experience but not good enough to make a living. Some day I will do a separate blog post on Babelcube addressing some of the translators’ concerns. In my experience, I have seen that translators who have translated more books do better. I know of a translator who has translated over 40 books and appears enthusiastic. May be she is earning a living but I don’t really know. She is also smart enough to pick up entire series than individual books because she knows that series do better than standalone books. That being said, I would advise any translator not to rely on Babelcube as their sole source of income. Don’t quit your day job or whatever your main stream of income is. If you want to be paid upfront, I think you should open an account on elance.com. There are lots of writers who are willing to pay hundreds of dollars to translators and give priority to that work. I hope I have answered your comment. 🙂

  • […] I have been an unabashed fan of Babelcube for quite some time. On 25 January 2015, I first shared my first impressions openly on this blog titled “Translate your books without spending a dime: the Babelcube way”. […]

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