Why Authors Should Consider Book Translation Are you a self-published or aspiring author? Then check this out!

Greater than 5 minutes, my friend!

Did you know that in the United Kingdom, in a time period of just fifteen years (2001 – 2016), translated literary fiction has almost doubled in sales?  When I dug a little deeper into this claim, I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was true!  According to a recent study commissioned by the Man Booker Prize in early 2016, even though translated literary fiction novels made up for only 3.5% of titles sold in U.K. book stores, these works accounted for 7% of overall sales – not a bad figure at all!

In fact, even though the report shows that the market for general fiction is on a slight decline, the market for translated fiction rose sharply from 1.3 million copies sold in 2001 to 2.5 million copies in 2016.  The same trend can be seen throughout the world!

Since this rise in sales has been an ongoing trend within a relatively short period of time, and as increased living standards and  access to technology becomes more and more available to prospective authors around the world, I would hazard a guess that this trend will continue for the next long while to come.

What does this mean for you as an author?  Well, I’ve made a little list of some of the benefits you could be privy to due to this ballooning niche-market, and why book translation is crucial to increasing sales:


  1. Expand your Audience and Create More Networking Chances

Let’s face it: as much as you may work hard to achieve your goals and dreams, sometimes success ultimately stems from who you know.  Networking in this day and age is so important to advancing your business, career, or product, and when you make your work available to different languages and countries, the amount of people who may notice your work will inevitably increase.

Take a look at international book fairs, conferences, and conventions, for example.  One in particular that I’m thinking about is the “Quais du Polar” crime novel festival that is held in Lyon, France every year.  I had the pleasure of attending this weekend-long festival two years ago and was blown away by the number of authors that were present for a seemingly petite niche market.

Yes, this was a big event.  People from all over the world attended the conference: Americans, Canadians, Brits, Germans, Algerians, Israelis; the list goes on.  The demand for crime novels in many languages was clearly present during the event – and it happens every year!

This is only one international book conference, mind you.  Check out the 2016 list of ten major international literary festivals across the world.  Each one presents a multitude of opportunities to expand your audience.  These sorts of international festivals are a wonderful way of getting your name out there, and having your works translated into your audience’s mother tongue will only increase your chances of becoming recognized.


  1. Translation Enables You to Share Your Ideas with Other Cultures

Even though English is widely recognized as “the language of the world,” only about 1 billion people can speak fluent English today.  With different languages come different people and differing cultures.  Who knows how some literature-enthusiasts from a culture different from yours will see your linguistic interpretations?  Oftentimes, all it takes to emotionally affect a reader, or even to open their minds to new ideas, is well-written, passionate writing – throw in the intriguing addition of an exotic culture, and your audience may want more!

On the other hand, when pieces are translated into other languages, the connection your audience might find is within the cultural values you might share.  People in general tend to take comfort in knowing that there are those from other countries, languages, and cultures who share the same ideas as they do.  Translation is, then, quite the perfect way to share such a connection across linguistic barriers.

Translating your work with the intent of expanding your audience is also a great way to step out of your comfort zone, to try new things, and to gain a great learning experience when it comes to the linguistic transformation of your words.  I’ve always been a big proponent of “learning by doing.”  You never know what results your venture in translation will bring until you reach out to a translator and try!


  1. A Growing Market Attracts More Buyers – and Investors

I found an interesting article the other day which spoke about principal elements that many investors, businesses, and private donors look for in start-ups that convince them to invest.  They are, as described in the article: Momentum, Management, Market, and Money.

Let’s take a look at the stats mentioned above and see if “literary translation” satisfies these principals.  As we can see in the last fifteen years, sales of translated literary has ballooned globally.  In the past fifteen years, the world market has been totally opened to translated works.  Just take a look at South Korean translated literary fiction sales: only 88 copies sold in 2001 to an astounding 10,191 copies sold in 2016; French: 200,000 copies in 2001 to 400,000 in 2015; Italian: 37,000 copies to 237,000.  Market and Momentum: check.

Based on this overwhelming increase in sales, we can also assume that more money is flowing through this specific market.  Money: check

That leaves us with Management, one area that I believe can and will be improved.  The market for translated works has grown very quickly, but has only been researched more in depth  in the past year.  Thus, the number of translated works actually being sold in stores or online still need to catch up with the times.  However, companies and start ups like Babelsbook are ready and willing to help authors who want their books translated actually make it to the market.

Furthermore, in our technological world, we needn’t focus solely on physical book sales, but on electronic e-book sales as well.  This is also a related market that has skyrocketed in sales in the aforementioned fifteen year time period.  There is, therefore, also a growing demand for translations of books published electronically.

To sum up, the market for translated fiction has been growing, fast, and will continue to do so.  Authors who take their work seriously should definitely consider translation – breaking into this market from many different angles will only help you in the long run.


  1. Translation Provides Opportunities for Many to Succeed

In the literary market, there is unlimited potential for creating new services, and therefore, new opportunities for those looking to find a place in a niche market.  Take a look at BabelsBook, for example!  The initiative of so many talented authors like you who are looking to show their work to the world has created a chain reaction in the creation of freelance and entrepreneurial businesses in editing, translation, and electronic publishing.

Translating your literary creations into different languages will not only increase the size of your audience, and therefore increase the chance of success, but you will also be helping others in pursuing their own passions.  Isn’t that a great feeling?

“Making it” in niche markets can be difficult.  However, the many interwoven layers of this market ensure that anyone on any of these levels isn’t alone in their ventures.  There are always resources around for prospective authors, editors, translators, publishers – you name it.  We’ll always have help, if we only ask for it.

Hopefully my list has given a little insight on the subject of translation in literature, and why I believe it has such benefits when it comes to increasing your chances of success as an author.  I highly encourage you to take a chance in translated literary fiction and wish you all the best in your future linguistic endeavours!

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Vanessa Walsh is the Project Manager and one of the 5 translators that make up Babelsbook – a new start-up dedicated to helping self-published, indie, and established authors get their books out to readers.  She and her team specialize in multilingual literary translation, editing, and marketing – for affordable prices.  Check out her website at www.babels-book.com if you’re interested in having your work translated!

Vanessa Walsh

About Vanessa Walsh

Language enthusiast, currently teaching and translating in beautiful Bavaria, Germany. Also very much involved in politics and music. Looking forward to working with you in the future!

6 thoughts on “Why Authors Should Consider Book Translation Are you a self-published or aspiring author? Then check this out!

  1. You’re right, Vanessa: today’s technologies and the start-ups who leverage them can really provide authors with huge opportunities, especially if writers are natives to languages less widely spoken and could use a wider audience. Keep up the good work 🙂

  2. Thank you Vanessa for this well researched article. It really gave me a good overview of the potential the literary translation industry holds. This is great news both for authors, translators and readers alike.

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