I saw this discussed recently and I thought that, as a multilingual reader with experience with multiple language markets, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the matter.
First things first: The answer is slightly different depending on the market you’re operating in. If you’re looking to translate your works into English, and you can afford a high quality translation, that’s a massive market that’ll be open to you. It’s not just the English-speaking countries that open up to you. It’s all the countries where English is taught as a second language and your native language is not too. So, if you’re thinking of expanding into the English-language market, the answer may well be “Yes, you should”.
When you’re looking at translating into languages, things get murkier and you’ll need to do more research to decide whether it’s worth it for you. Translation isn’t cheap. (Personally, I’d charge about $0.06 per word, which afaik, is still a fair bit below average and means a novelette at exactly 17,500 words would cost you about $1,050 to translate.) Markets vary in size. I can all but guarantee you that paying me to translate your story into Dutch will cost you far more than you’ll recoup. Besides, many Dutch readers are equally happy to read in English, so your book is already available to the majority. If you wanted to translate into Dutch, by all means do, but make sure you have a kick-ass marketing plan and a good reason to do it at a loss before you start because you’ll need them.
In contrast, for example, the Spanish language market is much bigger. You stand a far better chance at recouping your loss and, in my experience, there’s actually a sizeable chunk of that potential market that cannot access your books in English and will not be able to unless you translate it. That up-front investment in translation (and changing the text on your cover) may well recoup itself in time. You’ll still need a marketing plan and you still need to prepare for the chance of a loss, but the chances that you’ll be making a profit are much higher.
You might be better off doing what some authors have done which is pay for the translation out of pocket and shop it around to traditional publishers, using your indie sales to help convince a publisher that they want to publish the book you’ve already translated for them. They won’t be the ones paying extra for the translation since you already paid it, so you’ll stand a better chance of getting your work accepted than if you were shopping the English proposal around.
Whichever way you look at it: venturing into a foreign market is a risk, especially when it’s a market where you don’t speak the language at all and are dependent entirely on other people to tell you what’s going on. You may not want to deal with that aspect at all.
In short, my common sense advice is really: do your research and figure out whether the cost is worth the risk to you. It’s expensive and, depending on the market, there’s no real gain to be had. Ask yourself why you want to translate your book and look into your options. You may be much better served shopping the foreign rights of your book around to traditional publishers.
Well, I hope that was somewhat useful to you! ^_^
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