For Foreign Authors Looking to Succeed in the American Market, the Importance of High Quality English Translation Cannot Be Overstated

It goes without saying that to sell literature in any market, it needs to be made available in the local language. But for foreign authors the American market can be a different kind of beast altogether.  Run-of-the-mill English translation won’t suffice. It needs to be meticulous, contextual and above all, professionally done. Without it, their chances for success are greatly diminished.

American Book Market: How to Be Successful

According to a study by Rochester University, only 0.19 percent of original translations of fiction and poetry were published or distributed in the United States in 2017. When compared with 11.11 percent in France, 8.85 percent in Germany, and 6.21 percent in Spain, it is clear that the American market is difficult for foreign authors to enter. With so few books being translated for the American market, it is important to understand what causes the discrepancy in the number of translated books between the United States and other countries. One possibility is that fewer American editors speak foreign languages than their international counterparts. In addition, several foreign publishers employ editors who specifically focus on acquiring foreign fiction to translate; American publishers often use literary scouts to accomplish the same goal. Furthermore, publishing translated books can be costly, limiting the number of translations that companies are willing to produce.

When authors make a decision to have their books translated for the American market, here are some tips they should consider to help their books be successful:

  • Ensure that the original book in the source language has no errors, before handing the book over to an English translator.
  • Choose a language service provider that specializes in book translation, instead of opting for a freelancer. Working with a freelancer can be risky and will require you to devote much more time to the project.
  • Make sure that your translated book has been carefully reviewed and proofread. Small mistakes can often make a difference in your book’s success.
  • When translating into any language, cultural nuances have to be taken into consideration, and translating to American English is no exception. It is critical that the content of the book be culturally acceptable in the United States.
  • Create a glossary of terminology and style guides for the English translation.
  • After the translation has been reviewed for accuracy, make sure it reads as smoothly in the English language as it does in the source language.
  • Make sure the translated version mirrors the mood of the author.

The Importance of High-Quality English Translation

Despite the difficulties with entering the American market, there are plenty of success stories. One is Oliver Pötzsch, who had great success when he had one of his books translated from German to English.  The translated title, The Hangman’s Daughter, fared better in the English market than in Germany. Now, Pötzsch has written close to a dozen novels, selling more than 2.5 million copies of his books across the globe.

The bottom line with adapting a book for the US is to ensure that it’s done well. Top-notch English translation has a number of follow-on benefits:

  • After the book is translated in English and published in the United States, it can be launched in other English markets, reaching new readers and generating more sales.
  • Because there is a relationship between the popularity of a book’s writer and the promotion budget available for marketing, high quality translations are critical. If critics and readers discover anything wrong with the translation, it will hurt the reputation of the book.
  • A book that has been successfully translated can become an international bestseller. After the book’s success in English becomes noticed, there is a strong possibility that it will get translated into other languages.

The Downside of Poor Quality Translations

Poor book translations can cause a number of problems, including loss of readers and sales, as well as additional costs if the book needs to be republished. However, depending on the mistake that is made, the book can be detrimental to someone’s wellbeing. For example, errors in medical books, such as poorly translated medical terminology, could cause someone to make a potentially harmful decision. Additionally, poor translations can adversely affect the reputation of the author and the publisher, changing how readers view them in the future.

Entering the American market can be difficult, but it can also open many doors for authors and publishers. To sell well and be genuinely appreciated, the book’s translation has to be contextual and professionally done. Ensuring the final product is something local readers can relate to emotionally and culturally, can make a huge difference in book’s success.



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