Translating and selling your self-published ebook abroad

Any author wishes to be read worldwide. Having your book translated into one or more languages also means expanding your market, having the chances to sell more copies and therefore earning more.
But it isn't that simple.

First of all there are two very different situations to consider, depending on which is the original language of the book: English or non-English.
It's a matter of fact that English is the most spoken and read language in the world, if you include also non-mother tongue speakers. A book written in English already has got a huge market and the chance to be really read worldwide, without being translated at all.
A non-English book, on the other hand, normally has got a much smaller market, therefore having it translated into English could be a good idea.

Whatever your situation is, you must consider two factors: 1) a book must be professionally translated, which is never a low-cost achievement; 2) once translated, a book must be promoted in the foreign country (or countries, depending on the language) in the same language in which it is translated, so that it just doesn't disappear in an ocean of other ebooks; if the author does not speak that language, that means more money to be spent.
The point is: will the author be able to cover these costs by selling the book abroad?

In this situation non-English books and their authors have a certain advantage.
By translating their book into English, they are moving into a much bigger market, i.e. the whole world. So even if they spend a quite big figure to have it translated, they have (theoretically) more chances to get this money back by selling the book. Moreover, it's very likely that those authors speak English themselves (on a certain extent), so in a certain way they may be able to promote themselves directly to English speaking readers, without having to spend any extra money, unless they want to.

The situation of an English speaking mother tongue is completely different. They still have to pay for a translation, but for sure their translated book will then be sold in a smaller market, with less potential readers.
Actually there are some very good non-English markets in the world, like the Spanish one (which includes most Central and South America), or the Chinese one or the Indian one, even the Portuguese one (including Brazil).
But we can exclude India from this list, even if Amazon sells there too, because most Indians speak English, so there's really no reason to translate the book into their language. We must also exclude China, just because as for now it is not easy at all to sell your book there.
Without these two countries you are already excluding half inhabitants of the world!
Instead you can find Amazon in Spain and in Brazil, while other Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries can be served by
I'm talking about Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing), because it's the leading company selling indie ebooks. You can find Amazon also in France, Germany, Italy and Japan, but except maybe French, which is a little more spread in the world, the German, Italian and Japanese market are not that big.

I'm an Italian indie author and I know how things are there. You just need to sell 7 ebooks in a day to get to the top 100 on the Kindle Store in Italy. And it’s not easy at all to get there!
I have sold about 700 ebooks in a bit more of 7 months and I can be almost considered a bestselling author among indies in my countries. Would you believe that?
Do the calculations and you'll realize that it wouldn't just be profitable to pay for translating your book into Italian.
Moreover, I sold those books because I'm constantly promoting them. On the other hand, if you are an English mother tongue, chances are that you do not speak a second language or at least not that good to be able to use it to promote your book abroad. That's normal, because you do not need to speak another language to be understood worldwide.

So does it really make sense for an English mother tongue author to have their book translated into a foreign language?
Actually, no. Unless you have a plan to have it done at no cost at all (in money) and maybe a little free help to get some promotion, too. In other words, it would make sense only if you really have nothing to lose.

But how can you do it?
You can exchange favours with another author in the target language, who is able to translate your book (like me, for instance, since I'm also a translator). You have this translation done for free, if you offer to revise their own self-translated book, so that it can sound mother tongue like yours. You exchange your work time with theirs, without spending a cent.
Moreover you can also exchange favours in the promotion scope. You invest a part of your time in promoting in your own language your colleague's book, and they will do the same in their own country.
This way you really have nothing to lose, except some of your time. And, even if in the end your book does not become a bestseller abroad, well, at least you've found a new friend abroad!

And what about you? Have you even thought to translate your book into a foreign language?


  1. This is an excellent post. My book was originally written in English and then translated into Italian. As you rightly point out, the Italian speaking market is much smaller than the English one, so for an indie author it's particularly important to have their book also in English.

    I have been considering the possibility of translating my book into Spanish, for the reasons you mentioned. I was wondering how to go about it and I like your idea of 'exchanging services' with another author.

    Still, in all fairness, translating a whole book from English to Spanish would take longer than me revising a book translated into English (or Italian). So, it's not easy to find someone who's prepared to go for this. Either way, I like the idea of cross-promoting each other, in our native languages, that seems a mutually beneficial arrangement, and even fun to do.

    1. Of course the exchange must be fair, but there are many factors to be taking into account: the lenght of the book, the quality of the self-translation, the kind of book (fiction or non-fiction, where the latter is much easier and faster to translate) and the willing to create a continuative cooperation.

      In general the total time employed by both authors should almost be the same, but you also must consider the languages. Revising a translation into English has a bigger value than translating a text into another language, because a book in English has better chances to be sold (the market is bigger), so even if you spend more time (while translating the book of the other author into your language) I think it is still worth the effort. I would definitely do that.
      Finally you must not forget that the book will bear your name as translator, so it will be included in your CV and this could help you find more paid literary translation jobs, e.g. from traditional publishers. ;)

  2. Another great tip from you, Carla. It's always a GREAT pleasure to read about your excellent suggestions.
    "Energie della Galassia", my first ebook, is going to be translated soon. First I will translate just a short tale. I will publish it free and I will promote it. If readers will like it I'll translate the whole ebook!
    What about the marketing? I'll try to do it by myself as I've done for the Italian edition.