A Closer Look at Babelcube for Translation

Woman holding a globe with the post title, "A Closer Look at Babelcube for Translation" is superimposed on the post.

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

My strategy for the last couple of years is increase the income streams for my already-published books by branching into international publishing, libraries, and translation.

 

I’m about to publish my first translated book, A Dyeing Shame, in Spanish.  My translator is the gifted Alfredo Moyano-Barroso.  I was lucky that Freddy not only speaks Spanish and English fluently, but he lives in the US and was easily able to convey Southern US customs and traditions to a new audience.  Right on that book’s heels is an Italian version of A Body in the Backyard, translated by Valeria Poropat, another wonderful translator.

 

Babelcube is a platform that allows indie authors to audition and retain translators for their books.  Here is my experience working with them:

 

The Good: 

  • The royalty-share agreement. For writers, there’s lots that’s good.  There’s very little risk on our side as writers (except, perhaps, the risk of a bad translation).  We pay nothing upfront.  Babelcube handles payments to the translator, distribution of the books, etc.
  • Checkpoints for quality control. We have opportunities to end the translation process.
  • A partnership (for ebooks) with StreetLIb: a company I already do business with and respect a good deal.  That expands the distribution options (although I wish that StreetLib would take over the print distribution–more on that below).

The Bad:

  •  I have heard numerous complaints of bad customer service.  I’ve actually experienced prompt replies to any queries there, but it’s worth noting that their reputation precedes them in terms of response.

The Ugly: 

  •  No print distribution except via CreateSpace/Amazon
  • No audio distribution
  • The contract is exclusive and the translated work(s) cannot be distributed in print or audio during the 5-year period of the contract, even though those formats are not currently offered by Babelcube.

What I Did Right:

  • I branched into translation, period.
  • I rejected several translation offers, holding out for a better candidate.
  • I didn’t immediately put my entire series up for translation, waiting instead to see how the first book went.
  • I asked Babelcube questions before acting, making sure I wasn’t violating any terms in my contract. 

What I’d Do Differently:

  • I would find out what type of format (ebook? Print? Audio?) was best for the international audience the translation was targeting.  If it’s print, I’d seriously consider holding off.  Unfortunately, the ebook market in Spain has yet to take off and printed books are still preferred for much of the Spanish-speaking world. Without more print distribution options (Ingram generally is cheaper for online book buyers because they have POD printers internationally…reducing printing costs), sales may prove to be really limited.

Worth Noting: 

Although it would be incredibly easy to upload a translated work independently of a platform like Babelcube, the problem comes when splitting profits with a translator.  Would you have to set up a joint bank account?  What would taxes look like?  I think, right, now, the easiest option for the busy indie author is to go through a platform like Babelcube.

Have you branched into translation?  How did it go for you?

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10 thoughts on “A Closer Look at Babelcube for Translation

  1. Thank you, Elizabeth, for this thoughtful analysis. I think a lot of authors toy with the idea of international publication, and it’s good to know about some of the translation services that are out there. Something for me to archive for when I’m ready to plan that step.

    1. Well, it’s CreateSpace only. Which isn’t great from an international perspective. I’d love to load the translated copy onto IngramSpark, but under the terms of the contract, I’m not allowed to do it.

  2. Very interesting to hear the comments on translation of books. And the positive comments about Alfredo with whom we’ve worked for many, many years on many, many books.
    It would seem that the better option would be to work with an independent and experienced agency like ours, who has been in the business for 25+ years and who could give you access to world-class translation, editing and typesetting and access to all the distribution channels and the international book shows for rights sales.

    It’s a tricky business, this book translation and distribution.
    Make sure you partner with an experienced agency.

  3. Hi Elizabeth – great comments to an interesting post … in due course I’d definitely like to go that route … but like you mention with all the options available – not restricted …still it will be great to have your feedback on that aspect.

    Also if you look into partnering with an agency …

    Thanks for updating us – cheers Hilary

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