Translation and Global Publishing: A World of Possibility

Abi Wurdeman
May 15, 2024

The U.S. publishing industry accounts for around 25% of the global market. If you’re currently selling your books in the U.S., that statistic feels pretty darn powerful. A quarter of the world’s book-buying dollars are going into your market.

But if you only publish in the U.S., this also means you’re missing out on a whopping 75% of the global publishing market. And if you’re like some of the authors who have leaped into foreign publishing, your biggest fans might be waiting somewhere in that untapped 75%.

More and more authors are expanding their reach and getting better returns on every book they write by selling their work on an international scale. That includes self-published authors, who are able to access translation services and foreign publishers more easily than they once could.

That said, none of this is easy easy. If you’re interested in bringing your books to new readers in international markets, there are a few things you should understand, like:

  • What the benefits are
  • Translation challenges
  • How emerging authors stand to benefit from global publishing
  • Trends to keep an eye on
  • How to use technology in this endeavor… and when not to
  • Key cultural considerations

Lucky for you, this article touches on all those topics. There’s a whole big world out there waiting for your books, so let’s get globetrotting.

The Perks of Going Global 

As I mentioned above, expanding to more international markets means casting a much wider net.

There is, of course, no guarantee that you’ll find an audience in every foreign market. In fact, you probably shouldn’t try if you’re the one shelling out translation fees.

But even if you narrow your sights to a few specific countries—or even one country where you suspect your books will well sell—diving into foreign markets drastically expands your pool of potential new readers.

Plus, if you currently sell exclusively or primarily in the U.S. or other English-speaking countries, you’re in a saturated market. The competition is steep and it’s tough to get a buyer’s attention. There are just so many books

By selling translations in other nations, you can reach people who are searching for their next great read in a pond of literature rather than a sea of it.

Challenges in Literary Translation

Over-the-shoulder view of a parent and small child reading a picture book in a non-English language.

Whether you self-publish or publish traditionally, you might opt to get some professional help in selling your book abroad. That is to say, you could work with a foreign rights agent who will help you strike a deal with publishers in other countries.

Depending on your language and hustling skills, you might even choose to submit your book to a foreign publisher yourself.

The other option is to personally invest in translations of your work and set up distribution on your own. If that’s the route you choose, your first big hurdle will be, of course, connecting with readers despite your language differences.

Let’s talk about what it takes to pull that off.

Finding Your Perfect Translator

Step one is to find someone to translate your book. Don’t just run over to Fiverr and snag the least expensive translator you can find. There’s a lot to consider here.

You want someone who’s not only an expert in both languages but also understands how to translate meaning. You do not want a word-for-word translation.

For one thing, that’s not how languages work. For another, our communication styles are majorly influenced by our culture. For example, a line of dialogue might clearly read as sarcasm to an American reader while a reader from another culture might not catch that subtext.

Great translators know how to anticipate and resolve these challenges.

You also want to work with someone who has experience with translations in your genre. They’ll understand the importance of communicating the high stakes in your thriller or capturing the innuendo in your romance.

If you work with a translation service like BabelCube or Ulatus, you’ll likely be able to get additional assistance, like book formatting or an option to split royalties rather than pay upfront. However, these services don’t often allow you to select your translator.

For more control over who works on your book, you can search for individual translators on platforms like Reedsy and Upwork.

Budgeting for Translations

One of the biggest barriers to having your indie books translated is the cost. Quality translation doesn’t come cheap, and believe me, this is not an area where you want to cut corners. Your translated book is essentially your entire voice in a foreign market.

Again, some services and even some individual translators offer split royalty agreements. That saves you from paying upfront, though you’ll likely have to make a convincing case that your book can succeed in your chosen market.

Otherwise, translation costs can range from $0.05 - $0.20 per word. If you’re an indie author covering this expense yourself, you’ll want to do some serious number-crunching to see if it’s worth it. Be realistic about what you expect to earn from this endeavor. If there’s a good chance you’ll lose money or barely break even, it’s probably not the best path for you.


Don’t forget to consider what it will take to market your book once it’s translated. Your ad copy will have to be in the language of your chosen market, too. 

For this reason, social media influencers, book bloggers, and reviewers have the potential to play an essential role in your marketing strategy. They can sing the praises of your book in a language your readers will understand. 

They can also spark social media engagement centered around your books, which, as any author knows, is one of the most powerful ways to generate interest and build a strong following.

Opportunities for Emerging Authors

A person sits outside at a cafe table and writes in a notebook.

If you’re an emerging author, someone may have already encouraged you to translate your book. There’s a good reason for that. Despite the many challenges that come with foreign publishing, you won’t have to fight for visibility in other countries the way you do in the U.S.

The trick is to choose your markets strategically. Do some research to find out which countries can’t get enough of the books in your genre. Which authors are publishing work similar to your own? Find out if they’re releasing translations and how well those books are selling.

Even your own sales data can point you in the right direction. Are any of your titles already selling well in a specific foreign market? It might be worth investing in a translation so more readers in that country can enjoy your work.

Trends in Global Publishing

As you decide where to release your book next, track the current trends in global publishing. While there are potentially huge benefits to having your book distributed in less saturated markets, you also want to make sure there’s an actual demand for books like yours.

In other words, you’re looking for growing markets. At the time of this writing (May 2024), China, Germany, Japan, and India are booming book-wise. 

Also take note of the bestselling book formats and most popular booksellers in your chosen market, as well as any platforms that are picking up steam. Believe it or not, Amazon isn’t the biggest book-slinger in every country. Make your titles available where your readers are sure to find them.

The Role of Technology in Translation

New technology promises to shift the landscape of publishing in ways we’re only beginning to imagine. If you’re familiar with the myriad tools that currently exist to help indie writers brainstorm, edit, format, market, and even design their own covers, you may well be wondering if there are tools to help you save money on translations, too.

Sort of, but not entirely.

Much like writing and editing, translation is at its best when a human mind is behind it. I would strongly discourage you from counting on software alone to translate your books. 

I’ve known of self-published authors who use tools like DeepL for AI translation, then hire a native speaker on Fiverr to make sure it reads well.

That can be a way to save some money, but as always, remember that you get what you pay for. Being fluent in a language is not the same thing as having a professional-grade understanding of nuances in communication, culture, and storytelling.

And just to be 100% clear: this is not a job for Google Translate. 

Cultural Considerations

We talked about how important it is to work with a professional translator who understands the cultural context of the foreign market. But remember, your book is more than its content. You’ll also need to factor culture into the way you package and market your novel, too.

This might mean creating an entirely new cover for your book. It might mean changing the title. It will definitely mean doing extensive research to understand your target audience on a deeper level. 

If you work with a foreign publisher, they’ll handle a lot of this headache for you. Even then, it’s worth getting to know the interests and values of your fan base.

Once your book is out there, continuously monitor your marketing data. This is something you should be doing anyway, but those metrics are especially valuable when you’re connecting with readers who live in a world that’s fairly different from your own

The cultural learning curve can be pretty steep. Give yourself every possible advantage.

The World Awaits

A hand holds out a small globe over a beautiful view of small mountains.

When you expand your view of authorship and publishing to a global scale, you can see that the possibilities are virtually endless. Foreign markets present a great opportunity to make even more money from a single book and reach more readers.

And as far as we writers are concerned, is there anything more thrilling than imagining our words connecting with a complete stranger on the other side of the world?

Having said that, branching out globally is a huge undertaking. If you’re not ready, don’t sweat it. There are plenty of other ways to build your author business and capitalize on your IP.

You’ll find plenty of tips on that very topic here in DabbleU. We have hundreds of free articles and resources covering the craft, lifestyle, and business of writing. 

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Either way, I wish you and your books all the best in this great big world of endless possibilities.

Abi Wurdeman

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.