Patagonian thriller author Cristian Perfumo successfully Kickstarted the translation of his Spanish-language El Secreto Sumergido, resulting in the publication of his English-language The Sunken Secret this past July. This week, I talk to Cristian about foreign-language translations, how to market in foreign-language markets when you don’t know the language, and his new email book promotion service ebrolis for the Spanish language market.
“I like to say that being able to understand what happens in the English-speaking world is like having a two-year-ahead crystal ball for what’s going to happen in the Spanish world.”
Cristian’s first book, El Secreto Sumergido, a Spanish-language thriller set in his native Patagonia, arose from a true story about a historic shipwreck and a chance encounter with a mysterious man at a bar. At the time he published it in 2011, Kindle publishing was still new, and his only online marketplace was through the main Amazon website. His print books were produced by a book printer and hand-sold to local bookstores.
At the time Cristian first published under Kindle, the Spanish-language book market was mostly Spain; however, Latin America is rapidly catching up, he says, as affluence and technology rise in those markets, and he expects it will eventually take the lion’s share of the Spanish language market. He likens the current state of indie publishing in the Spanish-speaking world as similar to the American ebook market in 2013. The fact that print books are extravagantly expensive in Latin America also bodes well for the ebook market.
Kickstarting Translation Costs
Although Cristian writes fiction in his mother tongue of Spanish, he lives and works in Australia, and has conducted a lot of his professional life in English. As his English-speaking network of friends, family, and acquaintances grew, so did the requests to read his work in English. He started to keep a list of the people who expressed interest in an English translation, and he eventually went for it. A friend of his happened to be a brilliant translator, his girlfriend put together a professional video for him for Kickstarter (which is a delight to watch), and Cristian launched a campaign on Kickstarter in October 2014.
His goal was to raise $3,880 AUD to cover his translation costs, and he succeeded, raising $5,897 AUD, allowing him to cover the cost of the translation, as well as additional editing and proofreading. In July 2015, the English translation of El Secreto Sumergido was released as The Sunken Secret.
Even though his campaign was featured as a Staff Pick by Kickstarter, Cristian notes that only around 20% of the funding came from complete strangers. He estimates 50% of the funding came from the people he knew directly, and 30% from word-of-mouth from those folks. He cautions that viral success in crowdfunding is a rare occurrence, and unless an author already has a huge following, they are not likely to hit it big with crowdfunding.
His advice is, “If you don’t have a bunch of people who are already interested in your translation, perhaps crowdfunding for translation isn’t the way to go.” Successful crowdfunding requires successful marketing, and successful marketing requires an established platform or email list. Cristian encourages new authors who are seeking ways to fund their book’s foreign-language translation to seek other ways to fund their translation costs than crowdfunding, including offering a split-royalty share with a translator or simply saving up over time, and leaving crowdfunding efforts for when their platform/email list has grown sufficiently.
Being bilingual and staying abreast of current indie podcasts has given Cristian a marketing advantage over Spanish book writers who don’t understand English, and so he knows how to market his English titles. However, marketing his Spanish-language titles, and noting consistently and often that the Spanish market seems to be running parallel to the American market, just two years behind, made it easy for him to recognize a need for authors of Spanish-language titles to have a way to market to Spanish readers, similar to services like The Fussy Librarian and BookBub.
So Cristian and his partners launched ebrolis, an email promotions website focused on delivering weekly newsletters to readers who sign up, letting them know about current deals in the Spanish-language book market. Although ebrolis launched just four months ago, Cristian and his team have been working on it much longer, and their hard work is paying off. They boast 12,000 subscribers, and are adding 100+ subscribers each day. Currently, they offer their services to authors for free, but are looking to build enough traction in book sales to eventually offer premium services. Right now, ebrolis is the only such email marketing service available for Spanish language books.
Next Big Thing
Cristian is hard at work on his fourth thriller, written in Spanish and set in Patagonia like his first three. He says he’s always working on the next fiction project, but at the moment, he is primarily focused on making ebrolis big, noting that the winner is whoever gets big fast. But his approach is a patient one, and he expects to spend a lot of time and hard work in order to build up a solid reputation.
He says, “I’m an indie author, so what do you expect? I understand long-term.”
Action Steps for a Successful Translation Project:
- Do your research. What kind of dialect should you use for your target audience? Cristian points out that while Latin American readers don’t mind reading books in Castilian Spanish, readers from Spain tend to rate books written in dialects of Spanish other than Castilian much lower. If you don’t understand the language of your targeted market, then keep in mind that you are going to need to either hire someone who can help you with your research, or enlist a friend who speaks the language. You are also going to need that person to help you…
- …find a translator. You can find translators through services like Babelcube or other online services, but you must vet them. Typically, translators will provide a small sample translation of your text for free or nominal amount. Have a friend or hired gun who speaks the language give feedback on your samples to help you narrow down the right translator for the project.
- Set reasonable expectations. It took Cristian a year from deciding to translate his book to English to pushing publish on that title. It’s a process similar to writing the original manuscript, he cautions. “Don’t think that the translator is going to produce the thing you’re going to put on Amazon. The translator will produce the same thing that you produce when you say, okay, I can’t take this anymore, it’s time to go to an editor or proofreader or someone like that,” which means authors have to plan for editing and proofreading to bring their translations to market.
- Market a translation like a new pen name. Cristian recommends authors make sure they have a call to action at the back of their books that direct foreign-language readers to sign up for their email list. Even if authors don’t plan on engaging often with their list due to difficulties of language, it’s important that authors capture those readers interested enough to sign up so they have a way to notify those readers of new releases. He also recommends that authors seek out email promotional services in their chosen markets similar to his ebrolis for books in Spanish.
To the indie authors out there who have done foreign language translations of their books, was it worth it, and why? How does it fit into your long-term business plan? Would you recommend other indies invest into translations?
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