Beyond Words - Language Blog

How to Increase Your Book Sales with Accurate Literary Translations

Translating a work of fiction into other languages represents a chance to introduce your book to a wider audience and substantially increase book sales, whether you’re with a traditional publisher or an independent author looking to find new readers.

Why You Should Think About Translating Your Book

The main reason to expand to other countries comes down to sheer numbers. A book in English will only reach English speakers, which leaves out the rest of the world. Many works of literature have been translated into different languages so that people can enjoy them all over the world.

Some of them have gone on to become international bestsellers, including:

  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Expuéry (originally French)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson (originally Swedish)
  • The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho (originally Portuguese)
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (originally Italian)
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (originally Spanish)
  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (originally English)
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (originally Russian)
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (originally French)
  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang (originally Korean)

General literature is not the only type of fiction that can find success in foreign markets. Authors of genre fiction, including thrillers, romance, mystery and fantasy, have come to realize there is large, untapped foreign market that is hungry for the type of books they write. They know there is money to be made and so many authors are having their English-language novels translated into German, French, Spanish and other languages.

The Challenges of Translating Fiction Into Foreign Languages

Of course, translating a book from its native language is not easy. In fact, it is perhaps the biggest challenge translators face. The trouble lies in the very essence of language itself, especially when it comes to fiction novels. Here are a few challenges translators face when translation works of fiction:

1) Translating Abstract Concepts – Author’s Style, Tone, Meaning

You can translate words literally, but conveying the ideas, style, tone, meaning, and even the spirit of the story is a totally different matter. A word in one language might not even exist in another. Then there are the idioms, phrases and references that are completely unique to one language or culture. Something that makes sense to an English speaker might not convey any meaning to a Spanish speaker…and vice versa.

2) Translating Across Different Sentence and Word Structures

Another difficulty is that languages can have entirely different sentence and word structure. For example, Arabic is read from right to left and subject pronouns are included in conjugated verbs. Deborah Smith, the translator of the Korean novel The Vegetarian, relates that Korean uses a “subject-object-verb language so a lot of information is delayed until the end of the sentence.” Korean authors also rely heavily on repetition and ambiguity, which might not have the same poetic effect when translated into English. Capturing the essence of the source language, while making the story flow and be relatable to readers in other languages all comes down to the knowledge and skill of the translator.

The Importance of Using A Native Speaker for Fiction Translation

The knowledge of a culture is important in foreign language literary translation, which is why it is vital to use a translator who is a native speaker and who fully understands the cultural references, humor and subtext in the book in its original language. You need someone who is capable of conveying the meaning of a story, while still staying true to the original intent. In many ways, an expert fiction translator has to be a gifted author in his or own right. At the same time, it is also vital to be accurate and avoid mistakes in translation, or worse, adding or making up things that were never in the original.

For a more in-depth look at the challenges of translating a specific work of fiction – in this case J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series – check out our blog here.

Let ALTA Help You Find A Professional Fiction Translator

Translating a work of fiction into other languages represents a unique challenge that should only be handled by experts. ALTA Language Services has a network of 2000+ native language literary translators in over 100 languages who can interpret the meaning and spirit of a novel, while maintaining the accuracy and integrity of the source material. For more information about translating a work of fiction, contact us today.


Kristin Wallace is a USA Today Bestselling fiction author and advertising copywriter who is addicted to learning and writing about language, culture and art around the world. She lives and works in sunny Miami, Florida.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *