You can pay for a literary translation using crowdfunding—but be prepared to work hard for that money. About half of all crowdfunding projects fail. A successful project, however, not only collects money, it promotes the translation and guarantees readers before the work even gets published.

Crowdfunding uses social networks and the Internet to raise funds for projects of all sorts, and can serve both individuals and small publishers. But a translation is an international project, so it has a few additional complications.

A successful campaign has five elements:

  • an attractive project;
  • the right platform, such as GoFundMe or RocketHub, among many others;
  • a team, because a campaign is too much work for one person;
  • a list of potential backers; and
  • a plan, because the campaign will take months.

The project
You’ll need a work that can appeal to an identifiable group, such as international poetry lovers or readers of Brazilian literary fiction. You must also have a clear purpose for the money. Paying translators is legitimate, but paying for a month of “research” in southern France sounds a lot like a vacation.

The platform
You have plenty of choices, such as Kickstarter (connected to Amazon), Indiegogo, Patreon, and more. A good list is here. Make sure your platform operates in the countries where you want to raise funds. Check its specialties, fees and rules. Has it successfully hosted projects like yours? How does it handle “rewards” and other features? Your research should also identify successful techniques you can adapt to your campaign.

A team
The bigger and more international the team, the better. You’ll need people with skills in video, business, art, communication, publicity, social media and translation. Someone should also know the fundraising customs in your target countries. Normally, authors reach out to their fans and readers, but your author may know few people in the target countries, so the team must have sufficient contacts there.

A list of potential backers
People you don’t know will support your project, but don’t expect a lot of them. Most of your backers will be people you, your author, your translator and your teammates already have some connection with, such as “friends” on Facebook or other social media, and real-life friends and family.

Once you’ve identified these potential backers, you (and your teammates) should contact them one by one. Do that in the most personalized way you can, such as individualized emails. I’ve actually telephoned potential contributors or spoken face-to-face, even though I hate asking people for money. I do it anyway—because it works like magic!

You’ll want to line up as many backers as you can on the first day of your campaign to generate momentum. You can also turn backers into team members by inviting them to contact their friends and using their social media to promote the project.

You should also share your campaign with social media groups that might be interested. Don’t spam, but don’t be shy, either. In many ways, you’re undertaking a conventional campaign of marketing, sales and publicity. Use any appropriate means, analog or digital. You might even partner with a website, ezine or publisher. If you’re extraordinarily lucky, your campaign will go viral, but don’t count on that.

A plan
Obviously, work begins long before the campaign goes live, usually six months earlier. You must design the web page within the crowdfunding platform, decide on rewards, make a video and more. The budget will be the thorniest part of the campaign. You must pay the translator, author, cover artist, costs related to printing and ebook design, and any expenses for rewards, such as postage, possibly overseas. Worst of all, you must factor in crowdfunding site fees, PayPal and bank charges, currency conversion and government taxes.

How much can you collect? Every crowdfunding site offers invaluable hints, including ways to estimate the number of backers you’ll need for your goal. That number is key. If you need 300 backers and your list has only 50 people, you have a problem.

A campaign typically last 30 to 60 days—very busy days contacting potential backers, creating updates to maintain momentum, sending thank-you messages and doing anything else you can think of for visibility. Again, the crowdfunding site will offer useful guidance and suggestions.

You’ve reached your goal. Congratulations! But you’ll still be busy after the campaign delivering rewards and producing the project as promised. You’ll also continue marketing. Meanwhile, you’ve found new readers and friends, and you’ve increased the visibility of literature in translation. That’s the big reward from a crowdfunding campaign.

It wasn’t easy money, but it was worth it.

Share your experience with crowdfunding a literary translation project. We’d love to hear!

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Sue Burke is a writer and translator who has lived in Milwaukee, Austin, Madrid, and is now in Chicago. She has participated in several crowdfunding campaigns for translations, and she is a certified Spanish to English translator. Her translations include the novels Prodigies by Angélica Gorodischer (Small Beer Press) and The Twilight of the Normidons by Sergio Llanes (Dokusou), and the stories in anthologies Terra Nova and Castles in Spain (Sportula), and Spanish Women of Wonder (Palabaristas). She has published articles, poems, and short stories in a variety of magazines, websites, and anthologies, and her novel Semiosis will be published by Tor in January 2018. You can find out more at