Literary Translators and Self-Publishing (Part 1)
A guest post by Rafa Lombardino in two parts

Part One

I have been in the translation business for fifteen years, but only recently started to work with what truly attracted me to this career: book translations. With a solid client base in my two specialty fields―Computers & Technology and Business Communications―I decided to take a more proactive approach and break into the literary translation world.

My first obvious step was contacting publishers in Brazil, my native country, to send out resumes and make myself available for English into Portuguese tests. Months would go by and, when I did hear back from an editor, the answer was always the same. “We loved your sample, but we simply cannot afford you,” they’d say. “Considering our budget, we were wondering if you could work at a rate of X per word.”

I had to pass on such opportunities because X was already about ½ of my “special” rate. I knew I didn’t have any literary experience on my resume, so it would be a humble beginning for me. I’d need to start from the bottom until I could get a few books under my belt. However, X being ⅓ of my regular rate at my “day job” translating technical material, this wasn’t the ideal scenario for me. I’d still need to make a living.

Where could I go from there? I simply wasn’t ready to give up just yet. I needed a creative outlet after logging hours and hours of software and website localization, press releases, business brochures, and client satisfaction surveys.

Foot in the Door ― After I got a Kindle as an end-of-the-year gift in 2010, I soon started buying affordable books to feed my reading habits. And that was how I discovered the world of self-published authors, who usually make their work available within the $0.99-$2.99 price range on Amazon. They are usually very prolific and dedicate themselves to book series centered on a theme or set of protagonists. Some of them have even become millionaires due to the popularity of their novels and large following online.

Friends and family encouraged me, so I took a deep breath and started researching some of the titles that I thought would be fun to translate into Portuguese. I wrote several letters and started getting a few replies from authors who were interested in expanding their readership.

The first step then was to formalize the translator-author partnership. I discussed the details with my attorney, who drafted a couple of contract templates I could use. Once agreements were signed, I would finally be able to get my hands dirty.

Negotiations ― If I thought the budget of Brazilian publishers was very small, I’d need to understand the limitations that the average self-published author usually faces and be creative in my approach.

Some authors are doing very well for themselves and can make payment in installments while you’re getting the book translation ready. Others don’t have that much in reserves, so you can negotiate a smaller per-word rate plus royalties on sales in the target market. Most of them cannot afford any money upfront and insist on royalties only, at a more even percentage to make it up for the longer wait. A few (yes, they do exist!) are so focused on unleashing their creative demons that they would rather relinquish any rights to translation works derived from their original titles, leaving 100% of the profits to be pocketed by the translator.

So far, having completed six books and with another one on the way, I have been able to try all these approaches. I’ve been receiving modest royalty checks from Joe Perrone Jr’s “Pau que nasce torto,” Bryce Beattie “Oásis” and Terri Reid’s “Casos mal resolvidos.” While working with royalties alone is a risky business indeed, there’s always a chance you’ll make it big if you find the next J. A. Konrath, Amanda Hocking or Hugh C. Howey. Or maybe you’ll work with genres that are hot right now―paranormal romances for the Young Adult audience, such as the Twilight series, or spicy novels targeted at female readers, like the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Who knows? You may well strike gold!

Stay tuned for Part Two next week, when Rafa talks about some of the work involved as well as the rewards when pursuing this option for literary translators!

Rafa Lombardino was born in Santos, a coastal city in the State of São Paulo, Brazil, in 1980. She is an English into Portuguese translator certified by the American Translators Association (ATA) and a Spanish into English translator certified by the University of California, San Diego Extension, where she currently teaches classes about the role of technology in the translation industry.

Currently the President and Chief Executive Officer at Word Awareness Inc., a small network of professional translated established in California, Rafa has been dedicating more time to literary projects, mostly in partnership with self-published authors, having completed five EN>PT books and one PT>EN book in the past two years.

In her spare time, she also coordinates the literary project Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories, dedicated to publishing the English translation of contemporary short stories written by Brazilian authors, and collaborates with, a website that publishes news about the world of electronic books.

Rafa moved to the United States in 2002 and now lives in Santee, San Diego County in California, with her husband and two children.