Literary Translators and Self-Publishing (Part 2)
A guest post by Rafa Lombardino in two parts

Part Two

Last week, Rafa shared how she took the reins and began to steer her career in literary translation by working with self-published authors, discussing how she got her foot in the door. Here are yet more tips and strategies if you’re interested in doing the same thing.

Your Work is Never Done ― There is a downside to working with the less conventional approach of self-publishing as a literary translator. Without the support of a publisher, you need to find your own proofreader, fact-checker or editor, learn more about desktop publishing techniques that will make the book look pretty, maybe hire a designer to work on the cover art, and certainly get your feet wet in marketing and advertising.

In this setup, you’re no longer one piece in the larger game of book publishing and you will not be strictly responsible for providing translation services alone. You are the author’s partner in crime and need to wear many hats to contribute to the success of the book.

Luckily I have been able to count on the proofreaders who have been working with me on non-literary translations, for they’re avid readers as well. Thanks to my background in Computer Sciences, I was already familiar with DTP software to offer authors one version ready for eBook format, which is more of a plain text, and another version more suitable to print-on-demand and that respects the conventions you find in paper books, such as headers and footers, page numbers, and chapters beginning in odd-numbered pages.

Still, most self-publishing authors are already pretty savvy and will provide the support you need to turn your translation into book form. They’ll prepare the file for the multiple eBook formats used by eReaders (Kindle’s .mobi, Nook and Sony’s .epub, Apple’s .ibook) and the good old .pdf, .html, .doc, and .txt. They already know where to go to bring their books to the masses through both electronic and print-on-demand platforms. You can always adapt the original book cover and these authors have great advertising ideas that already worked in the original market, so you can replicate their strategy with the target audience as well.

What you’ll need to bring to the table is your knowledge of the foreign market. With Tom Lichtenberg’s “Um zumbi na noite,” for example, I had the rare opportunity of retaining 100% of the translation rights. It has been a great lesson for me, since I’m also 100% in charge of publishing and marketing it.

I had a chance to learn about the Amazon and Smashwords online platforms, making the book available in different formats. Then I also tried Bookess and Hotmart, which make books available in Brazil, thus being more accessible to Brazilian readers who prefer the print-on-demand option to receive the physical book at home without paying for outrageous international shipping and handling fees―the final product comes from a local distributor, not from a US-based company.

Sales will likely increase once Amazon opens a subsidiary in Brazil, which is scheduled to happen by mid-2013. This would make the Kindle and eBooks easier to buy in my native country. Right now payment methods, current importing fees and other red tape issues are shying Brazilians away from similar platforms. Other eReader manufacturers are also trying to get in the game, so it’s good to be slightly ahead of it and have something to offer once these services and products are finally provided locally.

Above all, the good old word-of-mouth campaign continues to work, even in the tech age. I advise any translator considering these approaches to setup a Twitter and a Facebook account. Then check what kind of books your friends are reading, since they’ll be happy to read something translated by you and recommend it to their friends as well. Create a blog to talk about the translation process and share your challenges and accomplishments, or even microsites dedicated to each book you translate. Attend meetings with authors and translators and put together presentations about your experiences.

Your hard work will make things easier down the road and definitely pay off to help you build your resume and acquire valuable knowledge about all aspects of the new publishing industry.

Put a Smile on Your Face ― Yes, it is a lot of work because you’re playing many roles at once, but the possibilities are endless and your personal satisfaction is guaranteed. You’ll have complete creative control over the final product, but also full accountability, so make sure it is a good final product indeed.

The great thing is that computer tools make it easy for you to do edits on the fly. Should you receive input from readers after the book is published, you can always make a new edition available with revisions and corrections for no additional cost. You simply replace the original file on the websites where the book is being offered to correct any issues.

That is exactly what happens with self-published authors, even the most successful ones, and readers enjoy contributing to the books they love by correcting misspelled words or calling the attention to an inconsistency in the story. In a traditional setting, publishers not always can afford to do it, for it represents big losses in book recalls, reprints, and redistribution efforts.

In these past eighteen months, I have enjoyed the challenge of this steep learning curve. Yes, the work hours are a little longer and now I usually dedicate a few hours on the weekends to literary translation, so I can make progress on the current book. The absence of a deadline makes it up, though, since I have more time to reflect on my translation choices and enjoy the entire process, which is exactly what I was looking for. And it always makes me smile when a new title becomes available with the mention “Translated by Rafa Lombardino” and the list associated to my name keeps growing on Amazon.

All in all, as long as you can balance the profitability of conventional translation projects with tight deadlines and more structured work, and the ups and downs of a creative niche that demands creative ways to get fair compensation but offers a great deal of fun, you too can break into this tough segment that is experiencing a shift in the traditional paradigm. And the odds may be in your favor.

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.

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