How to Make Money Translating Other Authors’ Works (or Your Own)

make money translating-language books

Editor’s note: Are you a writer? Do you speak a second language? To make money translating other authors’ works (or your own), then, might be an unexpected income stream…

Many writers focus solely on their own writing projects, honing their craft over the years and pursuing that goal of making a living from writing. Few consider the advantages of collaborating with another writer, and fewer still think to make money translating another author’s work.

However, doing so can be a lucrative source of fees, recurring royalties, and sales income. If you have a decent grasp of a second language, it may be worth translating a fellow writer’s work (whether a novel or a series of blog posts) from that language into your mother tongue. Let us walk you through how to go about it.

What are translation services in the literary world?

What is translation? In this day and age, it’s far more than an academic exercise. Companies around the world use professional translation services to operate across national borders, while translation is also a way to establish important cultural connections, for example through the sharing of literature.

It’s been accepted for many years that just 3% of the literature that English speakers consume is working in translation. However, a report by Nielsen Book in 2019 indicated a significant jump in this figure, at least for the UK market, where the consumption of translated fiction rose by 5.5% in 2018. Sales of translated fiction for the year totalled £20.7 million (US$27.2 million).

Until such time as a universal translator exists, translation services will be required in order to support this growing trend. If you would like to try your hand at being a language translator for a fellow author, here’s how.

Delivering professional translation services to supplement your income

If you want to know how to make money through translation, the first thing to do is build up some experience. Nobody is likely to hire you to translate their novel until you’ve proven your credentials.

You can register with a translation company to get a taste for the work and to begin building up your experience and reputation. Translators usually translate into their native language, so a Portuguese translator from the UK (for example) would translate Portuguese to English, while a translator from Brazil would translate English to Portuguese. Swapping this around (so the UK native would be translating English to Portuguese) is inadvisable – translation quality is usually higher when the translation work is from the translator’s second language and into their native tongue.

Registering with a translation agency is simple, as is setting up to sell your literary translation services online. It’s worth establishing your own website as soon as you’re sure you want to make money translating – the process is much the same as when you established your writer platform.

Where to offer my translation services? That’s easy too. Hit up the freelancing sites (Upwork, Fiverr and the like) and get networking on sites like TranslatorsCafé and ProZ. You can even directly approach literary agents, starting with your own!

If you’re wondering how to make money online by translating blog posts rather than novels, the process is much the same – just focus advertising your document translation services to bloggers rather than those writing more substantial works of literature.

How much do translation services cost?

A key aspect of working out how to offer translation services is knowing how much to charge. If you worked with a translation company to build up your experience, you should have an idea of what they pay. To find out what translation services charge, ask a translation agency or two for a quote based on your particular language pairing (prices for different languages differ wildly). You can use the resulting pricing information to set your own rates before advertising your services.

Bear in mind that some flexibility may be required in terms of your costs when it comes to reaching an agreement to translate a writer’s work. You will likely each have your own ideas about how the financial arrangements should work (fixed fee, royalties, sales income, etc.), so you will need to negotiate and compromise until you are both happy.

Once you’ve successfully completed a couple of substantial literary translation projects, it’s time to review your rates as part of your growing reputation for excellence in all things language-related. In the language world, services exist to connect readers around the world through literature. If you provide such a service, it’s only right that your remuneration should increase hand-in-hand with your experience, as you strive to be the best translator you can be.

Make money translating and gain more than just financial rewards

While making serious money is one obvious benefit of translating other writers’ works, it’s far from the only one. Translation can be intellectually challenging and creatively stimulating. It’s also entirely feasible that the translation process could help you to improve your original writing skills. Getting paid to undertake work that can enhance your own writing ability? That sounds like a sensible idea to us.

About the author

William Mamane

William Mamane is Head of Digital Marketing at Tomedes, a translation agency that has been helping different cultures to connect since 2007.