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An Experience in Translating a Self-Published Book

When I set out to write “The Bull and The Ban” I realized that there was going to be an issue. Although my book is the account of my journey through Spain and Catalonia to discover the controversy behind bullfighting and I am English, there were going to be Spanish speakers interested in the book as well, which is the book of interviews I filmed for the documentary I made, coming out this month.

It seemed logical and with over 300 fans on my social network looking forward to the release I also decided to look into the Spanish market and work out how I was going to translate a self-published book to a language that, at best, I spoke at a high school level. I had initially interviewed around half of my subjects in English, so these parts would have to be translated to Spanish to fit with the other half.

My book was selling steadily in English on Amazon, KDP and Kindle, so I made this decision to go ahead with a Spanish book.

I will give you in brief a run down of the basic experiences I went through, and why basically in the end, I pulled the Spanish language product.

My book contained technical language to a controversial and difficult pastime, bullfighting, that many translators have not heard of, plus I spoke to a lot of very local people in country settings. When your book contains technical or colloquial language, the words may not be translatable, and may end up being translated to Spanish from English and sound extremely strange. For instance, in Spain, “a different kettle of fish” is not a saying. In Spain, we say “Eso es harina de otro costal” (“It’s the flour of a different matter”). So literal translation can break the meaning of your book entirely, and your translators might not understand it at all.

You can’t count on a translation to be 100% correct. A translation is an interpretation of what has been written, and if the translator is lazy or tired the original feel of the piece is lost. This can hamper the voice of your writing, and change entire moods.

Amazon doesn’t take kindly to accents in words. What I found was writing any description in Amazon in Spanish came out with blocked question marks where those letters should be. Not good for marketing at all, on .com where most of my Spanish speaking fans were based.

Know Thy Market should have been my motto because I didn’t. Well, I did. I live in Spain. I should have known that firstly, Amazon.es is really young, and that nobody in Spain really understands it yet. The Spanish are not online shoppers because they believe in having real life interactions. So to sell my self published books I would have to buy the stock and put in shops, physically. This meant I was going to be spending out to make money. This may be OK for some, but I couldn’t do that.

Also the subject of my book was a no-go for the “taurinos”. I was trying to sell a book about an English woman’s experience as an ex-pat of Spain to a group of diehard bullfighting experts, who were mostly men! Of course, everyone was supportive but they didn’t need to read the basics of bullfighting and Spanish politics! No, my book is for anyone who doesn’t know about Spain and the bullfighting ban. It’s for people who want to learn about bullfighting and the morals behind the arguments. None of these people needed my book!

I think I should have just waited to see if there was a demand for my book in Spanish. Nobody wanted to buy it. I have sold one, and the customer, luckily a contact, told me the Spanish was unreadable, and the bullfighting conversations were at best, poorly voiced. Now, I won’t say who did the translation but it was a premier online agency. The translation cost a lot of money, and all for nothing.

My conclusion is that a self-published book may as well be in the original language until you have a definite list of pre-sales customers lining up: If I had put my book on pre-sales orders, I would have realized I had no buyers.

It’s a lesson learned that marketing your product incorporates the process of deciding what language you choose for your work.

About Cate Baum

Avatar of Cate Baum
Cate Baum is a filmmaker and writer of self-published book “The Bull and The Ban” (under the name Tosko) and contributed to "Ole!", a book about 21st Century attitudes to bullfighting with Ernest Hemingway's grandson John and New York Times writer Edward Lewine. She is also editor and co-founder of Filmmaking Review, the sister site to Self-Publishing Review. She is married to SPR founder Henry Baum and lives in LA.

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