I’m starting to work on the second edition of my book How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator, and it makes me realize that more translators really should write books. Really, the market for specialized glossaries, translation technique manuals, translation business practice guides and more is wide open. So, if you have a book inside you that’s crying to get out but you don’t want to go through the whole process of writing up a book proposal, finding an agent and finding a publisher in order to earn a relatively small percentage of your book’s gross earnings, it’s time to think about self-publishing.
For the first edition of my book I used, and I’ll be using again, Lulu, a print-on-demand service that I have really fallen in love with (and no, I don’t have an affiliate deal with them, I really do just love them!). Lulu offers a number of publishing and distribution levels depending on what you want to do with your work. At the most basic level, Lulu will print bound copies of almost anything that you can upload as a PDF, and you can purchase these yourself or sell them on Lulu.com at a price that you set, and you pay nothing unless you make a sale. For the modest sum of $99.95, you can purchase a distribution service from Lulu that gives you an ISBN for your book and makes it available on online marketplaces such as Amazon and Barnes&Noble as well as in wholesale book catalogs.
So, say that you have compiled a glossary of terms related to one of your translation specializations (we’ll assume that these terms are not proprietary and that you have the right to publish them) and you have a hunch that other translators would be interested in purchasing this glossary. You can create a PDF of your document, upload it to Lulu, choose one of their standard covers and a binding style and with a very minimal amount of work, your work is published and available for sale. It really is that easy.
Print-on-demand books generally cost more per copy to produce than books that are printed in bulk by “traditional” self-publishing companies. On the other hand, one of the joys of print-on-demand is that you can update your book at any time and put the new edition out for distribution at a minimal cost, and you don’t have the issue, which you do have with traditional self-publishing, of either arranging for a separate distribution service or finding a place to store all of the printed copies of your book.
Preparing a book to meet the criteria for wider distribution is a bit more complex, but definitely within the capabilities of most translators. In order to purchase wider distribution (which used to be called Global Distribution and is now called Published by You or Published by Lulu, depending on who owns the ISBN), your book must meet certain size and formatting requirements, which you can find here.
For a book that will be widely distributed, you probably also want to have your copy professionally edited and laid out and have a custom cover designed (in the spirit of disclosure, my husband did all three of these tasks for my book, and several reviews have specifically commented on the quality of the layout and editing, so it’s definitely possible to do these jobs “in house,” so to speak).
In addition to giving you greater control over the content and quality of your book, self-publishing is a huge win over most traditional publishers when it comes to royalties, as long as you are willing to do your own marketing. For example, many authors I know who have been published by traditional publishers have earned 10% royalties at most (and have still done most of their own marketing). Self-publishing allows you as the author to earn between 20% and 50% royalties, and to have those royalties paid monthly. For example, the cover price of my book is $19.95; for every copy that sells directly from Lulu’s site, I earn a little over $10.00 and for every copy that sells through the distribution network (Amazon, bookstore orders, etc.) I earn a little over $4.00. Then, Lulu pays me those royalties every month by PayPal. Also, I can order unlimited copies of the book at a greatly reduced cost (for my book it’s about $7.00 per copy) and then sell them myself to bookstores, at events and book signings, etc.
I’ve been so happy with Lulu’s services that I haven’t investigated any other print-on-demand publishers, and I would be interested in hearing from other people in the translation industry who have self-published books either through print-on-demand or through “traditional” self-publishing!