Babelcube is a platform for book translation that has been around for some years. It revolves around a simple principle: to put in contact authors seeking to have their book translated with translators. The process is based on a royalty scheme where the translators get most of the share at the beginning, and ends up getting less and less over the years. There is no royalty after 5 years. If the book becomes a best-seller after that period, then no money Is due to the translator.
What's in for the Author? Well, the chance of getting their book translated for free. The risk of the translation weighs only on the translator' shoulders - if the translation does not sell, then the translator do no get paid. Fair enough? Not so. Although this is an incentive to produce high quality translations (after all, it is in the translator's interest), it is also unfair because the translator works upfront with no guarantee to ever see a dime.
How long does it take to translate a book and how much would make it worth? Let's start by saying that the royalty schemes below is based on the net amount. So, if a book is sold at 10 USD, the translator won't get 5.5 USD, but much less. Babelcube sends payment after 10 USD of revenues are accrued.
Translating a book depends on its length, complexity and... incentive to do so. If the incentive is pennies, what's left is only the glory.
On average, a book has 250 pages, or 70-80 thousand words. This means 30 full days of work, roughly one month and half. And it may all be for nothing.
The translator doesn't get to fix the book price, so it may take forever before a 0.99 USD ebook makes the translator enough money to pay for a month and half of work. Besides not having control over the price, the translator cannot control the marketing channels and the advertising. Indeed, some authors specifically mention that they need 'not just a translator, but someone that after the translation will promote the book'. Of course also the promotion bit falls under the same contract, it is not paid if not from the subsequent sales.
What kind of translation quality control is there? None. Well, after you are accepted as a translator, you should submit the translation of the first 10 pages for approval by the author. The author, obviously, likely doesn't speak your language and will ask a friend native in the target language for an opinion. If the author is happy with the sample, the book is confirmed and it should be delivered within the deadline set by the translator... it could be years if they wish so.
If the author cancels after confirmation, he/she should pay the translator a remedy of 500 USD. If the translator fails to deliver the translation by the deadline, an extension is possible. Failure to ultimately deliver will result in a negative feedback and being kicked off the platform, in the worst case.
How do you pick a book for translation? You can browse books available for translation in a given language pair (e.g. English to Spanish, Spanish to Italian, Spanish to English etc.). you can browse by category but it is not easy to browse. Each book is posted with a profile describing the author, the synopsis, the length (word count), the sales performance, any social media profile or book website, plus links to selling platforms (such as amazon or Goodreads) and a paragraph to let the translator get a feel of the writing style. It is advisable to check if the book has been reviewed online to get a hang of its sales performance. If a book is not doing well in English, no reason it should be a best seller in Spanish.
Anyway, amazon does not divulges the stats on book sales (but you can check how it ranks) and the books may be on sale on other platforms such as the Apple Books store, kobo, etc. However, the author could also choose to promote their book by making it part of kindle unlimited, and at that point it won't generate any revenue.
Now, most authors using Babelcube are self-publishing on amazon. This means there is no editor promoting their book, no proofreader fixing the mistakes, nobody giving them a feedback but the readers. The sample paragraph on the book profile is likely the first paragraph of the book, which is the one the author went over and over many times, so it is usually good. The translator's has to make a call based solely on that and some guessing on sales performance.
What happened is that I offered to translate a book based on a single paragraph, but when the author accepted my offer and I signed the contract, the entire book finally came and it turned out to be poorly written. Periods starting in the past form and then turning to the first singular person (I have asked three times, and three times she looks at me bored, rolls her eyes, looks at her nails and avoids to reply), periods starting in the third singular form and then switching to the second singular (the winner will be awarded: $500k to open your first restaurant, the possibility to make contact which will be great for your career etc.), the same description over and over (she frowned, he frowned, she though she looks good when she frowns).
What have I gotten myself into?! I want out!
I fell for the desire of having my name in print on Amazon, to have maybe a book in my hands to show people what I can do... but right now it looks like a) it will be bad publicity if I translate it as it is; b) it will take twice as much to fix and translate to make it legible, all for little or no money; c) with no promotion, there is no way this is going to be a success; and d) you cannot sell a translation which is an adaptation and not a translation, because it is not the same book it was originally written.
Please note that I made an offer to translate this book because the author has written at least 6 books, all self produced, and she has a small following on facebook (about 300 people) and is actively involved in indie book websites.
There shouldn't be any penalty on my part if I deliver a garbage sample or do not deliver it at all. But I don't want to look impolite, so I am battled on whether to tell the author 'it is not worth my time', make up an excuse ('se me complicó'), be honest saying 'look, you need a proofreader if you want to really make it as a writer' or pick up any suggestion that you, the reader of this post, will write below!
I am really ashamed that I told her 'thank you for trusting me with your book' and now want to back off. But, seriously... amateurish writers will get amateurish translators and never make it.