Babel by Phillebovsky

Subtitle: my Babelcube experience six months after …

A few words before I start: I’m deeply grateful to Babelcube and I’m truly persuaded that it’s a real revolution for the publishing industry. Had it never existed, I probably would not have seen published any translation of mine. Today I’ve three books in my translation portfolio and I’m growing more confident in my potential. Unfortunately, it’s still too immature to reach its main objectives, i.e bringing books to a new public and – yeah, of course! – making money from their sales (and possibly making their authors and translators a bit richer). That’s my experience and the conclusions I got from it.

Babelcube 101 – What’s Babelcube and how it works

Babelcube is a portal, where independent authors and translators can team up to bring books to foreign markets. The mechanism is really simple: if you are a writer, you just have to sign up, create your own profile and make your books available for translation to other languages. If you are a translator, instead, once created your profile, you can browse the catalogue of the available books in the language combinations  you declared, all arranged according to their genre, read their plots, spot the one you might be interested in translating and make your offer to translate to the author.  What does it mean? You introduce yourself to the author so ast to catch his/her attention and offer to translate the book by a certain date, the one you feel more comfortable with. If the author accepts your offer, you simply sign the agreement, download the material and start translating. Once your translation is completed (there’s an intermediate phase but it’s useless to specify how it works here) and approved by the author, it’s sent to various online sales channels as e-book (at least, initially). It’s a matter of a few hours and your book is on sale worldwide. There’s no hidden cost for none of the parts, the book sales will repay Babelcube for their service. Simple as that! But, however appealing this might sound, this sparkling coin has a less brilliant side …


Translate what you like! This is a real advantage. Whether you like thrillers or romance, fantasy or nonfiction, there’s plenty of books waiting for a translator in every genre. Personally, I spotted a short, intriguing mystery on revenge that I really loved to read and translate. Though a bit off thread, I take the occasion to give a few tips to translators approaching literary translation for the first time from the point of view of a former newbie:  1) if you are interested in this kind of adventure, always choose a novelette or generally a short book, because it’s not too challenging and helps you gain more confidence with this kind of translation.  In addition, it’s not a big investment in terms of time (time is money, and translators know it so well!). 2) A glance at the author’s bio is also a good idea to help you decide and give you hints for your presentation. I did it and I must say that mine was a winning choice, at least as far as my contacts with my authors are concerned.

Translate when you like! Another great advantage of Babelcube is being able to set your pace. If you don’t translate at the speed of light, or more likely you have a different ‘main’ source of income, it’s you who decides how many days you need to finish the work and set your schedule – obviously, upon approval of the author!

Share success with the author! Translators benefit directly from the book sales. If the book you chose becomes a best-seller, you will take advantage from the sales. In addition, your name is clearly displayed in the title page and sometimes next to the author’s name in some e-shop (Amazon, for example). Enjoy your blaze of glory!

So far so good. But …


Share flops with the author! Translators benefit directly from the book sales. That means that if books don’t sell, they don’t earn a buck. Cheer up, my poor translator, you can still benefit from your boosted portfolio.

Lose control over your work Once you deliver your translation, you have no power to make anything happen. You may say, it’s normal, after all you are not the writer nor the publisher, so it’s not up to you to push the book, but … who’s going to pay my work if the book doesn’t sell? No-one. So what can I do? Practically nothing. The only thing you can do to prevent this from happening is ‘spreading the news’ around the web, on social networks, blogs, pressing friends and relatives to leave their reviews on e-shops, and so on. But the result is far from being ensured. And you are not even entitled to let a few copies for free to readers in exchange for a review, even if upon approval of the author of the book, because any distribution right belongs to Babelcube and your miserable advertising attempt might represent an infringement to the obligations set in clause 7 of the Translation and Distribution Agreement and the contract might be terminated. Great!

Relax, take it easy, my dear translator! After all Babelcube’s taking care of your mutual interests. In theory, this is correct. If books don’t sell, they don’t earn a buck too. But probably at this stage of business development, few cents gained from each of the many available books cover their operating costs (after all, in this digital area everything you need to start such an enterprise is a PC, a polished website and a lot of initiative). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling that they are intentionally trying to collect nickels and dimes from book sales, but probably they are not too much concerned about that yet.

But we’re absolute beginners (or look a bit as such). I’ve my personal opinion on this issue: the company is young and far from being well-established. Surely a bit naive, but with a very good potential. After all, the basic idea is new and virtually winning. The portal is under development and new features are periodically implemented. The language selection is becoming wider, sales channels are constantly increasing, so there’s no doubt they are going for it. But they don’t seem to know how to do it. Books need to be advertised, otherwise they are lost in a million. Increasing sales channels doesn’t ensure books are sold. Good reviews might. Advertising campaigns can.  Obviously, with the aid of a deep knowledge of the target market and local advertising channels. After all, they are publishers. Writers write books, translators translate them, publishers sell (or should sell) them. It’s their business to identify the best way to do it, heretofore they have proved to have no clue. All this considered, their tagline sounds a bit funny: Taking books global, but … where?

My 6-months experience (in very few words)

 As already told, being a thriller fan I started with a short mystery, Lucky Man by Shawn Inmon. 6,200 words, for reading in one breath. Intriguing plot. Good reviews in the original version. Fantastic experience with the author, always supportive and helpful. Released in July ’14. Weak sales in the first months.  In a surge of enthusiasm I accepted Shawn’s Feels like the Fist Time, full-length biographic novel, approx 80,000 words. True life and real romance, a story that is larger than life, breath-taking like a thriller. Stellar reviews, very good sales in the original version. Released in November ’14. Up to now, very feeble sales. After that, I tried with a different genre, being a mom, I wanted to find a book that I might read to my child, so I spotted a children’s books series by the Australian writer Karen Campbell.  My Monster – Book 1 – Boris to the Rescue, a #1 in the Free download Kindle chart for a long time. Witty and amusing. Very good comments by the readers. Great cooperation with the author. Released in November. Same (poor) sale results. I’m waiting to see if the second chapter of the Monster Series will have a better fate.

My conclusions

Well, there’s a couple of lines from songs that are now echoing in my mind, which reflect my current feelings perfectly:

Let’s go get lost, let’s go get lost *  A book that lands on a new market without any notice gets lost in the heap of publications like a needle in the haystack. Along with its great (sales) expectations. Personally, I’m going to let them know my opinion and impressions on these first months and provide my suggestions (and I invite all Babelcube translators to do the same). They might even be open-minded and accept them.

We’re on a road to nowhere … ** Do they know where they (Babelcube) are going to? Do they really know what kind of work lies behind the mere publication? Which steps must be taken to boost sales? What’s actually next? I hope they’re cutting their teeth on that, otherwise we (writers and translators) are truly on a road to nowhere. 

See you soon, folks … and don’t be afraid to use Babelcube if you are translators: in spite of any bad impression this post may convey, in faith, it’s worth using!

Your passionate (Italian) Translator

* Red Hot Chili Peppers, Road Tripping
** Talking Heads, Road to Nowhere 


5 responses to “Revolution!(?)

  1. I am on the same boat as you regarding Babelcube. I am woirking on my thrid book at the moment and loving every minute BUT my husband is working more than ever to make uo for my lack of income. We both agreed that this was an investment, that the books might not sell, that things could goi wrong. My first book has been on sale for about a month or so, the second has not been released yet due to Babelcube’s technical problems, the third…. will be ready in July or thereabouts. I admit that I wanted to be a book translator really badly and that, given that so much work goes to translators who live in third world countries and can accept lower rates, I’ve seen my work diminish greatly over the last few years (but I AM good, sweartogod). Problem is, I worked mostly with agencies, too crap at self-promotion to get many direct clients.
    Anyway, I had never managed to break into the literary translation world because I had never done any book translations and Babelcube has been good for at least that. And I believe that, having now worked with two authors, I may try and be bold and ask them to do any other translations OUT of the Babelcube system. They may say yes or no, but at least that is something else Babelcube has given me – contacts.

    • Don’t give up, Valeria, eny effort made is worth it. First of all, the more you translate, the more you get used to techniques of literary translation. I find myself completely at ease with it now, surely more than half a year ago. Moreover, it helps you gain confidence and – yes – audacity. I’m basically shy too, but I’ve gained a superb cheek when it comes to propose myself to authors. Now it’s my freshly gained self-confidence that speaks in my place when I get in touch with a potential customer. Anyway, don’t loose faith, some days ago I checked the sales of one of my four books and … it skyrocketed in one month! Sales were one hundred times higher than a couple of months ago! My work will probably not be repaid to the full, but I’m confident about a partial payback. After all, we, the Babelcube translators, have five years for it at a very honest royalty rate, I can assure you! And, yes, after five books I’ve just started earning from what I like to do most, cash, and got to know a fantastic author who got directly in contact with me … thanks to a comment of mine on Babelcube and Facebook. Can you believe it? 🙂

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