In recent years, Christian publishers from the US and UK have been increasingly taking proactive steps to publish their titles in languages around the world. To thoroughly evaluate all of the publishing options it is helpful to ask a broad range of questions. The questions below are a few suggestions.
Translation / editing
- HOW do they translate a book? What steps do they take?
- Do their translators work alone or on a team? A general rule of thumb is that it is best to avoid publishers who do solo translation work. There are exceptions but it is extremely rare to find one person who is 100% fluent in both the original and the target language. A team of translators and editors is a much better approach (one person from the original language and one from the target language) and will more likely result in a quality translation.
- The most qualified translators are often in very high demand….and they usually don’t work for free. People vote with their feet. It is best to proceed with caution with individuals who are not in high demand and are willing to work for free. Similarly, the best editors are in very high demand and they too usually don’t work for free.
- Do they do English editing? A native English speaker skilled in reading and writing the local language and is able to identify translation errors in the translated text.
- How many rounds of editing does each book go through?
- Do the translators / editors have an earned degree from a seminary where English is the language of instruction?
- Do they use volunteer translators? Why or why not? Having a zeal and a passion to translate does not necessarily mean that the translator has the skill set to produce a quality translation.
- Does the local community believe that the publisher’s books have been translated well?
- Where is the book translated and edited? If it is translated or edited outside of the target country, how long has the translator or editor lived abroad? A general rule of thumb is that a person living abroad for an extended period of time may not be fully up to speed with the local language.
- Note: When seeking a publisher / translator it is very important to keep 2 Timothy 2:15 in mind. A poorly translated Christian book (even if done inadvertently) can do just as much damage as a pastor who does poor exegesis in the pulpit. We don’t often associate 2 Timothy 2:15 with publishing, but it most definitely applies.
- Does the publisher have a track record of producing quality books? How many books have they published? If a publisher is unaware of the complex issues related to HOW a book is translated, then they may be unaware of the potential red flags that could lead to a poorly translated book.
- What kinds of Christian books do they publish? Children’s books? Devotional literature? Academic books? Do they have experience publishing the type of book you are seeking to publish?
- Is the publisher complying with copyright laws? Are they publishing pirated books?
- Is the local publisher seeking to publish local authors?
- Where is the publisher located? For example, a Chinese Christian book published in Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Singapore can not be sold in mainland China.
- Can they provide references from other Christian publishers who they have worked with in the past?
- What are the royalty terms?
- Who will own the foreign copyright?
- How do they distribute paper books? How extensive are their distribution networks?
- Are they willing to give books away for free (especially electronic – free PDF)?
- Do they use “print on demand” (POD)? How extensive is their POD network?
- Are they publishing electronically? If yes, what electronic methods are they using (Amazon Kindle, cell phone app, website with PDF download, thumb drive, POD)? Over the next 30 to 40 years electronic publishing needs to be a key component of publishing strategy in the Global South.
- How do they price books?
- Can the locals afford to buy the books?
- What sort of discounts do they offer?
- Is the publisher in debt?
- Is the publisher financially independent? If not, are they seeking to move towards financial independence?
- Do they receive financial support from local believers (donations)? Do they actively seek such support?
- Where does the funding come from to pay the local staff?
- Note: It is important to take the long view here. Our long term goal should be the establishment of indigenous Christian publishers who are financially independent and are producing high quality Christian books (books faithful to Scripture and accurately reflect the author’s original intent and meaning). Not paying a fair wage undermines this objective. Actually, I think in the long run it will be less expensive to pay more upfront to produce a high quality translation because you will not need to go back and re-edit and re-publish new editions. I am speaking from experience. I used to be a member of an organization that had extensive Chinese translation projects in China. The original translations were done poorly and consequently they had to continually re-edit and re-issue new editions. They wasted several years in this process and a lot of time and money was lost. The phrase “You get what you pay for” is very true regarding translation work. It is important for those seeking to publish in China to think more broadly than just cost.
- Does the publisher have a marketing plan? Do they have a social media plan? Countries that prohibit the publication of a full book may allow short quotations / short video on a social media platform.
- Note: It is best to avoid a “dump and run” publishing model (leaving the local church to discover the importance of a book on their own). Rather, it is best to have someone who is willing to “champion” the book among the local believers. For example, this can be a seminary class, an annual conference, a local church, etc. A book will have a much greater impact if someone takes the time to explain in detail why the book is important for the local church.
Copyright © 2021 By Phil Remmers. All rights reserved.