How I localise a book to optimise your translation

August 31, 2022

If you have read this post about book covers, you know that you need to adapt your book to the foreign market that you are targeting. I do this all the time when I translate. Let me show you a few tricks that I use every day when I localise your book.

Localisation vs. translation

Translation is the act of rendering a text from one language to another. When a linguist localises, she adapts your text to a specific culture or market segment. I am sure you have heard that some colours or numbers are taboo in some cultures. You will also not use the same language (slang, jokes, references…) when you try to sell to Brits, Canadians or Australians, even if – technically – they all speak English.

When I help you translate and publish your book in French, I have to look at all aspects of your product.

Check your covers!

I have already talked about your cover photo and shown you examples of how successful covers may look completely different in the USA and in France. However, there are also a couple of things that I can do to localise your book.

I could tell you that “New York Times and USA Today bestselling author” doesn’t mean a lot to French readers. If you have it, flaunt it, but it doesn’t need to take up a lot of space. Also, make sure you translate it into French!

What about the blurb?

The same goes for reviews. It’s important to say that you’ve won an award, or that you got a positive review from the best romance reviewers out there. However, on Amazon (desktop) and other platforms, only the first couple of lines are shown, and you have to click to see the rest. Do not waste them by quoting a review instead of hooking your future readers by introducing your plot.

I also wanted to show you this example of the localisation of a historical romance. (NB: this is not criticism aimed at the author, simply a way to show you how different markets will have different expectations).

Let’s see the original version

  • There’s a naked lady on the cover, which, for French readers, classifies it immediately as erotica, though the word doesn’t appear in the list of keywords. The colours and textures give an expression of luxury, but where’s the “Historical”, particularly “Victorian”?
  • The blurb (which I found on multiple sites, so I assume it’s the real one and not a Goodreads summary) is quite short but to the point.
  • The vocabulary is typical for this genre (erotica or mature romance). “Rough and ready”? I get the drift. The story is told through tropes. Rough + gentle (with a wild side) ⇒ marriage of convenience after blackmail.
  • There’s a typo on the name of the male character.

Now compare it to the French translation

  • The cover looks “historical”, though I’m not sure it’s particularly Victorian. You tell me. The book looks like your regular romance between aristocrats or landed gentry, not erotica.
  • The blurb is really detailed. We learn how the hero became rich, how he met the heroine and what happened between them to bring them to the action of the book.
  • The language is a wee bit old-fashioned, as French readers like it. “Camouflet”? chef’s kiss
  • It reads as the summary of a real story, set in a believable socio-economic setting, and not a 10-second elevator pitch.

So when I localise your book, I may tell you that I need to change your blurb in order to make it more appealing to French readers.

Translating the text in itself

By now, you understand that I have to “smooth” things quite a lot.

Here are the things I have to think about when I translate:

  • How do I communicate a Scottish brogue in my French version? (or whatever accent or dialect you are using). I was lucky enough to read an interview by the translator of Outlander, who found solutions when he started translating the saga. I also read through comments and reviews by readers of Scottish historical romances, and they sometimes complain that the word “lass” is used too often. I either remove it or translate it by another word depending on the context. Sometimes, I also have to use footnotes, which I don’t like. However, not everyone reads digital books and can conjure up a dictionary definition of “Hogmanay” by clicking on a word. I have used footnotes very sparingly.
  • How to translate body parts? (you know which ones). Let me put it this way: where English speakers prefer a farm animal, French people may just want a tree, a combat weapon… or just a vague metaphor.
  • Names. Do you know how to pronounce Lachlan? I remember that JK Rowling had to make Viktor Krum struggle to pronounce Hermione’s name in order to teach readers how the name was said. More seriously, I’m currently translating a book in which a background character is named Lovise. I’ll leave a note to the editor suggesting that we change it to Louise or tell the audiobook narrator where to put the stress.
  • Bad language… and language in general. My editing software allows me to flag certain words and show the readability of the text. I can play with that with sentence length or vocabulary.

As far as bad language goes, some medieval characters swear a lot in the English version. Some writers also decide to write in a contemporary way. The French publisher is free to adapt it to make the narration more adapted to the time period. I’ve erased, smoothed out or replaced a lot of swear words. There are other ways to express contempt, surprise or fear than a swear word.

Other details I look at when I localise a book

Once the book is finished and ready to publish, I’ll have a look at the keywords and tell you which ones you can use.

As far as marketing goes, the hashtags you want to use when you promote your books to a French audience will not be the same as in English. You will also want to check when to post. Certain days of the week are associated to the promotion of certain genres, and indie books are usually marketed more heavily on Thursday (#jeudiautoedition).

Last words…

I hope that this article was useful. Remember that you can always find inspiration for your covers by looking at the Amazon bestsellers in the Historical Romance category.


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My last published translation

Opposites attract in this historical romance.

What's next?

A tale of several quirky sisters who never thought they would attract husbands.