People often ask me how to get a Christian book translated into Thai and published in Thailand. Most of those people are missionaries, but occasionally a Thai Christian wants to know how to get an English-language book or a Thai-language book that they wrote into print. I don’t claim to know everything about publishing in Thailand but I have worked part-time as an editorial and theological advisor at a Thai Christian publisher for a number of years, which is probably sufficient for providing some advice for getting starting in publishing a Christian book in Thailand. With that in mind, what follows is some general guidelines for publication but I make no claims of being comprehensive and the policies/procedures of various publishers and printers may change without notice.
Thailand needs lots of good, biblical literature to support the work of evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and leadership development and I am glad whenever I hear of someone’s desire to publish a good Christian book of that variety. I assume that anyone who wants to publish a Christian book wants it to make as big an impact as possible, so there are two major issues to consider here:
1) the actual translation and publishing of the book
2) distribution of the book AFTER it is published
I’ll get to distribution later in the post (as well as some FAQs), but please don’t skip that part because distribution is just as important as publication. In terms of publication, there are 2 primary routes for publishing a Christian book in Thailand:
1) Formal Publication
This means that a publisher decides to take on a book as part of their regular catalogue and does their own editorial process, and publication and is distributed with their other books. The publisher secures copyright, contracts a translator, does editing, cover art, typesetting, printing, etc. It also provides a second set of eyes (an editor) to iron out and improve oversights on the translator's part. This takes longer to get things published, but provides better visibility and distribution in the end. A formally published book will be held in stock by the publisher who send it to their network of booksellers and will also take care of sales, shipping, receipting, royalties, etc. The funds for this may come from the publisher themselves, or be funded by an outside source.
One challenge in pursuing formal publication is that most Christian publishers in Thailand have a very small staff and budget, and often have a long queue of books awaiting translation and publication. You may have a great book to publish, but it might not be a priority for a publisher who has a whole bunch of other great books that they are working on as well. However, if you really want to get broad distribution of your book and make it known among Thai Christians beyond your personal network, it is worth approaching a Thai Christian publisher and seeing what they say.
There are several Thai Christian publishers but a couple major ones would be Kanok Bannasan (OMF Publishers Thailand) and CED (Christian Education and Development). These publishers are both based in Bangkok.
2) Private Publication
This means that the person/organization who wants to publish a book arranges for their own translation, editing, and secures all necessary copyright permissions and then pays a publisher, printer, or print-on-demand company to publish however many copies they want. The type-setting, formatting, cover art, etc may be done by the publisher for a fee, according to what the person/organization requires. All those books belong to the person/organization who can distribute them however they want (i.e. internal-use only for an organization / contacting bookstores personally to see if they want stock/selling it through a website, etc). If desired, it is sometimes possible for the publisher/printer to sell copies of the book on a consignment basis, and provide some limited distribution and advertising.
There are a number of printers in Thailand but I want to highlight two which serve the Thai Christian and missionary community.
Publish2Day offers print-on-demand and other services for those wanting to publish Christian books (in whatever language) and ActsCo offers a wide range of printing services as well. Both are located in Chiang Mai.
Distribution is the second part of book publication that many people don't think about, and as a result lots of churches/groups/missionaries translate good materials that no one knows about because they don't have any vision or plan for getting these materials out to the broader Thai Christian community. If you want to your book to benefit people, you need to think not only about how to fund translation and publishing, but how to get materials out to people. Although some people publish books to hand out for free rather than for sale, it is not necessary to give stuff away for free in order to reach a broad audience. A small book at a small price is very attractive to many Thai believers if they happen to see the book.
If you are going the formal publication route, you will have a huge advantage in distribution. You’ll still probably want to advertise the book online and get somebody (or a few people) sharing them on Facebook, LINE, etc. to get some good "air-time." If you go with private publication, online advertising will be all the more vital. However, you can’t rely on online advertising alone. Most Thai Christians still buy their books at brick-and-mortar Thai Christian bookshops, not online. A self-distribution plan should include sending samples of your book to Thai Christian bookshops to see if they would like to order more.
Also, it is sometimes possible to ask a publisher like Kanok to hold a portion of your books in stock on consignment for them to advertise via Facebook, website, and within their network of Christian booksellers in Thailand. You would have to, of course, work out a financial arrangement with anyone who takes your books on consignment. It would not be unusual for the publisher/person holding your stock to keep 50% of the cover price as their fee for holding stock, advertising, and processing and shipping orders.
I highly recommend the consignment route for distribution if possible because,
1) A publisher/bookshop can often get the word out to a much larger segment of the Thai Christian & missionary community than you can personally, and
2) You probably don't want to take the time and hassle to receive emails and phone calls for orders for the book(s) and then take the time to package and ship orders.
Translating and Publishing FAQ
How much would a full-time translator cost?
Translators are often hired freelance, per project, rather than on a monthly salary basis. Depending on the book, the translation price would vary according to length, difficulty of material, etc. But just as a rough estimate, a 150-200 page book of medium difficulty would be 20,000-30,000 baht for translation. Don’t hold me to that estimate, however! Prices can vary greatly from translator to translator, and project to project. Generally speaking, the longer the book, and the more difficult/academic it is, the higher the price. If you hired a full-time person on a salary basis, you'd have to come to a careful understanding of how quickly you expect them to work. Otherwise, a translation job could drag on forever. That said, for translators of English to Thai, the most common problem is people translating too wooden-literally and rushing through, rather than taking too long because they are perfectionists.
What should I look for in a translator?
There are a handful of Thai Christians who could do a decent translation job and may be available. The problem that some people run into is that paying on a per-project basis results in translators plowing through the job to get it done and move on to the next project. That is not universally the case, but it is not uncommon.
If you pay per-project, the translator is motivated to get it done quickly rather than drag it out. That is good for getting things moving, but it can be bad because translators sometimes don't take the time to really work through difficult to translate parts, and just write something down to get it done. Therefore, idiomatic or Western cultural expressions are sometimes slaughtered in translation, and theological concepts are rendered poorly in Thai. In hiring a translator, you also need to think about their knowledge of Bible and theology. If they don't "get" the biblical concepts that they are translating, they may not translate them correctly. Materials that are stories, history, or personal/devotional in nature, are easier to translate and less subject to error. The more biblical/theological the concepts, the more challenging it is to get a good translation. This is a big reason why you MUST have someone who knows both languages proofread and/or edit the Thai translation that you have outsourced to a translator.
How do I estimate publication costs for my book project?
If you are working up a budget estimate in order fundraise or apply for project funds, I suggest developing an estimate for publication rather than just printing. What's the difference?
Printing means sending your finalized PDF (with text layout, fonts, cover art, etc) to the printer to physically print the book.
Publishing includes the cost not only for physically printing the book, but all the cost for someone to take your plain vanilla MS Word doc and do the text formatting and book layout, work up some cover art, etc. Unless you and your team have awesome expertise in book layout and graphic design, it much better just to hire someone (like Kanok, or CED, or Publish2Day, or ActsCo) to do the formatting, layout, and cover art rather than mess around with it yourself. The end product will have a polished professional look to it. Trying to do that stuff yourself will take much more time and not come out as well, so it is better to leave it to the professionals.
It is nearly impossible to estimate a general printing cost for a book without knowing what book it is and what is necessary (such as interior art or not? are there graphics that need to be redone to work with Thai?). So here is what you'd need to do to get a cost estimate for a given book:
- for book XYZ, get a quote for translation from a freelance editor
- then get a quote from a freelance editor to read through and make corrections on the translation (could just be a different translator who you hire to only edit/proofread)
- get a quote from a publisher/printer on what it would cost for them to do layout, cover art, etc. and print X number of copies of book XYZ
When you have those 3 numbers, you can put together a quote for publication of book XYZ. An initial print run for a Thai Christian book averages 1500-2000 books.
Should I budget for an outside editor to look over the translated work?
Yes, absolutely. Do not just get something translated and then go straight to publication. Good books are rendered virtually useless through a lack of editing, and it can come back to bite you later if the Thai doesn't correspond to the English sufficiently, or if the translation is so clunky that nobody wants to read it.
If a translation is done well, the editor's job is easy because not many changes need to be made. But if the translation was a rush job and doesn't read very well, the editor's job can be a nightmare and take a long time to massage and edit the translation into something accurate and readable. The quality of the initial translation factors into the time and cost that it will require to have an editor review the translation.
For Further Reading
The following links related to translation and publishing may be useful for as you think about translating, publishing, and distributing written and spoken content.