What Is Localization for Book Editing?

Updated on January 31, 2018
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Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert, nonfiction book editor, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.


"We can make you happy for your client’s pleasure."

Huh? When I was in the promotional products business, I would be contacted via email by a lot of foreign manufacturers. Many of them would include statements similar to the one noted above which would always cause me to chuckle.

I knew that they were trying to tell me that they wanted to help me serve my clients’ promotional needs. But the selection of words and the way they were conveyed makes it awkward and laughable, though it is technically correct in English.

To avoid being misunderstood, authors wishing to reach foreign audiences should consider hiring an editor for what’s called localization. However, the investment in this effort needs to be weighed against potential sales.

What is Localization?

Localization is reviewing and editing communications (text, audio, video) to make sure they follow the language standards and idiosyncrasies of the intended audience. Some of the key issues addressed include word usage, unique spellings, idioms, colloquialisms, cliches, and syntax that are unique to the audience. The purpose of this review is to make sure the communication will not offend or be misunderstood.

Localization is primarily done for communications going to an audience that speaks a different language, e.g., a brochure translated from Mandarin Chinese into English that will be distributed to people who speak American English. But it can also be done for variants of the same base language, e.g., British English to American English. With more businesses doing business globally thanks to the Internet, this can be a critical function.

Ideally, localization edits should be done by a native speaker from the target region or audience.

Localization and Cultural Awareness

When I interviewed for a teaching job to provide computer training to students for whom English was a second language, I was asked to do a classroom demo.

My “students” in the demo were school administrators. In one part of the lesson, I told the students not to “monkey around” with certain functions until they were more experienced with the program. The one student blurts out that in his country monkeys are sacred and asked what I meant by monkey around? I realized immediately what he was trying to do. He was testing me to see how I could interpret an idiom in a culturally appropriate way for my audience.

In some cases, localization may include de-culturing what you say so that you are understood and so that you don’t offend your audience.

It's All English?

I’ve reviewed book manuscripts from the United Kingdom and Australia. I have to admit that sometimes I had to look up word usages to understand what the author was trying to convey. While it is all English, there are differences among the written and spoken versions of it in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.

Spelling is one of the more visible differences among the regional versions of English, e.g., color in the USA versus colour in the UK.

One other thing that varies is numbering systems: Metric (meters, centimeters, liters, etc.) versus imperial (feet, inches, quarts, etc.). An English manuscript from outside the U.S. that I reviewed included references to metric measurements but didn't indicate it was in metric. It completely changed what the author was trying to convey.

Like the monkey example, there also are idioms and colloquialisms that can be unique to each region. So even though it's all English, there could still be occasions for misunderstanding.

The Localization Challenge for Kindle eBook Authors

When publishing on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), authors automatically, and usually unintentionally, expand their reach to a global audience. Anyone with a Kindle device can read any book offered in the Kindle store.

While this offers more opportunities for Kindle authors to earn more royalties and build an international fan base, it does present the dilemma of what language and/or variant of it to use in the eBook.

Though I do get some international sales, what I’ve found is that most of my Kindle sales come from Amazon.com to buyers in my home country of the United States. I don’t know whether this is due to an Amazon search algorithm for placement of my books, or because I primarily promote to my American audience. Regardless of whether Amazon’s algorithms or my promotions are drawing more American readers to my Kindle books, I encourage authors to initially concentrate on localization for their home country and primary fan base.

However, if strong sales are being anticipated or desired from outside one’s home audience, an investment in a localization edit should be considered.

For example, because I write nonfiction books on business and self-publishing that are geared for American audiences, I really don’t worry about localizing my books for the stray international Kindle sales I get. There’s not enough income from these foreign markets to justify the expense or effort.

That being said, increasing your awareness of cultural differences can be valuable. It will help you avoid relying on your own local language quirks when writing, and create a more culturally neutral work.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2018 Heidi Thorne


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  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 weeks ago from Chicago Area

    Larry, thanks for the kind comment. You have enough going on in your world. One day... one day you'll have time to turn your ideas into reality.

    I appreciate you stopping by in spite of your schedule. Thank you for your support and have a great week!

  • Larry Rankin profile image

    Larry Rankin 2 weeks ago from Oklahoma

    Always helpful.

    Just wish I had more time to put your good ideas to work for me:-/

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 weeks ago from Chicago Area

    Linda, being in Canada, localizing your eBooks would probably not be that big of a deal for US audiences. Might not even need any edits! But you'd probably want to look at it more closely if you were looking for more of a UK or AUS following. Let us know when you do publish some eBooks! Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 weeks ago from Chicago Area

    Flourish, I have a few other examples of how this can go so wrong, but they were a little too risque for public posting. :) I think for communications that will stay within the area (such as news shows), it's probably not that much of an issue. But for novels and other works that could have a wider audience, it's much more critical as you note. Thanks for chiming in and have a great day!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 weeks ago from Chicago Area

    Louise, I think as we become more of a global society, we will see more emphasis on these issues in the future. Glad you understand its value. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 weeks ago from Chicago Area

    Bill, true, even within our own melting pot type neighborhoods it's a challenge to be understood! But as long as we have an open mind, we'll get along. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 weeks ago from Chicago Area

    Mary, indeed, so much can be lost in translation! And sometimes it's so subtle, we barely recognize it. Thanks for chiming in and have a great day!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

    This is good information to think about. Though I haven't created any eBooks yet, I may do so, so I appreciate all your advice.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 2 weeks ago from USA

    What an outstanding article and topic. The monkeying around example and alternate spellings are good examples. I do not like to read novels that have a lot of non-American colloquial phrases unless I knew in advance to expect that (e.g., a novel about royalty). It makes me feel tricked. It’s irritating to be surprised in this way (bloody this and bloody that) and have to figure out what they’re saying. That’s not very nice but I don’t want to always work hard to understand what the heck people are trying to say.

  • Coffeequeeen profile image

    Louise Powles 2 weeks ago from Norfolk, England

    That's interesting to know. I've never heard of localization before, but I understand this is a very necessary role when editing communications.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

    I had no idea what this was about when I saw the title. Makes perfect sense now, and I completely agree. I have a hard enough time understand my neighbor when he talks. Understanding an English-speaking editor from Dubai would be a challenge. :)

  • aesta1 profile image

    Mary Norton 2 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

    We do experience this in spoken language when we work in other countries. It is very difficult when reporting in English and English is not the first or even the second language of the people you are communicating with. So much is lost in translation. Nuances are often lost when you make your sentences as simple as a noun and verb.