Missed this post last month, and it’s an important one: Share The Wealth: A Radical Solution To Translation Costs
The main idea: get your book translated into different languages by promising the translator money on the back end after the book sells, rather than an upfront fee. Scott Nicholson writes on David Gaughran’s blog:
Amazon just opened its German store, and more digital and paper markets are going to open up for indie authors, and overseas readers will finally get an incredible range of choices. But it’s going to take a new kind of indie—the “indie translator.”
I currently have three foreign translations available for independent sale and three more in the pipeline, as well as a creative split-revenue, cooperative deal inChina. None of them required an agent, and each project was entrepreneurial and unique.
You hear some indie writers say “Well, I’d still need an agent for foreign and movie deals.” Like everything in this rapidly changing environment, that’s not necessarily true, and certainly not absolute. In fact, the same principals apply to indie digital publishing in foreign markets as in the US—all you have to do is upload a digital file. And paper books, especially print-on-demand, will follow the same pattern….
I pay a 20 percent royalty of net sales to my translators. For a $2.99 book, that would earn around 40 cents a pop. Not much, until you consider that’s income for life on a one-time job. Imagine if you translated 10 bestselling titles at 10 percent–you’d be making more than the US author currently does when he/she sells a foreign right through a publisher!
It’s a bold idea, but it has one catch: you need to be able to guarantee a healthy level of sales in a foreign market, and that’s fairly difficult to guarantee. So it would seem this is mainly a step for successful self-publishers – i.e. people who could probably get a rights agent who would work out all the details and get an advance. It’s an option to seek out your own translator, but it is not exactly an option that’s equal to the ease of self-publishing – unless you’re familiar with the overseas market, the language, and the translator. Chances are, a lot of self-publishers don’t fit that description.
And translation is also a totally different game than self-publishing. Though it might look totally impressive to see your book converted into another language, to a native reader a poor translation is just going to read like a bad book. What this means is your book is less likely to sell so you can even pay that translator. You don’t want a translation to come out like Ebookit’s automated audiobook tool – useful in a pinch, but lacking a lot of human warmth. Translation is an artform equal to any kind of writing, so you’re going to have to vet a translator very carefully – including having a native reader read a sample to make sure it reads naturally.
This sounds like a lot of negativity – but it’s just to suggest that writers tread carefully. It’s an option, but there are many more variables than traditional self-publishing.
Meanwhile, Alex de Campi, a graphic novelist, attempted to use Kickstarter to sell both American and foreign rights. However, Kickstarter said that it was against their terms, so she had to take it down – for instance, she was selling the American rights for $5000. Again, she’s trying to raise $27,000 so the writer who sets out to do something like this is already successful in some respect.
I’ve had one book translated, which was put out by Hachette Litteratures, one of the bigger publishers in France. I was paid $4000.
The way this happened is that a friend translated it. I lived in Paris for a year, we met, years later the translation deal came together via an agent I’d met in Paris, who also helped facilitate rights for a UK edition of the same novel. And that’s sort of instructive – in publishing, it’s who you know as much as anything. So if you get in touch with prospective translators, good things can happen.
So where to find a translator? Network. Pen American has a good list to get started.
About Henry Baum
Author of The American Book of the Dead, which won Best Fiction at the DIY Book Festival and the Gold IPPY Award for Visionary Fiction. Largehearted Boy says it's "reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and Haruki Murakami, a book that boldly explores the future and defies genre." Also the author of North of Sunset, winner of the Hollywood Book Festival Grand Prize, and The Golden Calf - first published by Soft Skull Press, with editions in the U.K. (Rebel Inc.) and France (Hachette Littératures). Henry was a finalist along with Alan Moore and Dr Brooke Magnanti for his novel " God's Wife" at for Best Writer at The Erotic Awards London UK in 2013. He lives with his wife Cate Baum in Los Angeles. He is the founder of SPR. Visit henrybaum.com for more information.