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Selling Rights vs. Translating It Yourself, The Debate Continues

Translating and selling a book directly abroad is an interesting amplification of what we’ve already seen in the past.

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

global partnershipsTwo schools of thought are emerging about how to handle sales of your books abroad. Should you a) go the traditional route and sell the rights to publish your book to a local company who will then handle translation, distribution, sales and marketing, or b) should you consider translating the book on your own and then working with local booksellers and platforms abroad to accomplish much the same thing?

The answer to the question, naturally, depends on each individual book and each individual publisher.

In two recent examples, Bastei Lübbe went ahead and translated Apocalypsis its 2011 bestselling digital-first novel into English, and began selling it in the US and UK in June (as discussed in today’s feature story). Barcelona eBooks is the new English-language program of Spain’s Roca Editorial, which is being distributed in the US by Open Road Media, a US e-book publisher.

One company is quite large, the other is more modest and medium-sized. But in both cases the firms had the vision to exploit their existing content in a way that has largely been unseen before today. Where previously they would have likely taken a fee from a US publisher to get their content into the rich American market, today they are banking on their own content to find the market on its own (with help from those local partners, be they platforms, developers or booksellers). Not only does this indicate that the publishers now have this opportunity to begin with (largely due to the advent of digital), it’s a further demonstration of their own confidence in that material. After all, they are taking the risk upon themselves to make it work overseas.

It’s an interesting amplification of what we’ve already seen in the past with authors who have taken it upon themselves to have their work translated into English — a key gateway language — in order to get it into the hands of publishers abroad. Self-publishers too are picking up on this practice, albeit the opposite way, and are assuming the cost of translating their English-language originals into European and other languages in order to sell abroad. (See the article by Bella Andre in our London Book Fair Edition.)

What works best for you depends on your confidence level and tolerance for investing in what might prove to be a risky endeavor. Of course, the upside is that you may very well tap into a profit from a market you might never have ever considered before.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted August 3, 2012 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    I am interested to learn more about self publishers getting their work translated and how well that works. I know another New Zealand author who gets her novels translated into German because there is more of a market for them in Germany.

  2. Posted August 4, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Definitely the way of the future for self published authors. They’ve already shown their business savvy and entrepreneurial spirit by forging ahead and self-publishing their books…What is going to stop them now? It’s just a matter of identifying reliable translators and going ahead using the (usual) digital platforms, Amazon, Kobo etc

  3. Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    We have been translating our eBooks from spanish to english and selling them into the major platforms.
    So far the results have been poor due to a lack of awareness on the public in the US for our authors.
    Maybe an author is very well known in your local country, but nobody knows him in the US so without a local partner in the target market that takes care of marketing it is a tough sell.
    One of the advantages of dealing with different language versions of the same book is the possibility of creating ePub files that contain several language versions of the same book.
    We are working on an HTML5 version of our eBooks that will allow the reader to switch from language to the other just tapping in their iPads.
    That’s very interesting for learning languages and to purist that want to enjoy the original at the same time they have access to the translated version.
    Wha do you think?
    http://www.newcelona.com
    Twitter: @newcelona

  4. Posted August 8, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    The only way to sell books today is the same as in the 1800s…. advertise and put money to promote the book.
    In the past, only authors of universal fame would be paid by editors… Nothing has changed today.
    If you are lucky and people begin talking about your book… you are lucky, author.
    If not… your days will not be enough to sell a thousand copies: B&N says that 99% of e-books sell no more than a hundred copies to friends and relatives… What do you say?
    Do not come with the exception that confirms the rule… Do not be naive.

  5. Posted August 8, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Translating is not the problem…. $$$$$ is.
    Without money, you have a book in two or three languages that does not sell…
    What has changed?
    I have translated my 400-page COCA WARS. I know what I am saying. As an author, I may be the best in my country today and I am known by readerts in Spanish everywhere… What changed? Nothing.
    Two, three books sold this week, nothing next one, one the following one.
    I can demonstrate what I say. I don’t like to write (or talk) just to give myself airs….

  6. Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    it’s the same amount of work… it just depends on who is doing the real work, i suppose. but it would be hard for an author to translate things on their own, unless they knew the language, or unless they wanted to learn the language. (google translate does not work for these things…) the author would have to find a foreign language keyboard, too… also, the author can’t work on NEW books when they are translating OLD books…
    basically i am against authors translating their own books! well if anyone wants to they can (who am i to stop them? we own our own lives in this world) so that being said i am against translating my own book.

  7. Posted August 11, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    I am an English/Chinese translator who would like to help English authors promote their literary voices as Chinese e-books in multiple formats. When I set up my website, http://www.ebookdynasty.net, I thought I would attract the attention of a lot of authors, especially those who self-publish. However, it is not so.

    At this stage, I can think of four reasons. The first is that authors in general are pretty nervous about having their books promoted to the Chinese market, mainly for fear of piracy. This is despite the fact that more and more authors these days support DRM-free e-books. Secondly, most authors are waiting for established platforms such as Amazon and Apple to move into the Chinese market, and would hardly pay attention to small and independent platforms like mine. Thirdly, the majority of authors still have the traditional mindset that if anybody wants to publish their books in another language, the publisher should pay a handsome advance and then handle the translate fee itself. These authors would never pay to have their books translated — which I think is fair enough. And finally, there should be a way for authors to be able to evaluate the quality of translation, such as via professional proofreading and editing. After all, who knows what the translator has done to their book?

    At this stage I am offering free translation and going 50-50 with authors regarding the proceeds of their Chinese e-book sales. My website also offers professional editing and formatting services. But I think most authors are still pretty nervous. I think most self-published authors are still dreaming about that big break-through, that their books will one day be picked up by a famous publisher who is willing to offer a big advance. Hence they would rather sit on their books and let time go by, instead of trying the self-publishing route in another language such as Chinese.

    The above is for self-published authors. As for those authors who are represented by their agents and/or publishers, alas, they cannot do anything if their agents and/or publishers say no. And, obviously, the great majority of agents and publsihers would prefer to do things in the traditional way, because there is big money involved. If every author can handle the translation and promotion of their books by themselves, who needs agents and publishers?

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