I’ve offered to answer some questions and will hopefully be able to give you some helpful information about foreign translations.
I’ll be talking mostly about German translations, because that’s where my background is.
I’ve been working as a literary translator for more than a decade, both for traditional German publishing houses and for indie authors. I was around when Amazon Publishing started their platform, and I’ve been working as a translator for Apub ever since as well. Two years ago, I started my own publishing company, „Second Chances“. There were two reasons that brought this on: First, as a reader and translator I was getting tired of publishers prematurely discontinuing series, and second, I stumbled across a series that I knew no German publisher would pick up but I was determined to bring it to German readers (if you want to know which books those were, I’ll be happy to tell you). To this day, I still do some freelance translation jobs for other publishers, mostly because I’m part of the translation team for E L James (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Lauren Weisberger (The Devil Wears Prada). I also have an ongoing series with Amazon Publishing.
I had to cut back on my translation service for indie authors because of time constraints. My main focus for the past two years has been my publishing company, and this is where I intend to keep it.
I teach a lot, and I travel a lot for teaching. Or I at least I hope to pick that back up once it’s safe to travel again. I’ve been on numerous panels about foreign translations at various conferences in Europe and the US, and I teach translators about literary translation and how to work with selfpublished authors. I have also been called in as an linguistic expert by courts and notaries over translation quality issues.
As I said, I have professional experience working with indie authors and publishing houses both, so I hope to be able to help you get some answers and to make some informed decisions. I’ll also try to address the questions I was sent.
Let me start by saying that I’m fully aware that some of you may have had a very unpleasant experience with a publisher, so you may be wary to try again. Or traditional publishing may seem too slow for the pace you are used to. In fact, let’s focus on this first.
- Why does it take so long for my books to come out with a traditional publisher?
I’m sure many of you have discovered by now what the biggest problem about translations is – finding a qualified translator. And by qualified I don’t necessarily mean with a diploma in linguistics. Even after all these years, I’m still surprised at how many translators underestimate romance and overestimate their skill. Romance, as I’m sure you’ve experienced many times yourself, is very much looked down upon. It’s supposed to be easy to translate, and a lot of people seem to think it’s easy money. As we all know, it’s not.
- First, a publisher will make sure to find someone to translate your books who honors your author voice, knows what they are doing, are reliable and generally a good match for your book. They may need to wait a while until that translator becomes available, because just as every other expert in their field, the good ones will be busy and have a waiting list.
- Second, they need to find an editor and proofreader that will respect the translator’s work and make for a good team. As a publisher, I know exactly who works well with whom, and I try to keep tried and trusted teams together, especially when dealing with a series for continuity.
- Third, every decision you as the author may make unconsciously, your translator has to make consciously. That’s pretty much the main reason why translations may actually take longer than it took you as the author to write that book. You all know that every word has synonyms that may hold different connotations. Finding that perfect word that matches what the author wants to convey, maybe having to discuss it with the team, takes time. But it’s so worth the results.
- Fourth, does your book contain a lot of humor, puns or sex? Because those are the top three contenders for hardest to translate. Remember how you sometimes have the best ideas while out walking the dogs or in the shower? The same goes for translations. We have to sit on certain paragraphs for a while, try out different things until we find that one solution that makes your text work perfectly in another language.
- Fifth, your publisher will most likely not only publish your books but books by other authors as well. While this may seem as it should go on the con list, that’s not necessary true. Actually, if timed smart it can give your book a boost in sales and visibility. For example, if the publisher as an ongoing series with an established readership and they intersperse those publications with yours, chances are good those readers will pick up your books as well. You get a built-in readership and don’t have to start from scratch.
- Sixth, if you are not exclusively publishing through Amazon, things take time. At my company, we do actual print runs for each book we publish, not print on demand. So I have to factor in the time for the printer, the time they need to ship the books to the distributor, the time the distributor needs to ship the books to bookstores, Amazon, other traders, or readers. My ebook distributor requires an upload several weeks before the actual release, not just days. German readers are used to waiting a year to a year and a half from announcing a title to the actual release of that title.
- Seventh, we are very, very careful not to flood the market with new releases. While it’s great for readers if they have a lot of books to chose from, it tends to overwhelm them. Just this week I saw a discussion on FB about people complaining that so many newly translated books were coming out at the same time, „as if they all waited for 2021“. If you want your book to stand out and not just be yet another book among many, consider publishing at a slightly slower pace. It also allows you to build up a lot of preorders. Exception: If you have a series where each book ends on a real cliffhanger, putting them out fast works best.
I’m aware that readers are always complaining that the next book is taking way too long, but they’ll say that anyway, whether you publish one every month or every six months.
- What are the pros of working with a foreign publisher?
- They already have a pool of professional linguists to work with and will find the perfect translator for your book.
- You have no upfront costs.
- You don’t have any extra work with your foreign editions.
- They do the marketing for your book.
- They know their target market and its particularities. For Germany, the title protection law and the price binding law come to mind (more on that later).
- They know their readers and current market trends.
- They already have an established audience to present your book to.
- They can support you with conference appearances and the like.
- They will be able to publish your book wide instead of Amazon-only. This is particularly interesting for Germany where a lot of readers refuse to buy from Amazon for ethical reasons, and other e-readers tied to different platforms are in use as well.
- They will be able to bring your book into brick-and-mortar bookstores.
- They will build a strong brand for you.
- They are in the country you are targeting, and have therefore more marketing options than you have from abroad. This refers mainly to meetings with fans, shipping things, selling prints on-site at events, etc.
- What are the cons of working with a foreign publisher?
- You have to give up some control. I completely understand how that can be scary. You are trusting your work with them and have to hope for the best.
- Another obvious one: You’ll get only a fraction of the proceeds because the publisher will have to keep a share to cover their costs as well.
- Your books will come out at a slower pace than you may be used to.
- When to consider going with a foreign publisher:
- You don’t want to invest heavily into translations.
- You’d prefer to receive some money now, as an advance.
- You don’t have the time to find translators and check the quality of their work.
- You don’t have the time or knowledge to market your books to a completely new audience in a language you don’t speak.
- You write at a slower pace and will not accumulate a huge backlist while your first translations are being published.
- You are happy to let them build your author brand so that it’s already established when you may go hybrid or when your contract ends.
- When to consider going indie:
- You have a huge backlist that you want to put out as fast as possible.
- You have the means to pay upfront for several translations.
- You want to be in full control of every single aspect of your publishing.
- You have the time or somebody on staff who will handle your translations.
- You have a marketing strategy for your foreign markets.
- You want to make hay while the sun shines and not necessarily focus on sustainable brandbuilding abroad. (For the record, that’s as valid a reason to go indie as any other.)
- You already are an established brand abroad.
6. When to consider going hybrid (having some books with a foreign publisher and selfpublishing the others)
- You would like to take advantage of all the advantages mentioned above for going with a publisher, plus the advantages of going indie.
- A publisher has expressed interest in one of your books/series, but not the others.
- When you would like to have some help building your author brand.
- When you would like to go wide and not solely rely on Amazon so readers who refuse to buy from Amazon still have a chance to find some of your books.
- When you would like to have some books coming out every once in a while in which you don’t have to invest heavily upfront.
- When you would like to test the waters in a foreign market before investing heavily in translations.
Let’s answer some questions.
Question by Jackie:
How to know if translating a book would even be worth it?
That’s a really good question because we are talking about a lot of money here. My best advice would be to talk to fellow authors who write in the same (sub)genre you do and who have books out in foreign languages. See what they have to say. Also, check the Amazon page of the country you are looking to expand to. How to queer titles rank there? If you see a book that ranks high but is not in KU, that book is selling really well because it ranks high without page reads taken into account.
Question by Emy:
Is it possible to be indie with English titles but have an agent deal with translation and foreign rights? How do I find an agent?
Yes, absolutely. If I don’t deal with the author directly, I usually have to go through a Germany agency and then their counterpart abroad. Many authors let their agents deal with foreign rights because let’s face it, those can be complicated.
As for finding an agent, I would again recommend asking your fellow authors who they were happy with.
7. Working with a Publisher
Before I answer some more questions, I would like to assure you that publishers are not by default evil creatures who are trying to rip you off and get rich through your work. A good publisher can be your biggest ally – somebody who believed in your book so much that they were willing to invest several thousand Euros in it without knowing if they’ll ever make that back. You will get paid from the first copy sold, but it may take them quite a while before they see a return on their investment.
Working with a publisher is supposed to be a business relationship between two equal parties, not a power play where one party feels taken adavantage of or not heard and respected. There are several German publishing companies out there, try to find the one that will be the best fit for you and your books, and where you feel seen and heard.
A publisher will most likely not try to acquire the rights to your full catalogue, but rather a particular book or series.
If you’ve received an offer by a foreign publisher and would like to decline, please tell them so. Out of professional courtesy, please do not ignore them or ghost them after initial negotiations, and blindside them by coming out with your own translations if they are still expecting or waiting to hear back from you. Nobody’s feelings will be hurt if you decline a business proposal but it helps them to plan and not having to keep a good translator on „stand-by“ in case you accept but then ultimately don’t.
Side note: If you submit to a publisher, they may tell your book doesn’t fit into their portfolio. That’s most definitely not a comment on the quality of your book. Most publishers have specialized of sorts, so they might be able to point you to another publisher whose criteria might be a better fit for you.
Question by Nicole:
Pitfalls hidden inside the fine print of contracts
Every contract proposal is merely a starting point for discussion. If you have a question, please don’t hesitate to ask. If seen lots of contracts over the past few years, and they were all different. A lawyer friend of mine always says that the best contract is worth nothing without trust. Ask your questions. A good publisher will always try to explain things and see if there are things they can compromise on.
Advances are not routinely offered but most publishers will be happy to discuss them with you. Also, you can ask if they have a specific publication schedule in mind or marketing campaigns planned.
Things to check and ask:
- How do they calculate their royalties? Some publishers pay by net revenue which results in higher percentages than payment by copies sold, even though it may be the same amount of money. If you are unclear about this, ask.
- Are they allowed to sublicense rights? Are you okay with that? If you would prefer to be asked before they do that, let them know.
- How long is the licensing period?
- How long is the publication period (from signing the contract to the book being published)?
Question by Luna:
What’s an acceptable length of time to give them to translate and then publish? What are fair royalty percentages for ebook and print? How long is the standard length of contract?
Well, the time depends on what you agreed on in your contract. The standard time from acquiring the rights to full publication in German contracts is 18 months. This sounds like a really long time, but please refer to everything I stated above why translations take time. Your publisher may not use or need the full 18 months, but it’s a safety net for them to make sure everything is as perfect as can be and ready for publication. Speaking as a publisher, I’ve been able to publish a book within 6 months of acqiring the rights, but that was because the translator and everybody else I had in mind for that particular project were immediately available.
Fair royalty percentages for ebook and print in Germany, according to German authors: With prints, it’s usually 6-8 % of the net sales price (minus VAT) of each copy sold for paperbacks and 8-12 % for hardbacks. For ebooks, it’s between 25 and 35 % of the net sales revenue (not copies sold!). If your publisher proposes ebook royalties by copies sold, this percentage will be lower in number but not in money.
50/50 or 60/40 splits for audio.
In reality, most authors receive less royalties: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autorenhonorar
(5 % for prints for under 20,000 copies sold, 8-10 % for hardbacks)
Real talk: Please don’t think that the publisher is keeping the remainder of the money. With paperbacks, after paying the author their royalties, paying the costs for printing, shipping, fees and the distributor’s cut (Amazon takes 55 %, for example), the average profit for the publisher is .15 Cents per copy sold. 15 Cents! And those go toward paying off the costs of the cover print-wrap.
There is really no standard length in contract. If all the things you need to discuss fit on two pages, than that’s it. Make sure everything that’s important to you is covered, and your publisher will do the same.
8. Selfpublishing your translations
I’m splitting this into two categories: Re-releasing books that were previously published, and new releases.
- 8. 1. Re-releases
If you got your foreign rights back and you want to re-release those books, it all depends on your contract. I can’t speak for all German publishers, but this is how it‘s usually handled: You contact your translator and check if they are good with it. Translators usually hand over the usage rights for their translation to a particular publisher only, so their contract may only be with your previous publisher. I’m going to do a quick paragraph on copyright and usage right here, by way of answering a question.
Question by JP:
Is their any copyright issues we should be aware of as the words are changed from one language to another. Can the translator claim their work as theirs?
This is hands down the question I get asked the most, and the one with the most misinformation out there. Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer but I did the next-best thing – I asked a lawyer. More on that later, let me explain this from a translator’s point of view first, please.
The word copyright in its „English“ meaning is quite different from the German „Urheberrecht“. I always try to explain it like this (and for the record, my lawyer always calls this very simplified but I think it gets the point across best): Imagine you buy yourself a Picasso. Picasso painted it, he’s the creator, but you are completely free to hang it whereever you like, or not hang it at all. That’s your prerogative because you bought the usage rights to that painting. However, you would never scrape off Picasso’s name, right? Because that’s what makes up part of the value of the painting. Translations are pretty much the same. Think of your translator’s name as an added value. If you publish your book in German and no translator’s name is given, people are going to wonder – who translated this? Was it Google Translate? A machine? Some anonymous fan on the internet? By clearling stating the translator as copyright owner of the translation (bear with me, please), you show that your translation was done by a professional. Technically speaking, your translator can’t claim copyright because they already own the copyright. It’s an inherent or inalienable right – you make something, you are the creator. The translator is the creator of the German version of the book. Your co-creator of that version, if you will. Look at it as a seal of quality. Just as audiobook narrators, translators have fans as well.
I know this seems scary, like somebody else lays claim on your work. That’s not how it works, though. The translator will hand over all usage rights to you as the author (or the publisher, respectively). They could never do anything with that translation that you (or the publisher) haven’t granted. That’s basically the difference – they do own the copyright, yes, because they are the „creator“ of that particular version, but you will hold all the usage rights.
I hope this makes this sound less scary. So, back to the lawyer. In 2016 I published a book called „Selling your novel in Germany, or how to end up with a real Krautpleaser“ (https://www.amazon.com/-/de/dp/B01MDJCL2R/). For the record, Amazon did not like that name because it was deemed derogatory. No wonder Germans supposedly don’t have any sense of humor, we don’t even get to make fun of ourselves. Anyway, the reason I wrote that back then was the same: The first „wave“ of indie authors trying to selfpublish in Germany but getting mostly mediocre results because of poor translations. I was hoping to clear up some misunderstandings and provide some guidance in how to navigate the German book market. However, this books needs some updating which I haven’t had time to do yet, so in case you read it, please be aware that some links and/or regulations may be outdated. However, I interviewed a renowned German entertainment lawyer on the copyright issue. Here is the excerpt:
12.4. Copyright – Interview with media lawyer Dr. Dirk Poppendieck of BVM-Law
The translation of a book creates a new work protected by copyright, with the translator as the copyright holder. This sounds simple, but we have observed a lot of confusion in the field about this. Authors sometimes ask us to assign the copyright to a translation to them, but this is simply impossible. The copyright is an inalienable right that cannot be transferred.
The originator and copyright holder is the person who created the work. Just like you are the author of your book, the translator is the author of the translation. Nevertheless, the translator will not (and cannot), of course, use the translation for his or her own purposes without your prior permission. However, despite this, you as the author need to secure the exploitation rights to a translation if you plan to use it, and this does need to be set out in your contract. But yet, though your translator holds the copyright to the translation, you in no way lose the rights to your novel.
Since this is a very complex subject, we asked media lawyer Dr. Dirk Poppendieck to shed some light on it.
Dr. Poppendieck, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
I am a lawyer with the law firm of Brehm & v. Moers in Berlin where I have worked almost exclusively in the field of media and copyright law for over 16 years.
Could you briefly explain the difference between an author’s moral rights and exploitation rights?
Exploitation rights and the author’s moral rights are aspects of the copyright that apply all over the world: the translator is the author of the translation and thus owns the rights to the translation. Just like any other author, this provides them with comprehensive protection against any unauthorized use of their work. The use/exploitation of the translation by the translator, however, is governed by any explicit or implicit limitation in the contract that grants the right to create a derivative work of the underlying work, in other words, the right to translate the original. The author‘s moral rights, on the other hand, refer mainly to non-monetary aspects, such as the right to be acknowledged/listed as the author of the work, the right to make decisions on the publication of the work and protection against misrepresentation.
So the translator can simply transfer the right to exploit the translation to the author in order to allow the author to publish and distribute the translation. Right?
That is basically correct. The author of the original work cannot use the translation without previously being granted the exploitation rights to the translation by the translator. The translator can (and must) grant the author of the original work the right to exploit the translation. But to avoid subsequent disputes, the contract should specify the exact extent of the rights being granted.
At the same time, the translator has the right to be listed as the author of the translation alongside the author of the original on sales platforms and in the book. Translators are also protected against having their translation “misrepresented” that is, changed, without their approval. Is that also correct?
It is. Both the right to be named as well as the protection against changes and misrepresentation are derived from author’s moral rights, which also apply to the translator.
Does the copyright to the translation in any way affect the copyright to the original?
No. Only the publication of an unapproved translation would violate the copyright of the author and an author could easily take legal action if that were to happen.
Is this copyright law exclusive to Germany?
Every translator is the author of a derivative work based on the original. As such, translators are entitled to the corresponding protection, i. e. they own the copyright, that is, both the exploitation rights and the moral rights as author. This applies in every country all over the world.
However, the extent of the protection afforded to the translator depends on the individual national laws.
- 8.2. New releases
Question by Julia:
How to find a translator, how to know if they are legit, how much is reasonable to pay on the market?
How to find a good translator is the biggest issue here. Even I as a publisher with an extensive network have a hard time finding really good translators. I mentioned some of the reasons above – people underestimating romance, people overestimating their skill, people being unbelievably unprofessional about deadlines and communication. I’m afraid I can’t point you to a certain place on the internet and say look, there they are. I wish I could, because I would be the first in line to extend my pool of good and reliable professionals. My advice would be to ask around and see who your fellow authors were happy to work with, or to go on Amazon and check foreign editions of authors who write in a similiar genre, find the name of their translators and research their contact information to see whether they’ll be interested in working for you. Or you could run an ad. If you found someone who might be interested, here are some pointers about how to find out if they are legit.
A good place to start is always some questions:
- Have you read any books of mine? Which one did you like best, and why? (That usually helps weed out the people who have no knowledge of the genre and think this would be an easy way to make money.)
- What other authors do you like to read? What’s your favorite book in German? (Shows you whether they are familiar with your (sub)genre, and also if they know the lingo in German. Somebody who will tell you they only read in English because soooo much gets lost in translation is essentially useless to you because they may know the proper wording in English but not in German, which is what you are looking for.)
- Where did you learn English? How do you keep up with it? (In school is not good enough. Just think of the French/Spanish/German you learned in school. Did it make you fluent? Knowing they are up to date with the target language is important because they’ll need to be able to catch pop-culture references and colloquialisms in your books.)
- How long will it take you to translate this book, and when could you start? (If they give you a ridiculously short timeframe, you probably won’t get great results. Or it may show inexperience. Or the fact that they have no other jobs, which they may have a perfectly good reason or they may just not be in very high demand. Just a thought.)
- What’s your mother tongue? People living in Austria and Switzerland speak German as well, but their German differs slightly from what’s written and spoken in Germany. If your translator is Austrian, your readers will find out very fast. Make sure to put an editor who lives in Germany on that particular project so they can catch any Austrian regionalisms. The same applies to translators who live in German areas with a very distinct dialect, like Bavaria or Cologne.
- Do you have any references? (If they are beginners with no literary translations under their belt, ask them why they feel qualified.)
- What steps do you undertake to assure quality? (If people don’t even think of using a spell-check program, I’m not impressed.)
- Let them do a test translation, but give them a hard part of your book, not the beginning of the first chapter. Pick a funny scene or an intimate scene. Fastest way to sort the wheat from the chaff. Have a trusted native of your target language assess it.
- Do you have experience with translating sex scenes (if those are a thing in your book)? There is a really, really fine line between sexy and eww in the German language. Trust me, I’ve seen horrible, horrible things.
A few other things to look out for:
- Do they promise you to „sell you the copyright“? Shows inexperience/unfamiliarity with the legal status quo.
- Do they ask good questions? Beware of translators who never ask a question, even if it’s just a quick „did I get this right“, „could there maybe be an issue with the timeline here“, or „do you have a series bible for this“. If they never ask you anything, they may simply not be careful enough with their work.
- Do they know about the legal requirements in Germany? I briefly touched upon this above – Germany has a so-called „Titelschutzgesetz“. Every book title must be unique. Yes, we find that hideous as well. Does your translator know which databases to access to research for available titles? Do they even know the current title trends in their country? Do they know how to secure a title for you?
- Do they have experience writing copy? Because that’s what your blurb is. A simple translation of your English blurb may not work. (For example, blurbs from two different view points as they are common in English are usually reserved for New Adult fiction in Germany. Also, German blurbs are written in the present tense.)
- Can they advise you on current cover trends in Germany?
- A caveat: Fans do not necessarily make good translators. They may be too invested in your characters already and inadvertedly put their own interpretation into your work. I’m not saying that fans can’t translate well, but sometimes the most eager ones are not the best candidates. We sometimes see this in reviews. While five reviews praise the translation, one person will always say „this is not how I imagined the characters to sound in German“. Well, we are trying to keep the author’s voice in translations, not match the idea of the fans.
- Do they have means to help you with marketing? Are they active on social media? Do they have a following? (Translators, much like narrators, have their own fanbase.)
- Can they do a final line-break check for your print book for you?
The person you are trusting your book to, whether publisher or translator, is essentially your brain child’s host family abroad. Pick a good one for your baby.
How to find an editor and proofreader:
- Again, there is nowhere I can point you to. Ask your translator if they have a good network and/or somebody they like to work with. That’s really the best way to go. If you are the go-between translator, editor and proofreader it will cost you a lot of time, especially since the translator has a right to see the edits to the translation before they are published under their name.
- For Germany, you could try the professional association of editors and proofreaders, VfLL: https://www.lektoren.de/ Their website is in German, though. Some editors also offer translation services.
Question by April:
How can we verify the quality of the translation when we aren’t fluent in the other language?
There are a few things that you could check in terms of formal requirements.
- Speaking for German only here, our quotation marks are different from the English ones. Did they respect that? Did they put the comma behind the closing mark instead of before as it is in English?
- Did they keep all the words in italics from the English original? Rookie mistake. German as a language doesn’t work like that. It will leave you with a text that’s completely overemphasized, as if you had put parts of your sentences in all caps.
- Did they use the word „sagen“ (sagte, sagt) a lot? Germany frowns heavily upon word repetition. While it’s perfectly alright to use „say“ with dialogue in English, in German we prefer it alternated with synonyms.
- Run a part of their translation through Google Translate. If you get an 100% match, then … you’ll know. Especially if they submitted their translation really fast.
- The first line after a chapter heading is always not intented (as opposed to English).
- And last but not least, try to find a native speaker you trust and get their opinion. There is really no other way to check quality.
You may want to check out www.reedsy.com. I am in no way affiliated with them but they did consult with me several times a couple of years ago about how to best set up their platform for authors and translators. I’m not registered there myself, but as far as I know, they vet their vendors before accepting them and provide a safe platform for transactions. However, they also take a fee and prohibit authors and translators from connecting outside of their system. Authors can request quotes from different translators and take their pick.
I was told that they advertise translation + editing at 8 – 12 Cents per word, so that’s your market price. Some languages, like German, are in higher demand and may result in slightly higher rates, especially if your translator offers additional services.
As always, you’ll very likely be able to find somebody cheaper, but that may come at the cost of poor quality. You are not just paying them for their time, you are paying them for their expertise as well.
Other professional associations to check for translators:
German Literary Translators’ Association VdÜ: https://literaturuebersetzer.de/unser-verband/uebersetzerverzeichnis/ (website in German)
American Literary Translators Association: https://literarytranslators.org/
Make sure that your translator is a native of the language they are translating into!
Some random facts:
- Germans love print books. Prints will sell well, another reason for the pro list with the publisher, because it makes sense to have your books in German bookstores. When we published „Fake Out“ by Eden Finley last year, we had a German bookstore chain do a special display for it as their book of the month. That was huge in terms of visibility.
- Germany has a price-matching law. It means that your book has to cost the same everywhere at a certain time, no matter on which sales platform. If it is 2.99 on Amazon, it must also be 2.99 on iBooks. You are welcome to run price promotions, of course, but make sure you run them on all platforms at the same time.
- The spine of the German print-wrap is a 180 degree turn from the English print-wrap. Basically, we „read“ the spine the other way around.
- Quotes that are free domain in English may not be free domain in German. Make sure your translator is aware of that fact and will alert you to it.
- Literary translations in Germany are usually paid by standard page of the target text. Meaning: We won’t know what to bill the publisher until the translation is finished. Don’t be surprised if your German translator quotes you this way, and ask them to submit a quote in a way that gives you a better idea of the price. A professional should be able to do that.
- All translators have a right to royalties. That’s governed by the Berne Convention. However, they can waive that right and you are free to ask negotiate a buy-out for your translations with them (saying this in response to the myth that all German translators insist on royalties). Or you could offer them royalty-split, if that suits you better.
As much as it pains me to say this as a translator striving for perfection: A somewhat less than perfect translation will not totally ruin your book. People will still appreciate the story. However, it may be the difference between them reading it in KU because it was fun or buying it because it was fantastic.
A poor translation, however, will reflect badly on your author brand.
There are several ways to market your translations, depending on what your preferences are and whether you are traditionally published, hybrid or indie. The “classics” are pretty much the same – running ads on Amazon, doing social media, building a newsletter list. You can easily apply what works for you in the English market.
9.1. If you are a with a publisher
If you have some books with a foreign publisher, you already have a readership abroad. Check with your publisher what they are doing in terms of marketing for the books you have with them – if they are already running ads, there is probaby no need for you to run them as well. Ask if there are things you could help them with, signing some bookplates, for example, or making yourself available on social media. We (speaking for me and my company here) also like to use bonus scenes, deleted scenes, etc. as newsletter magnets. If you are attending conferences in Europe, let your publisher know and see if they can arrange for some fun stuff – meet and greet with fans, some video footage of you and them, and so on.
9.2. If you are an indie author
My best advice is – consider going hybrid, even at least for one book or series. I’ll list the reasons below in the next section. Also, find other indie authors who publish in the same genre and market, and collaborate. Do newsletter swaps, and as you all know, by that I don’t mean swapping mail addresses because that’s illegal but recommend each other’s books in your newsletters.
Be active on social media. If you plan to do things like givaways, etc., try to find someone in the country who will be able to ship things for you.
9.3. If you are an hybrid author
If you have one or more publisher abroad but are also planning to do some indie translations, make your publisher your ally. Tell them about your plans. See if they would agree to pointing their readers to your selfpublished books, maybe in their newsletter or on social media. Do you have promo items that are easy and cheap to ship, like bookmarks? Ask if they would be willing to include those with their shipments of your other books. However, for that to work your indie translations must be top-notch. No publisher will want to associate themselves with a subpar translation, as readers tend to not differentiate between who is publishing what. If the publisher recommends it, they will expect publisher-type quality.
Think outside the box. Consider going traditional with just one book in a series. I’m going to illustrate this by using Lucy Lennox’ book “King Me” as an example, with her permission. So, King Me is book 7 in the 8-book Forever Wilde series. While a publisher may not have enough program slots available to accomodate an eight book series, and the author may not want to commit to traditional publishing for an entire series, King Me stands out to me because it includes a heist. I love heist books, and it shows in my company’s program. If you have a book like this that matches a publisher’s interest and works as a standalone, you could consider having that one particular book traditionally published, and the rest of the series as indie books. Advantages: It fits with the publisher’s program so they already know that their readers will buy it. It allows the author to have one book wide and hook new readers who don’t usually buy from Amazon (but might consider getting the print copies of the other books in the series now). It allows for joint marketing. It allows readers to find a new series, so they can then buy all of the other books as well. Not every publisher might be open to doing this, but it’s definitely worth asking.
Might also work if you know that a certain publisher has a favorite book of yours, even if it’s part of a series.
If your publisher uses newsletter magnets, see if they would be interested in using a scene/freebie from one of your selfpublished translations alongside texts from your traditionally published books. Again, make sure you only offer them top-notch translation quality.
Check and see if your publisher sells merchandise. For example, we sell bookboxes for our new releases, and some specialty boxes (https://second-chances-verlag.shop/merchandise/buchboxen/). In this case, think “inside” the box. For example, we have several books with a Florida setting, so we might do a location box. Your book is set in Florida as well? See if they would be open to include print copies of your selfpublished book with theirs for the box. Or some promo items for your book, if it fits the theme. As far as themes go: ghosts, pets, jobs, settings, anything goes. Works best if you already have a book/series with them because it needs to be mutually benefical, of course.
Was this helpful? Got any questions? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Welcome to the German bookmarket!