Tui Allen, Author of the B.R.A.G.Medallion Honoree Ripple, shares her experience in entering foreign markets-
Why might you want to publish in a foreign language, considering the extra barriers it presents? First of course to increase the size of your market – that’s obvious. But it’s possible there may be foreign markets which are more receptive to your particular book than the English-language market is. New Zealander Mary Scott, wrote romances set on remote NZ farms, back in the mid-1900s. They did well at home in NZ, but sold even better in translation in Germany. Germany was a bigger market of course, but her authentic tales of a life so different from their own experience, fascinated her German readers. But she had her publishers to arrange it all. What if you are self-published as so many of us are today?
I know another author who self-published an excellent novel in English. He wanted the book to reach the German market. The author himself had a fair grip on German, but it was not his native tongue, so he hired a friend, a native German speaker, to translate the book for him. The translation seemed okay as far as he could tell, so he self-published it. But the first responses from German readers indicated that it was riddled with errors. Translation is an art-form. There is more involved than just avoiding errors and his translator hadn’t even done that. The author wisely pulled it off the market. It seems that just as with English, not every native German speaker is necessarily a professional editor, let alone a good and sensitive translator. So, to reach those foreign-language markets, perhaps we need to consider going the trad-pub way, if only because traditional publishing houses employ good translators.
To begin with, the two most obvious requirements are a great product and unshakeable faith in it. That’s the biggest part of making your own luck. May I suggest that unless your book has already been well received in English that you don’t waste your time with translations.
I recommend that you create a print version of your book. If you do it through Createspace it’s almost as easy as creating an e-book and depending on your skills, can be done almost free. Then it’s for sale worldwide on Amazon, and because it’s “Print On Demand” technology, you don’t have to purchase a single copy yourself, but mine cost $3 each when I do, and the quality is much better than similar books in bookshops.
Once again, be certain to finish up with a product that is top quality inside and out. The cover design is more important now than ever. It may be all a foreign publisher has to go on, to begin with. He needs to be able to take one look and say, “I could sell this.”
You can research foreign publishing companies online just as you do with English-speaking ones. Use Google Translate. This wonderful tool allows you to translate a whole page or even a whole site, in one hit. If you don’t know how to use Google Translate tools, just google it! That’s how I learned to include a little Google “English” button on my browser bar. This morning, one hit on my “English” button turned a whole publisher’s website from Russian to good-enough English. It can’t translate text that is on an image, so book covers etc will not translate.
First step – check out the website of publishersglobal.com. You can search under publishers by country, subject, media, language, city, or by publishing services such as literary agencies, etc. However, once you get to the information you really need, like contact details, you get a message saying, “For premium subscribers only.” It turns out premium subscription is “by invitation only”. But it gives you enough information before that to let you know if the publisher may be of use and then you can just google that publisher individually to find their own web site where, with help from Google Translate, you can find everything you need. As with English publishers – there’s no point sending your children’s fantasy to a publisher who only does vegetarian recipe books. Don’t waste your time. Do the research.
If I type “List of New Zealand publishers” into Google I will find a link to PANZ (Publishers’ Association of NZ,) which lists all our publishers and describes their spheres of interest and contact details. Many other countries have similar lists, which may be more comprehensive than publishersglobal.com, so find them, research them carefully, then study the publishers’ websites and make your choices.
When you find your perfect publisher, the safest advice is to follow their submission guidelines meticulously and send exactly what they ask you to send, no more and no less. But if you already have a beautiful product, even if their submission guidelines state “only fifty pages,” consider taking a chance and sending the whole book. I’ve just tried this recently with my latest assault on a new European language. Knowing my print book had worked well to persuade one foreign publisher, I was keen to keep using that tactic. They can then read the first fifty, the second fifty and every other fifty if they wish. I did not include return postage but I did state they were welcome to keep the copy or dispose of it as they wish. That gave them permission to relax and not be so annoyed at me, for not exactly following their submission guidelines.
Once they hold your beautiful product in their hands, they should know straight away that they can sell it. Many foreign language publishers have sufficient English to read the back cover blurb without much trouble. If they like what they see there, they’ll pass it to one of their translators, for assessment.
Send a printout of all your reviews with the book. They should all be excellent. Your package needs to be so inviting that the publisher will feel honoured that you approached him. Include anything else that may help your case, such as medals, awards, film contracts the book has earned. And remember that one translation helps to encourage the next, so make sure you mention previous ones, in the cover letter, when you submit it for others.
In 2012 New Zealand was Country of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The NZ Society of Authors (NZSA) called for books to represent our literature at the fair. I submitted the print version of my dolphin novel Ripple and she was accepted as one of the forty books for their stall there. I went to the fair to be part of the experience. At the fair, thousands of publishers from all over the world were rushing everywhere and all too busy to talk to authors. They’re there to discuss rights deals with other publishers – not to listen to authors pitching their work. It’s very hard to get the ear of anyone. But a Czech publisher walked past the NZSA stand in an idle moment, spotted Ripple and picked her up. The NZer on duty at the stand heard him say, “I could sell this.” Yes, he actually said those words out loud in his heavily accented English!
The NZer (bless him) said, “I’m sure Tui would love you to keep that copy.” The Czech publisher took it with him and the contract came much later when I had given up hope of it ever arriving. (Trad-pub happens slowly). If his translator had not liked it, there would have been no contract. The translated Ripple has only recently arrived on the market in Europe, just a few weeks ago in mid 2014.
The publisher picked it up because the externals of the book attracted him. He published it because of the interior content. It could not have happened with an e-book alone. So have a print version. I could give you many other reasons to have a print version of your book, but that’s another whole story.
The contract gave him the translation rights for the Czech language market in both Slovakia and the Czech Republic. My agent managed the contract for me, but if you don’t have an agent, consider employing a lawyer with experience in book contracts, to ensure it’s a fair deal.
It’s easy to waste a lot of money on book fairs. I could have put that book into that same publisher’s hands without travelling to the fair. On the other hand, the serendipity of a book fair can be fun. Groups of SP authors are joining together to share the cost of taking a stall at Frankfurt, and that’s not the only book fair in the world that might interest you.
If you want to succeed at Frankfurt without relying on serendipity alone, you must first subscribe and then learn to work the Frankfurt website during the months leading up to the event, to book your interviews with publishers in advance. I put a lot of time into that but still got no interviews – serendipity was the only thing that worked there for me in the end. However, it failed many of our other authors, so it’s fortunate that book fairs are not the only route to translation. I’m enjoying exploring those other routes now. Feel free to join the fun.