Last post I sketched a simple but very effective outline of how to vastly increase your global reach by adding substantial numbers of new titles to your catalogue without writing an extra word.
For anyone who missed it, go here (LINK) and get the background.
E Unum Pluribus, for those who flunked Latin, or simply prefer to live in the modern world, is an inversion of the US motto E Pluribus Unum, meaning From Many, One. The inverted version therefore means, From One, Many.
Get your bestselling English-language title translated into another language and you have two titles instead of one without writing an extra word. Get that same book translated into ten other languages and that one book is eleven titles.
Do that for three books and your three English-language titles become over thirty titles, all potentially selling around the globe to readers who would never know your English-language version existed.
And as I said last post, it needn’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Since then, as this follow-up post is running late, many have emailed asking for more info. Apologies for that. Real life here in West Africa has an annoying habit of interfering with my schedule.
This post will be a brief outline of the options you might want to consider. In future post I’ll present a detailed how-to for the various options, but the more ambitious or impatient among you will find plenty here to get you off to a good start.
By chance I was researching Thor Heyerdahl for my newly-launched travelogue-memoir series West Africa Is My Back Yard. The first of the series should be available in Spanish in late August, in Portuguese and German later this year, and a half dozen more languages sometime in 2016.
Which sounds exciting until you consider Thor Heyerdahl’s flagship book The Kon-Tiki Expedition has been translated into seventy languages.
Of course, Thor Heyerdahl wasn’t an indie author charting the unexplored waters of global self-publishing. He had a publisher behind him able to take care of all that.
Which brings me to Option # 1: Trad Pub.
Back in 2012 my flagship title Sugar & Spice, marketed under the Saffina Desforges brand, was picked up by a small French publisher, who found the English version on a French retail site, loved it, and offered a rather nice advance, translation and promo package for the French-language rights.
The indie die-hards said it was crazy to hand the foreign rights to a traditional publisher. Pay for a translation, upload from home, and get 70%, they cried.
Yeah, right. The problem with that is that the rest of the world is not the United States or the UK. Had serious money been spent on a translation the chances are it still wouldn’t have earned out today.
France isn’t big on ebooks even now, and back then was even less so, so ebook sales were negligible, especially given the ebook price was just a fraction below the 20 euro price for the hardcover.
Obviously if it had been self-pubbed the price would have been a lot less, and ebook sales might have been better. But by how much? The French ebook market is still, in 2015, nowhere near where the UK ebook market was in 2011.
And the best print alternative would have been a POD version.
No hardcovers in French bookstores.
Not so important in the US, perhaps. Critical in a country like France that has yet to embrace ebooks in any meaningful way.
Instead a French publisher took control.
The advance alone was substantially more than it would have cost for the translation. The book then sold a respectable 50,000+ hardcovers and might have gone on to do far better had the publisher itself not encountered problems elsewhere in its business and was forced to call it a day. So rights reverted last year.
And it has to be said, current French ebook sales even at the far cheaper price currently on offer, are lightyears away from the hardcover sales the traditional publisher was able to bring in. And I don’t expect that to change any time soon.
Bottom line is, for most of the world print ebooks have yet to reach even 10% of the local book market, so a focus on print as well as digital should be a key part of any self-respecting indie’s going-global strategy.
No matter how much we may loathe the idea, the reality is trad pub is by far the most effective way of gaining traction in the print market on foreign shores.
November marks my fifth anniversary as a digital author, and for my “relaunch” for the next five years global print availability will be a key part of my plans.
That means reaching out to trad publishers large and small across the globe to see what might be on offer.
But here’s the thing: it does not mean you need to compromise your indie position back home if you are doing well with digital in the more mature ebook markets like the US and UK.
Global rights should always be viewed in the plural.
Not one all-encompassing “world rights” deal, but myriad deals for each and every language, country and territory you can make happen.
Seek out and approach trad publishers big and small in as many places as you possibly can. Most countries do not have literary agencies, so a direct appeal to the publisher is often the way to do it. A sometime-in-the-future post on how best to go about this – everything from finding publishers, to best ways to approach them, to clinching deals, and to protecting your rights. But for the impatient among you, savvy use of Google or your preferred search engine would be a good place to start.
The downside with Option # 1 is of course that having a publisher take on all the hard work will result in lower royalties per unit ebook sale. And when your target audience is your home-market in the ebook-mature US and UK that has to be a serious consideration.
But most of us are not even selling that well in the other key English-language markets like Australia and New Zealand, let alone the foreign-language markets. So a pragmatic approach should take precedence over any ideological fixations along the lines of self-pub-good-trad-pub-bad.
Here’s the thing: can you realistically do it on your own?
If a trad pub deal with a publisher in France or Fiji, Morocco or Malaysia, Oman or Outer Mongolia, gets your titles in front of an audience in a country where you cannot by any reasonable, cost-effective means get to yourself then it really should be a no-brainer.
At its simplest, x-percent of something is a whole lot better than 100 percent of nothing.
Yes, in five or ten years time there might conceivably be an easy-access self-pub portal in Outer Mongolia and you might conceivably be able to top the charts in the Kindle Mongolia store and be signing your books for avid readers in Ulan Bator.
But by then you’ll have a ton more books written to go down that route with, in the unlikely event that scenario was realised. Meantime you could be gaining traction and establishing your author brand in readiness, with the help of a traditional publisher and a presence in the global print market.
But this post is about translations with ebooks the key focus, so let’s look at Option # 2: Buy Your Translations Outright.
At first glance, this seems by far the best choice if you have the cash to splash. It’s just an extension of what most indies already are doing to get covers designed, to get editing and proof-reading done, etc. Pay a fixed sum for the job and reap all the rewards down the road. A no-brainer, right?
Well, maybe. Maybe not.
First off, it’s a huge up-front expense. Translations do not come cheap.
Over at the translators’ café (LINK) http://www.translatorscafe.com/ a rate of $0.05 a word is about average for non-technical translations.
Not too bad for a translated tweet, perhaps, but a 5,000 word short story will set you back $250. Selling at 0.99 on Amazon you’ll need to clear well over 700 sales just to break even. And that’s without paying someone to check the translator’s work, and paying for the foreign-language cover, and other costs like formatting. And then there’s getting the blurb and keywords translated, and…
An 80,000 word novel at that rate will set you back $4,000. Not bad if you are already established in that language and can command a premium price on the foreign retail sites. But a helluva risk if you are barely ticking over in English and a total unknown globally.
Selling at 2.99 you’ll need to sell 2,000 copies before you earn out, again without taking account of other expenses. And that’s assuming you are collecting 70%. Which you ,most definitely cannot assume when it comes to going global.
This is where things get complicated.
Supposing you spend four grand on a Spanish translation and you are in KDP Select. You may be thinking you’ll be picking up 70% from sales in Spain and all those Spanish-speaking Latin American countries, but the reality is rather different.
Amazon will pay you 70% in Spain and Mexico. For the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, where Amazon allows downloads at all, you’ll be getting just 35% of list price. And to complicate matters further, list price will not be what the reader is paying. Amazon will be imposing a $2-$4 Whispersync charge on top of your set list price, of which you will see nothing. So even if a reader does pay $6.99 for your $2.99 title you’ll only see a dollar of it.
No, none of this is anti-Amazon. This is simple fact.
When thinking globally, the Amazon Whispersync charge and the 35% royalty outside of the dozen Kindle countries are things you need to take account of when investing serious sums for outright translation deals to reach the global markets.
The upside of the pay-up-front model is, once you’ve earned out the fee all the royalties will be profit.
The downside is, that book is out there on its own. Probably just the ebook and maybe a POD, and with few exceptions (Germany, China) in a market where ebooks are just beginning to gain acceptance.
Let’s assume you’re savvy enough to be able to get access to all the key ebook markets for that language. That’s pretty easy for the German language, with Germany, Austria and Switzerland the key players.
Not so easy for Spanish where, Spain aside, the key market is Latin America. Amazon considerations as above. Mexico aside you’ll be getting just 35%, and you’ll only get 70% in Mexico if you are exclusive with Amazon.
Apple and Google Play are in some Latin American countries (Apple paying 70% and Google Play just over 50%) and Kobo is a token player. With Txtr and Nook out of the international game you really need to be looking at the domestic retailers in the region. But getting your books into the key domestic Latin American retailers is not at all easy.
And even if you can get your titles there, how will anyone know?
How do you promote and market your foreign language title in a foreign language you don’t speak or write? How many twitter followers and Facebook friends do you have in Argentina or Chile? In Guatemala or El Salvador? In the Netherlands or India? How would you get any?
How do you answer emails from fans in Spanish or Dutch or Hindi if you don’t speak that language? How do you take advantage of the self-pub portals in foreign lands (everywhere from Mexico to Vietnam right now and more coming) if you can’t navigate the foreign-language site?
There’s no question you should be available in these places, and in local languages it at all possible. That early start could transform your prospects down the road, quite apart from bringing in useful income trickles now. But does it make financial sense to pay outright translation fees for even one book at this stage, let alone several?
To my mind, no. Even with a proven international bestseller like Sugar & Spice that has topped the charts in several countries I’m simply not convinced this option is worthwhile at this stage in the game. Not when there are so many alternatives that can help you get a foothold on foreign shores.
Presuming you’re not a one-book wonder you’ll have plenty of future opportunities to go down the pay-up-front route, and as these foreign markets mature that will probably become cost-effective. But for now, I recommend a focus on getting maximum reach and maximum exposure without taking out a second mortgage.
Which brings me to Option 3: Translator Partnerships.
For my partnership arrangements I offer the partner translator nothing up-front, but a tasty 50% of net proceeds for the life of the foreign-language title they translate.
In return I ask for far more than just a translation. I want partners who will not just translate, but also help market and distribute afterwards, for the lifetime of the book.
The incentive is all on the translator. They undertake the task because they believe in the book and they believe they can not just render a great translation but also help market it effectively in their language.
The more it sells the more they make. If it dies a death after the first week you’ve lost the cost of the cover and whatever. They’ve lost months of hard work.
Crucially the partner-translator understands that from day one and if they climb on board with your project they do so not as a day-job to be done, dusted and forgotten, but as a financial investment.
Again, it may at first glance seem like collecting 50% less money just to save on paying out a lump-sum for the translation is a dumb idea. But, unless you are able to competently handle ALL the issues arising from having a foreign language title selling in a foreign land, then it makes a lot of sense.
By which I mean not just the translation, but local uploads, blurbs, keywords, cover and back cover translations, tweets and other promo, press releases, responding to queries from readers and possibly publishers, making sense of reviews, engaging with foreign book clubs, finding a local POD operator, talking to bookstores in that country about stocking the title…
A translator-partner will understand all this, and while they may need some help making sense of the self-publishing world, they’ll be keen to learn, because every sale you make is a sale they earn on too.
Again, don’t confuse profit-sharing with giving your hard-earned cash away.
The translator will be getting 50% of something you never had before, and wouldn’t otherwise be getting now, so it costing you nothing in real terms. And crucially you’ll be getting the other 50% where before you had nothing for sales of your book in that language. And they are doing all the hard work!
How to find a partner translator? You can ask around on sites like Translators’ Café and Proz, for starters. There are a ton of sites where translators can connect, and while pretty much all are set-fee focused, there are plenty of opportunities to negotiate.
But better still you should, if you’ve been making yourself known on the international circuit with your English-language titles, and have been using your social media presence wisely and not focused exclusively on the US market, have a wealth of contacts to draw upon to find the right people.
The downside of this type of arrangement is sorting contracts, handling payments, etc. This can be quite challenging.
So wouldn’t it be great if there were such a thing as a translation aggregator along the lines of Smashwords or Draft2Digital that could connect you with a translator, handle all the distribution, collect all the monies and share out the rewards on a pre-agreed basis while you just sit back and put your feet up?
Say hello to Options # 4 and 5: The Translation Aggregators.
There are a small number of outfits out there that fit the bill. I’ve tried a few and can recommend two of them: Babelcube and Fiberead.
Both are translation aggregators, but they work on slightly different models and have different reach, so I’ll briefly deal with them separately here in outline. In future posts I’ll offer a detailed breakdown of how each one works and how best to use them.
Regular readers will know that late last year I became the first and so far only western indie to hit #1 on the Kindle China store. The Mandarin Chinese translation of Sugar & Spice also charted on numerous other Chinese ebook retailers.
This came as a big surprise to the many indies that didn’t even know China sold ebooks, let alone that Amazon has a Kindle store there. In fact China is the second largest ebook market on the planet and will soon be bigger than the US.
But, being China, access is strictly controlled. To sell your books in China you need to distribute through a domestic operator, which is why the Kindle CN store is not part of KDP.
As has been reported here on the Ebook Bargains UK blog many times, interest in English-language ebooks in China is soaring, and trad pub is doing all it can to get a slice of the action. There are only about ten million competent English speakers in China right now, but English is the lingua franca of the world and there are three hundred million English-language learners, many of whom will be eagerly buying the few English-language books that are available.
But of course that number pales beside the number of Chinese speakers who will be buying local-language titles. And while they may well gravitate to Chinese authors, all the evidence suggests the same desire to learn English and engage with western culture means they will also swarm to competent translations of English-language books.
My own Sugar & Spice makes the point. An extremely dark crime thriller about the hunt for a child killer, set in small town Britain, went from nowhere to #1 on Kindle China within weeks of release, and is still hovering in the top 500 in store nine months later.
And it got there thanks to Fiberead. (LINK)
Fiberead are a China-based translation-aggregator that lets you load up your English-language titles and if approved Fiberead undertake, at no up-front cost to you, to have them translated into Mandarin Chinese and marketed not just across China’s myriad ebook stores (many of which are much bigger than Kindle CN) but globally, reaching Chinese readers around the world. The Chinese version of Sugar & Spice, for example, is available not just in the Amazon US store but also in Books-A-Million, Nook, etc.
But of course it is the prospective China sales that make this so exciting. Not just right now, when the Chinese ebook market is still in its infancy, but for the future when the Chinese ebook market will dwarf the US ebook market.
I know some authors who have had books on Fiberead and have been disappointed with the results, but Sugar & Spice is living proof that Fiberead can deliver. At the end of the day there are no guarantees for any book in any language. Some will do well. Some won’t. One more reason to keep the pay-up-front option at arms-length until you are well-established.
The one thing you can guarantee is that if your book isn’t available for sale in a given country it won’t sell there.
So when an operator like Fiberead is offering the chance to reach the extremely lucrative and extremely fast-growing China market with no up-front cost, when there is no other realistic way in, it really is a no-brainer not to give it a try.
A detailed break-down of the Fiberead operation soon.
Here just to say that, while up until end 2014 Fiberead were actively seeking new authors, there’s now a long waiting list to get accepted.
Babelcube (LINK) runs on different rails.
Babelcube is a multi-language translation-aggregator, but with the key difference being that whereas Fiberead finds translators for you, Balelcube acts as an interface between would-be translators and authors.
You load up your titles to Babelcube and either wait for a translator to make an offer, or you can approach listed translators and pitch direct to them.
The deal is that no money changes hands, but when a translation has been agreed and completed it will be published by Babelcube through their not-insignificant distribution network. Babelcube will then, like Fiberead, share the proceeds among author and translator on a pre-agreed basis, plus of course a percentage for Babelcube.
Does it work?
Well, I’ve not emulated the China success just yet, but I’ve now had several titles translated and published through Babelcube, and am seeing sales from them that I would otherwise never have had, in languages I was not previously available in.
It’s working for me!
I’ve got a dozen more titles currently at various stages of translation in my Babelcube account, and the plan is to get translations of all my titles in all the available languages (currently ten) on Babelcube just as soon as it can be done.
Babelcube is a great idea, and while there are some minor irritations and of course there are ways it could be improved, it’s unquestionable a great way to connect with prospective translators and get your titles widely distributed.
So there you have it. Five ways to get into the global ebook marketplace with translations of your works.
Which is the best? Well, aside from the pay-up-front option, why not try them all?
Fiberead is the obvious (and pretty much only) choice for China.
But why not hunt down a traditional publisher in India or Indonesia, Poland or Hungary, Nigeria or Turkey?
And sound out your contacts to find a translator-partner for another language.
Then pop along to Babelcube and try get a translator and let Babelcube take the strain for a Spanish or Portuguese or Italian translations, for example.
Before you know it your 1 title could be in 5 other languages. From 1 title, 6. E unum pluribus.
But why stop there?
Thor Heyerdahl has set the bar for me. It’s 71 languages or bust!