As I sat down to write this post this morning a serendipitous email came in telling me I now had a new translator for one of my books, from English into Ukrainian.
No, E Unum Pluribus is not the Ukrainian national motto. Nor is this a Latin-challenged Brit messing up the famous United States motto.
What it is is an insight into how we indies can all engage with the global New Renaissance unfolding right now, and be in with a chance of becoming truly international bestselling authors.
Lest anyone is unfamiliar (it’s possible!) the US motto E Pluribus Unum translates as From Many, One, a reference to the creation of one country – the USA – from the myriad colonies that fought the British for independence back in the 1770s.
E Unum Pluribus, therefore, translates to From One, Many.
No, I’m not advocating chopping long books into short ones just to game the system. But rather turning one book into many, pretty much without writing an extra word, and at a stroke increasing your potential audience reach by literally hundreds of millions.
Translations is the name of the game, and if you haven’t been thinking seriously about translations so far, I can promise you will be by the time you finish this post. Here’s why.
My flagship title, Sugar & Spice, has sold close to half a million copies in the English language, mostly in the UK. In the New Year I’ll be re-launching the title and actively targeting the other English-speaking markets. Not least the US, but also Canada, and of course Australia and New Zealand.
But I’ll also be targeting India, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa and the Philippines, as well as key English-As-Second-Language countries like Germany, Poland, Romania, South Korea, etc.
No translations needed. Just focus, targeted marketing and wide distribution. As has been said repeatedly here on the EBUK blog, English is the lingua franca of the world. It is our single greatest asset. Don’t waste it by ignoring the immense reach we indies have simply by writing in the world’s most widespread and popular language. Trad pub is raking in the cash from English-language titles selling in non-English-speaking lands right now.
But beyond that reach are not just hundreds of millions, but literally billions of readers who do not speak English at all, or at least not well enough to read our books.
Five years ago, when the self-publishing movement began to build momentum, most of those readers were off-limits even to the elite trad-pubbed authors with big corporations able to get their books translated and distributed to bookstores around the globe.
Because the vast majority of those potential readers lived where print books were either unavailable or unaffordable.
Today that remains largely true. Print is actually gaining ground around the globe – the global New Renaissance is driven by digital , not limited to digital – but not in a way that makes much difference to most indies. The logistics of global print production and distribution simply does not allow for more than a handful of big-name authors to become international print bestselling authors.
That’s not to say it can’t be done by lesser-known authors without a Big 5 backer. The French translation of Sugar & Spice had sold some 50,000 hardcover editions in France and Belgium last I heard, and I’m currently looking at getting the print version out in China. But my focus is and will remain digital.
But to get back to E Unum Pluribus.
Sugar & Spice is a proven bestseller in English that went on to conquer the charts in French and Chinese (in China the first and so far only western indie title to hit #1 on Kindle China). As I write this post, translations are well-advanced in Spanish and Portuguese, with an eye not just on the obvious markets of Spain and Portugal but, more significantly, on Portuguese-speaking Brazil and the Spanish-speaking countries that comprise most of Latin America.
Finding translators for a 120,000 word novel is, for reasons I’ll go into in a follow-up post, more difficult than finding translators for shorter works. Clearly it can be done, but for several reasons you would be advised to focus on shorter titles first when going down this route. And no, they don’t need to have been bestsellers in English first. I’ve gpot translators right now fighting over new releases that have yet to hit even an obscure category chart, let alone the in-store top 100.
At which point you may be saying,
But hold on. Why bother at all? We can count on one hand the global ebook markets with even 10% market share compared to print. Isn’t this just going to be a lot of hard work, a lot of money up-front, all for no reward, because no-one outside the US and UK even knows ebooks exist?
Well, regular readers of this blog will be in no doubt the readers are out there. As for reaching them. This is where E Unum Pluribus – from one, many – comes into its own.
For my part, as well as Sugar & Spice I have another dozen titles currently with translations either complete or underway, and a dozen more being lined up. But let’s take a more probable scenario – say two titles in a series, being given the translation treatment.
Here’s the thing:
2 titles in English is, obviously, just 2 titles in your global catalogue.
But get those 2 titles translated into French and you suddenly have 4 titles available, and have added literally tens of millions of French-speaking readers to your potential audience, pretty much without having written an extra word. Potential readers not just in France, but in Belgium, and the European principalities, and in Canada, as well as across much of North and West Africa, etc, etc.
Now get those same 2 English-language books into Spanish. Your 2-book portfolio has suddenly become 6, and you have the Spanish speaking audience of readers in Latin America and Spain, the many Spanish-speakers in the USA, and countless more around the world.
Add Italian and German translations to your repertoire to increase your 2 book portfolio to 10 titles and added a ton more readers to your potential audience.
But why stop there? Do what I’ve done and add Dutch and Japanese translations to the list. And why not go for broke and throw in a Chinese translation too?
When complete your 2 titles will have become 2 x English, 2 x Spanish, 2 x Portuguese, 2 x French, 2 x German, 2 x Italian. 2 x Dutch, 2 x Japanese and 2 x Chinese.
Your 2 English-language titles have suddenly become 18 titles. E Unum pluribus. From one, many.
And since you ask, yes, all those languages have associated Kindle stores, although of course Amazon is just one of myriad retailer options to reach readers in these countries.
But chances are you’ve got 3 English language titles. Get those into 8 languages plus English and you suddenly have 27 titles in your global portfolio.
5 English-language books? How does 45 titles in your global portfolio grab you?
I’ve got a dozen titles going through translations right now, with more to come. And not just in those eight languages. Ukrainian I mentioned above. Fresh in today. Two different Indian-language translations are currently underway. Hindi and Urdu since you ask. I hope to have translations into Russian, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian on-going by the end of this year.
High priorities beyond those are Indonesian, Tagalog (Philippines), Korean, Turkish, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, Afrikaans and Arabic.
None of these are random choices, but rather driven by the way the nascent global markets are shaping up. And regular readers here will know the global markets are indeed shaping up.
That’s all very well and good, But I can’t afford to get even one of my books translated into one language, let alone all of them translated into more languages than I’ve had hot dinners. How much is all this costing you?
Fair question. And yes, of course there are costs.
Covers, for example. Every translated title is going to need a new cover in the relevant language. But it’s only the title wording that needs changing, and chances are your regular cover designer will do that for a token sum or even for free.
Translation costs? Well, no question they can get very expensive. Serious money.
I know some indies who went that route very early in the evolution of the digital markets and still are nowhere near recouping their costs. Ebook take-up around the globe is still in its infancy. Paying big money for a translation that you cannot easily distribute or promote in the relevant countries is probably not a good idea.
Which is why I’ve long advocated the partnership model, where the translator takes on the task with no up-front payment, instead working on the promise of a share of the royalties when that title sells. This gives the translator the incentive not just to do an outstanding job, but also to help promote and market that title in the local language once the job is done.
At which point you’ll be asking,
But how do you find even one translator, let alone dozens, willing to work for nothing on your book in the hope they might get paid down the road?
It’s actually a lot easier than you might think. And I’ll tell you exactly how in the next post.
Until then, ponder those numbers once more.
3 English titles into 9 languages gives you 27 titles in your global portfolio, without writing a single additional word of text and without paying out a penny in translation fees.
Oh, and did I mention box-sets? Bundle those three English titles into one box-set and you have four titles. Bundle those translations and your 27 title global portfolio is suddenly 36.
Now imagine doing that with a dozen titles into nine languages with nine box-sets…
As the global New Renaissance gets into second gear we should all divest ourselves of any straight-jacket notions about what will sell and where, and what will be commercially viable. If you’d told me this time last year that my very dark psychological crime thriller Sugar & Spice, set in small-town Britain and about the hunt for a child killer, would hit #1 on Kindle China within weeks of going live I would have laughed.
Likewise we should all divest ourselves of any straight-jacket notions about marketing and promotion. Bookbub is great and Bookbub is in several countries now, but only for English-language editions. But there are plenty of other ways of reaching readers abroad, and crucially your translator is one of them.
And finally, let’s divest ourselves of any notion that translations and global distribution are the luxury of trad pub and a handful of super-successful indie authors with money to burn.
Going global with multiple-language translations of your works needn’t cost you a penny.
I’m doing it right now. Next post I’ll show how you can do it too.