The chances of getting “discovered” by a foreign (outside US/UK) publisher and getting a nice deal in a country you can’t easily reach on your own is pretty remote.
It happened to me with Sugar & Spice when a French publisher came cold-calling, and a nice advance and 50,000 hardcover sales later I’ve no regrets. But I’m not holding my breath until it happens again.
Now I’ve got my new-and-improved internet here in West Africa I’m taking Going Global to the next level.
Not just chasing translators through Babelcube and Fiberead (which together will get you eleven languages if you are lucky see here ((LINK)) and the follow-up post here ((LINK)), but trying two other key tactics:
1) Finding more translator-partners independently.
My priority countries should be well-known to any regulars. China, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, the Philippines, Mexico, Japan, India, South Korea, the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Poland, etc.
And the other countries on my radar should also be familiar. The rest of Latin America, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Romania, Hungary…
The downside to this strategy is that, even if I can get a translator on board and get my ebooks into Polish or Korean or Vietnamese, my chances of actually getting into the ebook stores in these countries is limited, and of course the level of ebook take-up in many of these countries is still low.
Which is where the second strategy comes in.
2) Finding a trad pub print and/or digital partner in these countries.
The indie stalwarts will cry “No! Self-publish and get 70%!”
But that’s a fundamentally flawed approach when it comes to the international markets that ignores certain realities.
Taking Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh as examples, Apple has no iBooks stores in these countries and Amazon blocks downloads to these countries. In countries like Poland, Romania, Norway or Argentina Amazon pays just 35% and surcharges readers.
My first Norwegian translations are just about ready to go live. But these are short stories selling at $0.99 or the local equivalent. Amazon will charge a Norwegian reader $2.99 (list price plus the Whispernet surcharge) and I’ll get just 35% of the 0.99 to share with my translator.
No, that’s not “anti-Amazon”. It’s simply stating the cold reality we need to understand when going global. That outside the dozen or so Kindle stores Amazon is not going to be our key breadwinner.
But don’t let that put you off. No question the readers are out there. And no question sowing the seeds now for future harvests in the global markets is eminently sensible.
But sometimes sowing those seeds may be best achieved by partnering with trad pub in these countries.
With Google and similar search engines it’s no big deal to find publishers and agents overseas, and there are a number of websites that specialise in such information, complete with useful email addresses and contacts.
But when your English-language email lands in the inbox of the Vietnamese or Korean secretary who doesn’t speak English, always assuming it has survived the local spam filter, what chance they will then bother to track down someone in the company that does speak English? More likely the secretary is as far as your email will get.
You might have just blown your chance of getting a trad pub deal to get your bestseller translated and in book stores in a remote land.
Don’t go assuming foreign publishers will only be interested in the “big name” authors. The reality is those foreign publishers will of course be interested, but simply won’t be able to afford them.
On the other hand your respectably-selling indie title that doesn’t come with demands for a huge advance and special treatment might be perfect for them to expand their portfolio.
And don’t assume that your particular book won’t be of interest because it’s set in the US or UK and has absolutely no connection with the rest of the world.
Sugar & Spice is a dark crime thriller set in obscure parts of the UK and heavily reliant on the detail of the British criminal justice system, with lots of British prison slang and absolutely nothing to suggest it would appeal to readers in, say, France or China. But the translations have topped the charts in both countries. And I do mean topped. So far it’s the only western indie title to reach #1 on Amazon China.
Another factor that gives indies an advantage is list-price. A title that sells at 9.99 in the US is not going to fare well at a similar price in Vietnam, Turkey of Indonesia, but if you’ve been happily selling at 2.99 or less in the US and UK you are hardly going to object if the foreign publisher prices you low in their country.
But that’s all pretty academic if you can’t get their attention in the first place because your English-language email doesn’t get past the company secretary.
But there’s a simple solution. Invest $5 of £5 on a Fiverr or Fivesquid translation service.
Check out these sites and you’ll find no end of people offering to translate anything from 500 words to 2,000 words of English text into just about any language you’ll likely to need, and for just a fiver.
That could get expensive for a translation of a novel, but for a short query letter it’s perfect.
I’m just about to approach publishers in Vietnam and Korea. Having final-drafted the first-contact letter (which should be kept brief, so 500 words should be ample) I’ll be paying £5 a time to a translator to turn that letter into fluent Vietnamese and Korean.
Here’s an English-Korean translator on Fiverr (by way of example, not a recommendation). (LINK)
And here’s a Vietnamese translator. (LINK) Again an example, not a recommendation.
When you compose your English-language template do remember to include a note that you don’t speak/read Vietnamese, Korean or whatever and if they can reply in English that would be greatly appreciated, but not essential.
If the foreign-language reply is brief you can run it through Google translate to get the core meaning, and if the reply is positive then invest another fiver to get it professionally translated back into English so there’s no misunderstandings about what’s on offer.
DO NOT use Google translate to get a cheap translation of your letter to the publisher. At best it will be a poor translation and look unprofessional, saying more about you than your book, and at worst it could be complete gobbledegook.
If you have translated titles out in the big wide world, whether direct, through Babelcube or Fiberread, or through a publisher, it could also be well worth spending a fiver to get short blog posts and other promo tweets, etc) prepared.
Anyone using Blogger or WordPress for their English-language blogs will have seen those wonderful maps showing where your traffic is coming from, and this could be a great indicator of where you (and potentially your books) are finding interest overseas among English-language readers, and where you might therefore want to focus your global aspirations.
We are witnesses to, and can be party to, a global New Renaissance quite unprecedented in human history.
We have unprecedented reach and unprecedented opportunities.
Don’t let them pass you by.
Think about the next five years, not the next five weeks.