The Business Rusch: Selling Books Elsewhere

Business Rusch logo webFor the past week, I have stared at an e-mail that I printed out nearly two years ago. I flagged the e-mail and put it in the back of my 2011 paper calendar, and moved the printout with each new calendar.

The e-mail is from my former French mystery editor. We exchanged e-mails as she left my French publisher for a new publisher, and she expressed in continuing the Smokey Dalton series in its successful French translations at her new company. I told her I would let her know when I have finished a new Smokey Dalton novel.

I initially set the e-mail aside because I knew I wouldn’t write the next Smokey book for a while. As I said in a post two weeks ago, I wanted to publish the book when I knew that it would receive better treatment than the series had ever received from its first publisher. It has taken time to get here, but as I mentioned in that post, the new Smokey Dalton book, Street Justice already has a better cover than any that came before, will be in all e-bookstores, will have a trade edition that will get distributed to major retailers, and will have a marvelous audio edition.

In fact, last week, I spoke to the marketing team at Audible, who have already got more things planned for the audio edition than had happened with this Edgar- and Shamus-award nominated series from its original publisher. I’m surprised and pleased by all of this; the Audible promotions are in addition to all of WMG Publishing’s considerable plans for the new book and the new series.

But this e-mail from my former French editor has me stumped. Not because I doubt her sincerity; I don’t. My French publishers treated the Smokey Dalton series in translation much better than my American publishers ever did. I love the French editions. They had gorgeous covers, and lots of publisher support.

It’s just that things have changed so much in the past two years, and yet they haven’t changed at all.

I’ll try to explain. First, I have some work to do. Aside from doing some research to see if this editor is still at her “new” publishing house, I also need to double-check my French contracts to make sure the old house doesn’t have an option on the next book. Let’s assume success: She’s still there, and both publishers want the new book. I have an auction to handle on my own (oh, how I will suffer) and eventually I will have an edition in the French language.

None of the previous Smokey books are in e-versions in French. Very few of my books in translation have e-book editions. Like most other countries, France is about a year or two behind the US in the e-book revolution. There are also different legal challenges in that country than there are here. (And I’m not going into all of them, because I’m only aware of some of them.)

But that’s not where my hesitation in contacting my former editor comes from.

My hesitation comes from a brand-new dream, one that I really didn’t have two years ago.

Eventually, I would like to control my own foreign editions. A French version of my novels is easier for me to do than, say, a Greek version of my novels because I know most of my French translators already. I know some wonderful French freelance editors who could copy edit and proof and help design the perfect French dust jacket.

I could do a French edition on my own—eventually.

But I’m not ready to do so now, and I’m not sure when I will be. I also know that when I negotiate foreign contracts without an agent, I get better terms for my books—including a limitation on the contract. Agents hate contract term limits, because the contract keeps the agent on board as well as the publisher. Most agent-negotiated foreign contracts that I’ve signed look suspiciously like American contracts, with the nasty icky rights clauses and the impossible reversions.

The foreign contracts I’ve negotiated myself don’t have the icky rights clauses, and they have a time limit. The rights licensed in the contract will return to me after a certain number of years, and if the book is still selling well, then the publisher and I have the right to renew the contract on equal or better terms.

I don’t have that clause in any of my agent-negotiated foreign contracts, yet it exists in all of the contracts I’ve negotiated myself.

So I know I can get a term-limited contract from a French publisher, should a French publisher be interested, and by the time that contract expires, I might be ready to publish a French edition on my own.

No matter what I decide, I will have work ahead of me. Either I must research the French editors/publishers, and examine my contracts, or I will eventually need to hire a translator on my own, along with a good proofer and do my own French edition. Even if I decide to go with a traditional French publisher with a good term-limited contract, I will still have work ahead. I’ll have to monitor the rights reversions, and I will face this decision in the future.

The editor’s letter keeps rising to the top of my desk while other things have happened. One of my foreign publishers just paid great royalties on a contract that I negotiated. I have an agent-negotiated contract with the same publisher, through an agency that I fired, and the monies are supposed to come directly to me. That hasn’t happened yet, because no one will inform the Italian agent who has co-partnered with my former US agent. That Italian agent ignores me. So, I have yet to receive a notification that there is a royalty statement, let alone any possible payment due, even though I now know that I should have seen that royalty statement weeks ago.

I have had no troubles collecting foreign royalty payments since I started doing the work myself. In fact, I’m actually making royalty money from foreign publishers for the first time.

Which should tip me toward contacting my former French editor, right?

And it does. It truly does. Only I’m beginning to see translation rights as one large package, one I’m not willing to address yet.

Perhaps one reason I’m not willing to address it is this: I’m selling books in France as well as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, Greece, Canada, Germany, Spain, Finland, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, India, Brazil, and Japan. Granted, these books are all being sold in English to English readers in those countries, but for the first time in my career, my work is available in almost 200 countries. That doesn’t mean someone has ordered my work in each of those 200 countries, but it means that someone could if she wanted to.

And that’s not just e-books. Trade papers are available in many countries as well and the number is growing all the time. So are the audio books.

The problem I have now isn’t that I’m failing to reach readers in foreign countries; it’s that I’m failing to reach readers who want to read in their native language.

I’m still missing readers who want to buy my work. I’m just not missing as many of them.

A lot of writers are still missing those worldwide English language readers. Those writers have older traditional book contracts, and those contracts are broken apart by territory. The writer might have sold First North American rights, which means her book will only be available in the US and Canada. She might also have sold foreign language rights in a variety of countries, as I have done, but until recently she has no way to see if the books are even available in those countries. (I love the internet!)

Five years ago, a savvy writer only sold First North American. Then publishers got smart, and would demand Worldwide English Language rights, claiming that everything else was a deal-breaker.  For a while, I thought World English was okay, because there really was no easy way for a writer in the United States to publish an English language book in Germany.

Now there is. Writers I know who have traditional book contracts that only include First North American rights are indie-publishing their English-language titles in other countries. I will be doing so with some of my titles that are US only within the next year. The ability to do this did not exist a year ago.

So it makes rights sales even dicier than they have been in the recent past. Which means there are several factors a writer has to keep in mind as she’s dealing with them.

First, if she sells World English Rights to her traditional publisher, will that publisher make the book available in all possible countries? A lot of writers are complaining to me about their traditional publisher refusing to publish books in countries outside the US even though the publisher has the right to do so.

Nowadays, not having at least an English-language version of a new book available for a worldwide audience pisses off readers, and when a reader gets angry, she blames the writer, not the publisher.

Secondly, is the writer’s agent/publisher trustworthy? I know, I know.  A lot of you people seem to believe that these big agencies and corporations won’t screw you over. I would applaud the naiveté if it weren’t so harmful to your business. Historically foreign rights have been the place where sticky fingers find the most traction.

Let’s deal with an agency first. A US agent will usually partner with a foreign agent in a particular country to sell a book in that country. A lot of employees touch the writer’s money before it ever crosses the writer’s desk. The foreign publisher must send out royalty statements and checks to the proper foreign agent. Then the foreign agent must process the check and send it to the US agent, who then sends the money to the writer.

Usually, secretaries and bookkeepers are the ones who actually handle the funds. And think about this:

The writer never knows the check is coming. Oh, she might have an idea if she’s going to get an advance on her German sale. But what if that book earned out? What if royalties are due? The writer has no idea when those royalties are paid and how long it will take for those royalties to reach her.

Royalty money from a traditional foreign publisher, sold through a traditional agent, is always treated as manna from heaven by the writer, falling out of the mail at surprising times.

Rare are the writers who track their foreign sales and their foreign royalties.

So if the bookkeeper in the foreign rights agent’s office is going to get evicted from his apartment if he fails to pay the rent, the bookkeeper might think: Who will miss that 500 Euro payment to Writer A? Of course, the bookkeeper assures himself, he will make up the funds later. All he needs to do is disappear the paperwork for a month or two or fifteen or seven years or just forget it even exists.

Think this doesn’t happen? It’s happened to me—and I’ve caught it—at least five times. Not to mention the still-active US agent who slid all foreign royalty monies into his own pocket and who used to get sued for doing that from his former clients on a regular basis. The clients, who would settle out of court, had to sign a confidentiality agreement so that they would never rat on this embezzling agent.

It’s even easier for sticky fingers to find a place to lift money in a traditional publishing house. The publisher sells the foreign rights and splits those sales 50/50 with the author.

Or should split them 50/50 with the author. Lately, I’ve seen contracts which pays the author 25% of net receipts from the foreign sale, minus commissions, taxes, and any other applicable expenses. Commissions aren’t defined, taxes aren’t defined, and neither are those applicable expenses. In other words, the writer might not be entitled to a penny under that particular deal.

But let’s just assume the 50/50 split. The publisher makes the sale to a foreign publisher. Then the US publisher is supposed to report that sale on the next royalty statement, whatever that means. I know of several writers who have sold books in translation and didn’t see a dime of that money until two years after publication—and that dime was the advance. The only reason some of these authors got paid was because they had learned about the foreign sale from English-speaking fans in the foreign country contacting them on social media.

Not kidding.

And then, mysteriously, after the author asked about it, the money owed for the advance would finally show up in the royalty statement. Would foreign royalties ever show  up? No. Where did they get stopped? Did the foreign publisher fail to send out the royalties? Did the US publisher work with a foreign agent who had our hapless bookkeeper? Did some flunky in  the US publisher’s royalty department “forget” to add some royalty payments into a statement? Did the paperwork ever arrive at the US publisher’s office? Did it get to the right department? Did the check just go into a general fund to be dealt with later?

Most writers have no clue this is happening. Most writers have no right to a clue, because the contracts they sign do not give them the right to audit their publisher.

If you don’t have a clause in your contract allowing you to audit your publisher’s books then, generally speaking, you must trust what the publisher reports. Because the publisher is a legal entity with rights, just like you have. And you can’t any more audit your publisher than you can audit your next door neighbor, even if your neighbor owes you $100 from that personal loan you gave him two years ago.

Got that? You need an audit clause, at the very least.

Which brings us to the third item in our list of things to keep in mind when considering foreign rights deals.

It has become a small world. This blog has readers from all over the world. Half of the readers who come to the blog on Thursday as appointment reading do so in the middle of my night—the beginning of their day—in England, France, Germany, and so on. Then the Americans and Canadians show up, along with the Australians who arrive on a different day but at the same time (I love that) not to mention the Japanese and the folks in Greece and India and Africa.

If I mention that a book is out now and it’s not available to a worldwide English speaking audience, I get e-mails from readers all over the world asking when they’ll be able to get copies. I want them to get copies. I want them to be able to read the book if they’re interested—just like I’m sure you do with your readers.

So overseas sales are dicey and getting dicier by the minute. And they’re just one more thing a writer needs to think about as she thinks about what she wants from her career.

Traditional publishers are just beginning to wake up to the power of the overseas markets. According to the Association of American Publishers, e-book revenue for American trade publishers increased 63% in 2012, to $121 million, with more growth expected in 2013. As I mentioned above, most countries are behind the US on the e-book curve, but those countries are working hard to catch up.

For the moment, English has become the language of business worldwide. (There is talk that Mandarin may take over; I’ll leave that to scholars to figure out.)

On June 11, PRI’s The World ran a fascinating story about the way English is used in education. The story focused on pushback in Italy about the way that English is being used, but the piece began like this:

Across continental Europe, more college and university classes are being taught in English. In making the switch to English, institutions in non-English-speaking countries believe they are better preparing students for a globalized workforce. They’re also seeking to attract more foreign students.

Students who study in English learn to read English, which makes an even larger market for English language books. As Kobo, Amazon, and Apple expand into foreign countries, the e-book market continues to grow. Now, when you publish a book, if you have the rights to sell it across the world, you should.

But that still doesn’t settle my French translation problem. When I publish a book in English, I know what the copy editor has done. I know what changes the proofer suggests. If I were to publish a book in French, I don’t know the language well enough to go over the translation let alone a copy edit or a proof.

I will have to trust someone to oversee my foreign translation. The question I have asked myself for the past few weeks—and will continue to ask myself—is do I want to set all of that up on my own? Or do I want to trust an existing company with years of publishing history under their belts?

Logically, I should go with the foreign publisher. But I’ve had the same problems with foreign publishers that I’ve  had with American ones. For example, the French publisher of my Fey series bought the first five books (which comprise the first story arc), divided them in two, and then published the series through book four.  (That’s eight books) When it came time to publish the fifth book (or books nine and ten, as the French saw them), the publisher canceled the contract. Not because me or my bad sales. In fact, my sales were excellent.

It was because my editor quit to pursue his own creative dreams, and the publisher canceled the fantasy line that the editor had championed. The publisher did not want to hire a  new fantasy editor, so instead, all fantasy books in that line were canceled.

I still get letters from my French readers about that. At least now I can tell them to pick up the English-language version.

It’s always a risk to go with a traditional publisher. It’s a risk not to go with a traditional publisher when you’re dealing in a language you don’t know. It’s a risk to participate in the worldwide market; it’s hard to monitor your work in other countries.  It’s a risk not to participate in the worldwide market; how many readers are you leaving behind?

Ultimately, like everything else in this new world of publishing, it’s up to the writer to make the right choices for her career.

Do remember one thing, however. Foreign rights sold through traditional venues (American publisher, agent) are easy to lose track of. If you let someone else handle the sales, make sure you know who your editor is. Make sure you have a contact at the foreign publishing house. Make sure you’ve signed a contract—in English (that’s quite a scam all by itself)—and make sure you know when your royalties are due.

Watch everything. Trust but verify. Remember how easy it is for money to stick to fingers it does not belong to.

Things continually change in this new world of publishing. Reaching readers all over the world is just one of the nifty new things available to us writers. Now we have to choose how to reach them. We’re limited by our own time, our resources, and our contracts.

Make the best choice for you for the moment. And keep writing. Because, in the end, that’s the best thing we writers can do.

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“The Business Rusch: “Selling Books Elsewhere” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

 




 

68 responses to “The Business Rusch: Selling Books Elsewhere”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    One further point, by some kind of decision that has never been questioned by American agents, European publishers give a royalty statement and pay royalties once a year, not twice a year. We have let them get away with it for so long it is consolidated practice, though it is nonsense. And if they hold back royalty payments (as they often do) it will be another calendar year before you see any money.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Something else must be taken into consideration when your books are translated by foreign publishers. 1- You have no control over the quality of the translation/translator. Sometimes a seasoned professional is used, sometimes it is farmed out to the lowest bidder, probably a youngster just out of translation school with no experience and a tight deadline. A couple of my books have been translated into a language I know well and I wince when I look at them. They are appalling. 2. For tax purposes, some books need to be shortened considerably because the tax regime on books sold in bookstores is different from the tax regime on books sold in newspaper kiosks (sold like periodicals). In that case, your book will be abridged by sometimes as much as 20,000 or 30,000 words. And the decision on what to cut is made not by the EDITOR but by the TRANSLATOR. Who is under time pressure. so the temptation to just cut scenes out is enormous. Most genre books are cut. 3. The foreign publishers have the right to split a long book into several editions, coming out months apart. George RR Martin’s first book in the GoT series was cut into five books, each costing €20, for the German market. They were not even cut off at cliffhangars, the books just stopped, or so some German readers told me. And then you have to wait several months for Part 2 (of the same book) comes out. And of course the whole book ends up costing €100.
    In fact, many times our books are treated so badly, translated badly, cut badly, sometimes split up into several books, that it is a miracle we sell at all. But sell we do, because entertainment is something we do well.

  3. Jason says:

    Someone above alluded to this already, but I’ll put it more succinctly:

    There is a difference between *proficient* and *fluent*.

    You can learn to be proficient, but you must be born into fluency. (The difference is mostly idiomatic.)

    Ideally, you’ll want a translator with fluency, but for affordable translation, your best bet may be to scour a local university for Ph.D. candidates in language studies. Especially if you write literally.

    I use lots of idioms, so I’ve ignored the issue so far.

    • Mary Jo Rabe says:

      Yes, and translating is an additional specific skill that doesn’t automatically come with either proficiency or fluency.

    • Stefan Mommertz says:

      Jason, I’m not sure if the “affordable translation” road is a good one to take. Even if you were thinking of a native speaker of the target language doing a PhD in literature or language, it might not be enough. At least in Germany, readers are quite picky.

      Look at it this way: a translation is an asset you can still make money from twenty years from now (hopefully), so it’s better to get it right straight from the start.

  4. Stefan Mommertz says:

    Hard to add something useful after Cora. But maybe the importance of copy editing for translations can’t be stressed often enough. Speaking from my (limited) experience as a translator, it is crucial to have at least one other qualified native look at the translation (and not only for typos).

    Of course, there are obvious advantages of going through a local publisher, but if you want control, you should probably take things into your own hands. This means investment, but if you look at it in longer terms, it is quite likely to pay off (and especially with digital).

    My personal guess is that we will see a trend away from the (more or less) one-time flat fee publishers pay their translators (at least in Germany) to a mix of (lower) fee and royalties more enterprising translators will accept, giving them a chance to get money for the creative work they do now in the future, too. (Obviously, this will involve a lot of the same risks for translators that authors face now as far as correct payments are concerned, and maybe the majority won’t be willing to take that risk, given the lousy income literary translation provides anyway.)

    Why don’t you hire someone for WMG to take care of the translation side, for both negotiations with publishers and setting up your own small network of translators and copy editors?

    • It would be nice if someone set up a translation service like an indie publishing service, where people vet the translators and offer copy editing, etc. 🙂

      As for your question about WMG, down the road. The company’s not made of money and only hires people when it can afford them, not when it needs them. I wish we could afford to hire for the translation side, but not yet…

      • Stefan Mommertz says:

        I think there are some translation agencies out there already. A good source for agencies and professional translators is proz.com.

        My suggestion for WMG was only half-serious, but seeing that you are willing to invest if it seems worth it (Ella) and considering the number of books you and Dean have to offer, this is really something you should focus on one day.

    • Cora says:

      Yeah, you and I had the “collard greens” go-around, Stefan.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I think it is important to use a translation service/translator who IN THE CONTRACT stipulates that the author holds all the rights to the translation. The authorpaid for it, the author owns it.
    Also, you could look into crowdsourcing the money for the translation. Services like pubslush are specialized in this.
    As a professional translator, I would also say to beware of cheap translations. You always get what you pay for. Your translator is your face to that particular language world.

  6. Cora says:

    Another great post, Kris.

    A little nitpick: US print books have been available in Europe for as long as I can remember, sold via import wholesalers, though not all publishers exported (I missed lots of important SFF novels and writers in pre-internet times, because they were published by companies that did not export). However, most English language books were available via special order. Back in the late 1980s/early 1990s, my local German bookstore which offered import books always had a table with huge “Books in print” catalogs printed in tiny, tiny type, where you could look up and write down the info of a book you wanted to order or have a bookseller do it for you. And since Amazon came to town, I have been able to order any English language print book from them, regardless if it’s a UK or US or other edition. Region restrictions are still enforced with e-books, but they have never mattered much with print books, because imports were always available.

    I translated some of my own books into German, but then I am a professional translator, so my only costs were my time. It was a success, too, because to date approx. 14% of my total sales are German books, even though I have translated only a fraction of my backlist. Even more amazing is that the German books don’t just sell in German speaking countries, but also in the US, UK, Belgium (does have a German speaking minority) and Spain. The market for English language books is global, but so is the market for other languages.

    For languages I can’t translate myself, I’d still go via a publisher, because translation is pricey and requires an upfront investment, unless you find a translator willing to work under a royalty sharing model.

    But if you (general you) do want to hire a translator yourself, here is what you need to look out for: First of all, you need a native speaker of the target language. He or she should specialize in literary translation – business, tech or legal translators won’t do. Ideally, you need someone who is familiar with your genre as well, particularly for SF or fantasy, where unfamiliarity with the genre can lead to bad translations. Geography is another consideration – French is different in France, Quebec, Africa or the Caribbean; German is different in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, etc… Most countries and languages have translators’ organisations who have searchable databases and member lists, which is good place to start.

    Once you have found a translator, ask them for a two or three page sample translation, if you want to vet them. You’ll also need a copyeditor to check the translation, ideally another translator, though you can get away with an genre savvy expat if money is tight. I have done copyediting/vetting a few times for books translated by a professional translator and there still were issues. My favourite was the debate about how to translate “collard greens”. Now collard greens are not common in Germany, so no one would know what it was. So the translator had substituted a type of green that is common in Germany. Unfortunately, he had picked a fairly solid cabbage, whereas the collard greens were supposed to sway in the wind. Cue a debate about which vegetable would do what it was supposed to do, which probably went right over the head of the poor author. So whoever you ask to copyedit/vet, he or she needs to be able to flag such issues.

    Finally, there are a few potential legal pitfalls. In most European countries, the translator holds the copyright to the translation (though not to the source text), so you can’t make unauthorized changes. Nor can you simply republish an out of print translation without the permission of the original translator. Translators also have the moral right to be named. Some countries like Germany also have a bestseller clause, which means that if a book sells more than X copies, the translator is entitled to royalties. Now many German publishers still ignore that clause and for indies it’s not likely to be an issue anyway. And lots of translators prefer money now to royalties which may or may not ever come. But at least you’ll need a contract which clarifies these points.

    • Thank you for this, Cora. I always have assumed that the translator held copyright to the translation. Copyright is the form, after all, and they have put this particular novel/book in a particular form. So even if I were using an out-of-print translation, I would have a contract with the translator first. Many difficulties. I appreciate all you’re contributing here.

      • Cora says:

        I assumed that you knew, but I have come across writers who didn’t and thought they could just scan in an OOP translated edition and indie publish it. There sometimes are also indie writers who are shocked that translators have the right to be named and that they cannot make unauthorized changes to a translator’s work.

    • C.E. Petit says:

      Minor pickiness:

      The translator, in all Berne Convention countries, holds a derivative copyright on the translation. The hard part is figuring out who the “translator” is in some countries… because it might be work for hire, and therefore (legally) the translator is the patron and not the natural person(s) who did the work.

  7. Geoff Burling says:

    Two thoughts about what you wrote about foreign rights, not necessarily of equal importance.

    (1) The two reasons I would still go with an agent concerning foreign rights (assuming the person has the expertise) are the necessary contacts, & knowing what the current prices are for each market. (To test this, about six months ago I did a Google search to see if any had posted average amounts for foreign rights & came up with nothing useful.) Of course, it is only a matter of time before all of this information is available to the interested writer–I’m guessing that will happen by the time I have a book out that has any foreign rights worth selling. But right now, the information isn’t easily available. Unless one is willing to sacrifice a book or two in order to acquire the information.

    (2) If you insist on a contract in two languages–the language of the market, & English–a key point is which version will be the authoritative one. I know of one case where this was a key point: a former employer negotiated a sale of computer equipment to Deutsche Telekom. After the contract was signed, the PTB at my former employer discovered that the German version was the authoritative one, & the language in that version had subtle, yet important, differences from the American. It was a contributing, although not decisive, reason that my former employer is no longer around. (A more decisive reason might be that the owner of that business had the practice of taking the money received from foreign buyers, skimming off an unknown amount for his own pockets, then turning over the rest to accounts receivable.)

    • Great points, Geoff. As for the information on the going rate, it always changes, just like it does here. But you can ask friends who have sold into those countries. That helps.

      Your contract point is a fantastic one, and one writers must always keep in mind with any contract, in all languages. Make sure you understand the terms before you sign. It’s harder with some foreign contracts, but just as important.

    • Cora says:

      The authoritative contract is almost always the original and not the translation, because errors can creep in during translation. I translate a lot of contracts and I always flag unclear language or problematic terms, but not everybody does. The highlight was finding Hollywood contract language granting rights in perpetuity in all known and unknown media in a contract for purchase of ship equipment. Turned out that one of the contract partners had worked for Disney cruises and had adopted clauses from the Disney contract into their own subcontractor contracts.

      In general, translators are honest and differences between the original and translated contract are rarely malicious. However, if you don’t trust that a translated contract is accurate, have someone (a lawyer or a legal translator) check it. Oh yes, and a foreign publisher should provide you with a contract translated into a language you can read without question and at no cost to you.

      • Geoff Burling says:

        I wasn’t questioning the integrity or skill of the translator here, & I apologize if I sounded as if I were. It’s that there are a couple of points, though, that came up for my former employer in German vs. English versions, which hurt him. And

        One point was that legal language differes greatly between countries, even countries which share the same language (such as English in the US &, well all other English-speaking countries). The German Commercial Code is different in many places from the American UCC, which can lead the unwary to make dangerous assuptions. (In the case I referred to, it concerned things like “acceptible” & “warranty”: my former employer spent a lot of time & money fixing things he didn’t expect German law would force him to fix. Which might say more about my former employer than about German Commercial Law.)

        So your point about having a lawyer who practices in that country review & explain to you a contract drawn up under foreign law is even more important than for domestic contracts. (Not to say that legal advice isn’t important for domestic contracts, as our hostess has pointed out time & again.)

  8. Liz says:

    “So if the bookkeeper in the foreign rights agent’s office is going to get evicted from his apartment if he fails to pay the rent, the bookkeeper might think: Who will miss that 500 Euro payment to Writer A? ”

    FYI, I know how petty what I’m about to say is:

    Thank you for using the singular. A little part of my soul shrivels every time or see I hear “euros” and “cents”. (So yeah, I’m basically Medusa now.) It’s nice to see someone geting it right.

    Oh and, uh, great post overall. I’ve started sending the wannabe authors I know over here. So many of them seem to treat writing as a way to get away from all that icky business stuff, and that’s a great way to get burned.

    • Thanks, Liz. I was in France as it made the transition from the franc to the Euro. I hear Euro in my head with a French accent. So naturally, I must leave off the “s” 🙂 Thanks for sending folks here.

  9. Ilsa says:

    Informative and thoughtful, Kris; thanks. I’ve been tossing around the same thing with my next series. I’m happy with my UK and Commonwealth publisher, and my editor has been top-notch. But if they pass, I’m definitely thinking about the implications, and the stickier problem of translations. Going it on my own in English-language digital wouldn’t be an issue, but I have a pretty solid fanbase in Germany and–believe it or not–Turkey. Germany, in particular, has some very interesting publishing laws that are well-covered in the current RWA (which I’m sure you’ve read) and, if I’m reading that article right and the author has her facts down, essentially make English-language digital much more of a difficult sell. Kind of argues for translation, at least in Germany (and I’ve been lucky that the freelance translators in both German houses asked for my input on American idiom to make sure they’d gotten it right, so I know who I would use). Although one of my titles was available through a UK distributor and has done well, the book got practically no traction in Germany, which I hope will change now that the German publisher and editor I’ve been working with wants the book. But this is an interesting problem.
    Frank Dellen’s comment regarding cover art is a good one, too. Again, looking at the German editions of ASHES, they’re heavily weighted toward romance (as is the jacket copy), which really puzzled me until the editor explained why and their reading demographic. But I also worried about that because there is virtually NO romance in the series–and I got quite a few comments from German readers about that, too, who felt as if they’d been led to expect one thing and got another. Thankfully, they stuck around, but . . .
    One last point–again about translation and Germany: length. Not so much of a problem if you’re only going digital, but if the culture doesn’t trend that way, could be an issue. The German editions of my books are much longer by about twenty percent. That’s some serious pages especially when the book is already long. In fact, to get around this, the German MONSTERS will be broken into two parts to roll out in consecutive months because–as the editor rightly pointed out–a 1,000 page book would be kind of a hard sell unless I suddenly morph into Stephen King. 🙂

    • The German publisher of my Fey series had to divide the books because of the length. It takes more words to say the same thing in German, so the already long books were even longer. That happened in a few other country’s translations as well. So it is a lot to consider, and a lot of time to think about as well.

    • Frank Dellen says:

      Regarding length: We’re sorry, honest! But what can you do if even your favourite four-letter-word has seven letters?

    • Daniela says:

      A German translation is usually about a third longer than the original. If it’s not it’s likely that parts were taken out. Yes, that has happened, in one book the whole epilogue was missing which we only noticed because I’d read the english original and a friend the German translation. Although usually it’s done more subtly than that. Some publishers even instruct their translators to cut *unnecessary bits* during translation.

      Theoretically it’s possible to get a translation that’s roughly the same length as the original but that would take time and translators are paid by page and not by hour.

  10. C.E. Petit says:

    A Supreme Court decision earlier this year just throws great big honkin’ King Kong-sized monkey wrenches in the system. Specifically, territorial (as opposed to language) rights have been fatally stabbed, resulting in death throes that would put a bad actor to shame.

    The Kirtsaeng decision means that grey-market imported editions are now perfectly legal. Remember a few years back, when American adults wanted the UK editions of the Harry Potter books, and Amazon would ship them… but from Amazon.co.uk, and for premium shipping (because the individual customs clearance is a pain, if nothing else)? That is now legally routine: The US publisher can no longer try to keep authorized editions from non-US publishers out.*

    What this really means is that Our Gracious Hostess’s musings above should tip even farther away from a commercial publisher, except for specialty-market materials that require — usually for legal reasons, but sometimes for cultural ones — truly local adaptation of marketing and packaging (e.g., what one can get away with in packaging romances is quite different in Germany than in Austria…). And nobody should continue to hold out for a different contract in each nation for the same (and that means same language, too) book. There has been some not-so-quiet panic going on in New York and London over this very issue; the real fun is when Conglomerate A has the US rights, Conglomerate B has the UK rights, and each wants to sell into the other’s market. How fast can you say “antitrust conspiracy by refusing to compete”?

    I’ve been recommending that authors not try to negotiate nation-specific deals since JCB (that European decision I mentioned above) came down; the writing has been on the wall, and “mene mene tekel upharsin” doesn’t mean what the commercial publishing industry thinks it does… It’s one thing if a publisher only offers single-nation rights (and some reputable ones do just that); trying to police that agreement in a decade, when the legal right to restrict territories is even more clearly gone, is going to be fun. (But then, I have a sick sense of humor.)

    Those of you wondering whether/why/how this applies to DVDs/BlueRays with territory restrictions get a gold star, a nice pat on the head, and a reference to 17 U.S.C. § 1201 et seq.. But that will be coming, too… just not quite as soon.

    Art has no nationality (some individual works do, but surprisingly few). The law is finally starting to catch up with that.

    * As an aside, it’s been this way in Europe for nearly a decade, thanks to a decision regarding construction equipment. Thus, if one sells English-language rights to a UK publisher, one has actually sold European Union English-language rights.

    • Thanks, CE. That’s been rattling around in my brain as well, particularly with the French & Spanish markets. The Spanish language market, in particular, is huge in non-Spanish speaking countries, and I’m not sure I want to limit territories there. I’m sure other languages are the same.

  11. Stefon Mears says:

    Another excellent post, Kris.

    Auctions are one of those mystical things that beginning writers are always warned never to try to handle without an agent, so getting solid information about them can be tricky. Could you post about the process sometime?

    • Sure. It’s actually easier without an agent. Having an agent in the mix is like a game of telephone (if you know what that is). Communication gets garbled. I’ve done two without, and a few with the agent. The few with agents went badly; the two without resulted in very good deals. 🙂

  12. Daniela says:

    I’m almost bilingual and write mostly in English, even though I’m German. I also work as an English-German translator and have started translating some of my work into German. Translating your own writing is a very weird experience.

    Right now I’m working on a few short-stories and I’m planning to publish the English and the German version at the same time, partially also as an experiment to see if that will have any impact on sales-numbers.

    • I’d like to hear if it does have an impact on sales, Daniela. Thanks!

      • Daniela says:

        I can let you know once I’m getting ready to publish and then how it goes.

        Maybe I’ll blog about it.

        • Myself, I believe I’d publish two separate editions. One in German with German title on the cover, German description, keywords, etc. obviously for German-speakers.

          Then a separate all-English edition for English readers.

          I guess both editions could include the translation for the benefit of those who are trying to learn one language or the other. But all Amazon book page material should be in same language, to avoid confusing their search engine.

          Besides, eventually we should aim to have all our stories published in all major languages.

          But no, I haven’t figured out how to find and quality-check translators either. Let alone pay them.

          • Daniela says:

            Oh, I was talking about publishing two editions: a German and an English one. Just like you suggested. Not both in the same book :-D. But I want to publish both editions at the same time, because I’ve noticed that when a German translation is released and sounds interesting I often check out the English original. Just like German speakers in other countries might check out the German version of a book when an English edition is published. At least that’s the theoretucal idea behind the plan.

            I’ve had books that put the original and a translation side by side. These are usually special editions for students studying literature.

            The German publisher Reclam is known for such editions. As long as one can’t view two pages of a book side by side on an ereader, that wouldn’t work for ebooks.

            There are numerous places where one can find a translator, even Amazon. At least publishers often mention the translator next to the author. Quality-checking is a bit more problematic. I’ve done it for friends.

  13. Nancy Beck says:

    I’d almost forgotten (almost) since today’s Independence Day in the U.S. 🙂

    Anyway, I think what struck me the most was what that French publisher did with your Fey series. Talk about deja vu all over again…I mean, isn’t that what happened with that series originally, too? Such a shame. But at least, like you said, you can point fans to the English language version so they have some recourse.

  14. allynh says:

    Kris, you will have far more fun and far less stress if you simply learn French and indie publish original fiction in French. HA!

    It will literally take less time and less headache than trying to deal with translators or traditional publishers.

    BTW, most countries look at learning English as a status symbol. The people who buy books to read in English want that exotic thrill of looking into an alien world.

    • Learn French, teach my copy editor French, teach the cover designer French…Ack! 🙂 Although learning French would be fun, especially that year in Paris. 🙂

      • allynh says:

        No need to be in Paris for a year. There is a thing called the internet now. It’s all the rage with the kids today. HA!

        Look at your resources before you make a decision. Then decide if the effort of coming up to speed on French is better(i.e. more fun) long term than being forced to work with traditional publishers who will not put your French books out in the world the way you can with indie publishing.

        Remember, this is not like trying to learn French in high school when you had zero resources. The fact that you want to read and write fiction actually makes learning French simpler than when you took the class to sit with your friend Kami in third quarter. HA!

        – Look at all of the DVDs you have with French language & sub-titles.

        – All of the French editions available for free on Project Gutenberg.

        – All of the French language websites and papers available on the web.

        – You can set up a separate computer with French, using Word in French as well, giving you access to spell checking, grammar, thesaurus.

        – You can talk to your French editor using Skype and e-mail on your first few books to get up to speed.

        Then when you win the Prix Tour-Apollo Award you can say, mercy boo coo. HA!

        • Thanks, allynh. I know about all those resources. I use them when I travel. I speak some French, less Italian, a smidgeon of German and a lotta Spanish. I’m still functionally illiterate in all of them. I have Le Monde and El Pais on my iPad. 🙂

          I insist on the year in Paris. I want that hardship. I need that hardship. It’s important to my French education. I insist I cannot learn the language without it. 🙂

        • Mary Jo Rabe says:

          Sorry to be the pessimist here, but I seriously doubt that this is practical. Very few people ever get so fluent in a foreign language that they could write as well in it as they do in their native language.

          In your native language you can trust your instincts, your inner voice. In a foreign language this is very dangerous, if only because of the number of “false friends” and cultural concepts that exist in one language but not in the other.

          You have no inner voice in the foreign language, just arbitrary patterns or combinations of words you have made the effort to memorize.

          I have been living and working in Germany for almost 40 years now, am genuinely fluent in German, and yet cannot express myself in German with the same automatic precision that I can in English. Maybe I have read too many clumsy translations that, while unintentionally hilarious, annoy the hell out of me.

          Translation is extremely difficult to do well, and even quite difficult to do with a minimal amount of accuracy. Translators are all much too poorly paid for what is an impossible task, i.e. trying to transfer the same ideas, feelings, atmosphere, details of description and plot (things dependent on precise use of language) into a foreign and often hostile format, i.e. another language.

          So, my suggestion would be to search for excellent translators and then have at least 2 copy editors, native speakers in the foreign language with an excellent command of English, check the translations for content errors. Possibly the cheapest way to do this would be through traditional foreign publishers, making these demands part of the contract.

          I see the need to make your writing available to people in their native language, but based on my experience, when it comes to translation and translators, be afraid, be very afraid!

          • Oh, I love the two copy editor idea, Mary Jo. That’s marvelous. And no, I would never try to become fluent enough to write in another language, particularly with all the stuff I already do. I know at least two writers who do so, and are spectacular, but they have spoken both languages since childhood. Thanks for the comment. Much to think about!

        • Elizabeth says:

          Allyh–as a professional writer and professional translator let me advise you that learning French is not sufficient for translating yourself. Not even bilingual people can translate themselves. Is having a mother tongue sufficient for becoming a writer? No. Translating is a specific skill, difficult to acquire, and requires honing over years.

          • Actually, imho, the translator must be a good writer in her own right before she even tries to translate. I’ve noticed that in the works I read in translation. The same book, from different translators, can either be wonderful or deadly dull. Thanks, Elizabeth.

    • Allynh, I am not sure if you were trying to be funny or serious with your suggestion about learning a language and doing it yourself. My husband is very conversant in both German and French and has been speaking both languages for over 30 years. He lived in Germany for 4 years and in two French speaking African nations for 2 years each. He has also done translations of some non-fiction work and a number of translations for government (albeit more than 20 years ago).

      In spite of all that experience and knowledge, he would never try to translate a novel to either language. I know, I’ve asked on my behalf. Why? Because he says he is not fluent.

      My point is that learning a language, especially as an adult, and being fluent are two different things. In addition, translating a novel is yet another skill beyond conversation, vocabulary, adn formal structure. It is a skill that requires not only knowledge of both languages but also knowledge of writing and nuance and metaphor, and how THOSE translate in the language. That is the difficult part, and why my husband would never attempt to translate a novel in spite of his extensive knowledge of conversational speaking and some translation of non-fiction work.

      • allynh says:

        Allynh, I am not sure if you were trying to be funny or serious with your suggestion about learning a language and doing it yourself.

        Oh, I’m never serious. The minute I’m serious I lose half my IQ and all my creativity, but that doesn’t change the facts of what I’m saying. HA!

        Reading through the long post of woe that Kris wrote I’d personally rather learn French and trust in my ability to indie publish world wide. That’s more fun.

        I’m going to learn Spanish first, then French. My local PBS station has an all Spanish channel with tons of great stores I would love to watch. I want to write Spanish telenovelas with hot Latinas ripping each other apart in that lisping Castilian. Yow!

        • Mary Jo Rabe says:

          Yes. Become fluent in your first foreign language, and then try your hand at translating. It’s all a little more complicated and difficult than you might suspect.

  15. Frank Dellen says:

    Let me add that there’s more to it than just the language. When you presented the new covers for the Smokey Dalton books the difference in “cover culture” was very obvious to me – in Germany, such a lot of text on the cover would be highly unusual. Over here, it’s: author, title, publisher and seldom anything else. Sometimes something like “Part 2 of X” or “The sequel to Y”, but even that would be printed quite small.
    Also: I rarely read original english book but recently “Enigma” by Robert Harris was recommended to me. What amazed me was the first four or six pages consisted of nothing but quotes out of more or less reputable reviews. In Gemany: Two or three quotes on the backcover maximum.
    I can’t tell whether that’s similar in other european countries but since there’s often different covers even in UK-editions of US-books…

    I guess one has to take a close look at the conventions of the foreign market.

    • Great point, Frank, and very true. I’m not sure if the fact that publishing is going worldwide will cause a “worldwide” look over the next few years or if different covers will still exist for books in the same language in other countries. (If that makes sense: books in English in Germany would have different covers than the same books in English in England.) Dunno, but great point, and one I’m quite aware of. It’s yet another consideration for foreign editions.

      • Daniela says:

        I think at least with SF/F a more world-wide look of covers might slowly creep in. A lot of readers often are annoyed by the covers publishers slap on books that don’t match the content.

        Or maybe I’m by now so used to US and UK covers that I simply appreciate them more. Except for historical romance. There I definitely prefer German covers.

        • I forgot that German publishers did that, Daniela. It was pretty common back when my stuff was routinely translated into German. Now I have to look at German historical romance covers. I’m curious…

          • Daniela says:

            They still do. John Scalzi always is very amused by his German covers. They also still do a lot of whitewashing.

            I don’t read much historical romances but I often see the covers at my mom’s and they draw the eye.

      • Lassal says:

        Ha! I was telling Dean about the German covers the other day. I think he did not believe me that it could actually look professional without the “5 elements”. 🙂

        you just need to have a look at the versions in the amazon store if you want to compare — it is quite revealing, even though you cannot see the spine an the back cover. It is just as Frank mentioned: much less elements. But I find them usually quite appealing — but then that might be because I AM German 🙂

    • Cora says:

      US book covers tend to look cluttered to me as well and the umpteen review quotes and blurbs from other authors originally mystified me. What exactly was the purpose of telling me that author X and newspaper Y I never heard of liked the book? Because German publishers almost never do that.

      There are more subtle differences in aesthetics, too. For example, German publishers used to put details of random historical paintings, cut out and pasted on a black background, onto the covers of crime novels and thrillers for a while. Americans would probably not even recognize those books as crime novels or thrillers, since they prefer very big letters on thrillers.

      Just recently, I talked to an indie writer who wondered why only her “unpopular” books sold in Germany, while her bestselling new adult romance did not. In addition to some other points (German romance readers prefer print and the US college experience is too alien), a large part of the reason was the cover (which US readers apparently loved), because it just didn’t look like a romance cover to German readers.

      That said, as a teenager I loved American mass market paperbacks with their lurid painted covers, because German books simply did not look like that. And stepbacks – oh, how I loved stepbacks.

      As for whether we will eventually move towards a global book cover look, I suppose national aesthetics will persist for a while yet, even if the books are available worldwide. My own indie covers tend to look more German as well.

  16. Foreign translation is the one thing I haven’t figured out how to do affordably as an indie. I will be keeping an eye on the comments here to see if anyone has any brilliant ideas. 🙂

    • ABeth says:

      I’m working on some of the short stories going into Russian (as you know! 😉 — but yeah, a fair price for the translator means slow-going unless one has a really booming book to pay for itself, it seems.

      More annoyingly, Amazon doesn’t accept Russian characters! Any tips for places to self-pub Russian short stories would be vastly appreciated…

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