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CMAP #4: Territories, Translations, and Foreign Rights

(I'm going to try to keep this post a wee bit shorter than the preceeding ones, because they're eating into my writing time and, as Rule 2 of being a successful author goes, "paying words have priority". Rule 1 is "don't die", in case you were wondering. Not many people break that one and prosper.)

In CMAP #3 I dissected a book contract for the sale of US and North American English language rights. As you probably guessed from the words in front of "rights", other stuff gets sold separately by authors who have any choice in the matter.

There are generally two other lumps of English language rights you can sell; "British and Commonwealth", and — if you can crowbar them out from B&C — "Australia and New Zealand". (These latter are most often sold separately by Australian/New Zealander authors. Those of us in the UK tend to find our UK publishers take a strong proprietorial interest in them; and as they're not worth a huge amount, it's not worth fighting over unless you've got a specific reason to think you can exploit them effectively.)

"British and Commonwealth" may or may not include Canada (see comments under CMAP #3) as a listed territory; it does cover just about everywhere the British flag flew over at the end of the 19th century, including Ireland, large chunks of Africa, and so on.

I'm not going to anatomize a British book contract separately here, because it's broadly similar to an American one. There are differences in the boilerplate legalese, due to the different legal frameworks for copyright and insolvency law, but the outline shape is broadly similar. There are a couple of significant differences, though.

Firstly, there's no mass market channel in the UK. There used to be one, but I'm told it disintegrated at the end of the 1980s; since then all books — including all C format paperbacks — are sold as trade books (i.e. unsold stock are returned via the wholesaler for credit, rather than having the covers stripped).

Secondly, the B&C market is smaller than the US market. The UK has a population of 62 million. Add Ireland for another 5 million. If you add in Australia and NZ you can add another 21 million. If the British publisher bags Canada, that's a whopping 40 million more ... and you're up to a core market of nearly 130 million people, plus loose ends elsewhere in the Commonwealth. So it should come as no surprise if I tell you that my B&C book advances are typically around 40% the size of my US book advances.

(This is why, despite being British and living in Edinburgh, I work with an American literary agent and prioritize the hell out of my US sales — the USA is the single biggest market for written science fiction and fantasy right now, with the B&C rights a long way behind in second place.)

Note, however, that this isn't where the buck (or book?) stops.

English is one of the top five languages spoken around our planet, but it's not the only one. If you write commercial fiction in English you are in an excellent position for having your work translated into other languages and sold, because there are generally more translators of English into [insert language here] than there are translators working between other non-English languages (if only because English is so widely used as the tongue of science and commerce). And you're able to show foreign publishers English language sales figures before they stump up the cost of a translation.

This works the other way, too. For example, Germany has a population of 80 million; add other German-speaking nations and groups and you've easily got a linguistic group the size of the B&C market. Nevertheless, there are only around half a dozen German full-time professional SF/F authors ... just one of whom earns a living writing SF. It's hard to sell a non-English-language work into the Anglophone markets, because editors are already surrounded by a plethora of home-grown talent without the need to commission an expensive translation. So we see very little German SF and Fantasy in the British or American markets.

The contract stuff:

In general, a translation book contract is a lot shorter than a US or B&C book contract. The rights being sold are: the exclusive right to translate the work into a given language, and then market the translation throughout the designated territories. (This may be within just one country, or it may be in the given language throughout the world. And it's complicated in the EU by the existence of a single market — the EU is effectively a single territory, so selling exclusive German language rights to a publisher in Munich implicitly precludes selling those rights to an Austrian publisher — they're both German-speaking nations within the EU.) There's usually also a set duration to translation contracts; it's very hard for an agent in the USA to track whether a book remains in print in the Czech Republic, so rather than a clause to permit rights reversion if the book goes out of print, we sell rights for a set period (typically five years).

My books are usually sold into foreign markets after they are published in the US and B&C markets, on the basis of reviews and sales figures for the English markets. The foreign publishers then need to pay a translator (typically on a work-for-hire basis) for the 6-18 weeks it takes to translate a novel. The success of a translated author lies entirely in the hands of the translator — if your translator is no good, your sales will tank whatever you do. So, if you're an author? Encourage your translators to bug you with questions, and be nice to them!

On the sale side, things are handled by my agent. They deal direct with English language markets and some foreign publishers, taking their usual 15% cut; for other markets (notably Russia, China, and Japan) they deal with a local literary agency, splitting a 20% cut. (That's 20% of a chunk of money I wouldn't have at all if they weren't getting out and selling the books ... as opposed to the 50% cut usually taken by publishers' rights departments if you hand your translation rights to your US publisher.) I'm not going to get into the topic of dealing with foreign income tax authorities here, other than to say that if you are every lucky enough to start selling books overseas you will need to become more familiar with double taxation and certificates of residence than you ever wanted to. And I'm fairly sure that H. P. Lovecraft got his inspiration for the Necronomicon after trying to get his head around a bilingual English/Japanese application form for exemption from reverse double taxation (translated from the original Japanese by someone for whom English was not their first language — but Japanese corporate tax law was).

Different countries have different prevailing sales channels. As I noted earlier, the UK has no mass market paperbacks any more (although the C format size paperback is still often misleadingly called "mass market"). France has its own anomalies. Large format paperbacks prevail in the high street, but there are also book clubs with enormous clout — when my French publisher sold book club rights to one of my novels, I was astonished to get a royalty check about five times the size of the corresponding one from SFBC in the United States. (Not because SFBC did a bad job, but because the French book club sales channel is their equivalent of the mass market, in terms of sheer volume.)

And different markets consume different amounts of different sub-genres. I have only a confused mosaic of impressions to share, because I can only describe my own experiences in translation: but the French market seems to be particularly big on Lovecraftian horror and fantasy, Germany goes for hard SF in a big way, Italy is a pretty small market, mostly for fantasy (and with some odd political overtones — fantasy, I'm told by a friendly Italian translator, is associated with the neofascist right), Spain is even smaller, to my great surprise both Russia and China pay respectable (if small) advances, in Japan hardcover publication is something of an honour reserved for high sellers, and so on.

I mentioned that my B&C advances were around 40% the size of my North American book advances. How big is the rest of the world? The answer is, "individually, not very — but it adds up". After some years of diligent selling, the advances against royalties for translations of "Singularity Sky" stacked up and in total matched the North American book advance. Of these, the French, German, and Japanese advances combined to make about 75%; the rest ... I'm probably not going to surprise you if I say that the Romanian and Bulgarian advances were not terribly large.

In a previous CMAP I mentioned Tobias Buckell's survey of SF/F author's book advances, which indicated that median advances for mid-career midlist SF authors were around $12,500 per book, or $15,000 for fantasy authors. It should be obvious that this isn't enough for an adult to live on, unless they're churning out 3-4 books a year or have a working partner or a private income. However, if they're canny and sell their rights in separate tranches, your nominal $15,000 advance for US rights is augmented by another $8000 for B&C rights, and then, over time, another $12-16,000 for the rest of the world in translation. $40,000 in advances for a book is enough to make a living, although you're never going to be rich and you've got to write more than one book a year if you're going to be comfortable.

The point to take away from this essay is: if you're an author and you rely on your North American rights, you'll be on the bread line. To actually earn a living, you really need to exploit other territorial and language rights.

90 Comments

1:

Dying didn't seem to do Stieg Larsson's career any harm...

Depends on your success criteria obviously (selling lots of books vs actually getting to enjoy selling lots of books)

2:

The point to take away from this essay is: if you're an author and you rely on your North American rights, you'll be on the bread line. To actually earn a living, you really need to exploit other territorial and language rights.

And this is the reason for the comparative dearth of full-time German SF or Fantasy authors.

3:

Yes, Larsson violates rule #1. His writings aren't SF, the thriller market, I think, is far larger. There are some established SF authors who are encouraged to write technothrillers or whoes work gets marketed as such so that they reach a larger market.

4:

I'd be interested to read SF from other countries that has been translated, but I don't recall seeing any for years.

5:

On the subject of translation, what, if anything, do people think is going to happen when auto-translate is included as a feature with eBooks, as the text-to-speech is with the Kindle at the publisher's discretion?

Will it affect the idea of a global marketplace for eBooks? Will the original English publishers (assuming it's in English originally) need to pay higher advances? Will they be happy to do so since potentially they could sell more? Will people say that buying a French and German version of a book counts as buying the same thing twice?

I personally don't believe that auto-translate will ever be good enough to replace human translators (although naturally I'm thinking of fiction and general non-fiction like everyone tends to with these discusssions - 'good enough' translations might work in some cases). I'm assuming that there will be a small number of people who will use it to get a translated version asap, much as you got unauthorised translations of Harry Potter, or use it to sample authors. But since there's people who claim to be happier to listen to the cheap auto-voiced reading of a cheap unedited eBook than to buy an expensive Fry-voiced audiobook based on a lovingly edited print edition, I'd worry a little about the survival of good translations as a means of making significant extra income.

6:

L. Ron Hubbard kept churning out books for years after he died!

Also, guthrie: if you're interested in translated SF, go track down anything by Stanislaw Lem. It's quite different from anything else out there, and expertly translated into English. (The Cyberiad is a mind-blowing tour-de-force in leet translation skillz, let alone the actual content.)

7:

I don't think auto-translation is 'good enough' for anything yet. Fiction and general non-fiction depends on voice, but technical non-fiction depends on accuracy in a way that's very hard to program. Localization can use a lot of shortcut tools, but if you don't have a human somewhere in the chain you will get nonsense. And on-the-fly translation? Not going to happen, not soon enough for any working translators to worry about.

8:
It's hard to sell a non-English-language work into the Anglophone markets, because editors are already surrounded by a plethora of home-grown talent without the need to commission an expensive translation.

Expensive? I'm curious, what's that cost compared to other costs? Yeah, I realize it may vary by market size and so forth, so let's go for German as an example.

9:

It should be obvious that this isn't enough for an adult to live on, unless they're churning out 3-4 books a year or have a working partner or a private income.

... or live someplace where the cost of living is considerably cheaper and write for the US/UK market. In some (reasonably) civilized countries, $20-30k a year (two novels per year?) is considered *very* easy livin'. ;-) Pump that up to 40k per book and you are king of the hill and can easily squirrel half of those nuts away for wintry times.

I'm guessing Clarke didn't move to Sri Lanka merely for the scuba scene. ;-)

10:

Steve, I'm not a publisher and I've never commissioned a translation. My understanding, however, is that decent translators of fiction can't translate it that much faster than the novelist can write it -- they're trying to paraphrase the original voice, looking for equivalents of puns playing off local linguistic knowledge, and doing lots of other non-obvious stuff. Typical throughput is 1-3 months to translate a novel properly, and if they skimp on the "properly" they run the risk of annoying the readers.

Given that translation is a skilled job (usually involving a graduate level degree in foreign language in question; considerable exposure to a foreign culture) and that it's in demand for legal, political, and other commercial work, I'd be surprised if translators earned significantly less on a per-hour basis than the editors who pay them.

11:

The problem with moving somewhere cheap is that you (a) are isolating yourself from your target market's culture and zeitgeist, and (b) may have other sub-optimal conditions too (what are the medical, law enforcement, and tax conditions like?).

The Republic of Ireland is a tax haven of some repute for novelists and artists -- there's a law designed to encourage the arts there that gives income tax exempt status to artists who jump through some hoops. (However, it was lately amended so only the first €200,000 a year or so is exempt -- the Bono clause -- and you still have to pay VAT, sales tax, at 19% on anything you buy.)

Sir Arthur C. Clarke is a different case: he appears to be yet another eminent Englishman forced into involuntary exile by the persecution and criminalization of homosexuals prior to 1968. (My understanding -- which is based on hearsay and may be incorrect -- is that he left in a hurry, after being tipped off about an impending visit from the vice squad.)

12:

CS Clark @5:

Regarding text-to-speech, CF Wil Weaton's writeup of the text-to-speech issue for a demonstration of why it's never going to compete with real people reading aloud.

I'd say the same applies to autotranslate. Autotranslate is a "good enough" replacement for amateur translation: asking the guy down the hall to brush off their high school Spanish (or whatever) and puzzle out the gist with the help of a dictionary. It isn't "good enough" to replace professional translation. The exception would be contexts where you have amateur translators passing themselves off as professional (ie, most gadget documentation coming out of China or Japan).

13:

Stap my thighs, I never knew that. I just thought he was a bit weird and liked the climate. The stuff you find out on the web . . . my respect for the man (and his friends) just went up a notch.

14:

I have some experience in the translation field. I've been running translation agencies on-and-off since 1989, including my primary business for the last six years. A very good translator into a rich country language (German, French, Swedish, Norwegian — most expensive, etc.) are in very high demand and will typically make more money than the author's US advance.

For a 100,000 word novel, I suspect $12k to $25k is the range for a highly qualified provider of services, if they are contracted directly and work alone.

15:

Non-fiction translators for popular language pairs earn about 10 to 20 euro cent per word, and manage to translate about 2000 words a day, with most of them gravitating to the lower end of the per-word rate. That is 200 euro a day if you can find the work. Non-fiction jobs are 50 words to tens of thousands words per job; the translators I know typically have dozens of jobs per month. If you are good at acquisition (i.e. manage to keep getting a steady stream of high-overhead crumbs), you may get an average income translating non-fiction.

Fiction translators for English - Dutch start at around 4 euro cent a word.

Do not underestimate the amount of people with a university degree. Any one of those who either was raised bi-lingually or who has a degree in a foreign language, and a lot who feel confident enough about their language skills, are potential translators. That is a very large pool of people willing to work for peanuts.

(The reason that translation is still such a popular profession is perhaps because it requires absolutely no prior investments, apart from the academic background.)

16:

Branko: 4 euro cents/word, 100K word novel, means starting price around €4000 for an average-sized novel. But is that 4 cents per word of input or output? Most translations from English seem to expand the text by 20-30%, in my experience.

Either way, €4000 for a 100Kword novel is in the same ballpark as a German or French publisher's advance for a midlist English-language SF novel.

17:

I'll have to ask, I don't know by heart. It has been a while since I dabbled in translation myself.

18:

Localization usually charges per input word. I'm sure you can see the problem with rates based on output words.
(Translation is also one of those jobs that can be done at home, with flexible part-time hours. Which means more people can do it, which means pay rates go down)

19:

Charlie @10: They'd need a graduate degree in the source language. They really would have to be native speakers of the target language, especially for fiction.

Branko Collin @14: I suspect translation is a highly segmented market with highly variable pay rates depending on the translator's skill. At the high end, novels that need a high degree of skill or nobody's going to enjoy reading the result. A step down from that, diplomatic and legal translations, where the exact meaning has to be conveyed intact. At the low end, user manuals for consumer electronics. There may be a glut of nonfiction translators, but publishers are going to have a list of people whose translations have a track record of producing good sales... and I suspect that list is never very huge.

20:

I'm curious: who are the German sci-fi writers you allude to? I speak German, and although I spent a fair amount of time in the country, it wasn't until more recently that I've become interested in more of the hard stuff.

It's quite a shame that so many barriers to the publication of non-English-language sci-fi in the English-language markets exist. I'm not sure how likely such things would be, but are you aware of any non-commercial or academic presses that publish some of the non-anglophone work that falls between the cracks?

21:

Regarding auto-translation. Now, I'm an strong-AI optimist but I sincerely doubt that this will ever be an issue. The thing is, if your AI can translate fiction so well that it is a reasonable alternative to a human translator you are pretty much morally obliged to give it the right to vote. It's not just getting the gist of things (which machine translation can probably achieve give more time to refine the algorithms) it's getting and adapting jokes, puns, cultural allusions and getting the voice of the author right. I can certainly tell Charlie's writing from that of some other SF author. The ability to do the same is a necessity of any good translation. Doing all this is hard enough for competent humans (the translations of Terry Pratchett into Serbian try their best, they really do, but fail so miserably that they are actively painful to read) let alone algorithms.

I have a question for Charlie: I buy a vast amount of books in English language bookstores that exist in great quantities in Serbia -- what contract covers this? Is it illegal? Extralegal?

22:

Bulgarian advances for foreign language novels are usually $500 or so. I'm curious how much of this reached you after going through the whole chain (if that's not confidential)?

23:

What reaches me of the notional $500 is $500, less the 15% that my agent takes, less any tax withheld by the Bulgarian publisher on behalf of their tax authority. (I haven't had to fill out any Bulgarian certificates of residence or paperwork as yet; possibly $500 is below the minimum threshold.) Then H. M. Revenue and Customs (aka HMRC, formerly the Inland Revenue Service) take my income tax cut. VAT is a special case; in EU countries, as I understand it, sales of rights are liable for VAT, but VAT is collected in the country in which the rights are sold.

VAT aside, some countries pay you the whole of the advance and royalties as long as you file paperwork to say you're a foreign income tax payer (otherwise they withhold 25% or 40% against income tax). Others withhold 40% unless you file the paperwork ... but then hang onto the final 10%. International double taxation arrangements differ, country by country, because it's governed by bilateral treaties; according to HMRC there are about 1200 such treaties, and the UK is signatory to more than 140 of them.

24:

Seriously... as a German SF fan living in Germany, I couldn't name even one German SF author (who is still alive) without consulting Wikipedia first. Their choice of language must impede their success to no end.

I must say I am a bit curious about your English language sales in translating countries. Do authors/publishers have anything to do with that at all?

25:

Thanks for all the detail.

It sounds pretty fair, except for the tax part (which sounds _confusing_ :D). With tiny sums like these, your agent may even be overexerting her/himself... :)

26:

I'm curious if there is any translation involved when you sell English books between the BC and US markets. There are little things like spelling (-ise vs. -ize, -er vs. -re), and perhaps those are mostly automated. But then idioms and such may require human effort. So is there any British-to-US translation, or the reverse? And are you the author involved in that process like you would be with translations to non-English?

27:

Tax treaties are particularly irritating things, even for tax professionals. There's a model OECD one, which most crib the framework from, but there's usually subtle variants from the norm buried in them. The UK-Bulgarian one, for example, has an unusual clause that only UK-residents or Bulgarian nationals can claim the benefit of it. Notice the subtle assymetry, and consider the fun this brings when a UK firm is paying a Canadian expat living in Sofia, to give a real life issue I've had to deal with.

The best advice I can give is, where practical, don't source any income from the US, unlike you like spending hours filling in useless forms.

28:

Japan really loves the "bunko" format for fiction (A6 softcover, nearly always with a dust jacket, with apparent maximum acceptable thickness of 2cm). At home, bookstore shelves usually have a mix of C-size, various trade-ish sizes and hardcovers of varying thickness; in Japan, the visitor will be confronted by shelf upon shelf of bunko format books of nearly identical thickness.

While probably not a very good income source for authors (cover prices are around 450-550 yen, though serialization and splitting are common), this is really a rather convenient format. Pocketable (in a largish coat pocket), fits conveniently into a small bag without bulging and most importantly, can be conveniently held in one hand while standing on a train or waiting for one.

Fiction hardcovers seem more like a collectible item rather than something for casual reading. Hardcover is common for non-fiction, though.

29:

One side note on taxes:

Sometimes things get even more interesting. I just had a consult on a matter in which the EU agent subtracted VAT from payment to a US author... because the EU agent had never had to deal with a non-EU author before, and assumed that VAT therefore applied. In that particular EU country, VAT applies only to intra-EU transactions. I figure the author will see the extra money in about five months or so. And that we'll go through this same exercise in catherding again next year.

And, of course, there's the converse tax issue. The only way to avoid getting taxed by the Infternal Revenue Service (US tax authorities) is to give up your US citizenship and get out of the country. The US — almost uniquely — asserts the right to tax worldwide income of its citizens. Thus, had Sir Arthur been fleeing Birmingham, Alabama instead of Birmingham, England, he still would have been paying the full measure of US income tax (although he'd get a credit for any foreign tax actually paid).

30:

As I recall Switzerland held the world record for requiring the most data in order to extract some money out of them; this was profoundly counter-intuitive, given their views on banks and what to do with them, but worked just fine for them.

There is nothing like a global financial market meltdown for persuading people that the DTAs really do need to be renegotiated...

31:

Thank you, Richard!

Since I'm not familiar with this particular use - what does "source income from a certain country" mean? That the money comes to you while you're resident of the country in question?

32:

@1: Dying didn't seem to do Stieg Larsson's career any harm...

His books are selling, but his literary estate is in dispute between his family and his partner of many years, and there are conflicting accounts as to whether he left an unpublished novel.

See http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2006/10/important-and-pass-it-on.html for Neil Gaiman's comment on what happened to John M Ford's literary estate.

I hope that Charlie will continue to obey rule One for many years, but I also hope that his work will still be available to fans for longer than that.

33:

As to comment #19, I may be wrong (and things might be different in different locations and markets), but I've always thought that the kind of translation work that paid the most were some kinds of technical translation, and that even the fiction translators that command the highest salaries in that field only reach a pay level quite a bit under that.

There was a kind of industrial protest by organised fiction translators here in Norway a few years ago. It was then claimed that translation had slipped behind in the pay scale as compared to other kinds of skilled labour. One of the senior staff of one or the larger publishing companies then commented that fiction translation in most cases couldn't and shouldn't be very well paid, as the people who did it often were enthusiasts, and usually had it as their second job, maybe even saw it as more of a beer money source than a job, anyway. Needless to say, that wasn't the most popular thing he could have said...

34:

I suspect this depends very much on the size of the language market you're translating for. Norwegian isn't, alas, as widely read as German or Spanish, meaning the market is much smaller -- but it almost certainly takes just as long to translate a novel.

35:

David.given #6 - I have several Lem books, although I've only gotten around to reading "The futurological congress". You also prove the point raised by others, in that the person you recommend died in 27th march 2006, and barely wrote any stories after the mide 1980's. I recall reading that Sweden had some good SF authors, and I've an anthology or two made of stories from French authors, but it was written maybe 30 years ago.
So I suppose this helps confirms what Charlie said in his post.

36:

@Charlie Stross, 16, "But is that 4 cents per word of input or output?":

Input.

According to literairvertalen.org that is just for the first X copies of the work sold (where X = 2500), after that you seem to get a percentage. I did not know that.

Re German science fiction: I am still looking for Letzte Tag der Schöpfung by Wolfgang Jeschke which I read and enjoyed in high school. I should probably get it off Amazon one of these days.

37:

@simon: I guess Andreas Eschbach and Frank Schätzing could be named as more or less prominent German SF authors (in the "mass-market literature camouflage"), and I would also include Marcus Hammerschmitt as someone who has a bit to show in the field of German SF. But in a way, I still agree: since I started reading English language SF untranslated, my knowledge of the German field fastly became incoherent, outdated and hazy, because the number of really good German language SF authors (compared to the English language authors) tends to move in the direction of zero.

Maybe with Fantasy it's a bit different (Walter Moers, Cornelia Funke, ...), but that's not the genre I really like.

38:

Oh, and another thing I started to see as soon as I started to read English language SF in the original works (much easier with amazon & co todays) and not in translation any more: the German translations even in the big Heyne brand often were not really good. I remember wondering about some nonsense in the translation of Kim Stanley Robinsons Red Mars - and only with reading the sequels in English and with a bit of knowledge in the field I decoded the nonsense as something that in the original referred to terms of cognitive psychology.

39:

Do you have any numbers of readers who read the english version although english is not their first language. i do, just prefer it that way and i also do not have to wait for a translation (if there will ever be one)

40:

If you want to know the reason why Russia and China are big on sci fi, it's simple: communism.

In the world of social realism, the only way you could criticise the government was through masking the criticism in fantasy. To this day the greatest Russian sci fi novels can be read both as science fiction stories and as stealth criticisms of the communist system.

So sci fi has really good street cred in the old Soviet block (including my motherland, Poland, though it's lately being ousted by adoloscetent fantasy. I blame you, America!).

41:

Speaking as a translator, although for a minuscule language, complex technical translations pay best, followed by political documents and other high-end legal docs. Then legal docs of lower importance, manuals and other simpler tech stuff, and then literary translation, which has a range of its own, depending not only on the complexity of the work, but also on the reputation of the original author. If you're hired to translate a Dickens novel, you'll usually get better pay than if you translated a book written by our gracious host, although Dickens is actually a lot easier to translate.

And the poor quality of the translations that appear in commercial fiction is often due to one of two factors: publishers tend to offer fees that are too low for really good translators to take up the work, and/or pressure translators into working too fast. (This is most often the case with best-sellers and media tie-ins, where timing can influence the sales of the translation.)

Oh, and to whoever asked: if your contract is per word or per page, the count refers to the output, not the input length -- that's what the translator produces, after all.

42:

I am still curious about who have the rights to sell the English version of an ebook in a non-English speaking country. Especially a country is outside the commonwealth (I did not find the answer in the blog entry text).

The reason I wonder is that I suspect that the technical solutions to geographical restrictons sorts away more countries then are necessary for a contractual point of view.

43:

Publishers quite often employ "Americanisers" to convert from UK to US usage; only a small part of the job can easily be automated (although some people - mostly USAians, in my experience - will insist that there aren't significant non-spelling differences). I'm not aware of anyone paid to work the reverse conversion, but there are several possible explanations for that.

44:

Actually, Australia's population alone would be 21 million.

The kiwis would add another 4 or so. Unless there's a secret plot in your next book to get rid of 'em all? :)

45:

Charlie, do you ever sell Korean rights? I don't know much about the Korean SF scene, but there seems to be one, and they certainly are a highly wired and literate society.

It's one of those oddities to the Anglophone world. None of us pays attention to Korean media, until you realize that many of the popular Asian soap operas are filmed in Korea. Or until something weird like Dragon Wars shows up in our cinemas.

I have a number of Korean-American friends, which is why I was thinking about the topic. None of them read much SF, but I'm working on it.

46:

While most of the Euro markets will only ever give you a small advance and a few author's copies, generally it is money for jam. The book is already written and there is little to no further input required from the author. The general rule of thumb is that once you have sold a book into the US and UK markets there is a good chance that the German publishers will buy it too. The German market can be a hell of a lot more than just beer money. It seems unlikely that a translated book could be a best seller in Germany and a dud elsewhere, but if that were to happen then an author could live happily on German sales alone. (By best seller I don't mean Harry Potter or Twilight, just something that might poke its head into the Top 10 on release and then sell steadily).

47:
Publishers quite often employ "Americanisers" to convert from UK to US usage; only a small part of the job can easily be automated (although some people - mostly USAians, in my experience - will insist that there aren't significant non-spelling differences).

Basic spelling changes are fine with me (-ise vs -ize surprises me every time, and I just don't like -re instead of -er (metre, meter, etc). But I wish they would leave the rest alone - the phase and word differences make it better, IMO, especially if the book is set in Britain. British people speaking "American" just seems weird.

I think it was in one or more (but not all) of the Harry Potter books that I encountered a large amount of Americanization that really stood out (some of the books not having it accentuated it as well). Only one slang phase in those books threw me for a second, and that was still easy enough to figure out from context. Heck, even the substitution of "Sorcerer's Stone" for "Philosopher's Stone" seems rather silly.

48:

"fantasy, I'm told by a friendly Italian translator, is associated with the neofascist right"

Me and your friend must live in two different Italies! ;)

We are a small market, it's true, filled with every-kind-of-fantasy (most is for young adults), but I wouldn't describe our "market" as you - or your friend - did! :)

Cheers!
Roberto, from Italy

49:

The subject of translations is a vivid illustration of one the major problems publishing currently has. Namely, that a publisher can change certain aspects of an authors work without an authors control, and will quite deliberately do so if they think it will increase sales, even if it's at the expense of the work of art the author has created. I am a German national but absolutely refuse to read any English books in their German translation, because more than 90% (IME) are absolutely terrible.This gets worse the more recent the work/translation is.

A prime example of this is the German edition of "The Lord of the Rings". That's actually one of the only Fantasy/Sci-Fi books I originally read, and loved, in German. The translation I read was by Margaret Carroux, done 1969, and it almost perfectly captured the spirit of the book. No problems so far. Recently, I wanted to introduce this book to someone whose English isn't very good and I bought them a new version of the German copy. After handing it over, I thumbed through it in reminiscence of my first read, and was first bewildered, then mystified and finally disgusted to find that the publisher had redone the translation and completely spoiled the book. As an example, Sam calling Frodo "Master Frodo" is now translated simply with the word "Chef" (which in German means "boss"), making their dialogue sound like something from the Sopranos at times.

The background to all this is that apparently someone at the German publishers office considered the original translation to be too "ancient" and dowdy, not suitable for modern audiences. And that's not entirely wrong, Carroux's version creaks at the edges but so does the English original, LotR isn't exactly known for its up-to-date slang talk. Anyway, with the release of the Peter Jackson movies coming up, the publisher decided they'd lose sales if movie fans couldn't find anything more accessible and decided to have a new translation done, with aforementioned horrific results.

So here we have one of the best-selling fiction titles of all times, and a German publisher completely ruins it with a unilateral decision, just to make a few bucks. Other examples of more modern titles abound (recently had the misfortune of thumbing through the German versions of Steven Brusts "Jhereg" and Iain Banks' "Consider Phlebas", blech blech blech). It's not that a proper translation is impossible, it's just not worth it for your standard Sci-Fi/Fantasy publishing outfit over here. (Disclaimer: I've only read Our Gracious Hosts books in English, so no idea about the quality of their translation).

50:

Well I guess the rates really do change brutally depending on your market - I am in an environment similar (if not the same, judging by the name) as Milena - top bucks for complex tech stuff (and praise be Jebus for that, since I am a techie who moved into translation), and peanuts for most fiction, with the lowest rates being for movie subtitle translators who are often students with little to no experience or familiarity with the culture (and therefore frequently producing some very amusing mistranslations) who are promised peanuts for their work and then to add insult to injury, get screwed out of even that.

The problem with this (other than the fact that, consequently, I don't or rarely work as a translator for fiction) is that translations, for the most, are crappy, even with people who could do better, but simply don't have the time or will to expend that much time and effort (have to put bread on the table, etc.) with notable exceptions - and here I'd respectfully disagree with Veljko, Pratchett translations into Serbian occasionally reach moments of sheer translatory brilliance ("Ne budali Dijamando mlada...")

51:

Incidentally, for those interested in the mechanics and difficulties of translation, Umberto Eco wrote a book of excellent essays on the subject, published in the UK as "Mouse or Rat". (As someone who is simultaneously a published author whose work been translated into several languages, a translator of other people's work into his own language, and a respected professor of semiotics, he's in a position to provide an unusually wide-ranging viewpoint.)

52:

"But I wish they would leave the rest alone - the phase and word differences make it better, IMO, especially if the book is set in Britain. British people speaking "American" just seems weird."

I do think a lot of fiction would be better left alone, yes; US publishers seem (like US TV companies) to have very little respect for the intellect of the US audience - the thought seems to be "this phrase will be unfamiliar and confuse them". (And as you say, the change from "Philosopher's Stone" to "Sorcerer's Stone" was particularly egregious.) I have more time for the practice in non-fiction (which is where I've mostly worked as both writer and editor), although even there I'd rather have someone work with the author to produce a version that's unambiguous in both dialects.

53:

On Americanisation of British texts ...

My primary market is American, and under the arrangement by which I sell my SF novels the American publisher undertakes the copy editing.

American readers seem, in general, to be less able to adapt to trans-Atlantic idiom and spelling than British readers. So we generally copy-edit my books for American spelling and usage. And my British publishers don't bother translating them back. (If for no other reason than I produce somewhat trans-Atlantic prose in the first place. I've had the mental "s/z" switch installed.)

However, there are two major exceptions where I'm willing to go to the mattress over British vs. American usage. The first is in dialogue by British characters. British colloquial usage and grammar are spoken by Brits, and I'm not going to mangle their linguistic traits in the name of editorial consistency (although I'll let them mess with the spelling).

And the second place I insist on British usage is in books set in the UK -- it's a courgette, not a zuccini, and those are trams, not streetcars, and lifts, not elevators. (Except when a British character is using American usage. Which happens quite a lot: cultural purity is a canard, and a whole bundle of our cable TV channels and cinema releases are imports.)

54:

Korean rights: that's one of the markets I haven't broken into yet.

Oh yes, apropos English language rights in Europe: the EU is a free trade zone, so presumably the first English language publisher within the EU to gain the right to publish can distribute their English-language editions anywhere in the EU, regardless of any clauses in the contract to the contrary.

(Shuffles over to filing cabinet ...)

Hmm. I just dug out the contract from Little, Brown (aka Orbit) for "Halting State", which is a 2007 document. It lists (a) a bunch of territories in which Orbit have the exclusive right to publish the book in the English language (the UK, Ireland, Pitcairn Island, the Falklands ...), (b) specifies territories in which they don't have the right to publish the book (the USA and Canada appear on this rather shorter list), and (c) stipulates that the rest of the world is "non-exclusive", i.e. anyone can sell there. And large chunks of the EU fall into the non-exclusive territories! I probably ought to check something more recent like the contract for "Wireless", "The Fuller Memmorandum" and "Rule 34" ... but it might be worth talking to my agent about this. It's common practice for bookstores in Germany, the Netherlands, and elsewhere in the EU to stock English language editions imported from the USA; if they're imported legally into $OTHER_EU_MEMBER_STATE they can't legally be excluded from movement into the UK. Hmm indeed.

55:

So... there's no default provision for English-language ebook sales in non-English-language countries? Is the barrier there the tax issue (too much hassle for too little in the way of returns)?

On the face of it, at least, it looks like it should be an easy enough addition to the existing contract terms. But at the consumer end it seems that there's no provision even to buy (premium-priced!) British ebook editions, even from within the EU. Not by default, anyway. It seems like bad long-tail economics...

56:

"if they're imported legally into $OTHER_EU_MEMBER_STATE they can't legally be excluded from movement into the UK."

Not even on the basis of copyright law?

57:

Korean SF market: I am a Korean, and I buy almost all SF translations publised in Korea. It's a small market: I heard that for average SF titles 3,000 to 5,000 copies are sold.

There is one publisher specializing in SF translation (Happy SF), two SF imprints of major publishing house (Gryphon Books and Omelas), a publisher publishing "slipstream" including some SF (Open Books), etc. French SF author Bernard Werber regularly hits best seller list. (I think in large part due to a very, very good translator.) Ted Chiang was successful (mainly because it was marketed to mainstream readers, I think). Neal Stephenson has a following. Hitchhiker's Guide got translated thanks to movies, but was successful on its own. Etc.

58:

For Our Host: I think Halting State could be big in Korea. (We are crazy about MMORPGs.)

On the other hand, today's headline was about parents who starved 3 months old daughter to death, who was addicted to playing MMORPG Prius Online which includes growing your virtual child companion as a content. Although outrageous, such news is not particularly unusual, and SF involving virtual words risks being outdated by reality.

59:

OK, so Charlie has not sold his 'master resell rights' to anyone.

Not even to an 'authorized ebook reseller'.

Even if someone on Ebay says he has.

Well, not Charlie but Nora Roberts:

'Attention eBay Staff: The item is in the public domain snd/or I am an authorized reseller of this product and also the copyright holder or I have resale rights to this eBook or item. Full Resell Rights are granted by the copyright owners to sell these e-Books with resell rights or master resell rights granted! This ad complies with all eBay rules and regulations.The works on this disc(s) are owned by me, the seller, In accordance with trading standards and policy of recordable media. I claim ownership and rights to this and I am legally authorized to replicate the content without permission or licensing. This listing complies with all eBay rules and regulations. Proof of resell rights is available upon request. No trademarks, copyrights. or eBay rules have been violated in this listing. This product fully conforms with eBay compilation and international media policy'

The CD being flogged for $9.99 had 205 of Nora Roberts' books as pdf files.

60:

Stevie: I wouldn't like to be in that eBay seller's shoes when Nora Roberts' publisher's lawyers find out who they are!

(Some people will sell anything legal or not -- I am informed that someone actually took warez copies of Stephenie Meye's "Twilight" books, all of them, wrapped them in an ebook reader app, and tried to sell them through the Apple App Store to iPhone users!)

61:
[...]there's people who claim to be happier to listen to the cheap auto-voiced reading of a cheap unedited eBook than to buy an expensive Fry-voiced audiobook based on a lovingly edited print edition[...]

I call "straw man" on this one. Only a stunted turnip would prefer *listening* to the output of a text-to-speech app over that of a "proper" audiobook. It would be more correct to say that people are happier to *not pay* for such a thing. Since such an option already exists--bittorrent, anyone?--any loss of sale is already reflected in a publisher's revenues and the royalty checks the author gets.

Plus, this is actually a straw man balancing on top of another straw man, as there seems to be general agreement that auto-translation will probably produce un-literary results for fiction in general and SFnal text in particular. So current, state-of-the-art computing would likely generate a poor to nonsensical translation that will then be converted to a voice that may or may not sound like a bad Dalek imitation. In ungrammatical Bulgarian. Wait, I might *pay* for that! :-)

And it may be straw men all the way down, since this posits an accurate source text in electronic form, which wouldn't be officially available with the first, dead-tree edition. In that case, we'll need the anarchist book nerd who has bought the hardback and then spent anywhere from one to five hours scanning the book in, then copy editing *that* text, before uploading the results to torrent country.

62:

that's .. weird. You mean people actually torrent books? It never occured to me to look for books on torrent sites .. I mean bittorrent for a file of a few hundred kilobytes? srsly? Or do they just do "all books by author X" torrents?

63:

I'd seen similar numbers for the Korean market, and it's nice to see them confirmed.

That said, the Korean SF market seems to be growing, so there's the question about whether it's a fringe market or a ground-floor opportunity to build a new audience.

64:

Look around for torrents and you will trip over "My favorite 5000 SF novels" every five seconds. Or torrents of 500Mb audiobooks.

65:

I take it that personal imports are ok legally? Most of my Stross books are US editions, since they were typically published sooner, cheaper - at least in the good old (not for authors earning dollars and paying the bills in pounds, mind you) 2 bucks to the pound days - and most importantly, much nicer books; better paper, typesetting etc. British books seem very poor by comparison - I've a 13 year old UK copy of Banks' Excession here with paper so stiff and yellowed I'm not sure it'd stand up to a re-read. Prestige editions may be different - the one Sub Press book I have is nowhere near the standards of the Folio Soc, for example, but it would be interesting to read your comments on the physical book, while we still have them.

66:

Your personal imports are indeed okay -- because you presumably paid for them in the licensed territory. (Nor is anyone going to go after punters for buying grey-market imports.)

67:

re physical books: I generally find american paperbacks to at least seem more durable than british ones (which feel very floppy), but OTOH I like the form-factor of the british hardcovers better than the american ones. Which is why I mostly go for the Orbit hardcovers of our esteemed hosts books. They're a bit smaller and a bit more chunky, kindof feel nicer in the hand. Note, though, that in the case of Terry Pratchett, whose works I mostly own in the paperback form-factor (except for the few newest ones), I only have one american paperback and all others are british, but they're a different publisher (corgi?) than our esteemed hosts (orbit, right?). The Corgi ones seem fine, so maybe it isn't a case of british vs us but rather of one publisher using a different printing outfit than the other (and different paper and so forth).

The best books EVAR (on my shelf at least) would be
a) the Stephensons I have (the rough-cut hardcovers of Cryptonomicon, the Baroque Cycle and Anathem), simply because they look so extremely cool
b) the Golde Gryphon hardcovers of the first two Laundry novels. They're just a perfect combination of size, weight and feel-in-the-hand.

68:

Torrents are usually large collections. Single books (or small collection - trilogies, etc.) are often shared on image boards by putting the book in a rar or zip and embedding it in an image (often a picture of the book cover). 'cat book.rar >> image.jpg'. Image viewers ignore the rar at the end, while the decompression programs ignore the image at the beginning.

69:

Er hang on Charlie, the Commonwealth surely is a much much larger market than the USA; India is a very very populous nation, after all?

Or is India a special case?

70:

I'd imagine India is considerably smaller if you only consider people with the income to regularly spend $7-$20 on books.

71:

More re: physical books: I found exactly the opposite: in my experience, (some) American printed books are much worse printed than British ones. The paper is thinner, and apparently smoother and less ink-absorbing, since you can routinely smear the ink just by wiping a thumb across the page. I presume it also depends on how long ago the book was printed. I checked it again just now with a Tor edition of The Jennifer Morgue (from amazon.de) (apparently printed a while ago since it didn't smear much, but it did smear). Although, an Orbit edition of Glasshouse (from Foyle's in London) also had it somewhat. On these books the texture of the paper didn't differ as much as I have seen on some occasions.

72:

I'd imagine India is considerably smaller if you only consider people with the income to regularly spend $7-$20 on books.

Well yeah. But even a small percentage of a sixth of the Earth's population is pretty big (let us say one in hundred Indians so qualifies: that is still hundreds of thousands. I wonder if India is different from the ANZAC/Saffa nations in some legal way?)

73:

India has a huge english-language publishing market. UK hardbacks (say, the last Harry Potter) will be available from street sellers within days of the book being published in the UK. I suspect no-one except the printer and seller see anything from them. You can often see where the page was badly photographed/scanned from the original text.

Books through the legitimate publisher turn up as well. I have the large-format paperback of James Barclay's "Shout For the Dead" purchased in an "Oxford Bookstore" in Mumbai. It says "Printed in GB" inside, has printed on the book back cover (under the word GOLLNCZ) £7.99, a price sticker saying "Media Star £4.50 18 Dec 2007" and the Oxford Bookstore label says "mrp UK 4.5 (Rs 380 Appx)"

I paid 380 Rupees, about £4.50 for it.

Exactly how that particular distribution chain works boggles my mind...

74:

@38:

I still can't decide whether translating fly-by-wire as "Drahtflugsystem"(*) or translating a passage that explained that "Krummholz is a German word meaning crooked wood"(**) into German was the worst part of the German Edition of Red Mars ...

(*) Fly-by-wire is actually in common use in German. The translation basically turns the meaning on its head. I understood it as flying through the use of wires (attached to wings or engines or whatever to pull them into the correct position).

(**) which makes about as much sense as saying that redwood is an English word meaning red wood ...

75:

@74: Don't get me started about translating scientific terms among languages. I know someone who was doing a Spanish/English gardening guide (you know, so a Californian can talk to her mexican gardener?) and they found out some fun things, like the fact that in Spanish, the same word is used for mulch and manure.

BTW, what do Germans (and Swiss) call krummholz? I always liked the term, but I've never known whether it's a true German term, or an English neologism dreamed up by an alpine ecologist.

As for translating it, do you get penalized if you leave such sentences out of the translation?

76:

Only a stunted turnip would prefer *listening* to the output of a text-to-speech app over that of a "proper" audiobook.

Or, perhaps, the blind.

I know someone who understands what she hears better than what she reads. I'm exactly the opposite -- I'll start daydreaming within about five minutes of having to listen.

77:

tp1024, Fly-by-wire = commands sent to the motors that actually move the control surfaces etc via electronic signals carried by wire. As opposed to using the physical movement of cables (attached to control column, throttle etc) to activate the motors (or directly move things on smaller aircraft).
What's the literal translation of the German for FBW?

78:

@61 - that last strawman is in fact made of flesh and blood. Don't underestimate the number of idle nerds gunning for reputation among peers, lest ye be surprised by the speed with which certain books end up floating about in electronic form. Not as torrents, though, but IRC is a regular treasure trove for the morally and/or geographically challenged among us.

79:

That particularly awful translation was a major commercial failure. The publisher got lambasted all over the feuilletons, there was a major protest by readers, and the books didn't fly on the market. The publisher had to scramble to revert to the "good old" translation as soon as the supply chain could be turned around to avoid the loss of movie-related windfall. But since several editions with the new translation made it of the presses (including a totally inane second try dot make the new translation fly some two years later, gosh, I hope the guy/gal responsible for that isn't in publishing anymore after trying to ride that dead horse) you have to check every german LOTR edition you want to buy beforehand. Considering that Tolkien did play a lot with language and created his own internally consistent "tongues" the drive to "modernise" LOTR was particularly insensitive.

Though I myelf are also in the camp that doesn't read translations of english works any more. That said I myself also read LOTR first in the beautiful "old" translation.

80:

@75: I don't know if Krummholz is the official term in German. In fact, I only know Krummholz areas as consisting mostly of pine, in which case they are called "Krüppelkiefern" - crippled pine. I'm not a specialist there either ...

@77: I knew what fly-by-wire was, but I couldn't trace back the original meaning from the shoddy translation, until one day my English was good enough to read novels.

(As a side-note: On average I had no clue about the meaning of 2 or 3 words per page back then. Just a bit later I read Eragon and the count dropped to one unknown word on two pages on average. No surprise there. Building vocabulary takes time, mother-tongue or not. But I still admire Paolini just for managing to finish that book at his young age, no matter how much help he had.)

81:

As someone was wondering about the rights for english editions in non english speaking countries, this is my experience. I work for a large bookstore in Italy and our policies for english language acquisitions are that customers may order either british or american editions as we can legally import both. But we are contractually forbidden by the american distributors to sell US books in the UK (not the contrary though, but in the UK we mostly buy directly from the publishers). We are now working on an ebooks website and the rules are much more complex. We are required to check the credit card billing address of the customer and we have huge list of sell/don'sell countries for every title.

82:

Charlie, your comments about foreign taxes makes me nervous. I sold Russian and French rights recently, and now I'm wondering if I should move to a tax accountant.

Do you use one?

83:

For those who doubt that an author can be more successful when translated than in his mother tongue, check out William Wharton's page on Wikipedia: he was so successful in Poland, that some of his books appeared only in Polish.

And literary translations are a very mixed bunch, exactly for the reasons already outlined, but there are indeed some gems (the Polish translations of Pratchett and Akunin come to mind).

Oh, and Tolkien has good and bad translation in all of the languages I know (except English, ofcoz): Polish, German, Spanish, you name it.

It's entertaining to have a copy of the best and worst, by the way: sometimes you can use a laugh and the errors are very educational for a translator.

84:

My take: here I am in Hungary, a market of roughly 10 million people. I've been translating mostly boring crap for 15 years, which has been sufficient so far to make a living. I'd love to try my hand at fiction, if nothing else, as a diversion, but I find that this is impossible for me: fiction pays less than half as much as the lowest-paid work I am willing to take on. It seems the people who translate fiction are practically all enthusiasts who can afford to do so. In the high literary end of the market, they are authors or university people with jobs that give them leisure to indulge in their kudos-building hobby... at the genre end, they are single (while I have kids), enthusiastic and hence willing to work for peanuts. As a result, the translations of the SF I like (OGH, Stephenson, Gibson, Dick, Sterling, Vinge) vary a great deal in quality from pretty neat to downright annoying. This has led to several disappointing experiences when I was finally able to give books I had ranted a lot about to non-English-speaking friends, only to find that the translation was so poor I didn't really want to.

A pity, that.

An aside to translators: Here in Hungary, we get paid by the character, not the word, but the pressure is increasing to count words instead, like they do in most of the EU and in the States. But Hungary is an agglutinative language, so the Hun word-count is bound to be lower as pronouns, prepositions, etc. are all swallowed up by their "parent" words... what a subtle form of cultural imperialism, ha?

85:

Regarding the Italian connection between fantasy and extreme right, the reality is somewhat different from what your translator told you. At present times there is no connection whatsoever: bookstores are full of fantasy and - sadly- vampire themed books targeted to youngsters who don't give a damn about politics. that connection was true in the seventies and in the eighties when the young neofascists, fascinated by german, nordic and celtic epics, usurpated the Lord of the Rings that, at the time, was more or less the only fantasy around in Italy. Actually the far right organized some happening called "Campo Hobbit" that where a sort of fascist Woodstock. I'm old enough, 40, to have lived the end of that period and it was quite stupid if you think about it: even when I was fourteen I understood that the message of LOTR have nothing to do with fascism, actually is in my opinion the opposite.

86:

Quite. Because it's illegal to display the Swasitika in contemporary Germany, for obvious reasons, the AH fan club took to dressing themselves in Celtic crosses.

They'll nick anything that's not nailed down, in other words.

87:

This comment is actually in reference to CMAP #3 (on which it appears to me comments are closed), as I haven't yet read this one. But something about some of the figures quoted there piqued my interest. Although I know my numbers will be inaccurate since royalty payments are pretty complex (as pointed out in that post), but a quick calculation suggests that in the general range of sales figures you quoted for a typical book, a typical writer would be making around $20 to $30-ish thousand, maybe around $40 for a somewhat above-average book. (Not sure about Pounds conversion, at the moment.) That strikes me as not quite sufficient for a sustainable income.

I get that figure by doing a rough calculation of royalties on about 5,000 to 10,000 (on the top-side) Hardcover sales and another 20,000 to 30,000 Mass Market PBs, based on some of the numbers you cited in CMAP#3 (rounded off for convenience).

So, my question is... what am I missing? How do you writers do it? I mean, assuming you're not Ms. Rowling or Ms. Meyers or the like, of course (for whom the sales figures above are obviously inaccurate).

88:

Echoing what others have said, fiction translation pays badly compared to technical, legal or other non-fiction translation, even in the big German market.

You can make a living translating fiction (and I know literary translators who do), but it depends on a lot of factors, e.g. whether the language you translate from is in demand, but not too common (literary translators from Scandinavian languages tend to do quite well, given the Scandinavian crime fiction boom of recent years), or how well the books/authors you translate sell. But even translating a highly prestigious author can pay peanuts. One figure I've heard is 20 Euros for a page of Salman Rushdie. A page of a random technical manual can pay a lot more than that and is usually easier if you know the subject. If I get a project from a regular customer (I'm a bit unusual, since most of my business comes directly from regular customers rather than via a translation agency), I can often work straight through without a lot deliberation time, because I know the usual products in and out. Plus, I don't have to worry about matching the original author's voice and style (which for tech texts is often horrible anyway - I frequently get texts riddled with grammar errors and the like).

Film subtitling can pay quite decently, even though Germany is a dubbing country and subtitles are mostly needed only for DVD releases and art house films. Not surprisingly, the DVD release of a Hollywood blockbuster or a TV-show boxset pays better than an art house film. I did the latter once, filling in for another translator, and the pay was crap and months late. Meanwhile, a colleague used to do quite well with DVD subtitles, though he recently switched to videogames, because those pay even better.

89:

Living in Australia, it's always interesting to hear about international publishing rights because when I think about my own purchasing habits, probably only 50% of them would register as Australian sales as far as publishing rights. The other 50% would go down as originating from the UK, because over here we get reasonably screwed on book prices and it's significantly cheaper to order them from the UK (even though I do feel conflicted, wanting to support local bookshops).

I can only see that sort of occurrence increasing in the future, certainly I'd be happier if it moved to a less segregated rights market, at the moment ebook rights are a real pain when certain titles aren't available to Australian buyers but are to those in the US. I understand the issues, but it's a frustration to those who just want to buy a particular product that's "available", but can't.

90:

Coming late to the discussion. Your agent was smart to have a minimum royalty per copy, no matter how deep the discounted selling price--was that 5% of list price? You discussed this back in an earlier installment.
Our publisher (engineering book, USA) pulled a fast one on us when they did a co-publishing deal with a UK technical publisher. The UK publisher bought 500 copies at once with a different cover and title/copyright page for, iirc, 15% of list price...and our royalty on those 500 copies was also 15% of what we would have received on list price sales.
Our next contract obviously covered this loophole.
I believe this issue has been litigated in some markets. For example, US and Canadian publishers were co-publishing books from each other, which very effectively reduced the total payout of royalties to authors.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on March 4, 2010 11:13 AM.

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