Your work and international markets
“My work will have broad appeal in Europe.”
“China is a growing market and I think they’d love my book.”
“I’d like to see a Spanish-language version of my textbook. It would be a hit.”
“I know someone who can translate my book into Japanese. Should they get started?”
As a Book Publisher and later a Publishing Consultant, I have heard countless authors speculate on the market for their book outside of the English-language and/or North America. But what is involved with having your work reach Asia, Africa, Europe, and beyond?
Let’s first look at some basic terms. Most authors sign a book contract with the idea of having the work published in English in the US. But the majority of publishers secure all rights, worldwide, and in any language or format. Assuming this is the case for you, how can people get your book outside the US and in their native tongue?
First, your publisher may make the English language paper book available through a distribution agreement with a local book distributor or publisher, in let’s say, France or Japan or Brazil. They in turn sell it locally. Of course, companies like Amazon, either through a regional version of the website (Amazon Germany) or customers using the US site, could buy your original book and have it shipped to them.
Your publisher might also create an eBook and make it directly available outside the US or through local or regional eBook platform or resellers. This version would be in English.
Publisher pursued translation
The publisher might also pursue a translated version of the original work (Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Japanese for example). The publisher will start with contacting directly or through an agent, a publisher in that region that specializes in that area of publishing (trade or mass market, medical, legal, etc.). The country counterpart will review the book description, market, sales figures, etc. and then might request a sample print or electronic copy. They then might review (or ask their industry contacts) to determine if it would find a place in that region of the world. If the publisher in that region wants to proceed, they would sign a contract to translate your work into their local language, have it typeset locally, and then publish a paper or eBook in their markets.
The payment for such an arrangement may be a one-time lump sum, a royalty, or both. The publisher would take a cut and the author would receive the balance. The author and the US/English-language publisher may put some conditions on the publication, but by-and-large the regional publisher is in the driver seat since they know the market and the language. The author should receive a copy of the paper book, a proud day for any author. If the author has contacts in that area or will be speaking there, it is vital to let that regional publisher know (via the original publisher).
Expect little in regard to actual payment and royalty, and at most, you will be pleasantly surprised. These payments are usually icing on the cake versus equal to your English-language sales. For many areas, publishing is less affluent at lower price points. And the money is shared between more players.
Finding someone to translate your work
Having a person/colleague volunteer to translate your work is not the normal route to having this happen. You need to have that regional publisher interested in it as a commercial venture. Most times the publisher finds their own translator, one they know the quality of their work. What is helpful is to have a well-known figure in that region write a letter of endorsement for the work and its applicability or interest in that area. These letters will provide powerful persuasion to a publisher to consider translating and publishing your work.
A side note, large publishers may have regional/affiliate offices (think Elsevier China) that might independently consider publishing a translated version. It is not a given, but they would go through the same process.
I published a clinical medical book in six editions with impressive sales (and royalties) over a twenty-year period. The book was translated into six different languages during that time. The author was most proud of his work reaching China, Brazil, Germany, South America, and beyond more than his US sales. I hope your work can have a similar global reach.
John Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting. He works with individuals on publishing and writing projects. Schedule an initial complimentary phone call at Publishing Fundamentals. In his career, he has directed the publishing of over 500 book titles and 20,000 journal articles. He is the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.