I specialise and lecture in creative translation and have also made the crossover to becoming a published author. As a result, I am often asked for advice on how break into the Creative Industries. This is the first in a series of 3 posts on translating books, films and songs along with key information for those looking to move into these industries as original authors, screenplay writers and lyricists. I hope it proves useful for all those aspiring creatives out there.
This first post focuses on books – their translation and also getting your own published.
1) BOOK TRANSLATION
KNOW YOUR GENRE
If translating books is what you’re interested in, then the first thing to decide is what kind of books. A book on social-psychology requires entirely different skills and knowledge to translating a fast-paced thriller. Know what you love, make sure you read a lot of it in your target language already, and then focus on that.
GET SOME EXPERIENCE
No matter how little (even if only a few paragraphs), you need to have some kind of experience/evidence to show people that you are a capable book translator. Unfortunately, there aren’t many authors or publishers who want to entrust a book translation to someone who has never done it before. One place where you can cut your teeth is http://www.babelcube.com/ . This website allows you to sign up and offer to translate books (for free), with a share in the royalties of any sales of your translation.
NETWORK WITH INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS
Authors themselves can choose translators when a book is self-published, so you can contact them directly. (If you can’t find their contact details online, contact one of their self-publishing companies or online stories and ask if a message can be passed on containing your own contact details). For traditionally published books, however, publishers, literary agents and foreign rights are the people who employ book translators. A simple Google search on the topic is invaluable to learn more about the process and to find out who might be looking for translators (any publisher or literary agent with a ‘foreign rights’ department should be your first port of call). In brief, translations can be organised either by a) translators making a targeted approach and saying ‘I’d like to translate this book for this reason’ or b) publishers and literary agents thinking a certain book is well-suited to a new market, and thus selling the foreign rights via a foreign rights agent and requiring a translation.
If you want to find out more about how to get paid book translation work (i.e. work where you are paid some kind of fee rather than just a share of royalties), then I would highly recommend visiting one of the many national book fairs held worldwide. For example, London Book Fair (http://www.londonbookfair.co.uk/) in the spring, Beijing Book Fair (http://www.bibf.net/en/) in late summer and Frankfurt Book Fair (https://www.buchmesse.de/en/fbf/) in the autumn.
At these events you are surrounded by publishers and agents. It pays to arrange meetings beforehand as everyone goes there specifically to buy and sell book rights and their diaries are always very full. There are very useful seminars on book translation and associated topics, where you can meet fellow book translators and industry experts, exchanging notes and contacts. Catalogues of publishers/literary and foreign rights agents who require translators can sometimes be obtained at these events as well, which can be a huge time-saver.
BE PREPARED TO COMPETE
As and when you are first offered the opportunity to translate a book (for a share of royalties and/or a fee), it is quite common for a number of translators to be ‘tested’ simultaneously at the outset. This involves translating anything from a few paragraphs to a chapter of a book so that the author and/or publisher can make an informed choice. This work is often unpaid, with the ‘winning’ translator then being paid for their work in retrospect. As in all the creative industries, competition is extremely stiff so you need to be prepared to evidence your talent when you are starting out.
After you have translated at least one book, you are in a much better position to negotiate payment for any test. Providing samples of your previous work may even make completing a test unnecessary. Once you’re really established, you will tend to be approached by authors/publishers more. You need to have a name as a book translator before you’re really in the driving seat when it comes to obtaining book translation projects.
2) GETTING YOUR OWN BOOK PUBLISHED
Self-publishing has become a huge industry over the last decade, the result being anyone who wants to write and get their writing out there is now free to do so, at very little cost/risk. Here are some tips I’ve picked up in the last 6 years.
GET MAXIMUM EXPOSURE FOR MINIMUM EFFORT
Whether you choose to publish ‘print-on-demand’ hard copies or ‘e-books’, or both, you want to find a self-publishing company that distributes to as many online stores as possible. E-books tend to be the cheapest option but demand for print books continues to rise (it increased by 7% globally in 2017, according to Nielsen in its annual books and consumer survey, whilst e-book sales dropped by 4%). After lots of trial and error, including self-publishing through renowned companies such as lulu.com (https://www.lulu.com/) and Kindle Direct Publishing (https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/) – and there are many others, such as CreateSpace, Book Baby and Kobo – I was fortunate enough to come across PublishDrive (https://publishdrive.com/). They’re relatively new to the industry but making huge waves and in my experience, they provide the best service out there. It’s free to publish with them, if you format your books according to their requirements, and they take a flat 10% cut of your digital list price. If you need your book formatted or converted, they charge a very reasonable one-off fee (fees vary among self-publishing companies for this task but they all offer this option). PublishDrive distribute to the greatest number of online stores. They also offer up a huge number of language possibilities (whilst Amazon Kindle, for example, still doesn’t support many major world languages, including Chinese!)
GET USED TO MARKETING YOURSELF
The reality in the new digital world is that it isn’t now just quality which sells, it’s your brand. So, you need to have a USP, whatever your book, and you need to advertise what that is on social media – or pay someone else to do it for you. Having a profile as an author is vital for book sales.
One of the best ways to work out how to market yourself is to have a look at what other authors are doing via their social media channels – to get some inspiration – and then…DO NOT DO THE SAME THING! 🙂 You’re a creative, so copying another, more established, creative is unlikely to get you very far. It certainly won’t hone your creative skills. But you can always take other people’s ideas and give them a new twist or just come up with something that you’ve noticed other people aren’t doing.
BE PART OF A COMMUNITY
Getting together with other self-published authors can be extremely helpful for learning more about how to optimise your book’s sales potential. The Alliance of Independent Authors (https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/) is a great international organisation for this purpose. There are also lots of Facebook groups around as well.
BE A GREAT WRITER!
Unlike with self-publishing, when you are looking to have your book published via the traditional route, the quality of your writing is everything. You will be competing against the best of the best and therefore being exceptional at your craft (within your preferred genre) as well as coming up with ingenious new ideas is what matters. So, get plenty of practice and lots of feedback (preferably from other published writers or publishers themselves.)
JOIN A PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION
There are a number of these out there for writers and they can be hugely beneficial for support, advice and finding out about important industry events. Two good examples (and I mention only those in the UK here, of course) include The Society of Authors (http://www.societyofauthors.org/) and The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (https://www.scbwi.org/).
GETTING A CONTRACT
I don’t currently have a publishing contract with a major publisher. I have been offered two in the last 6 months but did not feel they were right for me – based on advice from a number of other publishers and literary agents. I am now in talks with two more publishers. I hope this puts me in a good position to explain how you can go about getting a contract and what you should look out for when you are offered one. Above all, be prepared to show a huge amount of patience and tenacity (‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett was rejected 60 times before it was published!)
There are two routes to getting a traditional publishing contract. ROUTE 1 – you apply direct to publishers, ensuring that you adhere strictly to the instructions on their website for submissions. ROUTE 2 – you find yourself a literary agent who will act on behalf of you and your book and approach publishers for you. Again, instructions on submissions to literary agents are to be found on their websites and must be adhered to. To determine who to aim your book at, make sure you study the publisher or literary agent’s website carefully, as they will tell you what genres they are currently looking for (thrillers, sci-fi, young adult fiction etc) and indeed whether they are accepting submissions from new writers at all. The advantage of finding a literary agent to represent you is that they will negotiate contract deals with publishers and you as an author can tend to benefit from better conditions.
NETWORK WITH INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS (AGAIN!)
Just as for book translation, networking is invaluable if you want to obtain a traditional publishing contract. Attending book fairs, as well as other events where you know publishers and agents will be in attendance is invaluable for getting advice, meeting people who may be interested in your book and basically ‘making a noise’ (which was a piece of advice I was given in person by a very prominent member of the book industry). Again, Google can be fabulous for searching for such events as they take place in all sorts of locations in most major cities.
THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
As and when you do get that elusive publishing deal, take time to consider the following before accepting it:
– SCAM publishers/literary agents offering a ‘contribution-based’ contract. These are widespread these days and many new authors pay thousands of pounds to enter into a contract on the basis that they are not established and thus are more of a ‘risk’. Some publishers offering these contracts are ‘named and shamed’ online. Don’t fall into the trap of accepting such offers. A reputable publisher or literary agent will not ask you for any money if they want to take your book on.
– Make sure you are happy with the conditions for what can often be a tie-in period of 2-5 years. Ensure the royalties you will get are something you can live with as you will be legally bound by the contract, even if a better offer then comes along. There are no specific rules, but seeking advice from other publishers if you are acting on your own behalf (without an agent) can be extremely helpful.
– Other things to bear in mind are: how long your tie-in period is; whether the contract includes global rights to your book(s) and such things as merchandise; and whether someone wants to publish one or all of your books if you have written a series.