How To Self-Publish In German. Lessons Learned From Pentecost In Translation.

I have been excited about publishing in German since last October when I interviewed Matthias Matting about how the ebook eco-system in Germany was exploding.

Pentecost GermanNow finally, Pentecost, Ein ARKANE Thriller is now available in German worldwide and on the German specific ebook stores. You can find all the buy links here, and the print edition will be out in the next few weeks.

It’s been a very strange experience for me to start out all over again in a new market, in a language I don’t know, with basically no platform and very contacts.

I’ve spent over 5 years building my audience in English, so it’s quite alien to begin again. This means that I’m certainly NOT an expert on the German market and I am just sharing my initial experience with you in this article. I have no doubt that I will change my process over the coming years. After all, it’s only week 3 in this new game!

how to publish in germanyMy first advice is to read Matthias Matting’s book ‘How to publish in Germany,‘ which includes lots of great tips.

Why self-publish in German anyway?

Germany has a population of 80 million but the book sales volume is 40% of the USA (against a population of 300m) so the Germans are big readers. There are also German speakers in Austria, Switzerland and of course, the rest of the world. Ebook adoption is increasing and Germany is the 3rd largest ebook market after US and UK right now.

The reports weekly on the books in the Amazon charts, and like 2011/2012 in the US, indies are storming the charts with lower priced books. Publishers have yet to try and catch up. It feels like the exciting growth period before the leveling out of the market, as we’ve seen in US and UK for indies, so it’s a great time to be experimenting in a new market. There are also far fewer books to compete with at the moment, but (presumably) that won’t last long!

If you’re weighing up which language rights to exploit as a self-publisher, then consider both market size and also the ease of publishing. For example, it would be fantastic to be able to do this with Mandarin or Arabic, but right now, you’re better off getting a foreign rights agent to try and sell those rights, rather than attempting to self-publish. For me, Germany was the first choice for self-publishing in translation because of the language penetration and growing e-reader base on Amazon. Plus, I live in Europe and have lots of German friends and I’ll hopefully be heading back over for some promotional activity!

Finding and working with a translator

German Pentecost

A page from the German version of Pentecost

Firstly, you need to decide on your business model. Do you want to pay upfront for translation services? Or do you want to do a royalty split deal?

Although the general rule is to hold onto your rights as much as possible, I love the royalty split model for translation because:

  • Many translators have felt ‘hard done by’ in traditional publishing and are looking for ways to be more creatively involved in their finished product. Going indie for both parties can be more rewarding. The royalty split can be better financially in the long run but also, the translator gets a say in how things are run and both parties learn a lot along the way.
  • Collaborating with other creatives is great for sharing the load, especially as I offer 50:50% split for a marketing partner in the language of translation. This means that emails for review pitches, blog interviews and emails and the ongoing work of building the book in the market is shared.
  • You can trust the work of the translator more as they won’t get paid unless the book is good enough to sell. They have a vested interest in making the work the best it can be!
  • The risk is split between you and there is no upfront payment, so it’s easy to try things out. Considering most translation rights deals seem to be only a few thousand dollars in traditional publishing, I figure that we can make this back within a short enough period to make it worthwhile for both parties.

Currently, I only work on royalty split deals with translators – this page has all the details – and I make sure we are a good fit as people as well as checking their references as a translator. I have turned down a number of people as I just didn’t gel with the way they worked.

In terms of finding someone, I have had translators approach me through this site and at live events, and then I usually interview them via Skype before moving to contractuals. My translator for Pentecost is very experienced with a lot of traditionally published translations under her belt and we met at a self-publishing workshop I was running.

Pentecost German Banner 160 x 600px DarkAfter the translator has finished the final manuscript, I publish it through my accounts and then send them their royalty share on payment from the store. There is a written contract but this only works with trust on both sides.

You can also use BabelCube for royalty split deals, which I haven’t used personally, so can’t yet recommend but I know some authors who are starting to use them. They offer a distribution platform and take 15% royalty and their translator/ rights holder split varies on number of books sold. You can also find translators through one of the many translation associations and professional bodies online. There are lots on twitter too!

When working with a translator, they will ask you questions that may seem very odd but are necessary for choosing the right words. A translator has to use their art as well as their craft to provide the best meaning that also retains the original thought of the author. I have a great respect for translators after working with them myself! I will be interviewing Tina, my German translator on the blog in the coming weeks.

One tip if you use Scrivener, we found that passing Scrivener files back and forth from German to English language setup and from Mac to PC messed up the German punctuation. I had to rebuild the file after all the final changes were made. I would recommend that the person who will build the Kindle/ePub files is the one who owns the Scrivener file overall and make sure your language settings are right.

Using for book cover design choice and early reviews

vorablesenOne of the problems with going into a new market is deciding on whether to use the same book cover design and title as the English language versions. Traditional publishers generally use a different title and often, a very different cover. I was also nervous about whether German readers might even like the book.

A German friend connected me with which is a bit like NetGalley but with a much better interface and more of a community feel. They have a service that allows cover testing and votes, pre-reading of samples and then the chance to win the ebook in advance of publication. It’s run on a points system which incentivizes reviewers and bloggers to add reviews quickly and on multiple platforms.

These early readers were some of the first reviewers on the retail sites as they had access to pre-read the book. Basically, Vorablesen is aimed at readers – which we all like a lot! – and they have over 10,000 active reviewers out of 36,500 users. Their users are mostly women who read over 35 books a year.

Of course, you can’t control what people say, but getting those early reviews and star ratings has been brilliant. It’s given me confidence that the book will be well received, as well as additional support for the great translation that Tina has done. Vorablesen has mainly been for traditionally published books up to now, so I knew the bar would be set high. We made the decision to use the original cover of Pentecost, and to keep the English version of the title, as it is quite common for German books to use a foreign word as the title.

VorVorablesen is a new service offering help for authors on questions about their book during the writing process. Authors can get feedback from readers on cover design, style and characters, and receive critique on early pages of writing. All the services include a report with data to help you with the launch of your book. You can read the media releases and overview documentation in German and English here. You can contact Vorablesen direct for the prices for self-published authors. If you speak German, you can read this article which elaborates on the use of Vorablesen and ePubli.

Publishing in Germany. Using

The e-book retailers in Germany are the usual suspects – Amazon, iBooks and Kobo plus a few others that are German specific. According to Going Global: How to sell your ebook in the German market by Birgit Kluger, Amazon Kindle has ~41% of the market share, followed by Thalia ~14%, Weltbild ~13%, iTunes ~10%. There are other smaller sites like Hugendubel & that together with Weltbild and Thalia make up the Tolino partners.

pentecost epubliThe Tolino is an ebook reader and eco-system started by the German publishers in order to rival Amazon. Together the Tolino retailers have a combined market share of ~35%, almost as much as Amazon. German bookstores also won’t order from Amazon so publishing in print from Createspace would only serve the direct sales route. Given the number of traditional print readers in Germany, I wanted them to be able to order print from local bookstores. For me, this was enough of a reason to look for a local publishing partner to help with German specific distribution.

When I spoke at the ePubli conference in Berlin in Nov 2013, I met some great people who offered to help me with German publishing and having a hand to hold was incredibly useful when publishing in a different language. has an easy to use interface and if you keep open at the same time, it’s easy to work out how to use it. They are also implementing some changes to the system to (hopefully) allow English speaking authors to publish to German stores more easily. The ePubli staff speak English (as do many Germans!) so you can email for help which is great. I have to thank the lovely Sophie for her amazing patience with me during this process!

After loading the ePub and all the same information as usually needed (but in German), ePubli publish to the various stores. Here’s Pentecost on ePubli with the buy buttons for the other stores on the right.

Publishing through ePubli is the same as any other distributor – like Smashwords, BookBaby or Draft2Digital, in that it takes more time for changes to go through and ultimately, you have a lot less control than going direct. You pay a royalty share as with all distributors. ePubli also have some changes coming in the next few months around their offerings for self-publishing authors, so watch this space if you’re interested in this market. There are alternatives to ePubli including, and

Here’s an article from Sophie Schmidt, ePubli, about tips for publishing to the German market. It includes being as British (or American) as you can, so you stand out, and using the German specific retailers instead of just Amazon.

Other considerations for your book in German are some of the other things to think about.

  • Categories and Keywords. You need all the same information to publish in another language BUT you will find that categories and keywords don’t necessarily translate directly. My translator and I spent a lot of time working through the auto-populate function on to try and identify the best keywords. There are also far fewer categories at the moment, as there are far fewer ebooks in general. After feedback from some German readers, I also switched categories on Amazon soon after launch.
  • Set up your Amazon Central account for with a translated description. Here’s mine.
  • Watch out for the fixed price law or Buchpreisbindung. This is a legal requirements for books to be priced the same on all stores in Germany, which makes it difficult to run price promotions, as you can’t guarantee the changes will go through together. This also stops the Amazon deep discounting, protecting German retailers.
  • Manuscript Copyright. I’m not a lawyer so this is just my layman’s understanding. The copyright of the German version lies with your translator, but they can’t use it without your copyright of the original, and you have to pay some royalties for use. This podcast with Courtney Milan on Self-Publishing Round Table goes into it in more detail.
  • There is title copyright in Germany, which means you can’t use a title someone else has used. This is leading to lots of translations using mixed language words. Desecration will be published as ‘Desecration-Verletzung,’ a double word title. Pentecost is also the English word, while Pfingsten is the German.
  • Print formatting. German has particular hyphenation rules which means that your print formatting needs specific language settings in order to flow correctly and still have the straight line edged formatting. You might think that it looks the same as English, but Germans will notice the difference immediately. Print formatting software has language settings, but even after that, we found manual re-hyphenation was needed. This gave me a real headache!
  • Print sizing. German printing is in centimeters, so if you’re used to using 5×8 or 6×9 inches for Createspace, you will now have to think in centimeters if you use German print distributors.
  • With-holding tax. In the same way that you have to do tax form W8-BEN for the US with-holding tax exemption, you also have to do forms for Germany. For the UK, they also involve physical stamps from the tax office – I am still going through this fun …

Marketing books in German

Firstly, as I offer a 50:50% royalty split, I am sharing the marketing load with my translator, who provides me with text and will be doing emails and articles in German as an ongoing task. We use a shared Google Doc to plan everything we do, and also Skype for update meetings.
lovely booksI have also become intimately involved with Google Translate for working out blogs, websites etc and am slowly learning some German words!

  • Focus on reviews through existing networks. I identified people who lived in Germany, Switzerland and Austria from my existing email list and asked them if they would like a review copy. Some responded positively, so I gifted the Kindle book through and also sent out ePub files for Kobo, Nook and iBooks. This is a slow-burn approach to reviews, but giving books away is always a good start if you have no audience.
  • Focus on reviews through review sites. Lovely Books (as above) is a German specific review site, and Pentecost has started to get some traction there. It’s also up on Goodreads and as soon as we get the print edition sorted, then we’ll do a giveaway there.
  • Guest blog posts/Interviews on German book blogger sites. I’ve had a couple of posts up on Matthias Matting’s site, and also have one coming on ePubli. This is something to focus on more once we have the print books ready to send to reviewers if they want to do giveaways or only read print. Germany is still a print dominant country.

advert on xtme

  • Paid advertising. While there is no BookBub competitor right now, there is, a site for promoting ebooks. I’ve had a banner up there, which has led to some sales – but would have potentially been more if the book had been on sale. Once Prophecy (ARKANE #2) comes out, then I’ll look trying that again.

 What’s next for my translations?

For German, I have another wonderful translator for Desecration, Hans Maerker. Together, we have signed a deal with Ullstein-Midnight, a soon-to-be-launched digital imprint for crime/thrillers. It will come out in mid July and we’ll be able to compare how the two experiences work. I wouldn’t sign a digital only deal for English, but as Ullstein are one of the largest German publishers, it will be interesting to see how it goes. Hopefully, it will be the hybrid best of both worlds.

I also have a Spanish translation of Pentecost coming soon, plus Italian translations of Pentecost and Desecration. We’ll see how those go before I take on any more! In the meantime, I also have a foreign rights agent who is trying to sell other rights. I’m particularly interested in South Korea, India, Israel …oh, let’s face it, I’d like to be everywhere! I’m a travel-addicted writer and I need more excuses to visit places :)

OK, mammoth post over! Please join the conversation and leave a comment below. What are your thoughts and experience about self-publishing and marketing in German? or about working with translators? If you read German or Spanish and fancy trying Pentecost, please contact me directly.

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  1. says

    Great post, Joanna! Very in-depth and informative, and you’ve definitely overwhelmed my brain for the moment! But this is very good stuff, and I will be keeping all of this in mind for the future.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us!!!

    • says

      Keep it in mind for the future Elizabeth – there are very few indies doing this at the moment, but you’ll see a development in the next 5 years, for sure.

  2. says


    Great article, i really enjoyed reading it!
    It even taught me a few new things to try and play around with…



  3. says

    Wow, I definitely need to go back and read that a few more times taking notes! Thank you for such an in depth post. I’ve been thinking about a German translation since you mentioned it a while ago but didn’t really know where to start so this will help immensely. I’m off to buy the Matthias Matting book now too. All the best with your German sales!

  4. says

    A very thought provoking post, Joanna, which as Simon says, will take some digesting. I was particularly interested in the small comment that you need to write using your own cultural background and not to try to write for Germany or any other country. I think it’s this slight sense of otherness than makes the Scandi crime writers such hits in the UK and US.

    The statistics about the percentage of readers in Germany is staggering.

    Now let’s wait and see how long before Authorhouse offer a 50K package for translation and then push it through Google Translate :-(

  5. says

    Hi Joanna, great post, as are most of them!

    Do you have a template for the contract for your translators? Or could you point me in some direction regarding this? As the contract for any of the languages probably entails residents of two different countries (in your case, UK & Germany, for example), the contract needs to cover this in some fashion and I’d appreciate some pointers.


      • says

        Thanks, Joanna. Totally understand you can’t give legal advice – was not looking for that – just to know whether you have been able to come up with a template. Can you tell me this: do you typically use a lawyer from each of the countries involved?

        I will look at the Alliance of Independent Authors site with great interest. My fourth book is on the verge of coming out and I have been bogged down regarding the translation of the first (to German, and Spanish is next on the list) due to these legalities, and since my day job as a psychotherapist plus the writing of these four books in four years takes up almost all my time, YOU are my main contact with the ‘real’ world of indies.

        Anyway, thanks always for ALL your work in this field.

        Gabriella Kortsch

  6. says

    Joanna –
    Thank you for a fabulously informative post. Your generosity in sharing what you’ve learned is, as always, much appreciated and inspiring. I hope your German sales far exceed your expectations!

  7. says

    Oh I forgot to add —

    If you want to visit Korea…you must go to the main Kyobo Books in downtown Seoul. I think it’s the biggest bookstore in the world. It’s massive, and extremely well-stocked. Not to mention, its inventory system is 100% computerized. Computer kiosks can tell you exactly how many copies of Book X is on hand & where they’re located in the store. (You get a neat little print out from the kiosk so you don’t get lost since the store is HUGE…like bigger than WalMart!)

    • says

      Thanks Nadia – and I am definitely keen to visit South Korea – I’d love to get a foreign rights deal there. Ebooks are huge in that part of the world!

      • says

        Oooo if you ever get to go to Korea, you should just take like a month and travel around Japan also, esp. since you’re coming from England. Japan’s like right next door (less than 1 hour by plane).

  8. says

    (OK…weird! My other comment didn’t show up…wonder why?)

    Anyway, I posted this question but I think it got lost. Did you sign a contract with your translator? How long does the royalty split arrangement last?

    • says

      Yes, we did a contract – that was based on an audiobook contract for royalty split deals. It’s a 10 year contract – but of course, that’s all up to you and your partner.

      • says

        Oh that’s fascinating.

        So after 10 years, you can renew or just stop publishing this particular edition? (I’m assuming the translation wasn’t work-for-hire…)

  9. Cyd Madsen says

    Fabulous post, Joanna (as always), and full of so much information. My email’s been screwy and I’m just now catching up. It’s very exciting in Germany right now, but Americans might find some obstacles. I had a German client who wanted to get into the American market, and while trying to help her understand what “state” and “government” meant here, as opposed to European states, it turned into a long history lesson I couldn’t quite explain. We have a federal government that unites 50 sovereign states, each with their own laws and distinct personalities. That’s as hard to understand for some Europeans as it is for us to understand what’s legal in one state will put you in jail when you cross a state line. Despite the obstacles, it was exciting to hear her talk about book festivals in the streets and all across the country (huh? what?) and their joy of reading. The script I’m writing now, which will also be a novel, is undertaken with foreign markets in mind. You’ve given invaluable resources to help guide the way.

    Yet again, so very grateful for all you share as you lead the way.

    • says

      Thanks Cyd – and yes, there are so many cross-border issues to sort out :) but I’m so thrilled we live in a global economy and we’re able to work in these ways. We live in exciting times! x

  10. says

    Great post, ideas and definitely you have the mindset of an entrepreneur, Joanna! The 50-50 split between you and the translator is great but works only for established authors such as you. I have written my first novel mainly in Bulgarian and I have connected with several English translators here in Bulgaria. My biggest dream is hiring the native American translator Angela Rodel but she is so busy and the only possibility of hiring her is that the manuscript will impress her. In Bulgaria most people want upfront payment and sharing the royalties wouldn’t work here as I think about it now which is good that I will retain the rights.Your insight into the German book market makes sense as there is also a book festival in Munich if I am not wrong. Some of the literary greatest are also Germans as Herman Hesse, Erich Maria Remarque etc. Good that my mother is a Germanist and we know a native German who can edit the manuscript.
    Thanks again for the insight!

  11. says

    Wondeful information. Thank you.

    My wife is an editor and translator. We’ve been trying to help a German client self-publish her book. Doing it through KDP, Createspace, and Smashwords turned out to be a nightmare — not because of those businesses but because of US tax laws concerning foreigners doing business in the US.

    We decided to help her self-publish in Germany instead. Your post has filled in a lot of information gaps. Thank you, again.


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