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The adventures in translation continue apace … and this one is a little different!
Today, I'm excited to announce the launch of Desecration-Verletzung in German, which is part of a debut set of crime/thrillers from a new German digital-only imprint, Midnight by Ullstein. This article includes my thoughts on working with a publisher as well as an interview with my translator.
Digital Only Deal for Desecration with Ullstein Midnight
As part of my 50:50 royalty split deal with my translator, Hans Maerker, we discussed the possibility of pursuing a traditional deal as well as self-publishing. When the opportunity came up to work with Ullstein Midnight, a new digital imprint of a well-known German publisher specifically for crime and thrillers, we decided to go for it. I can't go into specifics on the contract but here are some thoughts from the process:
- While I wouldn't necessarily be interested in a digital only deal for English language, it makes sense to work with an established publisher with great relationships and merchandising opportunities in a new territory and language. After talking with the great team at Midnight, I was keen to work with them to see what we could accomplish, given that J.F.Penn is unknown in Germany. I believe being an indie author is about making decisions that benefit your business, and partnering with publishers can definitely be worthwhile. I've had several skype calls as well as email conversations with the Midnight team and I'm impressed with their energy and willingness to try new things. That's the kind of partner an entrepreneurial indie wants!
- The process involved an extra layer of editing, which was great in terms of quality control and also made sure the book fitted the ‘voice' of the new imprint. You can never get enough editing imho 🙂
- The title is interesting as it is an English word and a German word together. Germany has copyright on book titles, so many international books use English words in titles. Verletzung can mean ‘violation' which was my original title for the book anyway, so I'm pleased with it.
- The cover design was redone and I did have some input into the process. I actually like this cover a lot!
- Lesson learned: When I self-publish for free on the digital platforms, I just click ALL when it comes to countries for distribution. Traditional publishers don't have the easy choice to just click the ALL button as there are more costs involved, so although Midnight have all the digital rights to German, the ebook isn't available in Canada, or Australia for example. The thinking is that there aren't enough German readers in those countries to warrant the cost of distribution. This surprised me, as of course, this is all free for indie authors and distribution has no overhead for us. How lucky we are!
- Marketing – of course, this launch is just the start of the journey, and I outlined some of the opportunities for German marketing in the article about the Pentecost launch. Midnight have a series of press releases and promotions happening for launch, and I'll be getting into the swing of things with videos, social media and interviews as well as reviews, and I have a German language email list. The aim with Pentecost was also to cross promote between the two books, and I have control over that one!
With all these translation adventures, the view is more long term and I would expect to report back on how it's all gone in a year's time. Still to come in 2014, the Italian version of Desecration and possibly the Spanish Desecration.
Interview with Hans Maerker – translator for Desecration-Verletzung
You can also read this interview in German on Hans' site here.
Tell us a little about yourself and your writing & translating background
I was raised in Germany, but my grandmother's sister – who lived in the same house with us – was British. She exposed me to English when I was a little boy, and so I grew up with both languages. It helped me tremendously during my engineering career in aviation later on. Aviation requires precision, and I never liked to do things half-hearted anyway. It was a perfect combination. I was all over the globe, needed to immerse in English whenever I was outside Germany, and one lead to another. Prior to Airbus, the civil aviation scene was dominated by American aircraft manufacturers. So, I went to Berlitz, perfected my English, and focused on American English ever since. My passports looked like impressionistic paintings with all their stamps over the years.
Being in Quality Control shaped my ability to write precise reports and to do in depth research. I had friends in Singapore, Australia, and America over the years. I lived like a cosmopolitan, but that changed when I finally left Germany and moved to America. That's where I met my wife, and worked as an avionics instructor for an US airline. The airline changed their aging fleet at that time, and that required not only teaching aircraft systems in a classroom, but those maintenance technicians needed training manuals for the new aircraft types as well. It was a totally different ball game but I had the knowledge, and felt the satisfaction, writing gave me. Even if it was technical writing and editing. It never changed from that moment on, and shaped me as a writer.
Returning to Europe after so many in the States happened just at the time when Germany changed the grammar and punctuation rules. I was thrown in the middle of it and had to learn the new rules. It was sort of a forced brush-up course on my mother tongue, but definitely benefitted my knowledge about its correct usage. My wife's mother tongue is American English, and so we stayed in Germany for a while, but eventually moved to an EU country where English is spoken and German needed. That's how we ended up in Malta, where we currently live.
What are some of the particular challenges about translating from English into German?
It depends on what needs to be translated. Technical instructions, actually any non-fiction, is more or less cut and dry translation, where you have to be precise in every shape and from. There is not much room for interpretation.
That's completely reversed when it comes to fiction. Every language has its own special phrases and usage, to express the same thing. You need to be aware of the country, the habits of the people who live there, and more. Fiction lives off emotions and tension, created by the author. Having a dictionary next to you, or on your computer, doesn't cut it as a translator. Sure, you can translate any fiction that way, but you risk to have a dull and boring story.
The ideal situation for fiction and non-fiction is, to have lived in this environment yourself. That you've talked to the neighbors, waited in line at the post office, or got stuck in traffic on an highway. The feeling and understanding for this different environment, its people, and their use of the language is something that shows in your translation of a story. No language school and no dictionary can teach you this experience. In my opinion, a good translator should have global experience, and not just doing the job after learning the ropes at school.
Why did you want to translate Desecration? And were there any surprises on the translation journey?
I think it was a combination of several facts. One was that I like crime or thriller stories. It's because of the puzzle that needs to fit logically together. The other fact was that dark and extraordinary mood. The way how Jamie coped with her own emotions and problems.
As for surprises, yes, there were a few. However, they were more on the intellectual side, and not technically related. Pretty soon, I was deeper in this story than I expected. I basically immersed in the story, lived through Jamie's emotions, and felt them while translating.
Why did you want to do a royalty split deal with an indie author? What are your tips for translators who want to do this kind of thing?
Two good questions. The first one is based on an emotional decision. I believe in myself and feel confident to tackle difficult situations. Those are the benefits when you're around the block for a while. You know, you're not only willing to give your best but you're capable of doing it. If you do any work without really standing behind it, then it can turn into a disaster. No success, no payment. You work on a profit base, and that's a challenge. It's fair to your client too, but requires that both ‘click'. It's based on trust and confidence on both sides. The chemistry between author and translator need to match. That's not always given.
As for some ‘how to' tips for other translators, I would say to them, ask yourself first whether you're an entrepreneur type. Full time freelancers usually are, otherwise they wouldn't make a living. Go for those authors who write the stories that you would like to write yourself. Look at the author's website or blog. Read up on their history, and see whether you both have something in common. Trust your feelings in such a case, and approach the author. The final decision comes when translator and author communicate with each other.
How should indie authors find a good translator for their book? How do they evaluate it when they don't speak the language?
That's the most tricky part. Not so long ago, I read an article about the small world of translators. Never really thought about it until then. Usually it goes the other way round, and translators are approaching authors or work through word of mouth reference.
The worst part is probably the evaluation. References don't mean a thing, as every non-fiction translation is different because of the author's different style. Best evaluation might be the route similar to editing. I would ask for roughly five pages of a translation sample, and hand the translator a more difficult passage of my manuscript. If you don't know the language, then you have to hand those translated samples to some experts for an evaluation, and rely on their opinion. If the difficult passage got translated to your satisfaction, then the easier ones will pass the test anyway. However, this can be an iffy situation already. Hand the same [fiction] translation to three experts for an analysis, and you will get three different opinions.
How do translators work with authors during the translation process?
It depends where they are located. Most of the time, author and translator live far from each other. Yet, in our digital world, this is no problem anymore. The standard communication routes are email and Skype. The more important one is probably email, as it is quick, can be sent at any time, and allows attachments.
You can find me at www.HansMaerker.com and on twitter @h_maerker
Note from Joanna
I found Hans brilliant to work with as he has a strong work ethic, translating faster than anticipated to meet the launch deadlines for Midnight. He's also very organized and responds promptly to emails and work requests. I'll admit to a little control freakery in my approach to my business, but our emails and skype calls made me feel confident that this project would go well.
We have also kept honesty and openness as our guiding principle around feedback and money discussions. Critical in any business relationship! I schedule most of my meetings months in advance, and Hans was comfortable with that – we even share the same habit of using an old style Filofax as our diaries.
Der Tod ist erst der Anfang!
Die junge Frau ist reich, schön – und tot. Inmitten der alten medizinischen Ausstellungsstücke des Royal College of Surgeons liegt ihre sezierte Leiche sorgsam aufgebahrt. Detective Sergeant Jamie Brooke sucht einen ungewöhnlichen Mörder und ahnt, wieder einmal muss sie bei ihren Ermittlungen ungewöhnliche Wege gehen. Denn sie hat nur eine einzige Spur: Eine kleine antike Elfenbeinfigur, die neben der Toten gefunden wurde. Nur Blake Daniel, Hellseher wider Willen, kann Jamie jetzt noch weiterhelfen.
Als ein schrecklicher privater Schicksalsschlag Jamie zeigt, wie nah der Mörder ihr mit seinen makabren Phantasien schon gekommen ist, ist es beinahe zu spät. Denn je tiefer Jamie und Blake in eine dunkle Welt aus Grabräubern, Missgeburten und rituellen Zeremonien tauchen, desto gefährlicher wird es für ihr Leben …
Do you have any questions or comments about publishing in German or any suggestions for marketing ideas? Please do join the conversation and leave a comment below.
Filofax image: Flickr Creative Commons Heudu
AD Starrling says
Congrats Joanna! 😀
Heather Sunseri says
Congrats, Joanna! Based on my own English sales in Germany, I would say German would be my first translation of choice, but the task seems so daunting. Will it every be easier for indies to tackle a more worldwide distribution for themselves?
Or will it ever be easier to approach a larger publisher for foreign translations? I wouldn’t be against this on a book by book basis. Maybe…
I guess, based on how much easier things (ex. Audio) have become over the last five years, we’re bound to see changes that make translations easier, as well.
Thanks for the information. I’ll be back to study these posts again.
Joanna Penn says
Hi Heather, I really do think that we’ll see a massive change over the next couple of years in the translation space – in the same way we’ve seen it with ebooks as well as audio. This is just the beginning!
Hans Maerker says
Too bad that your blog doesn’t have an ‘agree’ button. 🙂 You’re 100 percent right. We’re at the dawn of a new translation (and publishing) age. Exciting times are ahead of us. 🙂