Regular readers of the blog and listeners to my podcast know that I am always excited about global opportunities for writers.
I have recently started using PublishDrive to get my books onto Google Play and so of the other international retailers that are hard to reach through other (primarily US based) distributors.
In today's article, Zsofia Macho from PublishDrive offers some thoughts on how to reach international markets.
There is a rule every aspiring international writer is told early on.
Learn English. Read in English. Write in English. Breathe in English.
It seems cruel and unfair, but that doesn’t make it any less true: English is primary or official language in 67 countries worldwide and is estimated to be spoken by at least 1.5 billion people either as a primary or a secondary language.
This is a giant market, hungry for easy to access and relevant English language content. So you can write and self-publish happily in English and you will reach a huge share of the book market.
But let us not forget about the other big (or small) languages: according to the Global E-book Report, the US and the UK together are only 29% of the global ebook market.
The other 71% is divided by China, Germany, Japan, France and the rest of the world.
While translating self-published books used to be out of question even 15 years ago, a lot changed in the last couple of years. It is still not easy to become an internationally recognized self-published author, but it is definitely not impossible.
In the following, we are going to share six tips every indie author setting out to conquer the world should know – both those writing and marketing exclusively in English and those working with a translator and aiming for foreign language markets. Due to lack of space, we won’t talk about foreign rights agents and contracts, only self-publishing.
[Note from Joanna: I have sold books in English to 83 countries, so I recommend that most authors start by considering the global market for English books first. ]
1. Only target one market a time
Don’t fall into the pitfall of wanting too much at once: you have to build up your reputation step by step in each country. Just like big companies do: they are researching the market for years before deciding to open a shop.
You won’t need years, but a little planning won’t hurt.
Once you are established in your home country (or in your main market), it is time for you to start looking into several directions. If you are writing in English, consider checking the other big English language markets first: Australia, India, Canada.
Research the market thoroughly: some markets are more open for nonfiction, others are all for religious books or women’s fiction.
- Find out which books are leading the bestseller lists.
- Who are the most popular writers of your sub-genre and what are they writing about?
- Is there something you can bring to this market that hasn’t been there before?
2. Start with the biggies – but don’t forget the little ones
Luckily for you, all big booksellers are expanding to foreign markets, making it easier for you to sell your books.
In addition to Amazon and Google, who are opening up new stores at a fast speed, Apple and Kobo are also selling literally everywhere, the latter teaming up with local stores in 190 countries.
Once you are already on Amazon.com, it is easy to start selling your books on Amazon.de or Amazon.in, just remember to create an author page in every language you are selling on. With Kobo, you can also easily select the countries you would like to be sold in and set the price for each country separately.
When you do your market research, make sure to check out the local stores as well, especially if you are planning to get your books translated.
While the big bookstores may have the biggest market share in the UK and US market, this might not be so for other countries. In France, for example, Amazon only has a 40% share of the market, and there are three major sales platforms (Numilog, Eden Livres and E-Plateforme) working together to take the rest of it.
While it would be the best to sign up everywhere, it is extremely difficult to manage several separate accounts, follow up sales and invoices and make sure that you don’t accidentally violate any law or regulation. (Or not try to sell your book in a shop directly where you already sell it through Kobo.)
This is the point where aggregators, such as PublishDrive come handy: they have contact with hundreds of stores worldwide, from the biggest ones to local stores and provide you with a simple platform to manage it.
You just upload your books once, select the countries and prices and you are good to go.
3. Check your rights, prices and taxes
Whether you are a self-published or a traditionally published author, if you have sold any books, you have given away rights.
Remember to check with your publisher or self-publishing service provider whether you gave your international rights away, and if you did, how can you get them back.
If you are just about to sign a contract or sign up to a service provider, make sure you read the small print about international rights.
When it comes to pricing, you are also in a challenging situation: you can’t just use the current foreign exchange rate to determine the price of your book in a foreign currency.
The amount people are happy to pay for a book is different in each and every country, and this is not independent of the purchasing parity of the currency.
You can use certain guides, such as the Big Mac index to help you in pricing, but you are also recommended to just go and check it out for yourself.
Also look out for local regulations that might affect your pricing decision: for example in France retailers can’t change the price given by the publisher.
I know these are the nasty bits nobody wants to hear about, but also make sure to check the rules of receiving foreign income in your home country: in some cases, it can affect your tax rate.
4. Find the right translator
It's not necessary to translate your books, as you can sell globally, but if you are considering translation, then it's important to find the right person to work with.
The translator has a double duty: she or he has to convey not only the message of your book but transmit culture and the soul of your writing. Without the right translator, your carefully chosen words are all for nothing.
If you don’t speak the language, you have no way of checking if they did a good job. So what can you do?
Believe it or not, there are some people out there who might translate your book for free! Aspiring translators are easy to find if you join a Facebook group for international writers.
You can also try a translation service company like BabelCube: the translators here work for a share of royalties, so they are interested in your success. Apart from offering translation services, Babel Cube also distributes the translated books.
But the safest way is to hire a translator, and there are millions of places where you can find one. This list will help you get started.
Remember to also look for an editor: there is always a need for a second pair of eyes so you end up with a quality product.
Don’t rush finding the right translator: you can exchange emails with multiple people, find the one you feel most comfortable working with – it is likely, that the two of you will have a close connection.
Apart from translating your books into a foreign language, they can offer valuable insight into their culture, help with marketing and distribution. Even if you get close, however, remember to fill out a contract, stating not only payment but the rights of the book translated.
5. Get marketing
Don’t expect sales to come in as soon as your book appears in stores: you have to work on building your reputation (starting almost from zero) and get the word out about your book.
If you are writing for the English language market, you can use approximately the same strategies you are using in your home market. It’ll also help that people can see reviews of your book from the UK store in the US and vice versa; bear in mind though, that it doesn’t work in the other stores.
Try using one of Amazon’s great discounting or giveaway services at the beginning to boost your launch day sales and get some reviews under your books.
Remember, that there is no silver bullet: people in different countries can react to the same thing very differently. Try to find the right Facebook groups where you can make useful contacts and some friends in the target country who can help you with advertising.
If you try doing your marketing without the help of someone who speaks the language or understands country specific behavior, things might turn bad. It can help if your translator knows something about the book market in the target country and can help you find your way around.
For translating short texts, such as blurbs, reviews and marketing material, you can hire translators from Fiverr. You can also use Google Translate (or your browser’s built in website translate) to communicate with your fans in their own language. Even if you don’t get the grammar right, they’ll appreciate it.
6. Create an Author Central page
Amazon is a great place to sell and market your books. The Author Central pages work like a private website without all the website-building pain.
They provide authors with a great platform to share pictures, a blog-feed and up-to-date information on new books and other content. You can create your Author Central page by using the same login as you would use as a customer.
A lesser known fact, however, is that Author Central pages are not international: you have to log in on each of the regional Amazon sites having this service (currently UK, US, Germany, France and Japan) and type in your information. Don’t worry if you don’t speak either of these languages: the layout of the web pages is the same, so you just have to open you original UK or US page and copy and paste the information into the right boxes.
So, what are you still waiting for? Go and find yourself an amazing translator, because achieving international success might be easier than you think. Happy publishing!
Are you already selling to international markets? What has your experience been or do you have any questions? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Zsofia Macho is a bookish person: she writes, edits, translates and proofreads books and articles. She also likes to read them. Currently finishing a linguist MSc at University College London, she has a tough time displaying scientific journals on a traditional Kindle. When she is not writing for PublishDrive, she spends her time playing co-operative board games or badminton.
PublishDrive is a fast-growing and intelligent ebook publishing platform that was created with international publishing in mind. Allowing publishers to offer their books in 400 bookstores and 240k digital libraries worldwide with one click, it simplifies the process of going into foreign markets. The new Advanced Pricing feature provides publishers with the option of setting an individual price for every currency separately or choosing a straightforward conversion using actual exchange rates – but still receiving royalties in their own currency.
In addition to this, PublishDrive lets publishers to easily control production, metadata management and distribution, with cutting-edge business intelligence analytics, sales reports (including real time sales data by countries and stores) and billing.
Thomas Dellenbusch says
Dear Zsofia, many thanks for this article. My name is Thomas Dellenbusch. I am a German author (selfpublisher). Recently three of my books (from the series movie-length-stories (novellas of about 100 pages)) have been translated into English by a member of the American Translators Association. Currently they are only availabe on amazon worldwide, including Kindle Unlimited. I tried to find some bloggers for them, and I did so. They all are very enthusiastic about the books and published fantastic reviews on their blogs, on amazon and goodreads. But anyway – it is very hard to get visible. I also created authorpages via central on amazon.com and co.uk. And I created an English version of my homepage (movie-length-stories.com) But still the sells are almost zero. I am thinking about canceling Kindle Unlimited and place the books additionally on other platforms like Publish Drive. I never heart from it, but I’ll take a look now. If you have further recommendations, I would be happy. Best to you, Thomas
Zsofia Macho says
Hi Thomas, thank you for your comment! It is always very interesting to read about other writers’ experiences.
Kindle Unlimited is great, but doesn’t work for every submarket. (Btw, we’ve written about Amazon’s market share on PublishDrive :))
We would love to have you and your books on PublishDrive if you decide to sign up – please let me know if there is anything I can help you with.
Gregg Michaelsen says
Great article. I am on Smashwords and noticed that they do not cover Google Play. Android phones have the google play app pre-installed on them. That means books (my books) were not being discovered on Android devices to those who read on GP. Your books will also be discovered easier in Google results if you are on GP.
I immediately started loading my books that are outside of KDP Select to PublishDrive!
Zsofia Macho says
Thank you for your comment! I think you made the right decision, Google Play Books is one of the biggies when it comes to selling ebooks internationally.
Please drop me an email if you have trouble with anything during your registration and uploading process on PublishDrive.
I put some titles on the “European Smashwords”, German distributor XinXii, back in 2012. Still 0 sales. Not adding any more.
I am bilingual and I translate my own stories back into my mother tongue (Italian) – I’ve tried to get Author Central on Amazon Italia for years to no avail! 😉
I do not use any Italian distributor, since I didn’t like their ToS when I last checked (or they didn’t allow self and indie published books), so Italians can find me on Amazon, Kobo and Apple.
I have written books set in India, but my Indian friend and cover artist told me most Indians don’t read… and even joining the Indian Readers group on Goodreads didn’t help.
That said, I still sell more copies of the Italian version because of… less competition! 😉
I’ll keep writing in English, though, since even though some things get lost in translation, there are way more possible readers out there for that language!
Joanna Penn says
Saying “most Indians don’t read” is absolutely crazy – because in a country of 1.3 billion, even a fraction of people is far more significant than most current book market territories.
For example, there are 68 million people in Britain in TOTAL – compare that to the number of English speakers in India, around 125 million. Those Indians who speak English are often educated and middle class, and many of them are readers. You won’t reach them on Goodreads right now – but Amazon.IN is making a big play for that market.
Zsofia Macho says
Indians are not big buyers of ereaders indeed, but reading on smartphones is extyremely popular. Did you know that the Indian ebook market is expected to worth $340m by 2019?
Amazon .in is the biggest player, as Joanna said, but you can also try Kobo and Pothi.com.
If you are interested in the Indian market, please let me recommend you this article:
Thank you both! 🙂 my friend also told me that only free titles get on Apple India (or at least that was true 2 years ago) because Apple couldn’t sell anything there…
Will explore more for the next novel set in India! 🙂
Leona Wellington says
I have been all over India many times and my experience (after being in the Middle East where there is a very limited reading culture) is that Indians have a very strong reading culture. Of course as I saw in the comment India has a huge population and I’m sure the major part of the reading interests hovers over those who are in higher areas of literacy. I’m confident that Indians read a lot as also witnessed by browsing through their prolific bookstores featuring every genre and often found in neighborhoods where these would not be expected.
A very interesting post and useful suggestions!. I agree with you, writing in English allows a writer to reach a wider audience. I ‘m Italian mother tongue and I write in Italian and I had to have my book translated into English as well as to create an English version of my Italian literary blog. (www.creativepalabras.wordpress.com).
Hannah Ross says
Are you in earnest when you say that some people will translate for free? I confess I find this extremely hard to believe, nor do I think people *should* work for free. Like you, I am a writer, editor and translator, and from my experience, working on a novel-length project can take months. No professional would do this without proper compensation – and if they aren’t professionals, you don’t want them working on your book!
Joanna Penn says
I’ve worked with a number of translators on royalty split deals, and this is becoming an increasingly common way for professionals to work together – in the same way audiobook narrators are doing on ACX.
Zsofia Macho says
Very good point, I don’t think anybody *should* work for free either 🙂 But I speak from experience: during my university years I worked an awfully lot for free, even on novel-length projects just to cut my teeth in the industry. I wasn’t yet a professional, but I could not have become one without experience I gained while working for free: like an internship. I’m also constantly involved in volunteer translation projects, just for the fun of it: perks of speaking a small language.
But you are right not to trust anyone not good enough with your book.
Evie Gaughan says
Consider me sold! I’ve had my books on Smashwords, but the sales were fairly negligible. Also, I made a couple of edits on one of my books after publishing and no matter what I did (going nuclear, hitting my head off a brick wall!) it wouldn’t accept the new file. I’m hoping Publish Drive will be easier from a formatting perspective. Also, when it comes to ISBN, can I use the ISBN from Smashwords? Or does Publish Drive provide a new ISBN? Thanks Joanna for keeping us all on our toes – I’m so lazy about finding new opportunities like this, so good on you 🙂
Zsofia Macho says
Hi Evie, it seems like I somehow have offed notifications of this post and didn’t receive your comment in time. We usually have a much faster reply time 🙂 I hope that you are enjoying PD so far.
Interesting your post.
I’m french and I have an edited french book.
I will have a spanish and italian versions in the next monthes. And after other versions.
So I’m concerned by the international publishing.
I have questions about publishdrive :
1 – What about ISBN ?
2 – Babelcube has a model beetween translater and writer. Does publishdrive have this type of model ?
Hi there, I’m rather late to this discussion but I’m about the self publish my first novella and I’m researching bits and pieces before last minute tasks and then publishing with Amazon. I live in the uk and have a question that is a bit off topic from this discussion but need some advice. I read an article about authors whose Amazon books are available to buy, but then don’t come available to international Amazon sites when customers view the book. It comes up with a notice telling them it’s unavailable. I understand that when sharing the book on social media I have to put links to the different Amazon sites worldwide, but I’ve tried to research this article and what I should do to combat the potential problem but, as yet, I have not found anything more to go on
Joanna Penn says
You can use http://www.books2read.com to generate universal links for free 🙂
Tima Nasser says
Just found this interesting article but i have noticed that the comments are dated back to August 2017; Is PublishDrive is still operative?
Joanna Penn says
Yes, of course, it’s here: https://publishdrive.com/