Daily Archives: August 31, 2011

Lost in Translation: A First-Time (Non-Fiction) Author’s Guide to Translation Rights

Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service Foreign CoversThe following is a guest post by Director of Rights & International Sales Therese Mausser on what non-fiction authors can expect for translation rights to their work.

For a first-time author, the translation process can be mystifying. How in the world does, say, a title like Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service become Tippteenindaja raskused ja rõõmud? (Imagine trying to first explain the idiom, “knock your socks off,” to foreign publishers, and then having an Estonian publisher come up with an equally as colorful and lively a title for their translation!)

Some years back, an author new to publishing wondered how much it would cost to get a translation of his book in Spanish. He was downright giddy when advised that not only would we not have to shell out any money, we would be getting paid for it—by licensing the translation rights! Here, then, is the process.

Presentation: We bring your book to the attention of appropriate agents and publishers throughout the world. We have established good/long-term relationships with major foreign publishers, agents, and scouts. (To date, AMACOM books have been translated in almost 40 different languages.) We meet with them at the major book fairs, including BookExpo America (BEA) and the Frankfurt Book Fair, and in office meetings throughout the year, when they visit NYC. We continually update them on our books– forthcoming, current, and backlist—via email, hard/electronic copies of our catalogs, reviews, and encourage them to visit our social media sites.

What foreign publishers look for/consider: Of course, it’s understandable that books by well-known authors, on US bestseller lists, with a high ranking on Amazon, garnering outstanding reviews in major publications, or endorsements by prominent figures in the field, will get their attention immediately. But what else do foreign publishers/agents look for/consider?

  1. A concept/topic that is not available locally—something “new”, cutting edge, a unique perspective. Translation costs are high, so they are very reluctant to pay for a translation of a book they could get a native author to do (and perhaps create a “brand name” of the local author, in the process.) A “hot topic” in one country, might not even be on the radar screen in another, so it’s vital to establish good lines of communication with publishers/agents to keep on top of what publishers may be looking for. Sometimes there are trends—like the fables that were very popular in Asia some years back.
  2. A concept/topic that “travels”—it is relevant in their markets. Even if an idea is intriguing, if it’s based too much on US laws, customs, examples, they are likely to pass on it.

Option: After the pitch is made, interested publishers will ask for an “option.” This is a period of time during which they evaluate the book for their market. This can range from several weeks to several months, and can be exclusive (only one publisher/agent considers the title at one time), or nonexclusive.

Negotiation: If the publisher is interested in translating the book, we work out the financial terms—usually an advance against royalties, although in some languages, such as Arabic and Turkish, a flat payment, covering royalties on a specified first printing, is more common. These terms will vary from country to country, but we always take into account their first printing quantity and price. These payments are due shortly after the contracts are signed, and are shared with the author according to our original agreement with them, (subject to local tax and agent’s fee, where applicable.)

Unfortunately, there is not a one-to-one correlation between granting an option, and getting an offer for the rights. Often, options are canceled, but then we send the book (or PDF) out to another agent or publisher who may have expressed in it, or who we think might be a good match for it.

Contract: When the negotiation is completed, we issue an agreement reflecting the agreed-upon terms. These are for a volume edition (i.e., hardcover or paperback), and more and more often these days for ebook rights for the translation, as well. When the signed contract is returned, this is the point at which we notify our authors of the good news!

Foreign Translation: Our agreement with the publisher generally specifies they have 18 months from contract date within which to publish their translation. We look to work with publishers who can provide top-quality translations, and support their editions with a strong sales/marketing/distribution network. Upon their publication, we receive copies of the translation, which it is our pleasure to send to our authors. Hooray! You have a wonderful new addition to your bookshelf (and/or electronic reading device)!

Therese Mausser is Director, Rights & International Sales, AMACOM Books, New York. She is currently getting ready for another Frankfurt Book Fair (her 29th one!) this October 12-16. It is one of the things she loves best about her job–this opportunity to meet with so many of the wonderful publishers and agents we work with throughout the year. Visit our website for information on rights and permissions inquiries of AMACOM titles.