The Profit-Sharing Translation Model – First Title Released

First of all, an apology. After my move to London last month, it took longer than expected to get settled. I’m finally back online, working off a dodgy mobile connection – but at least it’s something.

While I’ve been wrestling with estate agents, recruitment agents, and insurance agents over last six weeks (what is it with agents?), a lot has been going on. I’ve been selling quite a few paperbacks – both online and offline (direct to indie bookstores) – editing my next novel for release in July, working on a dystopian novella, and sketching out notes for the rest of the books I want to release this year.

I’ll cover all those topics over the next couple of weeks, as well as details of a talk I’ll be giving in a bookstore in London (and signing some books), but today’s news is the release of the first title from my profit-sharing translation program.

Passons au numérique !

Passons au numérique : Comment s’auto-publier, et surtout pourquoi is, as you may have guessed, the French edition of Let’s Get Digital and has been translated by the enterprising and talented Lise Capitan (a writer herself, as well as an excellent translator) and proofed by the eagle-eyed Sabine Sur.

The text has been updated somewhat to reflect changes in VAT, the opening of various new Kindle Stores, the collapse of Borders, and I’ve also had the opportunity to include contributions from two French writers – self-published crime writer Pauline Doudelet and Jeff Balek, who publishes a lot of work through a small digital-focused French publisher, but who is also doing a lot of interesting things independently with games and music based on the worlds he creates.

The rest of the content is the same as the English version, which has now sold almost 2,500 copies, and garnered over 100 reviews on Amazon – almost all five stars. Those reviews have propelled it to top three Top-Rated status in five different categories, and it has even cracked the Top 100 Top-Rated in all Non-Fiction e-books on Amazon.

I haven’t spoken French since I was sporting a top hat and tails, flinging cocktails in an Alpine ski resort, but I’ve been told that Lise Capitan has done a tremendous job with the translation. I would like to thank her and Sabine Sur for helping to make this French edition a reality.

Readers in France, Belgium and Monaco can pick up a copy here, the Swiss should go here, residents of the sixth largest French city (London) can grab it here, and French Canadians and anyone outside the above countries can get it from Amazon US here. You can also buy a copy direct from me, where you can find non-Kindle versions if you don’t want to wait for the book to filter out to the various other retailers.

This is the first of many titles in several different languages that I will be releasing under a profit-sharing model.

The Profit-Sharing Model

I’m sure many of you have questions with regard to translations: what they costs, how it all works, and whether they are worth the trouble. Scott Nicholson outlined the basics of the profit-sharing model in a guest-post here last September (and you should read that first). My process has evolved a little since then, so a refresher might be in order.

Translation is only something that should be attempted by a qualified, experienced, professional translator. Capturing the idiom and nuance of each individual writer in another language is a highly skilled, labor-intensive process. As such, translation isn’t cheap and can cost several thousand dollars.

For authors like Scott Nicholson – who has an extensive back-list – the cost of translating into multiple languages would involve a staggering capital outlay. Faced with this conundrum, Scott began offering translators a 20% cut of his royalties – on the basis that they forego their up-front translation fee.

As the profit-sharing model was Scott’s idea, I asked him for an update. Scott’s program is a lot more advanced (he has been doing this for quite a bit longer, and his significantly higher sales make it easier for him to attract translators). Here’s Scott:

* * *

I have been slowly but steadily building a foreign catalog by working with independent freelance translators. I have about a dozen titles out now, finding translators through serendipity, luck, and occasionally by translators finding me through my website. Many times, a translator only has time for one book, but I have been working with Stefan Mommertz in Germany on multiple titles and we are building a nice catalog and have done fairly well. The German market is pretty healthy but still early in ebook adoption. From my experience selling and giving away books, the Italian market is showing signs of growth but probably is about where the U.S. was in 2008 or so. I haven’t seen much action in the Spanish market, and the French market is likewise barely visible.

It’s interesting that I get Italian sales in all the Amazon markets, and also not surprising that even with the proliferation of the iPad worldwide, most of my foreign sales come via the Kindle. I look at foreign editions as yet more revenue trickles, more marketplace diversity, and millions more potential readers. Obviously, the challenge of marketing foreign books can be daunting because of the language barrier, and here again Amazon is really the only digital market that gives you some tools to compete and help your book get discovered.

I pay a 20 percent royalty to translators and get the proofreading done through various means, often in trade for promotion. I treat my translators as partners, because they are part of the studio and they are taking a risk with their time and talent. I am honest with them that it may take years for the books to generate real revenue, but the quarterly royalty payments can make a difference in the meantime, especially when they get paid for work already done. Over the long haul, you may think I got a “bad deal” because I end up paying more in royalties than I would have with a flat fee for translation, but I believe we both come out ahead–and far better than we would working with a traditional publisher in any language. It is very satisfying to see fellow creative entrepreneurs rewarded for their craft.

I am most optimistic about the Brazilian market and Portuguese ebooks as the next Amazon frontier, as well as Kobo’s aggressive improvements. Tradition in many ways has Europe in a digital slumber, and the fixed-price laws will also slow the growth of digital in some countries. I have a profit-sharing deal with a Chinese publisher (not quite what I would call a trad deal), but I have no knowledge yet of the market potential there. The way I look at is I still have six billion potential readers out there. And I can reach them from my desktop with the click of a few buttons. The same advantages of self-publishing in English apply anywhere in the world.

* * *

Thanks to Scott for that update. You can see his extensive back-catalogue here, and keep up to date with all his experiments on his blog here. I should also mention that he has two books riding high in the charts at the moment. Liquid Fear is at #20 in the overall Kindle Store, and the follow-up, Chronic Fear is at #30 – so well done Scott!

Returning to the model, simply put, it allows authors to circumvent much of the up-front costs in exchange for sharing some of the profits.

There is an element of risk for translators, of course. If the book is a flop, they would be out by a significant amount. However, if the book does very well, the translator could earn much more than their standard fee – there is no cap on what the translator could earn, either in terms of duration or a maximum dollar amount.

As I don’t sell as many books as Scott, I felt I had to tweak the model, sweeten the pot a touch, and provide a little extra security to my translators. The way it works is this: I aim for two translators in each language, and split my titles between the pair. Each translator proofs the work of the other. The proofing is up-front fee work, paid in the normal way. This way, each translator should have a nice mix of profit-sharing work and up-front fee work.

To be clear: neither I nor Scott are proposing that all translation work could or should be done on this basis. I’m fully aware that this model will only appeal to a limited number of translators. I appreciate that some (indeed, most) translators will consider the level of risk unacceptable. For writers also, there are pros and cons to this model (see the comments of this post for a fuller discussion).

But for those who are interested, I’m seeking translators in all languages – particularly German, Spanish, (Brazilian) Portuguese, and Italian. If you want more details, please email me at david dot gaughran at gmail dot com.

For anyone considering taking on such a project (either as author or translator), I recommend having a simple, clear contract, spelling out the exact terms. As the results are uncertain for both parties, I think it’s important to establish up-front whether you could have a good working relationship with the other side. I think authors in particular should be careful not to make promises with regards to sales, and must be open with their numbers (and realistic with projections).

Translators need to be certain that the project would be interesting to work on, and that they can trust the person they are working with. As a first step, authors should furnish a copy of the English version and then both sides can take it from there.

I will have some short stories out in French and Polish over the summer, to be followed by longer work in Spanish and Italian.

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is an Irish writer, living in Prague, and author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible and this here blog thing.
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49 Responses to The Profit-Sharing Translation Model – First Title Released

  1. Great to see you’re back. Good luck getting settled in and unpacked.

    I’ve been living in my current home for more than a year and there are still unpacked boxes…

  2. Jaye says:

    Excellent post, as usual, David. I appreciate how openly you, and Scott, share. This really is the beauty of being in the position of creating new business models. Congrats on the French edition.

  3. Am really intrigued by this, I’d love to translate my books but the up front cost is prohibitive. This seems like a pretty good compromise.

  4. TheSFReader says:

    Great ! At last !! However, I’d like to buy the French version, but not through Amazon, and I’d prefer not giving my Visa Card number to an unknown (to me) paying service. Is there any other way ?

  5. Welcome back David… look forward to reading more.

  6. Lise says:

    Hi Dave,
    Thanks for your kind words. It’s great to share the whole process with all your readers/fellow writers. This is really something new and I hope the book will find its French audience. I’ll do my best to try and make that happen. So, let’s get French readers ;)

  7. Roy Murry says:

    Great You’re Back. Missed you hat and tongue.

  8. Greg Scowen says:

    I wish I had come across your earlier posts on this topic. I wouldn’t have felt so alone going into my recent project.

    My wife is a English-German translator and so I knew that when the time came to have my novels translated (naturally I would do this indie too) that I would have to go professional. No point asking her to do it, she is too close to the project and it would likely cause arguments. So I advertised the project on ProZ and waited for quotes to come in.
    The 80,000 word novel had about 60 quotes within two days and among those were five sample translations where the translator had made the effort to buy the book and translate a chapter or two.
    The quotes ranged from 800 EUR (ridiculously low and never going to be professional) to 20,000 EUR with the average being 11,000 EUR. My wife’s per word rate would have resulted in a price of somewhere around the 20,000 EUR mark too.
    I don’t need a degree in economics to know that I wouldn’t likely recuperate such costs, but I was willing to pay the right person something up front and then do a royalty-share on the German version sales.
    One of the samples stood out and so I started to deal with my chosen translator (Lisa Neumayr) and we quickly came to an agreement (my suggestion.
    I paid her 3000 EUR up front for the completed translation and will continue to pay a 50% share on royalties. This may seem like a lot when considering your 20% suggestion, but I am more than happy with the arrangement and my translator is too. In all honesty, for the 3 months she dedicated to the book, she hasn’t yet got anything like what she deserves. I read German and my wife and many others have reported on the high quality of her translation.

    Is the risk worth it? Seems so. The book will be appearing at the Frankfurt Book Fair as part of the Guest of Honour (New Zealand) presentations in both German and English. In it’s first month, the title has reached the top 100 overall of Amazon.de, and been the #1 ranked thriller and historical fiction across all formats. Naturally, sales fluctuate on a daily basis, but it is quickly heading in the direction of outselling the English original.

    If you do have the opportunity to translate a book with a profit-sharing deal, go for it. If you do chose to pay an upfront fee, you may never recover the costs and should be aware of this. You need to first really assess the chances your work has in a second language. But if you think you can get things to break even or indeed make a great profit, then you would be mad not to try. I look at it like this. Even though I am giving away 50% of my royalties, I would never have those royalties to share if the book wasn’t in another language.

    Go conquer the world.

    • Dear Greg,

      Interesting post. I’m not familiar with ‘ProZ’. Could you elaborate a bit, or perhaps post a website or link?

      Thanks.

      • Greg Scowen says:

        ProZ (http://www.proz.com/) is a translators marketplace or community, for want of a better description.
        As with any online community, there are some time-wasters there, but there is also a huge array of serious and professional translators the use ProZ as their main online marketing portal.

        I went along and had a look around and was able to search for translators based on experience, qualifications and language pairs but it will still have been a big task and a waste of time to approach them individually.
        Then I discovered you could advertise a job for free and get tenders for the work. This is what I did. The range of offers was truly amazing and you definitely need to weed out the chaff from th good ones, but the girl (woman) I found was truly brilliant to work with and I hope to have an enduring relationship with her for future books (she is now my voice in German – and incidentally I think my German voice sounds better than my English one – whoops).

        As an aside, in reply to one of your questions for David, the market for a book in any other language is tricky to gauge and needs more thought than just considering the market size.
        For example, the German market, though huge, is still young in the digitial side of things. Yet I am selling very well there. But the reason for that likely has a lot to do with the content of my novel. Most of the novel is based in New Zealand, which is considered paradise on earth by the majority of Germans. The best-selling novels (and hardest pushed) by some of the big German publishers are novels set in New Zealand. That gives me an advantage. I expect it could also do well in Spain, since it revolves around the idea that the Spanish settled NZ. But if it would have any traction in France, I really couldn’t say. My point is that I think content plays a huge role.

        Likewise, I typically get more UK sales (and free downloads on KDP Select days) than US. Again, I think this comes down to the novel setting. My guess is that a lot more British have knowledge of or an in interest in New Zealand.

      • Carmen Grau says:

        I think you are right, Greg, your book might do really well in Spain. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to. Spaniards are fascinated with Australia and New Zealand. I know because I am from Barcelona and live in Australia. My fellow country people find me interesting just because I live in Australia, lol!

      • Greg Scowen says:

        I should note, that having viewed your translators wanted webpage, my translator did not have literary translation experience but had a massive passion for it. That may have been an advantage.
        Literary translators are few and far between, cost a lot of money, and normally work to very specific conditions. ProZ members who had no lit experience but the opportunity to apply for my job were very grateful their chance to enter a new market. Think how you felt when publishing your first book, the passion and desire to make it perfect. That’s what I got.

      • Greg makes a good point about the relative interest in a particular language or country for the subject of a book. My thriller is about the U.S. presidential race, and though we think we are the center of the universe (insert smiley face here) not everyone is as invested in our drawn-out political contests as Americans themselves are. Thus I have hesitated to look into translations of my long novel. I have, however, started to translate some of the Frisky Dimplebuns episodes that I am publishing — I figure the quest for true love is universal! I’ve got the first one ready in German, and I’m working on a Chinese translation. THAT would be a great market to crack, eh?

    • Hi Greg,

      I’m sure lots of different models will emerge before it settles down to some kind of recognizable/standard arrangement. I make no claims for this model being superior, or having the possibility to emerge as the most common. We’re all shooting in the dark, to an extent, and learning as we go.

      It sounds like your book is off to a fantastic start. Best of luck with it.

      Dave

      • Dear Greg/David,

        First to Greg:

        1. The ProZ link definitely looks promising. I think one of the great things about the Indie experience is the general cooperation all around, well demonstrated by both David and Scott and their willingness to share the results of their own efforts. I thank you for your own willingness to share the link, as I’m sure, do others reading these comments.

        2. Secondly, I totally agree that the potential of various language markets is influenced by multiple variables, and difficult to predict. I used the (admittedly simplistic) metric of population size just to point out that a deal attractive to a translator in Market A, might not necessarily be attractive to one in Market B. I don’t have any answers there, I was just throwing it out for discussion/comment in the hope that others (particularly any translators who might be following the discussion) might share their views.

        3. Thirdly, I take your point regarding literary translators and will change the post heading on my website accordingly. Thank you for bringing that to my attention. Your comment also provoked another thought. A translator with literary experience is used to working under the traditional model, and may not be particularly open to a ‘royalty share’ arrangement. It’s also possible (if not probable) that s/he may share the traditionalist ‘self-publishing = rubbish’ mindset.

        Finally to David:

        I agree that all current arrangements are very much ‘works in progress.’ I would love for Amazon to set something up for authors/translators like ACX they’ve set up for audiobooks. As I’m sure you know, the royalty split there is much higher (50/50) but it’s capped at 7 years. I think that approach might be more appealing to translators, as it affords more rapid profits during the peak earning period of the book. I can see something like that working, perhaps paired with a lesser fee for foreign language marketing support when the market for a particular work matures.

      • Greg Scowen says:

        I had never heard of ACX before so just raced off there to discover and then join. Only, it turns out I can’t do that from outside the US (even with an ITIN etc), so disappointed now.

        Do you know of any other revenue-sharing audio book generation system like ACX?

  9. David,

    Good to see you back, and congrats on your first translation. May the euros rain upon you! I’ve been pursuing the translation idea as well, so far without great success, but I remain optimistic. One thing that’s occurred to me as I’ve attempted to assess things from the translator’s point of view, is the different potential offered by the various language markets. That makes little difference if the work is being performed on a traditional ‘work for hire’ basis, but it seems to me that it truly does if the translator’s earnings are tied to sales potential.

    For example, my UK earnings are typically about 20% of my US earnings. If you compare the UK and say, Italy, both with populations in the range of 60 million, it would seem reasonable that as the Italian market accepts ebooks, they will eventually mirror the UK market. It seems unlikely that they would ever exceed that.

    However, if you look at say, Brazil, with a population nearing 200 million, there would seem to be a greater potential there. I’m wondering if things might evolve to the point where for smaller markets, authors might be better off just attempting to sell rights on a lump sum basis, while in markets with larger potential they retain rights and pursue shared royalty arrangements.

    Do you have any thoughts about that?

    • I see a huge amount of potential in German, Spanish, and Portuguese, and, to a lesser extent, French and Italian (and, obviously, Asian markets like Japanese and Chinese). The German language market is one of the largest foreign markets, but Spanish has staggering potential, once you consider Latin America. Portuguese is very interesting too, with Brazil really booming right now, and lacking any real bookstore infrastructure (many books are sold door-to-door).

      While all these markets are small now, one only has to look at the UK for an idea how quickly they could grow (the UK is growing at a much faster rate than the US as there is more infrastructure and books available than there was in the US market at a similar stage of growth).

      • David,

        I totally agree. See my combined comments above.

      • Greg,

        “I had never heard of ACX before so just raced off there to discover and then join. Only, it turns out I can’t do that from outside the US (even with an ITIN etc), so disappointed now.”

        That surprises me, but there must be a workaround. I know that Nick Spalding and other UK based self-published authors are producing audiobooks via ACX (at least I think I read that), so you might have to dig a bit deeper to find out how that happens.

        “Do you know of any other revenue-sharing audio book generation system like ACX?”

        I recently ran across another site call Perfect Voices, that seems similar. I offer their link with the caveat that I know absolutely nothing about them –> http://perfectvoices.net/

        The same qualifier pertains to Voices.com. I have the link, but have not explored them and know nothing about them. –> http://www.voices.com/

        My opinion is that you’d be better off continuing to knock at the ACX door until you’re sure it’s not possible. With the power of Amazon behind them, I feel they will be the dominant player. However (and I suppose rather obviously), that’s just my opinion. I hope this helps.

  10. josephine wade says:

    Hey Dave,
    Good to hear from you again. I’m glad you’ve endured your last Swedish winter and survived to tell the tale. Sorry about the paper tigers waiting for you in England.
    Can you tell me how much more of your time is spent on the business of translations? I’m just curious if it eats up a bit of time every day or if it is more of an accounting issue that you deal with quarterly or what have you. Clear as mud as always :) . Hopefully your powers of intuition survived the move.

    • It’s hard to ascertain. I can tell you that formatting was a giant pain. All those special characters are one thing, but there are certain typographical formalities in French (non-breaking spaces before exclamation marks etc.) which require a lot of extra work. Aside from that, there has been a little back-and-forth with the translators, as well as drawing up contracts, and, of course, finding them in the first place. Hard to quantify all that, but the process is getting more streamlined as I go along. Going forward, all pre-existing translations should just be an accounting issue – hopefully cutting very large checks for my translators!

      • josephine wade says:

        So you did the formatting yourself for each translation? Hmm… that would probably be the deal breaker for me. I guess I could find someone who is willing to be detailed and format to the different languages… just thinking out loud.
        I have to tell you, I am in awe of all you’ve done so far, thanks for sharing it all with us and letting us peak in on your mad genius ways!

  11. Merci beaucoup pour l’explanation, Dave! The more we do the more we learn.

    I will watch with interest the success of your latest venture.

    P.S. I put a little short story on Wattpad and I’m in awe of your fantastic numbers on “A Storm Hits Valparaiso” there. Congrats!

  12. Merde alors! ‘Let’s Get Digital’ in the hands of them over the channel? Now we’ll have to compete with the French too… and that almost never ends well. :0)

  13. Carmen Grau says:

    Thanks for this, David. I loved it, and I’m glad you’re having your book translated into other languages. I hope the Spanish version will be out soon. I know lots of Spanish indie writers who would profit from it a lot. I have already recommended your book to them, as some can read English. But I’m sure they would prefer to read it in their native language.

  14. Very interesting project.

    I like to think I will look at other languages (once my books actually come out, and assuming they sell more than 4 copies :) ) because lets face it, the world is huge

    It opens up new possibilities, and doing it in such a way creates new contacts and stories, which in my opinion, is one of the most important aspects

    Love what you’re doing here, and it’s good to see you back from your break :)

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

  15. K.E. Andersen says:

    I just finished Let’s Get Digital. Great book! You convinced me. I will be self-published by the end of this summer. Thanks!

  16. Congratulations, David! For everything :-). In addition to all your other talents, you are so gd enterprising.

    One of my books just won an award in the Latino publishing world, so it seems like a good candidate to get translated into Spanish someday. I’ll be coming back to your post and these comments for advice and support if that ever happens. Sales will have to pick up tremendously before that day :-), though.

    Good luck, buenas suertes por todos!

  17. I think the profit-sharing idea is a really good one and I’m glad to hear that is working out for you. At Le French Book, we are translating French books into English and looking for French-to-English literary translators interested in this kind of approach.

  18. D.L.Shutter says:

    The ongoing discussion of translation for indies is fascinating and excitign to see it develop as e-book markets grow. Thanks as well for your kind words over at Kindle Boards, I asked where you’ve been, but reading this post, you’ve clearly been busy.

    Good luck with the foreign sales.

  19. Gail Galvan says:

    Just wanted to say glad your posts are back….Such an interesting writer/character!!! Somebody should write a good book about you! Hey, have you done your autobiography yet? I learn so much…and stole little idea from you…Put three short stories together….Gail’s Tales, Short STories, Ebook Version…. into ebook, and voila….on Amazon…..Working on more….and a couple of my books…Thinking of becoming the Dollar Store author..TRULY….so all of my books can go ebook as well..Some are non-profit, important topics on allergies/asthma/immunology….wnat ot offer support/understanding! (Now you take time to smell the roses or whatever you have there in London, don’t you D.G?) oh, and i read your Let’s Get Digital/American Style…Thanks Teach! So…many…aspiring….writers….are still sitting around with that inquiry, proposal…that takes so much time and energy to rite, often to no avail…letting their work dust up and atrophy away.. (But nothiing wrong with a both/and approach either i suppose….) .I swear though, self-pub is such a gift, just to see a literary labor of love in book form…paperback or ebook…sure pros and cons..but modern day miracles are happening. each and every day, alas, for the unknown, undaunted authors of the world!…and you are the Godfather of so many of them…Thanks so much…cheers, A Fan, Gail Galvan.

  20. Gail Galvan says:

    corrections last blog….correct words (want to) ..sorry about that…forgot those glasses again.

  21. Tyler Wills says:

    Hey Wecome back!
    Now you’ve started on the languages you’ll have an easier road to international audio!

  22. TBM says:

    Glad you are back David. When I moved to London last September I was amazed by how long it took to get settled and to get reliable internet. They hooked up my phone line but still waited over two weeks to “flip” it on. I wish you luck with the rest of the unpacking and such. I’m looking forward to your posts and would love to know the details about your upcoming talk in London. Hopefully I will be able to make it. Good luck with your books and happy writing!

  23. Barb says:

    David, I’m Italian. I write in English under two pen-names and in Italian under a third. Italians don’t read. I haven’t sold any Italian title (well one on B&N through Smashwords, I wonder how that happened!) nor sold anything on Amazon.it. That’s why I switched to English in the first place! ;-)
    Anyway, I might take up translations of other people’s works sometime in the future. At the moment I’m translating/rewriting my own backlist (I wrote in Italian until 2005), but I’m perfectly conscious that I’m translating/rewriting, which I wouldn’t want to do on somebody else’s work…
    Anyhow, only wanted to comment on the Italian market as I’ve seen it in the past year and a half of self-publishing. But last December I was very discourged at the Small&MediumPublishers Fair in Rome – e-readers owners used their e-readers (Sony, i-Pad, local Leggo and newly available Kindle) for everything but reading. It might grow, and when that happens I might have quit my day job and started translating for other authors. I saw Scott Nicholson translator request and I’ll keep both him and you on my list of indie authors to contact if and when I decide to become a real translator! :-)
    Happy writing!

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