Last time I shared with everyone my experience where I took the initiative and recommended a foreign book to a publisher. I became the translator for that book, and that also paved the way for more book translations later on. Someone asked me exactly how I pulled it off, so I decided I would share it here in this article. If you haven't read my other articles on the subject, I suggest you read the following two articles first.
If you want to try and secure a book translation job by recommending a foreign book to a publisher, I've summarized the steps below in two separate posts for your reference.
1. Finding a suitable book
Don't choose a famous author
The author of the book I recommended at the time, Zor: Philosophy, Spirituality, and Science, is a retired Wall Street broker and Zor was the first book he's ever written. He's not a professional, so he published his book on Amazon's self-publishing platform in electronic format. He didn't publish a printed version, and probably didn't have an agent. Even in the US, he may not have been on the publishers' radars, let alone in Taiwan. If that fits the profile of the author you want to recommend, then this method may work for you.
But if the author is only well known within a specific field, then recommending a book in this way could still work. Within start-up circles that I'm familiar with, books by spiritual leader Steve Blank serves as a good example, since he is only familiar to readers from a certain group. In addition, his books are very well written and well worth recommending. Indeed, I have successfully recommended his book. So, the choice of which book by which author you should recommend really tests your understanding of a certain niche market.
Don't bother with books that have been published
If the book you want to recommend has been translated and published before, the chances of republishing the book is usually slim. Unless it's a classic, publishers usually aren't willing to republish a book. As for best-sellers looking to republish through a different publisher, they are most likely already targeted by people in the publishing industry and most certainly don't need a good word from us.
Giving the Publisher Real Value
My editor friend tells me he hears something to the effect of "this book is great, you should publish it" on a weekly basis. To him, this means nothing because he already has so much on his plate. Unless you clearly tell him what is specifically great about the book, he ignores the message completely. Naturally if you can discover a book with market potential, all the better for the publisher.
2. Contacting the Author
The Author is Better Informed
A translator asked if there's a place where we can find out if some foreign language book has already had its translation rights sold to a publisher. The answer is no. There's no way to know if the publishing rights to a book has been sold. So, if you contact the author as soon as possible, the author may actually be able to give you some information on that front. After all, the author did write the book, and if anything is going on with the publishing rights, they would find out before you do.
Backing of the Author a Big Plus
I know a Korean language translator who asked the author to recommend her as the translator. The author replied "Of course I would recommend you, how could I recommend anyone else? You've been such a big help! “
From the publisher's point of view, they don't necessarily have to let you translate the book you recommended. As mentioned in a previous post, publishers usually only work with translators they have worked with before or recommended by someone they know well. If they already know a translator who can handle the subject matter, they are not obliged to give you the job.
In my personal experience, the author of the book I recommended added a clause to designate me as the translator for his book right in his contract with the local publisher that won the publishing rights. That's as clear a guarantee as you can get. Of course, not every author can or is willing to do so much, though letting the author know who you are and what you are doing for him definitely improves your chances at landing the job.
As for how does one get in touch with the author? Google it! That's what we translators do best. You can search the Amazon author profile, Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook, just to name a few.
I remember when I shared my experience a few years back at an event, a translator commented: "Doesn't that mean you are evaluating books for the publisher for free?"
Actually, I have never done book evaluations before. It was only after hearing from a translator did I realize that such a job exist. Book evaluators are hired by publishers to write a book report on a book of their choice. In Taiwan, a book evaluator is paid around NTD 2,000 (about USD 67) per book. The format of the evaluation is slightly different between different publishers. Evaluating a book takes anywhere from a few days to a week, or even two for rookies.
For book evaluators, the list of books to evaluate is decided by the publisher, while it is you who gets to choose what book to recommend. Evaluating a book is done for the money, while recommending a book is done willingly out of the love for a particular book. For me these two things are as apples and oranges. There's a big difference in how much money you get out of it and how much joy you get out of it. And whether you are writing to impress the editor also makes a huge difference.
In the next post, I will unveil what's in a book proposal. Subscribe to our e-newsletter if you don't want to miss it! :)
This article was originally written in traditional Chinese by Joanne Chou, Co-founder of Termsoup, and later translated into English by Gary Liaw.