There are a million reasons why this deal could fail. For one thing, while my chick lits sell decently in the US, they sell significantly less in the UK (and I live in the UK!) Germany was yet another cultural step removed from where the novels are set. Michael also doesn't read a ton of chick lit (that he's admitted to me, at least) and is male. There aren't a ton of male chick lit authors in the world. And yet, we decided to be brave and try it out, though this required me to watch my budget, as I was prepared to pay Michael his entire fee if this venture failed. I paid him the agreed upon portion up front and he translated Someone Else's Fairytale into Nicht mein Märchen, which we then launched on Amazon.de. The result? I'm posting this sales curve to show some data, not to be obnoxious. This shows the book's ranking on Amazon.de since its release date:
What is exciting about this isn't just selling a lot of books, it's having taken a risk and seen a payoff. As far as I'm aware, Michael is the only translator working with this business model, and it's one I helped create and drafted the original contracts for.
Aside from doing a solid translation, Michael made several other wise choices. Perhaps the most significant is that he contacted Emily Bold, a successful German indie romance author who'd just had a book translated into English. Together we struck a deal that I would help promote her in the US and she would help promote me in Germany. Hence in the back of all my English language books is a plug for her novel, The Curse, which really is fantastic, and in the back of her German language edition of The Curse is a plug for Nicht mein Märchen. We also posted on each other's blogs. Since then, Emily Bold has pulled back on the publicity while she gets the book re-translated. The Curse takes place in Scotland and Delaware and hence requires two dialects of English that are almost different languages. The current translation is in Scots dialect and British English, which Americans might find a little unusual, but I have to say, the story is rock solid and I highly recommend it. There's a reason Emily Bold's books are at the top of the German bestseller lists. When the new translation is out, you'll hear me singing its praises as we go full steam ahead with a publicity campaign.
Michael also contacted German book bloggers and I let him know that I would reimburse him for any paperbacks of the book he sent out for review. Thanks to this, we got several four and five star reviews right off the bat. This also got the book onto lovelybooks.de, which is essentially the German Goodreads.
But at the end of the day, this shows Michael's gift as a translator. Another friend of mine who started out as an indie author but got picked up by a major publisher, entered into her own German rights deal at around the same time. When she asked her agent about the terms of the deal, he let her know that it was always preferable to stay with the norms and let the publisher call the shots, as people who'd tried to hire their own translators usually failed. (Though, don't get the wrong idea, my friend got a good deal and was treated well in the process, she was merely curious about alternatives.) Just because someone can translate into another language doesn't mean they can do a book justice. Successful translators are almost writers in their own right, as they have to make a lot of creative and poetic decisions that make the prose work.
Our translation deal differs from traditional deals in other key ways. One is that Michael will continue to earn a percentage of the royalties even after his fee earns out, and will be entitled to this percentage for as long as the book is for sale, which to me is only fair. He took a big risk and did a lot of work without immediate compensation, so I think that if the book stays a bestseller, he deserves a share of the proceeds. I feel like the work we've accomplished, we've accomplished as a team. He didn't just translate the book, hand it back to me, and move on to other projects. He's stayed invested in its success.
As I write this, Michael's just inked a deal with a major indie suspense author who's seen FAR more success than I have, and I can't help but be thrilled. Michael's business is taking off, and I wish him every success as I look forward to continuing the Fairytale franchise with him on Amazon.de. But more to the point, I'm so excited and elated to have forged a path on this particular frontier of indie writing and indie publishing. Michael's got a full translation schedule at the moment, but can still calendar people for the months ahead and, if he gets enough requests, might bring on board another translator, so anyone who is interested, feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get his contact info. He can afford to be choosy, though, so please don't take offense if he turns a project down. He works on a mostly contingency basis, still has his day job, and his first ever novel translation has been in the top 1000 books on Amazon.de for weeks.