Pub Rants

Not Lost In Translation

 28 Comments |  Share This:    

STATUS: Just working.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I WILL FIND YOU by Enya

When writers are starting in this biz, they probably don’t think too much beyond that first US sale, but selling translation rights can be as equally important (which is one of the reasons I think that agents will always prove beneficial even in an all-digital publishing world).

I have an author who is selling tremendously abroad. So much in fact that the author’s foreign publisher was contracting for future books even though the US publisher had not committed to those same books.

We ended up being able to use the foreign deal as leverage to get the US publisher to reconsider this author’s series and buy the next book for US publication. Not only did the US publisher buy in, they decided to repackage the books to give them new life in the home market.

Borders loved the new look and decided to take a floor display. Needless to say, this is all helping to build new momentum for a series of books that could have easily been written off.

And all of this wouldn’t have happened except the author’s books were selling so well abroad. The foreign push reinvigorated the US stuff.

28 Responses

  1. Gordon Jerome said:

    Here’s the dirty little secret about publishing. It’s just like any other career—network, network, network. The days of the isolated writer hammering out great works of art and being discovered are over. In fact, those days never really existed.

    This quote is taken from the NLA FAQ on how to get an agent. I think it speaks volumes. I think it’s telling the truth: the ability to produce a great work of literary art is not what gets you an agent. What gets you an agent is who you know.

    Well, I won’t do it.

    All I ever wanted to do is to tell the truth through fiction, and that means writing a great story written in a style that’s immensly readable and enjoyable. Now I learn that I’m being silly. That I have to become some traveling conference groupee (I was going to use a stronger term) in order to get noticed. Isn’t it just like those who can’t write to demand such subservience from those who can?

    It’s like going to a job, and because you do a really good job, you run afoul of the manager who can’t do a very good job. In other words, the better your manuscript, the more you remind the agent of what they can’t do–but probably always wanted to do. So, to even the playing field, you have to kiss their ass.

    I’m tired of the games people play. So, I won’t play. And what does that mean? It means I have to self-publish. It means I probably won’t get rich, and it means my audience may be limited. Oh well. If my personality can’t handle the degredation of begging an agent to validate my existence, then apparently I was doomed anyway.

    That being the case, a small following on Kindle, or something like that (and you’re beginning to see more and more of those now), a print-on-demand deal just to keep a few books stocked at Amazon, that sort of thing may be all that I could ever get from my life as an author. So be it.

    If I wanted to simply be a lickspittle to an agent, hell, I can get that at work any day of the week. I’m an author to be independent of all that.

    I would be interested in anything anyone has to say about this.

  2. said:

    …the author’s foreign publisher was contracting for future books even though the US publisher had not committed to those same books. >>

    Kristin, can you tell us which country? (Please.)

  3. Carradee said:

    Pretty song! I hadn’t realized that one was Enya.

    Now I’m curious about what series you’re referring to. Guess I’ll have to check out the Borders floor displays.

    Gordon Jerome: It’s like going to a job, and because you do a really good job, you run afoul of the manager who can’t do a very good job

    I feel sorry for you. My work experiences differ from yours. Which might influence our divergent views on agents.

    Also, I think you’re missing the point of that quote from the NLA FAQ, which is that you have to actively seek publication to receive it. You can’t write as a hermit and expect bestseller status once it’s published, even if it’s something that deserves bestseller status.

  4. Patience-please said:

    Kristin, the authors you represent are indeed to be envied!

    Which brings me to Mr. Jerome. (Although I hesitate at contributing to the post hijacking.) I was a total innocent when I compiled my first little collection of essays, short stories, and (local) NPR commentary into a book. It never occurred to me to seek representation, or to try to get my book published. I self-published it, not by a self-publishing ‘house’ but by a printer of medical texts! I could afford to do a printing of 800.
    They sold out. I made money! (It cost $7/book to print, and I sold them for $24.99/book.)

    If you believe in your work, don’t waste all this negative energy! Publish that sucker! Get it out. Promote it.

    If it is as good as you hope, and if you are tireless, it will do just fine. I believe that.

    The book that Kristin is talking about proves this. Cream eventually rises to the top.

  5. Marianne Mancusi said:

    Hey guys,

    It’s my “Blood Coven Vampires” YA series Kristin is talking about. And yes, it’s a pretty remarkable story.

    The foreign publisher was in Germany and, as Kristin said, the books have done really well there. They’ve already bought book #5 and are talking about #6 – before book #4 has even been published in the US.

    BUT I want to point out it was not JUST foreign interest that got Bad Blood (book #4) bought in the US. (Though it definitely helped.) It was also Kristin, refusing to give up on it – even though she wasn’t even the agent for the first 3 books. (I signed with her after I’d sold those.) She kept going back to the publisher time and time again, presenting the facts on why they should continue publishing the series. My editor fought hard too – she and Kristin made a good team. But the higher ups kept saying no.

    But even when things seemed very bleak, Kristin never once told me to give up and move on, even though in the meantime I was selling other books to other publishers. I think she realized that the series meant something to me personally and that meant something to her, as my agent.

    You can probably imagine the joyous phone call when the publisher finally decided to not only buy #4 but also re-package/re-release the first three books. Kristin was as enthused about this deal as any where she stood to make six figures.

    And that is a sign, in my opinion, of a good agent. One that fights, even when things seem impossible and one that will do it because she believes in the project, even if she stands to gain little in financial terms, because it means something to her author.

    Now sure, there are times when an agent has to give an author tough love – if the series is not selling, for example. But in this case, there were other factors involved that had nothing to do with sales, so Kristin was able to go present a good argument with facts and figures to back it up.

    And this is why I believe a good agent is an invaluable source for any author.

    I can’t wait to see my Blood Coven books on display at Borders in November!


  6. Vivi Anna said:

    I agree Mari and good agent is worth way more than her 15%.

    I’m very happy to hear that it was your books!! Congrats!

    And Gordon, don’t give up on yourself. This industry is tough, sometimes it takes years and years to get in, and even more years to make a career of it. If you want to self-publish, go for it, but please don’t do it because one article told you you had to be a conference rat.

    My BFF has a good career, and all she does for her books, is do one conference a year. She doesn’t blog, or do chats, or twitter, or anything like that. She writes, publisher publishes and her books sale because she writes good books.

  7. nkrell said:

    Herzlichen Glueckwunsch! (Congratulations in German.)

    That is exciting news. The Germans have good taste. (Why yes, I am half German.)

    Viel Spass beim schreiben.

  8. Kristin Laughtin said:

    That’s great to hear! I’ve heard of the occasional book published overseas being brought over because of its success in Europe or Australia (LET THE RIGHT ONE IN comes to mind), but never really thought of a US writer getting a push in the home country because of sales abroad.

    I’d just love to learn more about how the translation process works in general, both because of my background in linguistics and because of the highly stylized prose of some of the authors I love (have to wonder how it translates, especially into languages with very different grammatical structures). Research time!

  9. Marie Lu said:

    Marianne, I’d read your blog recently and had a feeling it was you that Kristin was referring to! HUGE congratulations to you! I will be looking for the newly packaged books in my local bookstore.

  10. Anja said:

    It had to be Germany. Only people who publish 7 U.S. novels for each native one. 😉 You people are lucky, you know. 1% of all unsolicited manuscripts get published eventually (OK, maybe not this year, what with the 30% increase in submissions). Still, over here, it’s 0.01%.

    @ Marianne Mancusi

    Herzlichen Glückwunsch auch von mir! Hey, I might give this a try, though I’m way past young adult ;o)

    @ Kristin Laughtin

    How translation works? You start by studying a foreign language: 9 years (usually) at school, 5 years at Uni or Translator School. Same goes for your native language, of course. It also helps if you spend a year living in a country where your language of choice is being spoken. And you need to read lots of novels in both languages. Lastly, you need to be nuts enough not to go where the money is (business translations) because literary translations rarely pay the rent (so you might want to marry first or drive a taxi at night.) To break into the business, you first need to dazzle a publisher with a brilliant (unsolicited) translation of a yet untranslated novel (3-4 pages). Better yet, you know someone who knows someone. If you don’t … well, let’s just say it’s easier to write your own book and get it published (see odds above) than to get a foot in the door as a literary translator.


  11. Mystery Robin said:

    I’m so curious about which series this is! I’m going to go stalk Borders…. now! I’m usually a B&N girl or Indie.

    Gordon, if you just want to write, then just write. If you want to publish and make money – it’s a business, learn the ropes, just like the day job. Gotta play with the good bosses and the bad. Gotta find a good agent and let them do their job. Whining doesn’t help.

  12. David Kearns said:

    I have to agree with Gordon on some of this. I hear his frustration. I think he needs to remember there is a bais/prejudice against male writers these days. Sooooo very evident, creepy and just wrong. But, we answer for sins done by men of the Mad Men Generation, I suppose.

    Also it’s all about the emasculation of the American landscape. Not about anything you did or did not do at a conference, where you at there and kissed ass. Anyone of these blogs, although this one certainly seems more tolerant than the others. shows it: men don’t count.

    You rarely hear an agent talk about what she did for a male writer these days. Almost unheard of.

    Want to see a REAL cut-nutting website go to The Rejectionist: they hate male writers and will say so, right there.

    You notice on Galleycat, BWFW (recall FUBU)

    What to do about this? Who knows. Like the monk on Skellig Michael working by candle-light through the dark ages, I wait patiently on the blogs for the end of the vagina age.

    Sorry gals,you’re beautiful and I love ya but, it is what it is, wrong and BTW no working

  13. Eileen said:

    For the record I didn’t groupie any agents- I did a cold queries. Networking doesn’t hurt, but in the end it really does come down to the book. I know for a fact my agent finds well over 75% of her clients from the slush/query pile. To assume you have to be a bootlicker is wrong and spends your energy in the wrong way.

    This is a frustrating business. It’s the curse of being in a field that is so competitive. If we wanted to be plumbers this might be easier and in most cases would pay better. On the other hand- I can’t imagine anything else I would rather do.

  14. Gordon Jerome said:

    Thank you all very much for the comments. I feel free to highjack the post, because from what I’ve seen, Kristin doesn’t respond to comments. I’d be very surprised if she even reads them. Chances are the blog is just a way of boosting participation in her conferences. Chances are the majority of her income comes from selling the pans to the gold prospectors, not from the gold.

    Be that as it may, I want to say that I’m not whining. I actually feel liberated. I’ve come to accept what I can honestly expect to accomplish as a novelist. After Katrina and the current recession/depression/change-of-the world, I have learned that what we get in life is what we get. If all I can get is a small following of readers (who will probably also be horror writers), I’m okay with that. That really is enough.

    And I have a little secret for those of you who may not know: The quote from my OP in these comments is from Kristin, herself. In other words, if you want her to be your agent, you better get your lips ready for her buttocks, because she isn’t looking for great writers; I think by her own words we can deduce that’s just a ruse.

    So, how did this happen? How did the employee become the master? You do realize an agent is supposed to be “working” for you? You know that, right? In the author/agent relationship, you’re supposed to be the employer. I suppose it all boils down to one of the most powerful forces in social psychology: the one who needs the relationship the least has the most power in that relationship. Madonna called it in one of her songs, the power of goodbye. I’m actually listening to that song on my itunes now.

    It’s almost a story fit for a novel: what if fiction writers suddenly turned? What if it was considered bad form to be published outside of small circles? What if in order for a publisher to get the rights to publish a novel, they had to wait until it became public domain? Or at least until the author’s heirs sold the rights after the author died.

    I mean my wife has these great paintings she’ll never part with. What if we felt the same way about our novels? You do realize they need us more than we need them? But that isn’t the Stephen King Dream is it? We want six-figure advances. We’ll take even a one-dollar advance. We want anything that will tell us that someone else thinks we are worth reading.

    Well, I say if they aren’t begging you, don’t even look at them. Dohh! That’s what the agents say! Imagine that.

    And one last thing: I don’t come here to get an agent. Kristin doesn’t even handle the kind of stories I write. I come here to talk with other writers. This is where you guys are at–here and other blogs like it. It’s the only community I have as a writer. So, again, thank you for reading and responding.

    Imagine comparing us to plumbers. Who could do such a thing? Who could actually compare a fiction artist to a plumber. There’s nothing wrong with plumbers, but damn, is there no nobility left to the artist at all?

    Just a thought.

  15. Carradee said:

    Gordon Jerome: And I have a little secret for those of you who may not know: The quote from my OP in these comments is from Kristin, herself.

    Yeah, I got that. I still stand by my belief that you’re misreading the FAQ. It says that you should connect to other people in your field (writing), not that you need to suck up to agents and editors. In fact, if you read the entire question answer, the networking is advised so you can meet an agent through someone they know or in person.

    I screen job applicants on my day job. Her listed hierarchy for the best way to get an agent also happens to match the best way to get your foot in the door for a job—know somebody in the field or company, meet the person who does hiring, or submit a resume. It’s not that I dislike people who just submit a resume—I just get a better feel for people I meet in person.

    Novel agents are like real estate agents. Their job is to match the one providing the commodity to the one willing to buy it—but they don’t have to accept every property offered to them, and not every property fits every buyer.

    You wanna talk to writers? A LOT of folks hang out on There are also some on

    What’s wrong with plumbers? Writing is an intellectual pursuit, yes, but I don’t perceive that as any more or less “noble” than a physical pursuit like plumbing.

  16. Gordon Jerome said:

    Hey Carradee,

    I’m sure you’re right. Actually, what you are saying is the point I was trying to make: The traditional publishing route is just like a job. But my issue is that I already have one of those.

    Nevertheless, publishing at the big houses, and even the small ones, is what it is. I have to accept the world as I find it, not as I would have it to be. I understand that.

    But I was faced with a Dilemma for my first novel. About 15 agents turned it down. So, for the last two years, it has sat on a shelf in my closet and in digital form on my computer. I recently looked at the prologue and the first two chapters while preparing the sample of it for my website, and I still think it’s pretty good. So, what happens to it? Does it just vaporize because the publishing world doesn’t want to publish it? It’s become an aborted child. I say it’s time to raise it from the dead.

    Then the socializing I do in groups, blogs, organizations, etc., which is something I’d want to do anyway, becomes publicity–and I’ll be able to tell others how to do it as well. Even that can become a kind of publicity. And voila! I’m an independent artist.

    I suppose that’s the plan anyway. Unless you have a better idea.

  17. Anja said:

    Gordon, have you tried a (serious) critiquing workshop yet, like critters, critiquecircle, or OWW? To me, OWW was an immense help, especially with the first chapters. I also found a fabulous reviewing partner at OWW (with an incredible eye for detail & logical issues) and we’ve been critting each other’s work via email for years now.

    It takes more than a shovel to raise a novel from the dead. You need to breathe new life into it. But don’t give up. Two years in a closet isn’t such a long time. It took Jim Butcher 8 years to get published and Kate Douglas twenty! (My humble self, I’ve been trying for 11, but I won’t give up for another 9, hehe.)

    Anyway, good luck.

  18. Anonymous said:

    Gordon, you are wrong about agents never promoting their male authors. Go read Janet Reld’s website. Look at her sidebar.

    Your bitterness is coming through, and I don’t think that will serve you well. If you want to self-publish and you refuse to network, that is okay. But don’t trash the agents, especially this one here who so clearly is a champion for her clients (and writers in general).

    You’ve been given good advice. Get in an online writing group so you’re not working in a vacuum to get your manuscript in the best shape it can be. Then if you choose not to work with an agent (or directly with a small horror publishers), self-publish. Frankly, if I were an agent reading your posts, there’s no way I’d take you on because I’d be concerned that you would not be able to handle my revision notes or those of an editor.

  19. Gordon Jerome said:

    Gordon, you are wrong about agents never promoting their male authors. Go read Janet Reld’s website. Look at her sidebar.

    If you look back at the posts, you will see that I never said that. That was someone else.

    Your bitterness is coming through, and I don’t think that will serve you well. If you want to self-publish and you refuse to network, that is okay. But don’t trash the agents, especially this one here who so clearly is a champion for her clients (and writers in general).

    Oh, please. Has she “championed” you lately? She’s an agent. Her role is clearly defined. She doesn’t “champion” anything. She finds buyers and gets a cut for doing it. That’s it. She’s not a writer; she’s not a publisher; she’s an agent. And I’m not attacking her. I’m quoting her words and making a statement about them.

    But let me make this clear: the only reason I don’t want to offend her is because she’s a human being like the rest of us. I’m here to talk with people like you. I’m not here to talk with her–she doesn’t represent my kind of stories.

    In trade, she gets lots of comments to her blog. It’s a fair exchange.

    Maybe she’s a good agent; I hope she is. But I won’t query her, and she won’t come looking for me. She’s not anyone’s “champion.” She’s an agent. And she’s made it clear on her web site that it’s not good writing, but good networking that gets you noticed. She’s probably right. And though I would like to get lots of money for my novels–I’m not going to “write for the market.”

    You’ve been given good advice. Get in an online writing group so you’re not working in a vacuum to get your manuscript in the best shape it can be. Then if you choose not to work with an agent (or directly with a small horror publishers), self-publish. Frankly, if I were an agent reading your posts, there’s no way I’d take you on because I’d be concerned that you would not be able to handle my revision notes or those of an editor.

    And you would be right. I may not write as good as I will in the future, but I am keenly aware of what good writing is. I also frequent B & N and Amazon, and I know what passes for publishable material these days. Therefore, I would never let a non-writer tell me what to do with my novel (outside of routine copyediting).

    On the other hand, a writer whom I respect, especially in the genre of ghost stories, now that is someone I would listen to and learn from.

    As for online writing critique forums, you must be out of your mind. Imagine letting bad and then jealous wannabes tell me what to do with my story. That’s just insane. I think it’s best to have enough integrity to let one’s work stand or fall on its own.

    Writing groups are a joke. When it comes to groups, bad writers get pity, and therefore encouragement. Good writers get jealousy, and therefore hard criticism. It’s an inherent filter one can’t get around.

    Besides, never forget Kristin’s words, it’s not great writing–it’s great networking that makes the cut. And she has to be right, since it is very hard to find a modern novel worth reading.

    Nope: I make the rules. I write the novel, and I have full control of content and style. My wife gets first dibs at writing the screenplay. And that’s it. If I don’t make it big, so what? I haven’t been big for 45 years. No matter how big I get, I still die small–just like everyone else. I die with no money I can keep, no love I can save, no one I can take with me. I die and return to God the Father from whence I came–just like everyone else. (Sorry, but it’s my Friday night and I’ve had some Jameson. If Courier font could slur, believe me it would be melting off the page right now.).

    Thanks for the advice, but I’m going to go my own way, and that’s the song on my Ipod now: Go Your Own Way, by Fleetwood Mac.


  20. said:

    And though I would like to get lots of money for my novels–I’m not going to “write for the market.”

    Hi, Gordon. I’m finding your posts very interesting. The decision not to write for the market is, it seems, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    And it is certainly not without dignity. It is in many respects the high road. Your priority seems to be wiriting as an art. This is admirable.

    I also understand that to turn your back on the market is an act that is based on disappointment with the commercial market for writing. It also involves getting angry at the market (and the people who work within it), I know.

    Given the Jameson (wow, one of my all-time favorites — pass the bottle please), you’ve done a great job of not letting your disappointment in publishing and book-selling (and, yes, your anger)keep you from making sense.

    Your decisions seem to be based on careful consideration of both the market and of your own goals as a writer.

    As you would disagree with others, though, allow me to disagree with you to the extent that I have a differing perspective on writing.

    I cater to the reader. It’s the way I look at it. I do not write for myself. But I am pretty much myself when I write.

    I love having non-writers read and comment on my work. The further removed from publishing, the better. The more involved in contemprary publishing, the better. I want both. Gimme, gimme.

    I also believe that a working editor giving my writing a close read and noting how it can be improved is a blessing. A gift. A good editor (wether or not that is their job title) is an angel (and, yup, some of them have swords).

    Working editors and agents know the craft well enough to tell me when my ass is showing. I wish I had a whole room full of editors paying attention to my sentences.

    I see writing as a collaborative process. First, I am collaborating with the reader (I have to imagine a reader as I write, but I bend to their wishes gladly). Does that make me a whore? Probably.

    I want my writing to be better for them, not better for me. Second, I collaborate with anyone else who wants to help and is capable of helping. At any stage of the process.

    Both my first readers have nothing to do with writing or the business of writing and they do a marvelous job of letting me know what works and doesn’t work (for the reader) in my writing. Neither of them reads anyone else’s work in manuscript.

    If either one of my readers says a sentence made her/him stumble, I toss it out. Immediately. I have the skill to write other sentences.

    Indeed, these two readers are the totality of my writing network prior to my seeking publication.

  21. said:


    I recently had a novel accepted for publication by HarperCollins. I cold-queried agents by email (I didn’t know any of them.) My query letter was a mess by all standards. I hadn’t read any guides on how to write a query.

    An agent asked to see my completed manuscript the next day. I sent it to her via email. She called to offer me representation the next day. No kidding. Queried on the weekend, had an agent Wednesday morning.

    She did ask for revisions or reworking of the writing in any way. She placed the manuscript with the first editor she approached. This was all of two months ago.

    I had no network, Gordon. [Please note, David Kearns:] I am a male. My agent is a woman. The acquiring editor is a woman. I am 55 years old. As best I can tell, my agent and my acquring editor are in their late 20s.

    The characters in my work are in high school and my novel will be marketed as Young Adult fiction (HarperTeen). Nobody in publishing wanted my book so they could get my picture on the back cover, I promise you. They wanted the writing… the story… the book itself.

    Networking, perhaps, is not so much getting people to know and like you as a way of getting published, as it is a way of learning from others what works in the business and what doesn’t.

    Once you know what works in the business, you’re welcome to reject it. Yup.

    And, yes, it is a business. And you are an artist. Somewhere along the line, there is a compromise you’ll have to make as a writer/artist in order to be published commercially. If you don’t want to make that compromise (or any compromise), that is admirable. Again, though, it is pretty much a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    You seem to be holding to the higher standards of your art for the right reasons. But don’t let the smaller, wrong reasons take over. Many people who don’t write fiction are smart about fiction. Don’t deride them. They just may be better readers than you are.

    Here’s something to consider. YA and MiddleGrade fiction, I have found, is more open to literary styles and achievement than mainstream adult fiction. (Actually, MG is incredibly open to incredible and wonderful fiction. Glance at Marie Rutkoski’s The Cabinet of Wonders). Reading people like David Almond (The Fire-eaters) and Neil Gaiman is what drew me to write a Young Adult novel.

    You may hate the idea, but you also might want to consider where in the world of reading your art best fits if, in the end, you do want to see your work published and get paid for it.

    Art is one thing. Craft is another. Both are skills. Both may be talents. All I would ask is that you don’t deride one, please, in order to champion the other.

    I would also like to ask you if there is a commercially published writer your admire or respect. If so, do you wonder what work he/she might have put in to make her/his writing commercially viable — besides just writing what they wanted to write? Do you think they revised by guide of a non-writing agent or editor?

    Lordy, I wish you well. You’re a noble soul, Gordon.

    Dreams, (Stevie Nicks) Fleetwood Mac: Now here you go again / You say you want your freedom / Well who am I to keep you down / It’s only right that you should / play the way you feel it…

  22. Gordon Jerome said:

    Hello GhostFolk,

    First let me just say that I’m not drunk tonight (a pity really). I do have a drinking problem–I don’t do it nearly as much as I should.

    Second, I’m listening to Dreams now as I respond. Great song. Great group, and Lindsey is a god.

    More importantly than all the above is that your comments have hit home with me. You have a good way of putting things and a great way of getting through to people, or at least a great way of getting through to me. So, your advice matters, and I’m listening to it.

    But you and I are different in one respect: I don’t care to help anyone or change the world. I used to, but I’m more jaded now. I won’t write to the market, because I don’t want them to be what made me. I want them to need me.

    Of course, a lot of this may be semantics. I want to write the kind of stories that work, and I’m a reader as well as a writer. So, though my attitude may be one way, what I consider good writing is the kind of writing people want to read.

    Since you seem like a nice guy, I’m glad to hear Harper Teen picked up your novel. I’m also encouraged to read that you are a bit older. I’m 45, and I’ve worried that it might be too late, but, damn, it’s those 45 years I put into my work, you know? If I were twenty, I’d have nothing to say.

    Well, I’ve rambled on long enough. I want to spend some time checking out your web site and your work.

    Thanks for putting things in perspective.


  23. Gordon Jerome said:

    Hey Randy,

    I see you’ve had several books published, but your latest ones are not really original fiction creations. However, as you indicate, you have a YA novel coming out. If it’s a ghost story, I’m going to get it for sure.

    Anyway, I made a shortcut to your blog, and I love some of the stuff you’ve put on it about ghosts. Very cool.