More and more LGBT romance writers are working with overseas publishers and having their work translated and sold to non-English speaking markets. We thought this was really fascinating and wanted to learn more about the process.
We talked with author Josh Lanyon, who has had several of his novels translated, including recent translations in Japanese.
Josh, you have multiple works that have been translated and published overseas. We’d love to learn more about the process of working with overseas publishers and what that entailed for you.
What was the first book of yours that was translated? What was this experience like? Did the publisher contact you?
The first book that actually went into translation was Fatal Shadows. MERC, a Dutch start-up publisher contacted me and asked for translation rights to the Adrien English series. The publisher admitted at the outset that he was inexperienced and there would probably not be much financial reward — and this certainly proved to be the case — but I was excited about the idea of reaching readers in the Netherlands. So as far as that goes, the experiment was a success. I’ve seen a number of reviews on Dutch blogs and I’ve been contacted by a number of readers from the Netherlands.
But there were also problems I didn’t anticipate.
Since that publication, what else has been translated and published overseas? Has the process differed between different companies, or has it overall been the same?
I’m working with a small French company called MxM Bookmark. It’s very much the same set up as MERC — a start-up company without a track record or a lot of experience. No advance. But they have passion, enthusiasm, they aren’t holding my rights very long, they did send my author copies, they do stay in contact. I haven’t made a penny, but I feel like this one is a success.
Once again, the idea in getting translated was not to make a bunch of money in the short term. The idea was to find new readers — this is what we authors are always moaning about. Where can we find new readers? So I’m agreeable to taking a certain amount of risk.
I also tried to commission my own Spanish translations, but that has not been successful. A major part of the failure can be laid to the difficulty of marketing translations if you don’t have the infrastructure of an overseas publisher. How do you advertise and market in a language that is not your own?
It’s made me hesitant to partner with indie translators because A – I’m hesitant to tie up translation rights in case an actual publisher comes along, and B – How are we going to successfully market this translation?
Since your work has begun to appear in translation, have you seen an uptick in sales overseas? (And more international fans?)
You know, I don’t think a lot of publishers realize there is a global audience for M/M fiction. Just as our mainstream publishers here have been a bit slow to catch on, well, so are overseas publishers. But my audience has always been surprisingly intercontinental. Now that might have something to do with the fact that my original publisher was British, but right from the beginning I was hearing from readers in Germany, Holland, Italy, France, and Sweden.
Along with Fair Game and Don’t Look Back, the first two volumes of Adrien English have been translated into Japanese. (And I hear vol. 3-5 have been picked up as well!)
Japan has a very developed m/m (or Boys Love/BL) novel market, and has been publishing m/m novels for decades. Since it has an active market, do you see this as an effective avenue for m/m writers outside of Japan to explore? Did you find it very difficult to enter the market?
I’m really happy with my Japanese translations. Shinshokan is one of the largest publishers in Japan. They know what they’re doing. They pay a decent advance, they send author copies, and I have definitely seen an uptick in my Asian market sales. And let us not forget ARTWORK. I love those covers and those inside illustrations!
In this case I was contacted by an agent rather than the publisher or translator. The publisher had contacted the agent, the agent contacted me, and we went from there. So far they’ve contracted for five novels, one novella, and two short stories. Nobody is making a fortune, but the books are doing well enough to justify continuing to publish more of them. So I’m really thrilled.
I do think M/M and Japan’s Boy Love market is a good marriage. A natural meld.
What has surprised you the most about working with overseas publishers and seeing your work translated?
It’s really fun to see the new covers, and there’s no question that it seems like a coup to have your work translated. But honestly, it still feels really new and I have no idea how it’s going to play out. I’m excited by the possibilities.
Also…if there is a test of storytelling, maybe it’s surviving translation. If an audience who doesn’t even speak your language still enjoys your story, surely that’s a good sign?
What would you recommend to writers who are interested in having their works published overseas?
I think the market for translation — right across the globe — is only going to get bigger and better. Now is the time! But the problem is…you want and need a professional, high quality product — and you want and need a distribution channel and a means of marketing and promoting your high quality product. I don’t think you can do it without all the pieces in place. Or at least I’m not able to.
That said, Amazon sells everywhere and if you can get your work translated and uploaded onto Amazon, well…you have access to Mexico, Spain, France, Germany, India, etc.
You should work with experienced professionals. Having said that, this is a young genre and we’re working in a DIY publishing environment. Just as a lot of authors are learning their craft, a lot of translators are learning their craft too. This is another growth arena in publishing. So really…as long as everyone has realistic expectations, maybe it’s okay to experiment with getting your work translated.
I would say this — use contracts and get those contracts vetted by someone who actually IS an experienced professional. You don’t want to accidentally sign over exclusive rights to future works (which was one of the original clauses in my Dutch contract)!
Oftentimes the titles for a work will change in translation. Do you have a favorite translated title from your works? 🙂
The translated titles are always fun, but I especially love the Japanese translations. Fatal Shadows is translated to Shadow of an Angel. A Dangerous Thing is Whisper of a Ghost
Thanks for stopping by, Josh! 😀
A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist. Learn more at Josh’s website.
Loving the Japanese translated titles 🙂
Very interesting post, and excellent point about ensuring the translated book is marketed by professionals and with the right contacts. I’m so pleased to have it confirmed that there is indeed an international audience for m/m 🙂
Fascinating post. I agree there’s an international market that is probably just now starting to grow. Judging from the comments I’ve gotten from readers in places like India and Africa, it can be difficult to find (and afford) M/M novels in some countries and they are starving for them. They are typically reading ePub format on their phones.