This week I talked to Anja Bauermeister, astrobiologist turned German-English translator and indie author, about the state of self-publishing in Germany, and how English-language authors can get their books translated to take advantage of the growing German ebook market.
Die Self-Publisher-Bibel (German language)
LovelyBooks.de (German language)
Rezi-Suche – Buch-Blogger und Autoren finden zusammen (German Language)
Like many authors, Anja has been writing all of her life, but never considered it as a career until 2011, when she was inspired by a biography of one of her favorite authors, who, Anja learned, was a history professor in addition to being a prolific author. This made her get serious about her writing, and by the end of NaNoWriMo 2013, she had written the first draft of a novel she had been longing to write for years.
After that, she really started to research the indie publishing space, and by the summer of 2014, Anja knew what she wanted to do.
A year later, she quit her job as an astrobiologist (searching for life on other planets!) to pursue translations work and her own writing career. In January 2015, Anja launched her website Indies Go German as a way to share information with indie authors about the German ebook market. She also offers translation, proofreading, and marketing assistance in the German publishing space to English-speaking authors.
State of Publishing in Germany
The ebook market in German is still in the early stages with a market share of 4.3% reported in 2014, up from 3.9% in 2013. Ebook growth has been slow due to Germans’ preference for print books, but market share is growing nonetheless; the field is wide open for indie authors to establish themselves in this new market.
The two major players in Germany’s ebook market are Amazon and Tolino, with both e-tailers garnering roughly 50% of the ebook market. Notably, Tolino is not a single retailer, but an alliance of the top booksellers in Germany who have joined together to create their own e-reader to compete with Amazon and its Kindle.
Even though Amazon and Tolino hold similar market shares, Anja reports that she’s sold only 20% of her books on Tolino, and believes that “for indie authors, Amazon is still a good way to go first if they’re just starting out.”
However, there are a few important things authors should know, Anja says, when considering publishing in the German market:
- Fixed Book Price Law – German law requires that authors price their books the same across all outlets.
- Title Protection Law – Book titles are protected under German regulation, so when you choose a book title, you must make sure it doesn’t exist yet.
- Authors will also need an imprint (with a physical address) in order to publish books in Germany.
Anja started out translating through Babelcube, often described as the “ACX of translations” by indies. Babelcube connects authors with translators to produce original translated works. The way it works is the author and translator share royalties on the project, with Babelcube taking its cut. Babelcube acts as mediator, publisher, distributor, aggregator, and disburses royalties earned on projects. The royalty percentage is on a sliding scale; when a book is first published, the translator gets the lion’s share of the royalties, but as the sales hit specific levels, the percentages shift over to the author until the translator gets 10% and the author is receiving the lion’s share.
The down side to using Babelcube, Anja says, is that the publishing process isn’t fully in the author’s control. Babelcube publishes everywhere — authors do not have the option to opt out of any one marketplace. Also, authors have limited control over pricing. Prices are set by the author in US dollars, which is converted to various foreign currencies for each market without optimization, resulting in prices that look odd and aren’t attractive to readers. If Babelcube could resolve those things, Anja feels it’d be a very good platform.
Babelcube is a good option for authors who don’t want to do the work in finding their own translator, proofreader, and beta readers, Anja says; however, “if you really want to focus on one language, I would probably recommend going with a translator and working with them individually and really having the control over your own work.”
Marketing in a Foreign Language Market
In order to effectively market books in a foreign language market, authors either have to know the language or hire someone who does.
Anja herself offers marketing services to authors for the German marketplace, which includes submitting books to promotional sites, searching for book bloggers and reviewers, assisting with categories and keywords in the German Amazon Kindle store, and translating marketing materials.
Anja started out as a virtual marketing assistant by working with U.S. author David VanDyke, helping him launch the German translation of his Plague Wars Trilogy into the German publishing space. (Check out David’s interview about his experience here.) From that experience, Anja notes that David got a lot more traction with his books once he put them in KU. They also discovered that free promotions worked much better than $.99 promotions, and helped to shift a lot of copies and increase visibility. Making the first book in a series free is a tactic Anja doesn’t see too many German authors doing yet, so it remains to be seen whether that would prove to be an effective strategy or not.
Next Big Thing
Next up for Anja is the release of her first German YA novel next month, inspired by her grandfather, who was drafted during World War II as a teenager. She is also working on books in English.
We look forward to seeing more from Anja and wish her all the best.
Action Steps for Translating /Marketing Books in a Foreign Language Market:
- Do your research. Not only is it important to do your research on your chosen market and potential translators, but it’s also important to research and understand the process. Many authors don’t understand the extent of the work translators do to create a translated work. Their process is very similar to that of the original author, and requires several drafts, proofreaders, and yes, even beta readers, to produce a high-quality book.
- Find a translator. If Babelcube isn’t for you, there are plenty of places where authors can find translators, including Translators Café, Upwork Enterprise, and KBoards Yellow Pages. Make sure you have someone lined up who can verify the quality of the translations if you don’t know the language yourself.
- Be patient. David VanDyke reports in his interview that he doesn’t expect to earn back his investment in his translated works for another 5-10 years. It’s an investment that carries a significant risk; however, it’s worth it to him to “put myself in a position to get lucky” as the German ebook market develops.
To the indie authors out there who are interested in doing translations of their works, but have been afraid to commit to it, what’s holding you back? What are your concerns about the endeavor?
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