By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan
We finally got through the initial draft and sent it off to the Japanese publisher for editing. Unfortunately there was to be no editor. The publisher was, as it turned out, a book designer interested in getting into the ebook market. They were still learning how to put out ebooks in Japanese and they were counting on us to do the entire English book—their very first English book—on our own.
We tried to talk them into finding an editor. After doing the entire translation by request and without pay, we had hoped that at the very least we’d have the benefit of some editorial input. Several months later, though, we re-read and edited the book the best we could. It was going to be published as-is. Months and months later, when the delayed publication date was drawing near, it turned out the company had no idea about layout either. The book had a brand new cover, lots of lovely photographs, maps and lists and a pretty good translation. All we needed now was someone who knew about publishing English books. Kazuko sorted out the layout and sent it off.
The finished product looked better than we had imagined, although the paragraphs, spacing and indentations were extremely rough, so we can’t help but wonder what an editor’s deft hand could have achieved. To the publisher’s credit, we did sign a contract and Kazuko and I have the rights for publishing the book in print as well as a royalty agreement for the ebook version.
I’d like to add a few words about Amazon’s take on translators. Amazon is anxious for anyone with books to make a page on Author Central. Kazuko has one on amazon.co.jp and I have one on amazon.com and one on amazon.co.jp. However, amazon.com will not let you list books if you are the translator. They are very clear about it. I cannot list Little Keys and the Red Piano as my book (nor the anthology TOMO, which many Japan SCBWI members were a part of).
Fine, I thought, we can put Little Keys on our Japanese author pages. But no, amazon.co.jp will not let you list books that are yosho, or Western books—in other words, that’s the job of their US parent company.
It is not always clear why books are categorized as “Japanese” or yosho on amazon.co.jp. For example, all of the books published by the late Kodansha International were classified as “Japanese” on amazon.co.jp, so I got to list the books I translated for them my amazon.co.jp author’s page. I was also listed as an author for some of them, so they are on my amazon.com author’s page. (Sometimes the translator is inexplicably listed as the author of a book on amazon.com, and in this case, the book can go on the translator’s author page.) The publisher of Little Keys and the Red Piano is a Japanese company, but the title is considered yosho for some reason, and Kazuko and I were carefully listed as translators, not authors, so we missed out on author’s pages for both amazons.
To Wrap Up
Ebooks will doubtless be creating new opportunities to get our work out there. Always try to get as much information as you can about projects you are offered so that you know what you are getting into. Publishers are often in a hurry to produce a translation and it is easy to let the questions we have slide—only to be unpleasantly surprised later. At the very least you should know what payment conditions are and what the plans are for the finished translation. Will you be paid up front? If so, at what point in the publication process? Will you be eligible for royalties? Will the publisher provide a contract? Does the contract make it clear whether you can pursue other publishing options in other markets? (For the record, in the next project I was involved in, the Japanese publisher was able to give me a detailed description of the process–which involved an experienced US editor–and gave me the payment schedule. )
Despite the aspects of editing, layout and so on, Kazuko and I do not regret our work on Little Keys and the Red Piano because we liked the book and it was a delight to work with the author. It was also a valuable experience in children’s literature. The next time, though, we might think a little longer and ask a few more questions before we jump into a new project. We hope that these postings will be helpful for translators faced with similar situations.
If you have a chance please take a look at Little Keys and the Red Piano. Details are here in Japanese and English.
For more details on ebooks and Internet reading resources, please visit the One Chapter Reading Club blog.