Language Translation, eBooks: Do authors and ePublishers care about the readers’ experience

Posted: June 15, 2011 in #ebooks, #self publishing, formatting for kindle, formatting for POD, Uncategorized

I keep asking myself this question and seem to be something of a lone wolf when I approach the subject on writers’ forums and hardly ever win the debate. When I first published my eBooks through Amazon Kindle, I thought it would be easy to publish both my American edited versions and UK and Commonwealth edited versions. Everything went smoothly when I started to fill in the details to upload my manuscripts to kindle. The process was quite simple. That is until I came to the question of language choice. ‘English,’ it said. I scrolled down to look for the different versions, but there were none.

It struck me as odd. How is the reader to know? Okay, you could say that the reader has the opportunity to sample first and that would be true, but many don’t. Of the ones that do sample, I just wonder how many decide not to buy because the read jars when not in their native English. After much head scratching, I decided to upload the American version to .com and the UK English version to .co.uk … problem solved. Well that’s what I thought, but then I thought, what of the countries such as Canada and the other countries that can only buy from .com and use English spellings. Then what about expats?

When I contacted Amazon customer services, they sent me a nice email back, basically the only way round the problem was to maybe upload both version with world rights and to say put the Stars and Stripes on the front cover of one and the Union Jack on the other. Ughh.

The usual answer I receive from American authors when I bring up the subject seems to be. “There are 300 million potential customers in America and the UK market is small. Why should I care about the rest?” The answer from UK English authors seems to be “English is English, they’ll understand.” It’s no wonder to me that some American authors claim their sales are poor in the UK and vice versa with the British authors; although I admit there are exceptions. My answer to the authors who have a different opinion to me, I would ask them to trawl the Amazon readers’ forums and look at the debates where the posts mention poor spelling. Alternatively, maybe to read some of the one star reviews, where some readers assume that spellings are in error when they are in fact correct for the authors native English. Don’t think this situation just exists with just self-published authors; it is the same for traditionally published eBooks.

What am I doing about it, you may ask. In my own case, I have made a start by splitting my short stories into individual eBooks and including both versions with links for the reader to make the choice of language. I have already up loaded these to Smashwords for distribution to B&N Kobo and Apple, also to Amazon.com de, in Germany. This week I should have a German translation completed for The End, or a New Dawn, one of my short stories and I will upload it to Amazon with the German translation and the two English versions in one eBook, with links for the customer to make the choice. It isn’t going to happen overnight, but I intend to do this with all my short stories on all eBook platforms. As for my full-length books, I will be re formatting them to include both English versions.

For a more in-depth article and links for American v UK English words and an example of quotation mark differences, follow the link below

Translation page.

Declan Conner: Smashwords profile and books page.

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Comments
  1. Interesting article Declan.

    I went back-and-forth about this in my mind. I’m Irish, so technically I write in Hiberno-English, but that’s virtually identical to UK English.

    Because of the problems you mentioned above, I decided to publish exclusively in US English. I’m not happy about it, but I felt it was the best solution (although I hadn’t thought of yours). My reasoning was that US customers could think that my work contained typos (or worse), whereas UK readers would be more forgiving, as they had more exposure to US spellings and idioms.

    There is, of course, a neater solution, if Amazon cared enough about it. It would only take a little tweaking on their side, but I guess they don’t consider it a priority.

    Your solution is interesting. Do you think there is any chance the reader might think the story is longer than it is with both versions in the e-book (i.e. if they download a sample and see 5 pages in the sample, they could think they are getting a much longer story)?

    Dave

    • declanconner says:

      David, the solution is to do as you are already doing and state the approximate page count. Readers on the whole don’t have clue when it comes to word count. When did you ever see a traditional publisher put the word count on paper books. Readers will get a better indication I am sure if you state the approx’ page count which is what I have done.

  2. Zelah Meyer says:

    I hadn’t thought about that. Hmm…

    I think I’d probably just put a disclaimer on the first page that I was using UK English.

    However, you make a good point and it might be worth some more investigating in to whether this is a significant issue for sales. If it looks like it is, then I might consider getting someone to change it to US English for a separate US version.

    I’ll have to do some more research on the markets before I publish. Thankfully I’m still at first draft stage so I have some time!

  3. Diane says:

    But – I know unforgivable starting with but – however, in this case I am not sure I can understand the problem. I am a voracious reader truly I am – non stop it is one of the greatest loves of my life. I am not highly educated in fact I am a child of the sixties and the result of a secondary modern school in Lancashire and you would need to be from at least the UK and more probably the north of England to fully understand just what that means. But – (there it is again the little b***er) I know that American English is different from UK English and I know that when I buy a book by an American author I expect American spelling and I am sure that the vast majority of readers are like me ready to accept and even to embrace the difference. To be honest if a book is set in the States I don’t think I would enjoy it if they had “grey tyres” when in reality the “tires are gray”. Or am I completely wrong (certainly wouldn’t be the first time not by a long chalk) and people are really so literally xenophobic?

    • Hi Diane,

      I don’t think that’s so much the problem as the reverse. In the UK – just like my home patch, Ireland – you are exposed to American spelling and idioms in songs, movies, and television programs growing up. The same cannot be said for our American cousins.

      As such, a minority (and it is a minority) – when confronted with UK spellings – can think that they are spelling mistakes. However, all it takes is one vocal reader to leave a review saying that you have errors in your work to affect your sales.

      However, the differences in US and UK English go deeper than alternative spellings, and this is where I think the real problem lies.

      We close the door, they shut it. He hang up the phone, they close the call. We ring someone, they call someone. We have full stops, they have periods. But aside from lorry/truck, lift/elevator, and medicine/drugs, there are subtle differences in usage. If you don’t account for those, people think your phrasing is just clunky.

      Dave

    • declanconner says:

      Hi Diane, I understand what you are saying but …. there is always a but. If you think about the situation prior to eBooks then this was never a problem. You could walk into any bookstore and know that the books would be translated into UK English. The reverse was true in America. Even the Harry potter series was translated for the American Market This is still the situation with paper books. Just pick any book off your shelf. The problem is that now, eBooks cross international boundaries. I am probably as forgiving as you are of the differences, but many are not. I once got ticked off on a writer’s site with the use of ‘Cheeky’, which has a different meaning in America to the context I had used.
      I think that the British are more likely to accept the differences because of the predominance of film and TV programs from America, but I get the feeling that the American are less forgiving. Sacking Cheryl Cole from X factor in the US is probably an extreme example of this.
      I just wonder where this all leaves education? It is not just the spellings. Certain phrases used in the UK have either different or no meaning in the US. Then there is the question of the difference in punctuation, especially concerning quotation usage. Other things that can jar the reader like the different usage between ‘has and have’. Seems silly I know, but when you add everything together, there are many differences. There are people, who are intolerant and it only takes one reader who is intolerant of what they consider bad English to give you a one star review to taint your good work. Unfortunately, there are people like that.

  4. Diane says:

    Hello Dave – Not wishing in any way to be argumentative I did rather mean to include the differences in usage as well as the simple spelling. We all watch lots of American television and I am sure most people who are interested enough pick up on and enjoy these differences. Of course I have never lived in America and I have to admit that on my one visit there to see friends in Kentucky they were quite tickled by my accent and so on so perhaps it is more difficult for authors selling to that market – Funnily enough though I have a couple of children’s books self published and they are very, very English and yet the few sales that I have made (and I hasten to add that they are very few) have all been in America. Up to now they haven’t come back.

    Having said all of that I do think that it is laudable on the part of writers to want to provide such a thoughtful service to the reading public. – Translations I believer are an entirely different issue. What a very interesting post – thank you – Diane

    • Sorry Diane – that wasn’t directed at you. You would be surprised at the amount of writer that think that all they need to do to switch from a US version to a UK version is load the document up in Word and run a UK spell-check!

  5. Diane says:

    I am sure the you are absolutely correct although I do find it a little bit sad to be honest that readers should be so small minded and parochial. Surely for a reader to one star a book because “he/she” didn’t understand the language is akin to being in a country where they don’t have English as their first language and shouting at them very clearly assuming that it is their responsibility to understand rather than your responsiblity to make yourself understood. However or maybe even but at the end of the day a one star rating is a one star rating and if a little extra effort can solve that problem then I should think it must be worthwhile. It does make me downhearted though.

  6. [...] However, I now have a new worry! This thought provoking post from Declan Conner on the subject of whether to use US or UK English: http://declanconner.com/2011/06/15/language-translation-ebooks-do-authors-and-epublishers-care-about… [...]

    • declanconner says:

      This is also in reply to Diane

      I wouldn’t worry about it too much. As I said, I am a lone wolf on this subject. The UK market is growing for eBooks and traditional publishers have the same problem. I think the problem is one that eBook distributers and POD distributers such as Amazon could easily solve with a software tweak, by changing the choice of English to reflect that there are two versions. The customers who are more forgiving would at least know and will purchase the book anyway and the ones who would be dissatisfied can walk away. I really am surprised that the EEC, or culture and education ministers haven’t stepped in to preserve the cultural language differences and the damage it could do to education. Don’t be put off by my rants, just be aware of the problem and maybe put on your copyright page. UK and Commonwealth English.

  7. Julia Hidy says:

    Thanks for considering how Canadians react, Declan, to U.S. vs. U.K. English. Canuk’s generally use U.K. English to write. Yet, since we live only a TV-converter-click away from four major U.S. TV networks, radio stations and umpteen cable shows and persuaders, not to mention many corporations with operations here, we’ve been heavily exposed to American English since birth, and likely even in the womb. U.S. magazines – from Wired, Oprah, Vogue to Gourmet Magazine – are all available in our book stores, and even in our supermarkets. The U.K. versions of these same magazines are considered ‘foreign,’ here while U.S. magazines are placed alongside our domestic magazines. These days, to my ear anyway, even Canadians’ speaking patterns, accents and lilt are now far more American than they are British; although our written words and psyche still seem to be closer to our U.K. roots. (Although anyone who has ever seen the SCTV comedy skits and Great White North movie with Doug and Bob McKenzie would definitely disagree with me.)

    I’d wondered how much of a change I’d need to make to a U.K. edition of my ebooks. I’m grateful to have read your post because I now realize that I must pay attention to this. I’ve tried to be careful not to use too many terms that would be difficult to render in a translated version of my book, i.e., into French, Spanish, etc. To be honest, until now, I’d not considered a dedicated U.K. rendering. I’ve been too busy writing the U.S. version. Most of my author friends write a U.S. version since we usually do sell more books there than in the U.K.

    Also, I agree with David: American’s are not as exposed to U.K. English, and don’t seem to be as adaptable as U.K. folks would be to reading American English. Canadians are completely agnostic. We understand both, and enjoy reading both (please don’t ask me to pick a fave).

    If you don’t know about this already (and if you’re at all interested) DigitalBookWorld.com has been running ePub standards discussion panel webinars since March 2011 2X per month (all American publishers). The webinar series continues until later this year. To access the webinar replay files online, you’d need to be a paid publishing member of DBW. As far as I know, if you attend the webinars live, you don’t have to be a paid member. I’ve learned quite a bit about how publishers think about ebooks, ISBN’s for various multimedia formats, and .xml / ePUB workflows. They have an interesting session coming up about multimedia storytelling on July 29th. I’m not affiliated with them in any way, other than having attended their webinars – fyi.

    Back to quality control: One comment that came up in the 2nd June DBW panel session was that editors of ebooks these days are not being given the time to take as many passes over an e-manuscript as they had when the book was going to (print) press. It seems a copy edit and one final post-ePUB .xml rendered check has had to replace three to four pre-press editorial passes plus a final blueline check or three from the ‘old’ print days. Editorial overwork and budget constraints were indirectly cited. But perhaps it’s also the Wild West of ebooks culture that seems to be taking place because so many publishers feel they need to ‘catch up’ with placing their back list vs. simply best sellers online (my sense of what they’re doing). If these editors are literally cutting their editing time in half, per book, I highly doubt they will be given the ‘green light’ to edit a second U.K. edition of a book unless the author already has a proven platform there with other U.K. English titles. I could be wrong about that; but I don’t think so.

    Thanks for making me think about how I’ll do my dedicated U.K. version. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do it justice.

    Julia Hidy
    Toronto Canada, Non-fiction Author

    • declanconner says:

      You bring up some interesting points there with regards to publishers and confirms what I suspected from posts I have read about complaints on kindle forums regarding the number of typos in traditionally published books. I love the ‘Wild West,’ analogy. I think the publishers have the same mentality as most indie authors, in that there are 300 million in the US and it is the biggest eBook market, so why worry about a few intollerent readers in the rest of the world, which is why I am maybe something of an oddball on the subject.

      It does raise the question of maybe goverments looking at international standards for English for the sake of education.The internet makes little distinction between the two languages. I know I have found myself posting a kind of hybrid between the two.

      I think that some authors can sell cross boundry without translation, but the likes of bestselling author, S Leather in the UK and Konrath in the US sort of confirm what I am talking about in that they have not repeated their home territory success on both sides of the pond.

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