Translating your books

© Declan Conner and declanconner.com, 2011.

Everyone will have their own opinion on the subject of translation, depending on their tolerance when reading, education and cultural background. Here are my views on the subject of translation between UK English and American English.

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I am currently translating Lunch Break Thrillers  into Brazil Portuguese and German, with the help of native speakers. Once it is translated into Brazil Portuguese, I am hoping the task of translating into Latin American will be less stressful. But for now let us look at the not so easy task of translating from American English to UK English and visa versa and the reason why I think it is a good idea.

So you’re about to self-publish your book, or maybe an Indie publisher is about to publish it for you. You may even be thinking about sending your manuscript to literary agents in different countries. I would ask you to take a step back and think first.

If you are going to publish in America and your book is written using British and Commonwealth English, or vice versa, are you really going to be in with a fighting chance of readers getting past the first page when readers sample your book? You may make sales, but will they give you a miss next time, or maybe even write a damning review.

There is no definitive answer and my research has thrown up all sorts of anomalies, together with the notion that Amazon needs to become organized.

First, let’s look at recent history. Until Amazon came along, there were more or less strict boundaries between publishers/imprints. If a book were published in the UK, or America, it would be published using the respective language for the territory. Unlike the music industry, in which music transcends boundaries, in publishing, mostly cultural language traditions were maintained. Readers could walk into their local bookstore and the language was never an issue. 

However, it doesn’t just stop there; even covers were changed to appeal to the different markets. Of course, this situation is still the tradition with publishers today, until you come to the subject of eBooks and self, or Indie printed books on Amazon. Look at the title of Larson’s, The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest, or the hornets’ nest, depending if you are looking at his cover on Amazon. com, or Amazon.co.uk. That would indicate to me, that his book had been through the hands of an American editor, whose mindset was different from the English editor. That’s only a small point you could say and has nothing to do with translation. But is it? I hope that I can shed some light on the subject later in the article.

So. . . why is it different now, you may ask. Amazon has separate organizations for America and England, so what’s the difference. None, unless you include America as being the world, I would reply, and ask you to consider how they operate. Amazon.com operates in approx 240 separate rights territories. If you publish your book on Amazon .com, as either a printed book or as an eBook and tick all the rights, your book will be available everywhere. Let’s say your book uses American spellings and word usage. Then readers in countries, who use British and Commonwealth English, can only buy the American language version. The problem here is that unless you live in England, the rest of the world have to become members of Amazon .com and can only buy what is available in their catalogue. I don’t think the problem is as great for paper books as delivery charges probably make it expensive to purchase a book in countries other than America, but for eBooks, this makes things difficult if you are from a country that uses UK English.

For people living in England, to include, Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. You need to become a member of Amazon. co.uk, if you wish to purchase books or eBooks from their UK catalogue. So for the English it should be simple, but it isn’t. With the introduction of POD and eBooks, an American author can easily post their book as an eBook or as a paper book with Amazon.co.uk and English authors can do the same with their book on Amazon.com. For the poor reader, until they buy or sample the book, they don’t have a clue, as there is only one option for the author to check to denote the book is in ‘English’. There is no differentiation between the two separate versions of English.

You are making a fuss about nothing, you say, there is enough American TV programs broadcast around the world and vice versa for us all to understand what we are reading.

You could be right, but there again, you could be wrong. Reader satisfaction has to come first and last in your thoughts and not the easy way to have your book published.

Here are some viewpoints I picked up along the way, from author sites, reviews and from readers on kindle boards.

“It doesn’t make any difference to me. Here in the US we have the British classics.”

“If a book is set in America, then I expect it to read as if it were written by an American.”

“I couldn’t finish the book there were so many spelling mistakes.” (Reference to British spellings.)

“What the hell is a Balaclava? Ah, I see a type of ski mask. Then why not just say that instead of me having to search the net.”

“If a book is set in England, then I would expect it to use British expressions and I would expect the spellings to be different.”

“I disagree, I don’t mind the British expressions, but I don’t want to have to stumble on spellings.”

“Can you explain what a Den is in an American book I am reading?”

“I use the sample read and it ain’t in my language, I move on.

So there we are; many different viewpoints.

From my own experience I have published two versions of both my books. The only solution I have come up with so far to get round the Amazon problem is to publish the American translated version on .com and not to check the rights for the UK and for the English translated version, only to check the rights for the UK. When I contacted Amazon, they replied that it is something they may consider at their next software development stage and they were aware of the problem; but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Just how they will do it, I don’t know, but it would seem logical to hold both manuscripts and to have button for the customer to make a choice. In the meantime, they thought my idea of publishing both versions on .com with the Stars and Stripes on one cover and the Union Jack on the other, (Ughh,) was the way to go for readers in UK English countries and expats to be able to make a choice. I haven’t decided to do this yet, with my books at proof stage for the printed version, but I may well try it. 

Note, stop press: I have just upload all my short stories to .com with both English and American English versions in one eBook. Internal links will allow the reader to make the choice on Language. In a German translation of a short story, “Das ende oder ein neuer Anfang/ The End or a New Dawn,” I have again included the two English version for the reader to make the choice. For now I have restricted the shorts to all countries except the UK and if they are well received I will roll them out in the UK.

I would at least recommend you use spell check to address the problem, but for those who care to take this more seriously, here is a link to a site for common word usage in the respective countries.

http://www.bg-map.com/us-uk.html

The link to purchase the book below, provides some excellent advice on style, of which there is an example below.

http://www.amazon.com/Economist-Style-Guide-9th/dp/1861979169/ref=tmm_hrd_title_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1305332817&sr=1-1

quotation marks

In American publications and those of some
Commonwealth countries, and also international publications like
The Economist, the convention is to use double quotation marks,
reserving single quotation marks for quotes within quotes. In most
British publications (excluding The Economist), the convention is
the reverse: single quotation marks are used first, then double.
With other punctuation the relative position of quotation
marks and other punctuation also differs. The British convention
is to place such punctuation according to sense. The American
convention is simpler but less logical: all commas and full stops
precede the final quotation mark (or, if there is a quote within a
quote, the first final quotation mark). Other punctuation – colons,
semi-colons, question and exclamation marks – is placed according
to sense. The following examples illustrate these differences.

British

The words on the magazine’s cover, ‘The link between coffee and
cholesterol’, caught his eye.
‘You’re eating too much,’ she told him. ‘You’ll soon look like your
father.’
‘Have you seen this article, “The link between coffee and
cholesterol”?’ he asked.
‘It was as if’, he explained, ‘I had swallowed a toad, and it kept
croaking “ribbut, ribbut”, from deep in my belly.’
She particularly enjoyed the article ‘Looking for the “New
Man”’.

American

The words on the magazine’s cover, “The link between coffee and
cholesterol,” caught his eye.
“You’re eating too much,” she told him. “You’ll soon look like
your father.”
“Have you seen this article, ‘The link between coffee and
cholesterol’?” he asked.
“It was as if,” he explained, “I had swallowed a toad, and it kept
croaking ‘ribbut, ribbut,’ from deep in my stomach.”
She particularly enjoyed the article “Looking for the ‘New Man.’”

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© Declan Conner and declanconner.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of all or any material, or articles and guides published on this site without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Declan Conner and declanconner.com with appropriate and specific link direction to the original content.

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Comments
  1. dannym says:

    Very interesting post. I wouldn’t change my book for the American market as they are very English (not even British) but English. I can see how if one had written a crime thriller or spy novel or such like then it would probably be worthwhile doing two versions. I find it puzzling about covers though, I wonder why publishers think it necessary to change them so much Terry Pratchetts for example become collectors items for the Americans if they have the British cover.

    Like

  2. declanconner says:

    I find the cover differences baffling. From what I can glean from the various articles and sites on the subject, it would seem that American covers tend to fill every blank space and are more brash, whereas British covers are more artistic and on the reserved side.

    Now I wonder how that keys in to the characteristics of the citizens of the two nations?

    Like

  3. Rose Cristiane Lopes says:

    Muito interessante,certamente vou aprofundar me mais neste assunto.Gosto muito de livros de suspense,e acho que vou gostar bastante de ler este.

    Like

    • declanconner says:

      Obrigado Rose por ler o meu artigo. Eu estou feliz por voce ter interesse nos temas do livro. Eu pretendo traduzir logo os livros para o portugues, então acredito que voce irá gostar ainda mais. Continue conosco lendo o site.
      Abraços. Declan.

      Thank you Rose for reading my article. I am happy that you find it interesting.
      When I translate my books into Portuguese, then I believe you will like them more.
      Continue to check out the site.
      Hugs Declan.

      Like

  4. Fascinating post. Declan. And thanks to David Gaughran for directing me here.

    We’ve actually tried the two-English option with our crime-thriller. We have the original and a US Edition, both available both sides of the pond.

    We “translated” into American English after many comments about spellings, etc.

    In the UK the book has been a runaway success. In the US neither version is doing well.

    Bizarrely we sell more of the US Edition in the UK than we do in the US.

    Like

    • declanconner says:

      The main thing is that you have considered the reader and acted upon comments on your work. I am sure it will pay off in the long run.

      Of course, translating your books does not guarantee success on both sides of the pond, but it improves the chances of the work being accepted.

      Like

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