More Rita Regurgitation

For obvious reasons, a number of people have asked me about the Ritas over the past few days, and, during one particular conversation, I answered very rudely that I didn’t give a rat’s butt about contests, and even less about the Ritas. But, then afterward, I considered my response—because that’s what I’m trying to do these days, be a better person by figuring out why I do and say the things I do. So I figured I’d put some words together to iron out my very strong feelings about this contest, for me personally and for those who are trying to reform the Ritas

So here I go, opening a vein: I’ve been in this industry for nearly 30 years. I was an early member of RWA, having joined them immediately after selling my first book in 1989. I even helped found the Lowcountry Chapter, along with Pamela Morsi and Carolyn Davidson. In the beginning, I was super excited about the prospect of mingling with other like-minded humans, all striving to do the same thing I was doing: writing, and striving to write better. But I’m going to skip through that part of this right now—skip right through all the million conferences I attended, and all the petty grievances and dashed hopes. In fact, I’m going to skip through most of my grievances, because I’m 56 now, with ailing friends and family, and none of this really matters.

So here’s the short version: I joined RWA at 27, full of high hopes, and soon realized that in order to get nominated for an award, or to be recognized in any way through RWA, you had to be an RWA Darling, and I was not. Why that was, I can’t say. Maybe it was because I was a little shy. Maybe it was because I was young and some people perceived (and yes, actually said out loud) that I didn’t earn my spurs because I was too young and/or too cute. Maybe it was because I was a minority (born in Spain to a Spanish mother). Who can say. I don’t care about the WHYs, only about the WHAT right now. And the WHAT is that I was invisible and unappreciated in an organization I supported and loved.

And now I’ll tell you why I felt that way: My best friend was an RWA Darling (and I don’t say this disparagingly – I wanted to be one!), and I could easily compare our experiences. We joined RWA at the same time, attended all the same conferences, met the same people. Until a certain point, she and I, we were equally involved in the organization, and I know this because we did nearly everything together back in those days, including sending gifts to other members who needed a pick me up. On one such occasion, she and I chipped in for a coffee and flower arrangement to someone who is no longer with us and who will remain nameless, because she’s not the point. She’s only one of a hundred instances that helped shape my overall feelings about RWA. Pam got the “thanks” for that gift, even though both our names were on it, and I think on this occasion it might have even been my idea. On the other hand, I didn’t get a thanks, not even through the grapevine.

On another occasion, when a beloved member’s policeman husband died in the line of duty, I immediately sent $500 to a fund that was started for her. However, because I didn’t join an organization-wide effort to critique manuscripts at $20 a pop to be donated to this grieving widow, I didn’t get even a simple thank you—from ANYONE, not even the widow—even despite that I’m pretty sure the donation, made in my name (which is not a pen name), must have been visible to anyone with access to that bank account. Sometime later, there was a plaque or something (maybe it was simply a digital plaque in the magazine) acknowledging the generous spirit of our organization and thanking those who donated. I was excluded from that list, and my best friend pleaded with me to speak up. I did not, because in my opinion, if you give, you give from the heart, and while it did sting not to be recognized when I very likely gave more than anyone else, ultimately I gave because I felt compelled to help a fellow human being, not because I wanted recognition. So, in the end, I kept silent. And, if you’re wondering why I’m bringing up this particular grievance now when I said I wasn’t going to bring up grievances, I’ll tell you why I’m highlighting this instance. I’m highlighting it because, every year up until this point my publisher had entered my books into the Ritas, and every year, my best friend was nominated, and some years she won, while I never, ever, ever had a single nomination, not ever. Not from a jury of my peers. 

On the other hand, I earned reader recognition and nominations by the dozens, and my books were selling so well that Avon chose me to launch an entire imprint based on the strength of my sales. So, maybe I was never nominated for a Rita because I sucked as a writer. Maybe. But I don’t think so, and, in any case, I realized something that year that I donated the $500 without thanks. I realized I didn’t participate in the critique effort, because the treatment I received as a member was undermining my sense of self, my sense of accomplishment, and even my confidence as a writer. My involvement in RWA eventually contributed to a 10-year sabbatical from writing entirely.

In the end, I realized that, at its core, RWA and the Ritas were a detriment to my wellbeing, and I gave myself permission to stop doing ALL things that didn’t enrich me as a person and as a writer. Judging by some of the blogs I’ve been reading, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I also know very well that this feeling is not shared by all my peers. I have close writer friends who swear by RWA and who will forever tout all the wonderful things RWA did for them. My best friend is one of those people, and I’m happy for all of those who felt enriched by the organization. But, for me, there is a different perception, because I couldn’t imagine giving more of myself at a time when I had a draining career, two kids and a life outside of RWA. RWA never gave one thing back to me, and that’s not an exaggeration. As an organization, it took and took, but never gave. The only thing I ever took from RWA were the relationships I made. But, in the end, I did that. Not RWA. At most, it offered me a location where everyone could be found in one place. And that’s no small thing, so I’m grateful for that. 

However, when I look back at RWA, even from the perspective of my friend, the Darling, I saw incredible distress in her at EVERY CONFERENCE. Often, there were tears. And so, I developed a larger distaste for contests in general, realizing that whatever the dynamic created by Ritas and other contests of its ilk, it wasn’t healthy, not even for Darlings, and certainly not for those, like me, who felt invisible and unappreciated. I mean, thank God for my readers, my editors, and friends, because without them, I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in this industry given the “help” I received from RWA. Sorry, folks. That’s how I feel. And, as they say, with friends like that, you don’t need enemies.

In the end, this post might not go over well with some people, but before you write to tell me how much RWA helped you, let me repeat: THIS. IS. HOW. I. FEEL. I’m so happy you got something different. Truly. But THIS. IS. HOW. I. FEEL. And maybe if you ask my friends, you’ll get another, no less valid answer, but THIS. IS. HOW. I. FEEL.

So, now, while I’m seeing so much dissent, once again, over the Ritas, I’m sorry, but I don’t give a rat’s butt about that contest. To me, it has always been nothing more than a popularity contest.

Has it helped shape some people’s careers? Maybe. How would I know? It wasn’t my experience. Has it hurt others? Yes. It hurt me. Does that mean RWA holds nothing for the industry or the world at large? No, I don’t believe that at all. Essentially, that’s why I returned, in the hopes of seeing it grow into something better than it was. But even despite that, I’ve yet to return to a conference, and I have to ask myself why. 

There is so much good about our organization—the literacy efforts, the teaching moments, the opportunities for networking and growth—but the Ritas are simply not part of that picture, for me.

So, I’ll say it again. I don’t give a rat’s butt about the Ritas. I don’t care if they stay, I don’t care if they go. I simply don’t care. However, if it’s going to stay, maybe as an organization, think twice about its role in the industry and in the organization, because, even now, there’s a new crop of talent emerging and they need something better than what we’ve got, not the slow decay of their spirit. Coming from someone who was not a Darling, let me tell you, it’s a very real thing, and it took me years to shake off. So what’s the answer? I don’t know. But maybe begin by asking yourselves what’s at the heart of the Ritas, and maybe do what I do when I am trying to figure out what stays and what goes in my life… consider the pros and cons, and if the pros aren’t greater than the cons, let it go.


What Makes You an Author?

The industry drama continues, of course, but part of the overall scandal has to do with “what constitutes an author.” For me, that has a very straightforward answer. But before I get to that, let me tell you guys a quick story…

Once upon a time, Fabio “wrote” a book. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he’s that long-haired swoon-generating model who once graced hundreds of romance covers. The powers that be decided he had name recognition and wanted to capitalize on that, so they hired a ghostwriter, who was not named on the book (as far as I can remember). Pretty much the entire industry knew these books were ghostwritten, and most readers who followed the Italian model knew he could barely throw three English words together. They understood it was a gimmick and that the book was ghostwritten. Some people bought it and didn’t care; some wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. In the end, I believe Fabio had two romance novels with his name on it. (You might still be able to find these in used bookstores.)

So is Fabio a writer/author? HELL NO. Was it illegal? Nope. Do I think the ghostwriter (who shall rename nameless at this point, at least by me) was “wrong” to accept the assignment? No. She was making a living and they offered her a job and she took it. Do I believe the publishers were wrong to handle this the way they did? Absolutely. Because I believe it disrespects the reader. However, they are also not authors; they are publishers and our bottom-lines are far different. Theirs = Money. Mine = Love of My Craft.

There are a lot of decisions I make as an author that I make for love of my craft. I wake up every day, sit at my computer for eight-plus hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year, give or take a few sick days, and vacations. Given this, I feel pretty strongly that someone who hires ghostwriters and does not give a byline to their co-author is at the very least not being fair or transparent to someone who made “their” work possible. That said, I don’t live in anyone else’s shoes (or head) and only they can determine what they can live with. Ultimately, I had/have ZERO interest in reading “Fabio’s” books, even though I highly respected the true “author.” On principle, I didn’t buy these books or read them. Things like humor and voice are simply not interchangeable, they are subtle and precious and can actually be edited out by a heavy-handed editor. Ultimately, as a reader, I follow authors, whose voices I love.

In the end, I believe ghostwriters can be authors (but not necessarily), while people who hire ghostwriters to write 70 to 100 percent (pulled this figure out of my hat; don’t ask me where to draw the line, because for me, it’s at a heavy edit) of their book are simply NOT. Sorry. Not to me. But, unless you’ve added some of these other shady practices to your efforts, you’re certainly not a criminal, nor should you be dragged over the coals for trying to make a living (though I don’t agree with your ethics). You’re an entrepreneur perhaps, or a publisher, or an ace-editor or project manager, NOT an author. And your ghostwriter deserves a byline. That’s. How. I. Feel.

In the Beginning…

At my first book signing…

I often cringe when I’m asked about my first sale, because it was just too easy, and the telling of the story only adds to my worst fears that, somehow, I must be a fraud. Why? Because, unlike so many of my fellow authors, who endured four-hundred plus rejections, I sold my first book to the very first publisher we submitted to.

Of course, I didn’t believe it could be that easy. I’m a classic “plan for the worst, hope for the best” type personality—all while secretly fearing the worst is what’s really going to happen. 

So I bought one-hundred manuscript boxes (yes, really, 100) and put them ALL together. They used to come flattened back in the Dark Ages. And just to get it out of the way, I finished them all—because, of course, I knew I would need every bloody one. So there they were, all stacked in my office/playroom wall, with my desk/old dining room table surrounded by Lego’s and Playskool toys—and, of course, my children, who occasionally enjoyed knocking them all down. I mean, who can pass that up? It’s like sandcastles or houses of cards. That’s what they were really made for, to knock them all down. Right?

But here’s the best part and I’ll give you the short version: I printed off three chapters I liked best (WRONG, you’re supposed to send the first three chapters), and then sent them to ten agents and hired the first one who called (WRONG, you’re supposed to be patient, wait, and choose the best). So my first agent (Surprise! There were others) asked who I wished to submit to, and I figured, hey, why not? Let’s start at the tippity-top and get turned down by my entire Wish List before settling. Of course, I chose Avon Books, then owned by William Morrow Publishing, and, somehow, despite having done everything completely wrong, Editor Maggie Lichota called, and I said yes. That was thirty years ago next year (November of 1989). And that book was Angel of Fire, published in 1992.

I can’t say I never feel like a fraud anymore, because that’s just not true. The difference is that, after thirty plus books (and counting), and a precious lot of loyal readers, I figure that maybe I don’t suck. But it still feels too easy, because I’m doing what I love, and there’s nothing in the world I’d rather be doing. 

I was fortunate through my early years in the industry, in that I had a great editor (Lyssa Keusch, who inherited me after Maggie left Avon) who believed in me. She encouraged me to write the stories I was on fire for, and if there’s one piece of advice I have for aspiring writers, it is: Write what you love. And, be ready to persevere. Truly, though I wasn’t tested through first-sale rejections, the industry has a way of testing our resolve. The good news is that there’s never been a better time to be a writer, or a reader, with so many fresh reads. And, in that vein, I hope you’ll continue my journey along with me.

YOU are the reason I write, my dear friends. Thank you for trusting me with your support and your time.

Indie vs. Trad Publishing – Huh?

What am I? people so often ask. Really, as a first-generation American, it’s a question I’ve gotten too often. I’ll be honest: I generally find it annoying. My answer to people seeking to hear about my nationality, is this: I’m American. Even more salient a point: I’m a human being. I occupy the same earth you do, and its wellbeing affects us all.

Similarly, for those wanting to know whether I consider myself Indie or Trad, I generally feel the same way: Why are we segregating ourselves? We are all writers and authors. Why do we need labels? Why do we need to draw lines in the sand?

I’ve been published now for going on 28 years, which means that my publishing roots are 100 percent Trad. But I don’t consider myself either Indie or Trad. If you really need a label, the term Hybrid author most applies to me, but I dislike the word as well, because it’s just another label.

The next question I sometimes get, is: Why did you go Indie? Were you unhappy with Trad? People seem to expect an outcry. It ain’t comin’ folks. Okay, sure, I found frustrations. But I also learned a lot, and I have truly loved all my editors (I was lucky that way), and learned a lot from them. I wouldn’t trade the experience, and, yet, I have no regrets about my current path. The great news for writers is that there are more great choices available to writers than ever before.

Essentially, I don’t believe there is any one right path for an author to take and under the right circumstances traditional publishing is still a fabulous option. For me, I came to a point in the late nineties that I no longer enjoyed what I was writing. That, and life got in the way, so I took a hiatus from writing. When I came back to the industry, it was a different world, and I was determined to love writing again. For me that meant telling the stories I most wanted to tell and that was easier to do as an indie author.

In the simplest terms, I chose indie when I returned, because I’m a control freak. (It’s true; just ask my husband.) I love being a part of every aspect of publishing. But there was always a certain part of this business that we were not privy to, and I hated being in the dark. I love, for example, my current relationships with vendors, and feel extremely fortunate to be able to send an email to them and say, hey, this is working well, but how can I make it better? I’m thrilled to be able to cultivate these relationships. I also love being able to control which cover I use where, and I love having the ability to grow my presence in audio and foreign markets.

All that said, I have come full circle to write for Lou Aronica, whom I first met during my stint at Avon Books. Lou is a fabulous editor/publisher/writer, and while he’s also someone I consider to be a dear friend, he’s a fair-minded business partner who has a vision of a publishing experience that is not divisive in its makeup. It encapsulates the industry as a whole, and works symbiotically to promote a healthy marketplace and a  better reading experience for readers. What does that mean? Well, more simply put, we’re all in this together, folks: Indie, Hybrid, Trad. Therefore, we should make no decisions that would devalue ourselves OR our fellow writers, or undermine the industry we hope to keep thriving well past our own lifetimes. As I determined upon coming back from my hiatus, I want to love what I’m writing, I want my readers to love what I’m writing, and I want to be doing this for a very long time.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, since we are all in this together, we should start acting like it. Amazon is not our enemy. Trad publishing is not our enemy. Amazon is a business, and its greatest concerns are its customers and its bottom line. If they can help us out in the meantime, great. But they are not necessarily our allies. Neither are traditional publishers. They too are a business, and they, like Amazon are concerned with their bottom line. Some of them realize that nurturing their authors is good for their bottom line, and some of them haven’t figured this out yet. It’s up to us to do the research to determine where we best fit. But, I do believe this: We do have potential allies in this business, and they are also our competition. Only the day we wake up and realize we are the masters of our own fates, and it’s not our competition that will break us, it’s the decisions we make, we’ll be better suited for success. Write the best book you can. Take the path that will suit you best. Then build up your fellow authors and the market itself rather than tear it down.

This blog isn’t necessarily speaking to everyone. Some of us seem to get the principle of building up our friends and peers (where possible), instead of tearing them down, because as a whole we offer more to the world together. Does that mean you won’t sometimes be overshadowed by someone who is temporarily shining brighter? No. Does it mean we are assured a place in a very competitive market? No. But the answer to these questions is still “no” if you decide to take a scorched earth policy and firebomb the world to get ahead. Because, hey there, Mr. or Mrs. Nuclear, guess what? You might shine for 15 minutes, but you’ve created an environment where your star will cease to shine at some point, and then what?

It’s time for writers in this industry to stop segregating ourselves, and start bolstering each other. I love this quote from George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (Yes, I’m a GoT freak, and you knew it would come up eventually), “when the cold winds blow the lone wolf dies and the pack survives.”

I wrote this post because, in the wake of the latest RWA controversy, with rumors that this person resigned and that person resigned because of Indies, and, on the other side of the fence, “Trad authors know nothing” (like Jon Snow), and Indie is the way to go. [Notice significant eye roll here] To me, this all sounds no different than other divisive propaganda. So, let’s all get back to loving the craft, AND the industry, because it is the ultimate symbiotic relationship.

You really wanna know what I am? I’m an author, who is fortunate enough to have lived long enough to write under many circumstances. I’ve written for Avon Books, Harlequin, Kensington, and now for The Story Plant, and I’m so grateful for each of these experiences. I also continue to write under my own imprint, because, well, I can, and because my readers seem to want me to. But one thing I can promise at this point in my life, and hopefully it’s a promise my readers will take to heart. I will write as long as I love it, and I will write with passion, from the heart. And maybe, if I’m lucky, and I feel that way at 90, maybe I’ll still be writing the stories you want to read.

Photo credit: Stolen from Glynnis Campbell, whom I met in Dallas Texas, and with whom I shared an agent. Glynnis and I are still friends, and bolster each other when we can. It’s been a great ride, Glynnis!

What’s up with all the scam books?

If you haven’t spotted them yet, it’s probably because you don’t shop on Amazon, where KU seems to allow scammers to thrive. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of Amazon’s proprietary subscription service. But before I move on to how to spot these scammers and their books, let me say what this article isn’t. It isn’t an opportunity to bash Amazon, because I appreciate Amazon as a marketplace, as I appreciate all vendors. The problem may be far more prevalent on Amazon, but exists anywhere scammers find an open door. It works like this: Scam authors, who most often appear to operate in Russia, or Eastern European and Asian countries are throwing poorly written, poorly edited (and sometimes stolen) books into KU, where, readers may download content free of charge, only it’s not actually free, because Amazon pays them for your download. More and more, authors are speaking up and reporting these books, but the key to removing them is for readers to begin standing up and complaining as well.

Personally, I have very few books in KU, but to say I don’t have a horse in this race is not entirely true. Honest authors, who work hard on a daily basis to write books from the heart are finding it harder and harder to survive amidst a sea of badly written and plagiarized books. So how does this affect you? Well, it’s pretty straightforward. As true authors find it harder and harder to devote time to a career that doesn’t allow them to make a living wage, you will lose access to better books and to your favorite authors. You might argue this will correct itself eventually–and it will–but at what cost in the interim?

I’m fortunate enough to have a very loyal readership and I love you all immensely, so, currently, I’m in no danger of going anywhere, but already I have witnessed the exodus of some of my own favorite authors from the industry, simply because they can’t make ends meet and can no longer focus on writing. It breaks my heart so much that I must speak up. But I’m not going to name names because that’s not the goal of this article. The goal is to simply make you aware of what’s going on and what you might do to help.

Aside from lost authors, these are the things that bother me most about this unfortunate trend:

a) The reader is being disrespected by author mills, who churn out the same revised and altered content over and over. Eventually, readers will grow bored, and that’s the biggest sin of all–that the joy found in reading may be lost.

b) Scam books take up valuable space on Amazon’s “bestseller” lists, because KU downloads are weighted more heavily than non KU books. Unfortunately, if you want to see real bestseller lists that reflect an entire world of books that might be obscured on Amazon, you’ll have to go look at the lists on competing vendors, like iBooks, Kobo, B&N and, of course, USA Today and New York Times. (And then dig down to the genre lists.)

c) Many scammers are not following the rules that real authors are forced to comply with, and they are benefiting nonetheless. For example, it’s against Amazon’s Terms of Service to buy reviews or pay for downloads, but that’s not stopping these hackers. One way they do this is through unsuspecting readers, who might not realize they are following a scam author and want to do their best to support them, especially when they have been offered a free review copy. The other way is through Click farms (Click this link here to see what I mean).

Now, let me say a few words about review copies, because all authors provide these, and all publishers do as well. 1) you should not be given a “gift card” to download books from the vendor. That is unethical because it manipulates lists. It’s against TOS and legit authors won’t put you or themselves in this position. If you are found out, it jeopardizes all your reviews and your ability to leave reviews in the future.  2) Review copies must be given without any stipulation or guarantee that you will ever post a review, or that it will be 4 and 5 stars. Although we sincerely hope you’ll love our books, you must be allowed not to like it if you choose.

So back to the scam book problem; how can you spot them and why should you bother? The most important reason is that it is potentially damaging to the entire industry, largely because Amazon holds such a large portion of market sales for traditional and not traditional authors. I’m a huge fan of choice and the No. 1 way to support choice is to support Amazon’s competitors. While I do also buy from Amazon, I try to spread the love, buying titles from iBooks, B&N and Kobo as well. (This is also why I don’t use, or any longer give away, vendor specific ereaders that are not universal, meaning, that they won’t allow books to be loaded from any vendor.)

Fellow author Patricia McLinn has a great list of ways you can spot scam authors and scam books, and you’ll want to check out her entire list here:

Some of the easiest ways to tell are:

a) The author profile seems “off.” If it looks like a stock photo, it probably is one. While some might argue that people should be allowed to hide behind a fake photo, I am not a fan of pretense, and these “fake authors” seem fond of using stock photos, probably because many of them are the same person and/or company, merely posing as an author.

b) The book cover is bad. They aren’t in it for the longterm. They are going to take the money and run, so many of the scammers don’t bother to put up great covers, although there are a few of them now that are making so much money they have begun to cover these books well, so this is not a fail proof way to tell. However, if the cover “looks” derivative, or reminds you of another author’s style, chances are they have copied it, and it’s a red flag.

c) They either have REALLY high page counts, or REALLY low page counts, or, if you look inside, the text is double-spaced to make it seem it’s a bigger book. (There are also a lot of other clues, so be sure to check Patricia’s page for more.) David Gaughran also has a helpful article.

d) Weirdly worded author bios that give you a sense that maybe English is not their first language. It seems to be more evident in the profile than in the book themselves, which are sometimes plagiarized.

e) Check to see when they released their books. Did they dump a bunch of titles onto Amazon over a short time, or even on the same day? HUGE red flag. It takes me months and months to write a book. While I have author friends who put out books every 6 weeks, I know they work hard to do this–so hard that some find it hard to have a life outside of writing. I love writing, and love the connection with my readers, but I also adore time with my husband and children and time in the garden. I want to be my best when I’m at my keyboards, and for me that means taking time to recharge, which means it takes me even longer.

f) They often have no website, and their facebook pages are very new.

There are many, many more ways to tell, and as I said, you can find some here and here. Ultimately, there’s only one way this is going to change, and that’s if the reader complains. Again, I won’t give you specific titles, because I mean to leave that up to your best judgment. Really, you’re responsible for your own reading material. However, I respect you enough to at least want you to be aware of this issue, because in the long run, it affects you. If there’s one thing I know about Amazon it’s that they care about their customers, so it’s only for you that they are going to make this a more even playing field.

So that’s all. May you find only pearls.



Tanya Does Babelcube (Part 2)

Still interested in foreign translations?

Now, let’s rewind a bit, because up until now, we’ve assumed you already have a translator in mind. If you have no translator yet, and are searching for one, there are many ways to go about this. However, long before you get to this point, you must have decided how you will pay your translator. Whether you pay them up front, or use a royalty share, payment is crucial. No one wants to spend months translating your book and not get paid for it. Ideally, you will pay your translator what they are worth, either up front, or through royalties.

If you choose to use a service like Babelcube, or TraduzioneLibri (I have not used this one), these are a bit like ACX royalty shares, with the translator earning the majority up front. In my opinion, this is fair. If you choose this path to press, you must consider these books long term projects, and let go of short-term expectations. You’ll get these back free and clear in 5 years, if you so choose, and then you can distribute them anywhere. However, while they are on Babelcube, financially speaking, this is the translator’s time in the sun.

But what if my books don’t earn money for my translators? Well, this is something you, and your translator, must be willing to take a chance on, and in such case, both you and the translator must know when to say enough’s enough and move on. For example, I still have high hopes for the Dutch market, because these are very early days, and I see Kobo is expanding in that territory, but in all fairness, my Dutch translator has not earned any royalties on the book she translated for me, and although I did add in a signing bonus completely outside of Babelcube, I’m not pushing for more books in this market. While she is working on the sequel, it’s in her spare time, and so far, it’s been two years in the making without seeing its publication. In all fairness to her, I must allow her make the call on this one. This is where patience is a virtue.

But I’ve heard bad things about Babelcube! There has been lots of back and forth about this company, but for me, Babelcube has been a great thing. There is simply no way I could have translated 30 books into 5 different languages, not in the space of so little time. I will admit my greatest frustration with Babelcube is that they are a small company and their customer service has room for improvement. Regardless, whether or not you choose to use a royalty share deal, or to pay direct, YOU are the one responsible for hiring your translator. DO NOT accept the first translator who reaches out to you. Do your homework. These are the questions you should be asking: How many translations have they done? Have they ever translated fiction? Do they work with a proofreader? Do they have a good grasp on English (more than apparent from their e-mails). Search for other books they’ve translated on Amazon. What are the reviews their books have garnered? If they are poor reviews, is it because of story content? Or is it because of errors? This is YOUR homework and no one is going to do it for you. Plus, YOU have the greatest stake in this: Your reputation. Putting a bad book into publication into a new market is worse than having no book at all.

Okay, so on the other end of this deal, translators also have a responsibility to choose to work with authors they believe will pay off for them financially. But, in the end, sales in any given market are a bit of a crap shoot. While there are risks on both ends, your translator is investing a great deal of himself and his time into a project for someone mostly unknown to him, so be considerate of this. Expect them to be professional, but you be professional, too.

To sum up Babelcube, it isn’t a publishing house. While they do cursory checks, no one is insuring that all translators who apply to translate your book are serious, or even capable. You can’t think of this path in that way. Just as “anybody can publish,” “anyone can also translate.” All the work you would put into hiring a translator direct, you must still apply to translators here. All Babelcube is, aside from a place to facilitate meetings between authors and translators and fulfill distribution, is a different financial option. Period. It provides a means for you to pay over time for translations you will own free and clear after five years. If you earn a bit on these titles before then, well, good for you!

The pros of Babelcube:  low cash output (mostly covers, formatting, and possibly proofing), you own translations after 5 years, you don’t have to manage money.

The cons: you have almost zero control over distribution, almost no control over marketing (although you do have the option of running special promotions), and you and the translator may not earn out, given the limited control.

Okay, so maybe you don’t like the idea of Babelcube, and you don’t want to wait for your money, and most importantly, you have plenty of capital to invest. Go direct. Know that if you are choosing to go direct, you are taking the biggest risk up front, but now that I’m more than 100 books in, I can tell you I prefer it, though I would not choose this path with a new, unknown translator, unless they come to me as a recommendation. And even then, one shoe doesn’t fit all, so this doesn’t absolve you from doing your homework. I’ve managed nearly all my German translations this way, and I’m so pleased I did.

Whether you’re working through Babelcube or going direct, once you’ve discovered teams you work well with, and trust them, you might want to begin paying for a few direct translations. The upside here is substantial for everyone. The translator gets paid up front. You retain all your book’s rights, and you can distribute wherever and however you wish. Clearly, this is not an option available to everyone, because translations can run from 1.5k to 10k, varying widely, and then you still have to pay a proofer, on top of the cover artist and formatting. However, I have chosen to do this for most of my German books, many of my French books, and a few of my Italian books, with no regrets. Hands down, German has had the greatest rewards, but my French sales are great, and Italian as well. However, for some reason, it seems there are a great many Italian translators on Babelcube, so I chose to do most of these titles through that medium. Whatever the language, direct will give you the most control to work with vendors to promote your books. This is your goal!

Also keep in mind, that once you get to a certain stage, even direct translations will provide more production options, including short-term and long-term royalty share plans with translators you trust. You must decide what you’re willing to live with and what is best for you and your translator. At best and worst, this is a highly symbiotic relationship, and if you’re fortunate enough to find great translators, treat them as your partners. No, you shouldn’t have to pay them for the life of your published translation, but you do owe them respect.

And I can’t stress enough: Do your homework. A bad translation is worse than having no translation at all. You won’t grow in that market and whatever sales you get will be pennies toward a derailed career in <insert country>.

And know this: Even if you do your homework, it’s no safe-guard against a bad translation. People get lazy. And yet, if you do your part along the road to publication, you’ll lessen the chances this will happen, and if something slips by, because, let’s face it, nobody is perfect, there are ways to deal with this, including kill fees.

Also, keep this in mind: I know MANY authors who have had books translated by publishers only to hear nightmare stories about the translation, or of books cut short in non holistic ways. Indies are not the only ones who are subject to these issues.

There is no reason, in my opinion, not to do translations—except one, and this one is more than valid. Indies wear a LOT of hats. If you don’t want to manage one more process, don’t do it. Either hire someone you trust to manage the process for you, or pursue foreign translations the old-fashioned way, through an agent. Ultimately, you’ve got to do what works for you, but I’m guessing if you’ve read this far, it’s because, like me, you’re not in the mood to let traditional obstacles stand in your way. The good news is, these are not traditional times. Good luck!

If you’re in the mood to read more about translations, here are Interviews with me provided by my translators: