From the Editor:
Even before the age of e-, publishing for a niche audience was clearly the best strategy for independents. Now, with e-formats, e-tailers, and other e-distribution channels, it’s still recognized as the best, and it works even better.
The only obvious area of disagreement seems to be pronunciation (with some favoring nitch and some favoring neesh). More subtle disagreements have to do with definition.
Ask someone who works in one of the giant publishing houses what niche publishing is, and the odds are good that the answer will be, in essence: It’s publishing for a really, really, really small and specialized audience, so we wouldn’t even think about doing it.
Ask someone who actually does publish for a niche market—or for several niche markets—and you’re apt to get an answer that says, in essence: I publish for an audience I can define, understand, and reach that’s made up of people who need and want what I have to offer them.
Sometimes that audience is in fact small, or very small, or even really, really, really small, but sometimes it’s big, really big. And, as IBPA members’ stories on many different topics show, independent publishers can succeed with audiences of many different sizes.
The reports below and the reports that appeared last month in the first installment of this series reflect that reality, but they reflect another one too. Read on (and maybe look back at “Routes Across Language Barriers, Part 1”) to learn about how independent publishers succeed by doing books for speakers of languages other than English across the United States and throughout the world.
Editor, IBPA Independent
Connecting Worldwide Through Proverbs
If someone had told me that my off-duty hobby in Afghanistan would one day turn me into a global spokesman for Afghan Proverbs, I would have laughed out loud. But that’s what happened. I’m still an active duty US Navy Captain, but as a side project I have published 15 award-winning books in 15 languages to support Afghan literacy and cross-cultural understanding. It’s a personal project unrelated to my military duties, and since returning from Afghanistan I’ve become hooked on self-publishing through reader feedback and the education provided by great organizations like IPBA. What started out as a simple hobby has led to publishing projects that connect people, languages, and cultures on a global scale.
My books offer content I collected while I was deployed in Afghanistan. As a trained Dari (Afghan Farsi) speaker, I worked there for 18 months. I was embedded with Afghan security forces in Kabul and Kandahar, and I spent a year on President Hamid Karzai’s staff inside the Afghan Presidential Palace.
After observing that Afghans often use proverbs in their daily speech, I began using them at work and socially, and I soon saw that many of the thoughts behind Afghanistan’s most popular proverbs are universal messages found in every culture.
Fascinated with these proverbs and the way Afghans use them, I began translating the ones I heard into English. At first, I simply wrote them down in a field notebook as a personal hobby, and as a way to improve my Dari language skills.
Then I created three bilingual books of Afghan Proverbs, working with students in an Afghan high school to illustrate the books. Today, I lead a growing movement of devoted Afghan Proverbs fans who are promoting cross-cultural understanding around the world through proverbs. My books have received international awards and media coverage; they have a large and very active following in social media, and people in more than 80 countries have expressed interest in them.
Forty thousand copies of my first book, Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs, were published in Kabul by a small Afghan-owned local press in 2011, and the book achieved unexpected worldwide success after I self-published the second edition and distributed it internationally in 2012. Zarbul Masalha (which means “Proverbs” in Dari) had already been distributed as a textbook to more than 200 Afghan schools, Kabul University, and other educational institutions across Afghanistan.
My second book, Afghan Proverbs Illustrated, was published in 2012 after readers in the Afghan diaspora asked for a large-format, full-color book to help their children learn to read Dari using Afghan proverbs and sayings. A winner of IPPY and Writer’s Digest awards, this illustrated title has also been published bilingually in Dari and 12 European languages (in addition to my original Dari-English edition) with the help of volunteer translators from around the world. More translations are coming soon, including some for bilingual editions in Danish, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, and Hebrew.
All 15 of my proverbs books are now available in more than 100 countries through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository, uRead, and many other international booksellers. Net proceeds support Afghan literacy initiatives and charities.
Captain Edward Zellem, USN
Cultures Direct Press
Commonalities for Children
We publish a series of bilingual picture books, I See the Sun in . . . Each book is about a day in the life of a child in a different country, and each is in English and in the language of the country in the story. So far we have published I See the Sun in . . . Nepal, China, Russia, Mexico, Afghanistan, and Myanmar (Burma).
The series began when the author, Dedie King, approached me about producing a book for a literacy project she and her late husband started in Nepal many years ago. She had written a story that her friend Judith Inglese had illustrated, and she wanted to know how to turn it into a book. That was in 2010. Originally we printed only paperbacks, but this past June we released the entire series in hardcover.
Our distributor is Midpoint Trade Books. Our largest market is libraries. Over the past couple of years, the author/illustrator duo have been appearing at elementary schools in New England and New York. They read one of our books to the children while the pages are projected on a screen, talk a little about life in the particular country, and then take questions. Afterwards, they sign books that the children or the schools have ordered in advance.
We have also participated in BookExpo America and other book fairs, including The Southern Festival of Books and The Boston Book Fair. This year we are sponsors of Multicultural Children’s Book Day and supporters of We Need Diverse Books.
The reaction from readers has been very positive. Our books have won awards and been reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, School Library Journal, ForeWord, ALA Booklist, and many other publications. Children enjoy reading about other places and appreciate the similarities and differences in their lives. We have also successfully reached out to US communities with immigrant populations from the countries where the books take place. People there are using our books to help teach English.
All in all, a very exciting and rewarding publishing experience.
Satya House Publications
Feeding a Hunger for Audiology Information
Anytime one thinks of increasing sales in global markets, China must surely come to mind. Its market is three to four times that of the United States based on population, but the multiple could be higher or lower in Chinese submarkets. The field of audiology (hearing science) has taken root in China only over the past few years, spurring a hunger for knowledge. I have never seen anything quite like it.
Our team canvassed ear, nose, and throat surgeons (and audiologists, although they are few and far between) in mainland China, and we were overwhelmed by the responses. Consistently, we found China to be a market desperate for knowledge in medicine and the sciences.
We spoke with people at several top medical-surgical hospitals and clinics who not only encouraged us to bring our audiology knowledge to China, but greeted us with open arms and a desire to assist us in any way they could—including by translating our books into Mandarin at no charge. These offers came in from the most influential, respected, and highly published medical practitioners in China.
Although we had never been concerned about theft of our work by medical/audiological professionals in China, we had been concerned about abuse by printers and black market renegades there, which probably still occurs in the Asian underground. We knew that property rights protection, regulations, laws, and enforcement work differently there than here, sometimes with no regulation and no enforcement.
But the native-born Chinese writer on our staff knew China from the inside, and through her insights and experience, we have been observing that the government of China wants to do more to align with Western policies. That was the point that led to our decision to launch our first title there.
In China, doing business most often involves an introduction from one professional to another. Cold calls are usually ignored, disrespected, or even ill-treated. Thus, saying “Dr. X suggested I contact you . . .” is the best (and safest) path to introducing a product.
As a foreigner in the book industry in China who is importing “knowledge,” you cannot print and distribute books yourself. Printing books intended for distribution within the Mainland requires a third party broker. The laws are very clear about this, and violations can be costly.
When I traveled to Shanghai in 2012, I met with a highly touted printer (by invitation, of course). We sat down in his spacious office and after about seven cups of green tea (a requirement; it shows respect), I toured his facility only to discover that the price for producing a 250-page perfect bound 6” × 9” paperback in black ink was the same as the best price I had found in the United States. Where China seems to beat US pricing is with oversized four-color coffee-table–style books, something we don’t do.
Thus, we will be printing softcover books in the Shanghai area for distribution to all major cities in China. We expect to complete translation this spring and have our first book in Manadarin on press by summer.
Richard E. Carmen
Auricle Ink Publishers
Inspiration and Insights
I’m the founder and president of Exit Studio Publishing, a very small press where my partner and I fill the jobs of a 10-person staff. I like to think of it as the little engine that keeps trying.
Most of our publications, although inspired by the Latin American experience, are issued in Spanish and English, usually simultaneously.
My inspiration/mission was/is to fill a void in Spanish literature for very young readers while also opening a window into a different culture for the North American audience. Our target markets are varied—professional women aged 25 to 50, professionals more generally, teachers, librarians, and parents of Latin American origins with children born and raised in the United States.
Just like the rest of the world, we use social media while combining efforts with other organizations, and we sell some books through gift shops. I’m very proud of the fact that we just celebrated our 20th anniversary (and we’re experiencing some growing pains).
The most important lesson I can share is: Having a creative mind and also running a company is not for the faint of heart. I learned that lesson very early on. But my intent has always been, first, to leave a small mark while inspiring others to commit to their beliefs and talent; and, second, to set an example of commitment. In a world where social change and technology are constant, commitment to do what you think you were born to do takes courage and consistency, and most of all persistence. At times when I feel down, I take a look at all the work I’ve created and produced for Exit Studio, and suddenly everything comes into focus one more time.
Exit Studio Publishing
An Editor’s Tips on Translation
Dancing Chiva publishes books in English and in Spanish for readers interested in literary works, primarily works by me and/or works of Mexican history.
The press is quite new and has published Spanish translations of three titles so far, including El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano, my historical novel based on the true story of a half-American prince in the court of the Emperor of Mexico. That book was originally published in English by Unbridled Books as The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire and named a Library Journal Best Book of 2009. In Spanish; it was first published by Random House-Mondadori.
My relevant previous experience was in editing a bilingual literary journal, Tameme, which involved commissioning numerous literary translations from English into Spanish, and vice versa. (I am a literary journalist and novelist and also a literary translator, specializing in translating Mexican literary works into English.)
Two things I have learned that I think would helpful for others to know:
1. Be very careful when commissioning a translation. Do not assume that just because someone is bilingual or has some sort of professional credential that they are capable of competently translating a literary work (as opposed to, say, a medical or legal work). The translator needs to have the patience to find not only the precise word, but the music in the language; to go through several drafts; and in the end, to render a congruently high-quality work of art in the target language. For this reason, the best literary translators are not necessarily bilingual, but they are often noted poets in their own (the target) language.
2. Simplify payment for translations. My preference is to pay per word and up front for a commissioned translation, instead of having to deal with the paperwork hassle of paying out royalties (I just do not have the administrative capacity for that). In most cases, this is a much better deal for the translator.
PEN offers a model book contract for translators, and publishers at pen.org/model-contract. While I am in agreement with most of it—in particular that the translator’s name should appear on the cover, the title page, in the catalog, and in any publicity, and that the translator should receive copies of the published work—I believe that in most cases, and especially for small presses, it is both more realistic and more fair to the translator to forgo royalties and instead pay a fair per-word rate upfront. But each case will be unique, and what works for a larger commercial press may not work for, say, a poetry press.
For the books I have worked with, a letter of agreement calls for payment in three parts—two in-progress and one upon completion. In my experience, it is quite normal to have four rounds of corrections before both author (and/or editor) and translator are satisfied.
That said, many publishers pay a pittance for translations and then accept without question whatever gets turned in. Toe-curling barbarities ensue.
Although Spanish-language bookstores in the United States are scarce, avid readers in Spanish are out there—a very underserved market, especially in areas such as New York and Washington, DC—and many readers are beginning to download Kindle books in Spanish. My strategy for literary works in Spanish—and time will tell if it’s a good one or not—is to forget the brick-and-mortar bookstores and focus on online sales, for both paperbacks and electronic books.
For Academics and Others
AMZ Publications, based in upstate New York, publishes hardcover and paperback print books and digital books related to South Asian history. We focus on books that bring unique and fresh perspectives to the history of the region. In addition to print and digital books, we have published rare and historical documents. Our books are available in English and some are also available in Persian, Urdu, and Arabic.
Interest in South Asian studies has been growing in recent years, particularly in colleges and universities in the United States and other developed countries, and many people in the United States are unfamiliar with leading personalities from South Asia. We seek to fill this knowledge gap for students, professors, historians, researchers, journalists, and anyone else interested in South Asian history. In addition to individuals, we target libraries at educational institutions within the United States and abroad.
To reach our target markets, we use a combination of digital and print channels. For print, we work with publishing companies that list our books with major wholesalers and retailers, and we have our books listed in databases that any bookseller can use to place an order. For digital, we use Amazon Kindle, Scribd.com, and other online booksellers.
We market our books through major book fairs, catalog advertising, e-mail, and social media (primarily Facebook and Twitter). In 2015, we will be displaying our books at US and international book fairs, including BookExpo America in New York, the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco, the London Book Fair, and the Frankfurt Book Fair.
There has been great interest in our books, particularly among students and professors. Major research libraries in North America, Europe, and other regions purchase our publications. We also know through our social media sites that readers are interested in this topic; we hope to continue to advance knowledge of South Asian history through our publications.
One lesson we have learned is that the process of reaching readers for books in languages other than English is much like the process of reaching readers for English-language titles. The key is to identify where the target readership resides and find a way to engage them and build an audience. Social media makes it relatively simple to reach readers in virtually any market, since publishers can post on Twitter and Facebook in both English and other languages to begin to build audiences for their books. We have also learned that there is a large market within the United States for books in other languages, so the domestic market should not be overlooked.