Found in Translation: How do translations even get to Canada?

I have been on hiatus for a little while (check out more about me this past weekend in my “Secret Life of the Book Blogger” post!), but now I’m back! And I’m going to talk about *drumroll*

The law!

Ok, let’s back up to the question that really got this drumroll started: Why the heck aren’t there more books in translation in Canada? While, in The Book Wars’ case, we are primarily looking for children’s and YA titles brought to Canada in translation–and, as we’ll find out, translated within Canada–I will just attempt an answer at the initial big question.

The answer to the question is simple, predictable, and kind of sad: Money. Well, money and Rights.

It’s easy to forget, as consumers of beautiful cultural artifacts such as books, that Publishing is an industry. A big one. Therefore, for Publishing companies, what they publish and acquire all boils down to profit and loss. Within that publishing and acquiring purview and potential profit, are English Rights (Canadian, for our market here, or North American/U.S. or Commonwealth/U.K. respectively)  and Translation Rights and the question of whether or not it is worth it to bring a foreign title into the Canadian market.

jackiechan_confused_whatdoesthismean_stockphotoOk, let’s say an Author and her Agent successfully submit a manuscript to a publishing house–that is, an acquiring editor wants to take on the manuscript.

Ideally the Author and her Agent will have already discussed what Rights are available to the publishing house and what rights they want to sell on their own. While Copyright and the right to be acknowledged as the creator of this piece of creative material always belongs to the author, the “subsidiary” rights are what are left to be sold off. Some common subsidiary rights are:

  • Audio
  • Online
  • T.V.
  • Performance & Movie
  • First Serial, Second Serial etc…
  • Territory Rights (Canada, U.K., U.S. etc…)
  • Foreign & Translation
  • (There are many more “subsidiary” rights, but this gives you an idea)

The publisher also usually has a list of rights that they want to buy from the author and then turn around and sell on their own. So, they might want to buy World Rights (English) to a book, and then sell each territory the rights to the book and make a profit on those rights. The publishing contract will outline how much of the profit on those subsidiary rights the author will make, but it’s usually not a huge chunk. This is why some Authors decide to sell on their own, or have their Agent sell the rights: so that they can keep the lion’s share of the profit on their works in all languages and countries.

Whatever the agreement signed, the book is now “shopped around” by either Publisher, Agent, or even an entrepreneurial Author to various territories (Canada is one of them!) to see if any publisher within a foreign territory is willing to 1. buy the Rights, and 2. foot the translation, marketing, and distribution bill for a Foreign title (and still make a profit). x

So, in a nutshell, that’s it. That’s how foreign titles are brought into, translated, and distributed in Canada. The lack of these kinds of works in Canada simply means that the publishing houses here (and in many territories) don’t see foreign titles raking in the profits enough to invest in them. This kind of profit analysis also takes a lot of work–you need to have people who really know the pulse of Canadian readers and what kinds of books they are reading today. Scandanavian Thrillers, for instance are doing phenomenally well in the North American market and are commonly translated here (and actually, oftentimes in these cases the Canadian, U.S. and U.K. markets may band together to pay for the translation costs) and in Germany the stories of the Canadian North are very popular. But, in general, it’s hard for a foreign author to really break into foreign markets if they haven’t become a blockbuster in their own territory.

So that’s the quick & dirty on translation and foreign rights and how translations comes to Canada.



** I want to acknowledge Adrienne Kerr who is teaching my Trade Publishing class at Ryerson. Much of this knowledge came from her.