Babelcube offers self-published authors a free translation service in return for an exclusive distribution agreement for five years. Just Publishing Advice brings us the news (linked via The Digital Reader). Of course you might have feelings about just who it was who did your translation — but then free is free.

Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch here discusses the issue for self-publishers of getting translated. (Link via The Passive Voice) She spends much time developing that (to me nonsensical) argument that American publishers don’t want to do translations, telling us here that the reason for this is alleged to be that American readers don’t want to read them. Now, I dare say she did meet publishers who said this — but they were just repeating a mantra and talking nonsense. An examination of the evidence is so obviously contrary to this claim, that there’s no need to mention it again.

On the other hand, it might be argued that American publishers don’t want to publish translated books because it’s a hassle. In a trade world where you are charged with bringing in a certain number of books a year, you are likely to select the first best-selling candidates over others. You have a network of agents around town, and will maybe visit the Frankfurt and London Book Fairs. At the book fairs you might find a foreign blockbuster or two — but it doesn’t really matter because your New York agent pool will be feeding you proposal upon proposal. If agents push 200 projects at you, selecting the 20 best isn’t a hugely onerous task (though getting it right is not easy). Going overseas and researching who’s good, going after them, and arranging for a translation to be done, represents real work. It would take a highly motivated editor to disregard the easy pickings in his/her own backyard and go for the tougher stuff overseas. Ergo: translations happen less than translation-pushers would like. The reason is not that American publishers don’t want to do them: it’s more that they are too lazy, or comfortable, to have to do them. This doesn’t apply to French, Dutch, German, Italian etc. publishers where their domestic writing machine is less fruitful (because smaller).

Our problem here is the size of our market. A bestseller can sell millions of copies. If we had a smaller population a bestseller would sell thousands of copies. Unsurprisingly trade publishers are fixated on millions, and we are constantly hearing moans about how the “mid-list” is being squeezed. Most translations fall into the mid-list category. And smaller publishers are doing lots of them, just as they are picking up the domestic mid-list slack. So all this moaning about how American publishers won’t do translations really means “American trade publishers won’t do translations” — and that’s not even true.

I’ve held forth on this before and before.