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Translation of Your Book  

A significant proportion of the guidebooks you see in any bookstore is work in translation, that is, the books were first written in a language other than English. 

In guidebook publishing, translation is important.

The guidebook business is an international business. If you write a good guide to Upper Slobovia, why should it only help English-speaking travelers? You can sell the translation rights to publishers in other countries, they will translate and publish the book at their own expense, and you get more money for no more work. This is good!

Usually the sale of foreign language rights is left to the publisher, as he or she is the one who goes to the big Frankfurt (Germany) Book Fair, meets lots of foreign publishers, and knows how to cut the best deal.

The important thing for you as an author to get is the lion's share of the license fee or royalties. You've done all the work, right? Sometimes all the publisher does is negotiate the foreign rights contract and hand over a copy of the book. In other cases, your publisher may provide important and costly technical materials and support services (maps, photographs, color separations, cartography services, etc) to the foreign publisher, which would justify the publisher to a bigger slice of the pie.

An 80-20 split of all money received is not unreasonable, with the author getting the 80%. Publishers who recognize reality will agree to 80-20 or at least 70-30 in cases where the publisher does not provide significant technical support to the foreign publisher.

But most will want 50-50 or even 30-70, which is unacceptable. In the case of the domestic English edition, the publisher has many duties, responsibilities and expenses. In the case of foreign rights, he or she has few.

You should recognize that if you pressure a publisher for an unreasonable split, the publisher will have no incentive to work at selling foreign rights, and if that's the case, you lose that extra money which might have been gained through sale of the translation rights. But 30% should be enough for the publisher in most cases.

With publishers demanding "all rights" ("work-for-hire") contracts these days, they keep all translation rights—and revenue. The author gets nothing.

All About Contracts

All About Travel Guidebooks



Tom Brosnahan