The publishing world has changed drastically since the advent of eBooks. There are thousands of articles and blog posts about the changes, and I’m not going to recap any of them here. But what I will say, as an independent author, is the smartest thing I ever did when flirting with the traditional publishing world was to keep my English rights for the books they were interested in.
I’d like to take credit for that smart move, but I must confess that at the time, I was ready to go all in, and sign over everything, because I believed I had finally made it. An editor from a big French publisher reached out after finding me on Amazon. They were interested in my books, but they would only deal with an agent. I found a reputable agency in Copenhagen, and I’m guessing having a publisher in my back pocket might have worked in my favour, and I was invited to meet them in the big city. I took my bag of books – I think I had five at the time – and I went off to make my fortune.
Sitting on the train, I felt like I was in a Disney movie, with my bag of books clutched to my chest. It was fun. I was excited about the prospects of becoming a ‘real author’. There was a tiny part of my brain that urged caution, and reminded me of everything I had achieved already as an indie author, but I ignored it. I was ready.
To cut a long story short, after the initial meeting and a tiny bit of haggling about commission rates, I accepted and the agency said they would send the contract to be signed.
The Chestnut Man got in the way.
Yep, that Chestnut Man.
Basically, the agency was swamped, understandably so, with putting the finishing touches on that book, and my contract took a little while to arrive. In the meantime, that voice urging caution got louder and louder, and when the contract did come, I renegotiated and pulled my English rights, leaving the agency to represent my foreign and film rights only. My English rights were my only source of income, so I kind of needed them. Prior to pulling those rights back the agency suggested I return to teaching.
This was in 2018.
I quit my teaching job in December 2017, wrote Seven Graves, One Winter in January/February 2018, published it on Valentine’s Day, got spotted in March, signed in June.
However, the French realised they already had a “Greenland Crime” book in their catalogue, and they pulled out. But during that time Françoise contacted me. She was a translator and had heard about the French interest in Seven Graves, One Winter, and was keen to translate it. But of course that particular deal fell apart. And with no other French interest, so did the opportunity for translation.
Fast forward to February 2021.
I was getting more and more disillusioned with traditional publishing, and considered quitting my agency contract to be truly independent once more. I reached out to Françoise. Was she still interested? And would she like to translate Petra’s Greenland Missing Persons series? They were not on the agency’s books, and therefore not bound to any contract or commission.
I think you can see where this is going, but I’m really excited to say she was interested, and today I published the fifth French translation in the Greenland Missing Persons: Le Piège de l’Hiver. Françoise is currently working on the sixth book in the series. You can find the others here. You’ll also see a Polish edition – more about that later. 🙂
When dealing with the traditional world of publishing, you’re often told about the things that are impossible to do as an independent author. Getting indie books translated was one of those things. Well, when you find the right person, and you both agree on the terms, then nothing is impossible.
One of my favourite books is Michael Asher’s Impossible Journey. It’s a fabulous true-life account of a husband and wife crossing the Sahara with camels. Michael Asher is one of my heroes and I was fortunate to meet him and his wife, photographer Mariantonietta Peru, at a lecture in Glasgow. In the book, Asher visits a French explorer to pick his brains about desert travel. What Théodore Monod said has stuck with me ever since I first read it: … nothing is impossible. Only, some things are difficult.
That quote and that attitude has been my mantra for as long as I can remember. It’s gotten me this far, at least. However, I’d like to add something to that quote and change it slightly to:
Nothing is impossible. Only, some things are difficult, but with the right help, many things can be easier.
I got the right help with my French translations.