by Mary Jo
Romance is read around the world in many, many languages. For a writer, it's a huge benefit if one's native tongue is widely spoken and widely read because that means there's a sizable publishing business: writing groups, editors, publishers, agents. All the paraphernalia that help aspiring writers learn and grow and become published.
I've often thought how hard it is to be a very talented writer in a small language group where there isn't the structure to support budding talents. (To the left are two editions of LOVING A LOST LORD, Japanese on the left, Indonesian on the right.)
I give thanks that I'm a native speaker of (American) English, which is spoken and read around the world. Lots and lots of romances are published in English, so many foreign publishers find it more efficient to buy rights to English language books and translate them into their own language because there just aren't as many original titles available in Polish or Korean or whatever. (Harlequin, the romance giant, does its own translations and distribution. According to Wikipedia, in a recent year that was 26 languages and 106 countries. That a LOT of romances!)
Historical romances are popular because of the escapism and glamour factor, so over the years, I've had a ton of foreign editions of my books. Over 200, I think. Maybe way over. This is over a lot of years, of course.
I'm always happy to be informed of a new foreign sale, and I keep my fingers crossed that the translation is done well. I imagine most translations are good to very good, but probably there are some that aren't that great. I just hope a bad translation doesn't leave readers disappointed.
Covers can be a hoot. Just as foreign publishers can buy rights to American books, they can buy rights to cover illustrations that American artists originally did for American books. So I've seen books of mine with covers that had originally graced a Johanna Lindsey or Laura Kinsale or other American title. (Above is a Cyrillic language, Russian or possibly Bulgarian.)
Some countries go for very racy covers, others are much more discreet, some are hilariously inappropriate. A few books have used the original American illustration, though possibly altered. This German edition of VEILS OF SILK used the same original Pino painting but trimmed and flipped right to left. (The title is "Indian Nights," which fits since the book mostly takes place in India.)
Czech editions render my name as MARY JO PUTNEYOVA, the Slavic way of saying "daughter of Putney." I like this Czech edition of RIVER OF FIRE below, which shows a painter's palette for a book about artists.
But there's a corollary: generally contracts for foreign editions require copies to be sent to the author, and they build up. And up and UP! Like most authors, I'm incapable of destroying a book, even one of my own, even if I can't read it. <G> Whenever possible, I've pressed foreign copies on friends who read the language and are interested. Spanish editions are very popular with my local libraries. Once I took a whole box of Korean editions to the nice ladies who run a tailoring and alterations shop near me.
But still–TOO MANY BOOKS! Three or four bookcases full and tottering on the verge of explosion. What to do, what to do???
Eventually a friend helped me find a solution. A librarian by training, Binnie hangs out on a large online librarian loop and she asked who would like foreign editions, and if so, what languages? (Also included in this were surplus large print editions, all in English.)
My friend and the librarians came through. I sorted the books by language into banker's boxes. Multiple boxes of Spanish and Italian and German and Polish and Norwegian. Smaller collections of Korean and Chinese and other Asian languages. Rows and rows of boxes in my garage. (That's less than half the boxes.)
Binnie made lists, and she and a friend of hers packaged and sent the books. We gave priority to small libraries with limited to non-existent budgets. (I paid all shipping costs, and thank heaven and the post office for media mail rates!)
Binnie found a couple of big city librarians that would take just about anything, including fairly obscure editions like Indonesian and Thai. It was all a huge amount of work (of which I delegated as much as possible!), but I'm happy that my books have found their way into welcoming hands, and anything that helps libraries and readers gives me a warm glow.
Since I like to keep track of things, I did keep one copy of each foreign edition and they are now archived in two six foot tall bookcases with double rows. Foreign editions are still coming in, but these days with steep international shipping rates, the numbers are fewer, fortunately. But I'm keeping a box to toss the extras in, and Binnie still has her library list. <G>
Markets change over time. Once there were masses of German and Nordic editions, and over the years just about everything of mine has been translated into Spanish and Portuguese.
Difficult economic conditions have tightened markets in some countries, but in recent years, Romania has become a terrific market for my books. I hear regularly from Romanian readers, and I love that my stories are enjoyed there. (After all, "romance" and "Romanian" come from the same root word!)
Here's a picture of my cleaned up foreign edition library. I would have been embarrassed to show it before!
Of course all of the Word Wenches have mountains of foreign editions, probably enough to build a house out of. Have any of you read any Word Wench books in foreign editions? If so, I hope the translations were lovely!
Mary Jo, sadly mono-lingual