There are many different ways in which writers from outside the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture can get their books to the attention of those readers. Different people can make use of different routes. Some, like Nalo Hopkinson, come from English-speaking countries with non-white cultures. Some, like Aliette de Bodard, are raised bilingual. Some, like Karin Tidbeck, learn English well enough to translate their own work while others, like Johanna Sinisalo, are well respected enough to have English-language publishers pay for translation. However, not everyone fits one of these boxes. What do you do if you are from a non-English-speaking country, are not famous enough or rich enough to get translated, but can’t write English well enough to produce a marketable book in that language? That was the dilemma facing Polish author, Justyna Plichta-Jendzio. She managed to find a different solution. I asked her to tell me her story.
I should note that Justyna’s solution may not work for everyone in her position, and good editors may be as thin on the ground as good translators. However, I’m delighted that Justyna found something that worked for her, and I hope that more people in her position will find ways to get their books to the English-reading public in future.
Justyna’s books are published by Devine Destinies, an imprint of the Canadian publisher, eXtasy Books.
CMM: What is being published in English worth to you? Is it a question of numbers? Wikipedia says that there are only 40 million native Polish speakers in the world, while the number of native English speakers is much higher.
JPJ: There are two reasons for which I have chosen the English-speaking market. First, as you have already mentioned, the number of people speaking English. If we sum up only the number of citizens of the USA (320 million in 2012), Canada (35 million), Great Britain (63 million) and Australia (23 million) the number of English-speaking people grows up to nearly 420 million. There are also countries, such as India, in which English is very important and serves as second native language. In Scandinavia most of the young people speak English as well as they do their native languages. English is also the language of business, so most people who want to make international careers know it at least on a medium level. All of this enlarges the English-speaking market exponentially.
Another reason is that in countries like England, Sweden, Norway and many others, there are higher numbers of fantasy fans than in Poland. This probably comes from the fact that, due to historical events, more customs and legends from pre-Christian times survived in those regions than in Poland, and people are more fascinated with them.
CMM: How easy is it for a Polish writer to get translated?
JPJ: Being published by a Polish publisher and then being promoted by this publisher abroad is the easiest way; under the condition that you are published by a big publisher, promoted in your home country, then translated by a professional literary translator, contracted by a foreign publisher and again promoted abroad. But not many writers have such luck. I didn’t.
CMM: What gave you the idea of looking for an English-language publisher who could help you with your English?
JPJ: It was my main goal to get to the English-speaking market, so I thought I would skip the Polish part and start immediately with offering my book Dark Children of Naor directly to American, Canadian and English publishers as if I were an English writer.
CMM: How did you find Devine Destinies, and how long did it take?
JPJ: I searched for a publisher for a year. In the meantime I gained a little information about English publishing markets and the ways I could publish my book. Most of the members of different forums recommended against paid publishing or independent publishing. They advised looking for a publisher at any cost, so I did. The problem was that I translated the book myself with the help of Polish translator. I polished the book the best I could, but it was still a language disaster.
Most of my submissions were rejected due to the horrible language of my translation. However, I had more luck than sense, and after one year of search Devine Destinies accepted my book. They usually published books after 3-6 months, but I waited a year and a half before my book was edited. During the editing process, the editors found my language so inappropriate and full of errors that it tremendously extended how long it took to edit.
It would have lasted even longer, but I decided to help them and find an American editor who could help me and finish editing the last 25% of the book. I had to find a person who already had experience working with foreign writers, understood the specific type of literature that fantasy is, follow my tips and — what was very important to me — would give me a reasonable price for their editing service. I sent dozens of letters to different editors, but their prices were far beyond my possibilities. Finally, I found Daniel Koeker from Manuscript Magic, and that was it. I have cooperated with Daniel so far and do not intend to look for another editor.
Of course, his help sped up my first book’s publishing, and I sent my publisher my second book, Evil Children of Naor, immediately after his edits.
CMM: How much of a collaborative effort is the final book?
JPJ: I think even after edits the book remains mine. Of course, it is thanks to Daniel. I asked him to change only as little as he could, while still adapting the language to the standards of the American market. He was not to change any paragraphs or dialogues, only to care for the correctness of the language. Of course he also had to pay attention to the quality of the language; because the book is high/dark fantasy, Daniel had to erase or change words, expressions and idioms which are too modern and adapt them to the times the book is set in.
After Daniel does his corrections, he sends the book back for my approval so I have a chance to accept or reject the changes or ask him to revise again. At the beginning we had to send my text to and from 3-4 times; now Daniel understands my way of thinking very well and my story is polished after Daniel’s second edit.
I know he does great job because my publisher’s editor, who makes control reads, complimented me for my English language!
CMM: Are you making money from the book?
JPJ: Not yet, but I know Devine Destinies sells some of my books; I receive quarterly statements. Unfortunately sales are too low to give me any profits.
Before my book was published, I was warned not to expect any miracles; not only was I foreign and an unknown author, but also one of hundreds who are published every month. So it was up to me to do the promotion campaign. The publisher invests in edits; if there is necessary — and in cover design. I decided to find an artist myself and provide them my own cover. The publisher also covers the other things necessary to publish the book. But the promotion is on my head. This is how I found you.