A talk on behalf of the Society of Authors at Publishing Scotland

Publishing Scotland held their annual conference last week and the Society of Authors were invited to give a short presentation. Given that I’m on the Scottish committee of the Society of Authors (SOAiS), Caroline Dunford and I went along. It was a great idea to involve us, although we did feel a little like the rabbits turning up at the foxes’ tea party! My best quote of the day is thanks to the Society of Authors (SOA):

“Authors remain the only essential part of the creation of a book and it is in everyone’s interests to ensure they can make a living.”

My second best quote was mine (modesty apart) – and it featured a bit on Twitter too (thanks to Alice Fischer and others!)

For translators, like authors, their name is their brand.


I’ve included some excerpts from my part of our joint presentation below, but first I must acknowledge my debt to the SOA and to Sarah Macintyre whose blog was a great inspiration for the part on illustrators and the hashtag campaign #picturesmeanbusiness

Publishing Scotland
Photo thanks to Merryn Glover

So here it is:

Seven Ways to work better with authors and translators (and sell more books)

Between us Caroline and I have come up with seven ways that we think publishers can work better with authors (and translators) and sell more books. So I’m starting off with the first four.

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-16-07-34I’m going to jump in at the deep end and talk about contracts, and for obvious reasons much of what I’d like to focus on is related to translators. In that sense, the contract is well down the path towards publication. A lot could be said about the many stages that precede it: the sleuthing work of finding suitable books to translate, reading them and preparing reports, gauging the feasibility of the project, the possibility of sourcing funds, and of course the key part, actually choosing a translator.

However, let’s leave all of that aside and go straight to the point. Contracts between publishers and translators have often been extremely one-sided in the past, that is the onus is entirely on the translator: mostly stick and precious little carrot.

The Society of Authors supports a vision of authors’ rights, centred on the author, and it campaigns to ensure that the implementation of that vision is not undermined by a concept of copyright which instead is centred on the investor.

The argument is that an investor-centred system of rights maximises the benefits for a minimum number of holders, whereas in an author-centred system of rights these benefits are more equably divided.

So, in the case of the translator, what rights are we talking about?

  • The moral rights are (or should be) unwaivable but they must first be asserted. With particular regard to translators, all translated books should contain that phrase in the copyright section.
  • However, more importantly, a translation is an original work, and given that it involves considerable creative effort translations are eligible for copyright – and have been since the nineteenth century Berne Convention (1886). Sadly, it is all too frequently taken for granted that the publisher will hold the copyright for an English translation, but things are changing. The reading public are growing more aware of copyright issues and readers have been known to check the copyright page.

Best practice would seem straightforward in this regard: Your translator should assert his or her moral rights, and should automatically retain copyright. Then, in a separate clause in the contract, she or he will license it back to the publisher subject to a straightforward negotiation regarding a reasonable percentage to be paid for subsequent exploitation of the work.

This is the more equitable vision of shared rights that the Society encourages. It also allows the translator and other copyright holders to benefit from the ongoing success of a publication – which sadly is not always the case.

Big as we all know does not always mean beautiful – let alone equitable. The largest publisher of fiction in translation is now Amazoncrossing. You might pull a face, but Amazon’s investment in this sector has been game-changing. Moreover, Amazon has also shown that it can mend its ways in one important respect: copyright.

potzch-hangmans-daughterThe author I’ve used here as an example is Oliver Pötzch, whose book The Hangman’s Daughter was translated by Lee Chadeayne.  Pötzch became the first translated Amazon Publishing author to sell over 1 million copies. In that book, published in 2010 Amazon acknowledged the translator’s moral rights on the copyright page but retained the copyright to the English translation – meaning that Chadeayne largely missed out on the book’s success. However, for Pötzch’s subsequent books, the Dark Monk series, Chadeayne has retained copyright – a lesson well learned, for the translator, but notably also for Amazoncrossing.

It is worth adding that many of the smaller, independent publishers have always set high standards in this respect, but I won’t name any more names!

Which brings me to where it is important to name names: This is closely linked to the first point on rights. The moral rights clause of a contract states that “X shall be recognised as the translator of this work”: this means what it says: The translator must be acknowledged as the translator everywhere, in publicity, in catalogues, and most basically on the book itself.

Almost without exception translations into English are now acknowledged on an inside front cover.

But on the outside front cover the story is rather different.

The situation has improved in recent years, but somewhere around 40% of books do not have the translator’s name on the front cover. Yet reader surveys show an overwhelming majority (up to 90%) of respondents who think that translators ought to be visible on the cover. As was mentioned in the case of copyright issues, readers’ opinions are a powerful motivator for change in this respect.

There is one more aspect about accreditation that needs to be touched on:  it’s that dreaded word. Metadata. It’s linked to two important Twitter campaigns: #namethetranslator and #picturesmeanbusiness promoted by the Society of Authors.

hashtag-picturesmeanbusinessTranslators – and illustrators – have been wondering why their names don’t show up with their books on Amazon, why reviews often list only the writers, and why radio programmes sometimes don’t credit the translator while discussing the English book! It often comes down to one basic thing… faulty or incomplete book data.

This affects translators’ careers in their loss of valuable name-brand recognition – for translators, like authors, their name is their brand. But it means publishers lose out, too. You lose what is becoming one of the most valuable things in book publicity – which hopefully will translate into book sales –, and that’s discoverability.

hashtag-namethetranslatorDiscoverability of the book, of the publisher, but also of the translator. My name was left off a book review in the Wall Street Journal a year ago, and although I did manage to contact the reviewer and editor afterwards, the opportunity had been missed. Who knows what might have happened if my name had been there, and if a reader happened to have been looking for a translator… that is the way future opportunities are made and lost.

The Society of Authors is working hard to change this. Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive, often ends a talk on this particular subject saying, “If there’s one thing you go away and do after this, make sure it’s improving your book data.”

Sarah McIntyre, a brilliant illustrator, recently visited Nielsen and two publishers in London to try to work out what was going wrong. The answer is that Nielsen can only work with what they’re given. The problem is down to publishers, who aren’t submitting full book data via their software systems.

So, making sure you improve your book data and the discoverability of your books will also give you massive kudos with your translators and illustrators. We are, as the phrase goes, all in this together. And one last point about discoverability: if you publish translated works please credit the translators on your own website – you’d be amazed, but some publishers don’t!

My last point is on fair remuneration. This letter written by the SOA a year ago makes the point clearly.


Earnings are falling fast, yet – as was said earlier – it is in everyone’s interests to ensure that creators and writers, in the broadest sense of the term, can make a living.

The key solution lies in protecting and equitably sharing those rights we’ve been talking about, and copyright in particular.

Let me briefly mention a piece of European legislation, the European Commission’s proposed directive to modernize the European Copyright framework, referred to as the Digital Single Market directive. Irrelevant you might think, but the SOA urges the government to continue to reflect European legislation in order to provide stability for the industry.

On the specific point of fair remuneration the draft legislation (Chapter 3) addresses the findings of that survey I just mentioned. Creators of all stripes were championed by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker (again September 2016) (scroll down – about halfway through his speech)

Artists and creators are our crown jewels. The creation of content is not a hobby. It is a profession. And it is part of our European culture. I want journalists, publishers and authors to be paid fairly for their work, whether it is made in studios or living rooms, whether it is disseminated offline or online.

All I can add is here, here!

22 February 2017, Lucinda Byatt ©

One Reply to “A talk on behalf of the Society of Authors at Publishing Scotland”

  1. Thanks for your thoughts. I do retain my translator copyright simply by stating this in agreements, However, what should I do to make this hold up in the event of a dispute? X Sarah

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s