Translation of Books

Post topics about the business side of magic.

Postby Guest » 07/14/06 08:57 AM


I need some information. A dealer in Japan recently ordered a large number of The Hypercard Project books from me. This was good news. He mentioned that he was planning on translating the book into Japanese. This was flattering news, but was it good news?

How does the whole translation and re-publishing business work? Since I can't read Japanese, I'll have no way of knowing if the handlings get botched or changed in the translation.

He will obviously be putting his own money into this re-printing. But shouldn't I be getting a piece of this action? Should I be selling him the rights to translate, publish and sell (profit from) the book? If so, how would I know what I might be entitled to? I have no way of tracking how many translated books will be sold.

If he uses the 125 photos that my wife shot, isn't she entitled to compensation?

I would appreciate feedback from those of you who have dealt with this issue before.



Postby Guest » 07/14/06 09:26 AM

Originally posted by Tom Frame:
... He mentioned that he was planning on translating the book into Japanese...
Are you offering him publication rights?

Are you establishing a deal where he can reprint as many copies of you book in Japanese as you sell him from your print-run? ( selling on a per unit license)

Just a couple of questions. I suspect Wesley James (his hyperwarp) and others with material in your book are going to be curious about this side as well.

Postby Guest » 07/14/06 10:02 AM

I think Max Maven or/and Richard should know something about publishing in Japanese....

Postby Guest » 07/14/06 10:07 AM

Some years back the Writers Guild house journal published an article on one writer's travails in getting royalties from a large Japanese publisher.

She had become friendly with her translator who told her that while translators are paid by the number of books printed, the author was paid by the number of books sold...a number reported by the publisher, a number often open to "creativity" in accounting.

This author spent years trying to pressure her Japanese publisher into a proper accounting, even trying to make an appointment to discuss the matter when she visited Japan. Of course, the Japanese publisher was "so busy" that he couldn't meet with her until the last day she was in the country. Everyone was polite, but she didn't get anywhere.

As I recall, it took her years and dozens of cajoling letters to finally get some semblence of an accounting and additional payment on what had been sold even though she probably never got anywhere near what she was due.

In your case, the largest advance payment you can extract from this guy is probably all the money you'll ever see....providing he'll pay anything up front. You could spend dozens if not hundreds of hours chasing this and only be frustrated.

You'll have to ask yourself if it's worth the trouble.

Postby Guest » 07/14/06 10:53 AM


Based upon your feedback, I've written back to the guy and informed him that I am NOT offering him the publication rights. I reminded him that he can't simply translate the books and sell them without some type of specific, legal agreement between us. And I asked him how much he would be willing to pay me if we did agree to this shaky deal. I asked him to give me a detailed explanation of how many books he plans to print and sell. But again, how could I possibly confirm that number?

I told him that I am reluctant to jeopardize my friendship with the other contributors to the book by asking them for their permission to move forward with this deal.

And why would he be willing to buy 50 English-language copies of the book, when his plan is to spend even more money translating and printing some unknown number of the books in Japanese?

Any other thoughts or advice? Richard? Max?

Thanks again,


Postby Guest » 07/14/06 12:16 PM

As a published author with over 1 million words in print, I can offer you this:

You need to ask yourself -

Who is this guy?

Is he a friend you trust, or just a customer buying a bunch of books?

Is he a "real" publisher with a track record or just a guy with an idea?

Did he tell you that he'd like to translate the book, or did he tell you what he was going to translate the book? If the latter, then it suggests he is just an enthusiast who doesn't know what he's doing and like so many in today's world, doesn't understand that people who create things like to be paid for their creativity.

From what you've said, he hasn't offered any money or a contract or anything, seemingly not cognizant of your rights as an author. Having to begin the business relationship by educating him on what your rights are is not a good way to start.

I don't know how many contributors there are in your book, but a courtesy payment of part of your advance against royalties (should you actually get such a payment) should be paid to them, determined by the percentage of their contribution.

I've been through this sort of thing before, both with my writing and my wife's art work. People are enthused until you ask pesky questions like, What rights are they buying? What sort of an advance will be paid against what percentage royalty? What is the term of the contract? How often will the royalty be paid and in what currency? Would you be better off with a buy out/flat fee for all rights? Etc.

Ask a bunch of those questions and the enthusiasm usually wears off quickly.

Postby Guest » 07/14/06 01:42 PM

Hey Tom,
You might consider having it translated and printed yourself, here in the US....... then selling him the finihsed books. It shouldn't be too hard to find a translator in the Bay area with a flat rate.

Or, you could have the translator be your go-between with a Japanese printer. They are printed and shipped there.

These days, I want to own what I put out and have some control.

good luck,

Postby Guest » 07/14/06 03:52 PM

The agreement that I have with Borodin is that I translate and publish his material over here and I send him half of the profits. He seems satisfied with that. It's a handshake deal.

But Borodin and I have connections that go pretty far back, so it's not like we are dealing between total strangers.

If you are planning to have anyone translate it into Japanese, make sure that they understand magic. If they don't, you will inevitably have problems with the translation. Your best bet is to find a native bilingual Japanese/English speaker who does magic. Once the translation is done, if you decide to do it, then show it to a couple of Japanese magicians whom you can trust and ask them to explain what it says.

Postby Guest » 07/14/06 04:26 PM


I appreciate your information and ideas. No, I don't know this guy. But he is NOT a member of the esteemed Onosaka family. He's just a customer.

The idea of handling the translation and publication myself is interesting, but unfortunately, I don't have any trusted Japanese magician friends who could assist in quality control.

The more I think about this venture, the more I get the creepy feeling that I shouldn't be involved.

I'll be interested in hearing his response to my latest e-mail.



Postby Guest » 07/14/06 06:09 PM


I just heard back from my Japanese customer. He explained that he wants to include a translated copy with every one of my original copies that he sells. So, in this case, 50 copies. He would be selling my book, and including the Japanese copies as a courtesy to customers. He would not be selling copies of the translation.

This sounds much more reasonable to me. Any other thoughts?


Postby Guest » 07/14/06 07:38 PM

As I understand it, translating English to Japanese enlarges the word count. I explored the translating of one of my books some years back and found the 600 pages in English would require two volumes and the cost would be many tens of thousands of dollars just for the translation. Rather than edit it down to something more manageable, I passed on the project.

What the chap proposes seems reasonable, as long as he sticks to the 50 copies, as agreed.

Postby Guest » 07/15/06 01:53 AM

Ive had no experience with publishing translations of my work, so with that caveat, some thoughts.

Given Davids observation above regarding how much a book bloats when translated in Japanese, depending on the size of your book, Tom, is this guy really going to translate it out of the goodness of his heart? If he charges a premium in light of the translation, should you then be entitled to a portion of the premium?

Moreover, whats to prevent him from making additional copies of the translation and selling those extra copies? One way to prevent unauthorized copies (at least morally if not with much legal teeth) is to insist that you sign and number each copy of the Japanese translation (and the matching copy of the English-language work) and require a statement in the translation that such translation is being made with permission of the American author and that the translated copy remains the property of the American author, but so long as the Japanese owner possesses the matching set of English and Japanese version, he/she will have a license to possess and use the translated copy. The statement would also say that any copy which is not signed and numbered by the American author is an illegal copy. Will it really help? Who knows. But if youre ever in Japan and see an unauthorized copy, or an authorized without its English-language counterpart, at least you get the satisfaction of confiscating and destroying it!

Actually, this presents an interesting issue (IMHO). Can someone buy multiple copies of a copyrighted work and provide free copies of a translation of that work? There must be many nuances to this question, but Ill have to leave an intelligent discussion of these issues to those who are knowledgeable about such things.


Postby Guest » 07/15/06 04:28 PM

Clay makes some interesting points. I like the signing of the authorized copies idea.

The sad fact is, given the distances and the small amounts of money involved, the cost of litigation, and low cost of duplication/distribution, to a great degree, copyright protections simply don't exist for the majority of copyright holders.

In this case I would suggest a written contract between the two parties so that there are no misunderstandings or ambiguities.

Postby Guest » 07/15/06 04:54 PM

Originally posted by Magicam:
Actually, this presents an interesting issue (IMHO). Can someone buy multiple copies of a copyrighted work and provide free copies of a translation of that work?
[standard "I'm no lawyer" disclaimer .. . ]

Short answer, no. When you own the copyright to something, you also have the right to control derivative works. A translation of a book would be a derivative work, and you control that. They can't even give them away for free.

Postby Guest » 07/15/06 08:26 PM

A post-script:

Obviously, when dealing with customers, nobody likes appearing to work on the assumption that the customer is crooked. But one doesnt have to approach it that way it can be simply a matter of preventing end-users from acting unethically or stealing, no matter how ethical the original customer is.


Postby Richard Kaufman » 07/15/06 08:31 PM

Bill is correct: it is illegal to translate a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright holder, EVEN if you purchase an English language (or whatever the native language is) copy of the work and include that with every copy of the translation.
This used to happen in Japan: the first year of Apocalypse was translated into Japanese in this fashion with the photocopied (translated) pages inserted into an English edition of the magazine.
The damage here is that this causes a loss to the copyright holder because he or she is not compensated for the translated copy and this impedes the sale of a legitmate translation to a Japanese publisher.
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Postby Guest » 07/15/06 08:42 PM

Originally posted by Richard Kaufman:
Bill is correct: it is illegal to translate a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright holder, EVEN if you purchase an English language (or whatever the native language is) copy of the work and include that with every copy of the translation.
That's exactly what was happening with a company that went to court (and lost) who were "sanitizing" movies and then providing that expurgated version with a copy of the original.

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