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There’s Gold In Them Thar Bergen

BY ELIZABETH JENNINGS

Here are the names of some of the biggest names in European publishing: Michael Connelly, George R. R. Martin, Lara Adrian, Susan Elizabeth Philips, Lisa Kleypas, J.R. Ward, Suzanne Collins…sound familiar? Looking at Amazon genre bestseller lists on a random day (July 26, 2012) in Spain, eight books out of 10 in the general fiction department and eight books out of 10 in the fantasy and SF section are American. Fantasy and SF in Germany: eight books out of the top 10 are American. The list goes on and on.

Romance, in particular, seems to be a wholly-owned American genre. A survey carried out by JuneRossBlogspot, an Italian romance reader blog, showed readers overwhelmingly preferred U.S. romances.

Lyx Verlag, Germany’s largest romance publisher, counts 380 Americans out of its stable of 400 authors and even then two of the German romance authors write stories with U.S. Navy SEAL heroes! Alexandra Panz, editorial director of Lyx, thinks that European readers are so taken with American romances that “A Stefan or Holger of the Wiesbaden Police Department simply isn’t as sexy and cool as Jack of the NYPD.”

Just as Hollywood dominates the cinema scene worldwide (almost 60 percent of all Hollywood film box office sales are from overseas), so do American books dominate bookstores. As Ethan Ellenberg of the Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency puts it, “One of the great things about being a published novelist is the financial multiplier effect of each book. You wrote it in English and you published it in English, but its earnings potential goes well beyond English. Every book has the potential to generate additional income streams in translation, audio and even performance. Translation rights are a big business and top-selling authors often see 40 percent or more of their income generated overseas.”

Europe is digitalizing quickly, as well. The Italian romance blog Isn’t It Romantic? carried out a survey of its readers and found that 70 percent read books on their e-reader. Alexandra Panz estimates that for popular titles, as much as 10 percent of sales are of e-books. One thing everyone agrees on: the trend is sharply upward.

Given that American books—particularly the major genres—sell so well in Europe and given that the European market is shifting so quickly to e-books, it makes sense for authors who are self-publishing their backlist or indie publishing new books to look to these new, very lucrative markets that will pay them anywhere from a 35 to 70 percent royalty.

A market of over 500 million relatively prosperous readers who are already primed to love American books and who are moving quickly to e-books is like low-hanging fruit for U.S. authors who up until now have had their royalties filtered down through sometimes two publishing houses.

Amazon’s Kindle is now available to German, Austrian, French, Italian, and Spanish readers. Kobo is now expanding into Europe as well with a strong self-publishing platform. Through Amazon’s CreateSpace you can even offer your readers the print version of your books if you want.

Furthermore, as Alexandra Panz says, “High prices are still acting as a bit of a deterrent to acceptance of e-books, the exception being of course for self-publishing authors, who decide their own prices and can dominate the lower price ranges.”

Everything is in place to finally make a lot of money off the books Americans write and Europeans love.

Except for one hitch. Your book must be translated into German, French, Italian, Spanish. And, while you’re at it, into Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese—you name it. All big markets, but all of which require taking that one step which is incredibly daunting: having yourself translated.

Those who are indie publishing relish that feeling of control over all aspects of their books, but having yourself translated means relinquishing control and being unable to judge the quality of the work    

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