AUTHOR: Rachel Moss
DATE: September 15, 2020
Interview with Author, J M Dalgliesh
As part of our Sector Spotlight, Regional Manager, Rachel Moss, sat down for a chat with Jason. Having scheduled in the translation of five of his books and counting over the next 10 months, Rachel wanted to find out more about the life of the author, the publishing sector, and Jason’s experience of the translation process.
Thanks ever so much for your time today Jason. We’re really excited to have completed the translation of book 1; starting book 2 now. Our linguists just love working with your writing! First and foremost, can I ask: have you been a professional writer all your life? Or did you do something different in a past life?
I’ve only been a professional writer (though some would debate the term “professional”) for about three years. I started writing seriously about 5 years ago, but this is my third year as a published author. I’ve been writing since I was a teenager but I didn’t really see a future in it at the time.
How wrong you were, eh?
It was one of those things; it never used to be that easy a profession to get into, to be successful and make a living from, and to be able to do full time.
Do you think that’s something that’s changed quite recently?
It’s definitely changed with the Amazon Kindle and eBooks. Now anyone can publish a book. It might not be very good! But you can do it in a day if you want to, as long as it meets their criteria.
When you compare that to the traditional model; where you have to get an agent and then get a publishing house behind you; you get a book out, then you get an advance, and only after that you start earning. I think the average advance is about £5,000. Say it takes a year to write a book, £5,000 is not very much. So it’s not a career; it’s something you do on top of whatever it is that earns you a living. I know a couple of successful authors who have won awards and are very good. They still have part-time jobs to make ends meet.
The new model means it’s a very different world now. From my point of view, I do it for myself: I set up a company, I publish my own books, arrange my own translations! So it’s so much easier now! I mean, it still doesn’t mean you’re going to make a living from it, but at least you are not beholden to a narrow window with a publishing house who are looking to take on four authors a year from the 2,000 manuscripts they receive!
And I bet those publishers already know what they’re looking for too!
Exactly! Maybe they’ve got someone else like you already, and they say ‘your book’s good but we’ve already got two people like you, so no thanks’. These days what tends to happen is that you have one book that’s successful, they give you a second book, and then they move onto the next new thing. I’ve got an author friend who sold 100,000 copies of her debut novel, which is brilliant, they gave her a second novel, and then they’ve pulled the plug last minute, saying they’re going a different way. She sold 100,000 copies! You’d think that was pretty decent!
So your career is in someone else’s hands in a situation like that. You really haven’t got the control over it that, for instance, you have?
Yeah absolutely! I was approached in 2019 by a publisher who wanted to take on this second series that you’re translating now and I turned them down. They were quite surprised that I turned it down, especially because they were offering very reasonable money. But I did it because, as you say, I’ve got control now. I can release what I want, when I want, write what I want, make marketing decisions…yeah it’s a whole different world.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re writing at the moment? No spoilers though!
Of course! It’s called the Hidden Norfolk series, and it’s a police procedural/detective series set in Norfolk, revolving around a small team. Each book is sort of standalone but there are threads that weave through them all with character developments, and it’s the same people in every book. So 5 of those are out now, and the series is going down really well!
We’re currently working on translating and adapting the series for Germany. Can you tell us a little bit about why you chose this market?
Well, the series has gone down quite well in the UK, US, Australia and Canada – the English-speaking world. So Germany seemed the logical market to look at next. Because the population is 80 million people, they have a strong reading culture, and they read the same sort of books we do; romance and crime are the two biggest markets there, same as in the English-speaking world. The population is also very similar to ours in terms of affluence, leisure pursuits, economy, and all that type of thing. Of all the European countries, Germany is the most like England, so Germany just seemed the most logical market to explore next.
That makes sense! So, Germany was the clear choice for you! Could you tell us a little bit about, once you made that decision, how you went about finding a translation partner?
Sure! I did my research, and, at the same time I contacted you I also contacted another UK-based translation agency. They got back to me 2 weeks later with a quote, and I’ve had no other contact since. Whereas, in that time, you had communicated with me, we arranged a Zoom call, you quoted for the work, we discussed it, what my requirements were, what my needs were. You’re very efficient, very approachable, very professional. And that was reassuring because, from my point of view, I don’t speak the language; certainly not enough to translate a book. So I have to have absolute faith that what I’m getting is the best it can be, because ultimately it’s my name on the book. If I sell rubbish, people won’t buy the next one, so it’s got to be right. You had samples done by two different linguists, and I could take that back to the German people I know and get them to read through it, and make a stylistic choice.
“…Germany seemed the logical market to look at next. Because the population is 80 million people, they have a strong reading culture, and they read the same sort of books we do; romance and crime are the two biggest markets there, same as in the English-speaking world.”
So the relationship was the most important thing to you, rather than cost?
Well, it’s a little bit of everything! Obviously if it’s very expensive, you’ve then got to make some money back, otherwise it’s a massive financial loss. But, if you’re getting a good translator it’s not going to come cheap. You get what you pay for.
And as well as all that, you’ve got the importance of timescales and organisation. I mean I’ve got 5 books with you now. My readership are used to having a set routine; they know what to expect from me. So they know they’re going to get a book every 3 or 4 months. Whereas if you start going ‘well, one comes now, and then one comes out in 6 months then one comes out 2 months after that’ – there’s no consistency. For me, you need that to know where you’re marketing and when, to build up that reputation. So you need to have an organised process, you need to know what’s coming, when it’s going to be released, is it going to come on schedule?
In terms of accuracy, that’s something I can’t judge personally, but I have absolute confidence that it’s going to come back as good as it can be. With human error there’s always going to be something in there. There is in everything; in every book you read you’re going to find something no matter what. But it’s minimising that.
So all of those things, they all count, everything has its place.
Every experience I’ve had with you so far has been positive. It’s been to timescale, it’s been to deadline, it’s been cost efficient, it’s been accurate. There are other ways you can go; obviously you can contact translators directly yourself and I looked into that a little bit, but, again, you don’t know if they’re any good. Whereas, with you, you’ve got a professional company with a reputation and a good track record. So that counts right away, and then you back that up with service and professionalism. It’s a no-brainer really.
That’s so great to hear, thank you!
To get back to you, can I ask what your proudest moment has been as an author?
Hmm, it would be easy to say publishing my first book, but that’s not it. Because I formed my own company and published it myself, I didn’t have that two- or three-year build-up to it that many authors experience. So, probably for me, it’s when I reached that point – around my fourth – when I realised that actually this could be a long-term thing. I could carry on writing, and it could pay, and I could contribute to the family. When I started writing the first book I was a stay-at-home Dad, and about a year from the first book actually being released, I put the fourth book out and that’s when I saw a step change in people buying and reading it. Then I started putting money into editing, more into marketing, and I realised that this could really be something. People liked what I was doing, it wasn’t just me writing it; people enjoyed it, and they were buying it and reading it, and recommending it to their friends. So that was the moment when I felt ‘I’m a writer’. Up until then I’d been kind of embarrassed when people asked what I did. I didn’t tell people that I was writing books because if someone comes up to you and says ‘I want to be a pop star’, you say ‘yeah, of course you do, that’s great, good luck!’
And so, finally, what does the future hold for you and your writing in these tricky times?
There is something promising in the pipeline related to the Norfolk series that I can’t talk about at the moment, so watch this space. The Yorkshire series is picking up pace with a collaboration between production companies. Hollywood slowed down a little bit because of Covid, but it’s starting to pick up again. They’re starting to get people on board, and screenwriters are getting involved. So yeah it’s proper now, you could say.
Are there any famous names that are going to be in it that you know of yet?
I can’t say! I’m not allowed to! I know who’s got the lead role and he’s pretty big in American TV; a British actor. He’s married to someone very famous – I can’t say!
Ooh, this is all very exciting!
I’ll let you know once I’ve been given the all clear and I’m allowed to say, but I can’t yet.
I will certainly hold you to that! For now, I’d just like to say thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me. I know you’ve got a lot going on, so I really appreciate it! Best of luck with your work in progress!
Thanks Rachel, it’s been lovely speaking with you!