February 20, 2014

Self-published author strikes translation deal with Kobo


If at least one of these doesn't turn up in "Le Cadeau," I'll eat the entire Sullivan series, in consecutive order.

If at least one of these doesn’t turn up in “Le Cadeau,” I’ll eat the entire Sullivan series, in consecutive order.

Bella Andre is the bestselling author of the Sullivan series, perhaps the most obsessively thorough romance series out there at the moment, since it follows every single member of the Sullivan family as they search for and (surprise, surprise) find love.

And in the past year, Andre has levied the formidable power of her brand in a series of unusual ways: she’s been signing a series of extremely lucrative print-only deals with Harlequin MIRA and international publishers for the Sullivan books, holding on to all other rights. And now she’s branched out for the French editions of her new series, Four Weddings and A Fiasco, written under the pen name Lucy Kevin.

Andre has signed a deal with Kobo to make the French translations of five of the Four Weddings books available through Kobo’s self-publishing platform, Writing Life, starting with The Wedding Gift (“Le Cadeau” to you), which Amazon describes as a “fun, sweet contemporary romance” between a winsome caterer and a professional bastard/celebrity TV chef.

Kobo will have Le Cadeau exclusively for three months, after which Andre can sell the book anywhere she wants. The same arrangement will apply to other titles in the series, as the translations are released over the course of 2014. As a sweetener, according to Kobo’s press release, readers in France who bought a Kobo eReader before February 15th got Le Cadeau and three other books for free.

But the nugget of this that’s interesting to me—out from under the inevitable sexy collapsing-Croquembouche scenes and Kobo’s attempts to take market share away from Amazon (where Andre originally self-published) — is that this is the first time a major retailer other than Amazon has gotten directly involved in not only selling translations, but commissioning them and, in some respects, publishing them.

It’s also a significant step in melding the self-publishing and the translation rights worlds, which so far haven’t had much to do with each other: the translation deals for Fifty Shades of Grey, for instance, went through a traditional publisher, Vintage.

It’s not exactly clear, however, how any of this was handled: Kobo’s press release says that “the translation, a collaboration between Kobo and Lucy Kevin, is a part of a Kobo Writing Life initiative to bring self-published authors to new non-English markets.” And a Publishers Weekly article is similarly oblique: “Andre said that in teaming with Kobo, the company helped with the French translations.”

Meanwhile, the translator isn’t listed on Kobo’s page for the book. So we don’t really know how The Wedding Gift made it into French. Since the Four Weddings books have been out in English since 2012, it’s possible we’re not looking at Dan-Brown-translators-trapped-in-an-underground-bunker situation here.

But given the aggressive publishing schedule for the French editions—they’re coming out in May, September, and December 2013, and February 2015—and the fact that they’re each over 200 pages long, it seems perfectly legit to wonder if there are, at this very moment, one or more translators frantically scrambling to turn some coy banter about hot skillets into something a French person would actually read. And if so, god bless ’em, and I hope they’re getting cash.


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.