How to approach publisher?
Thread poster: Susana Onofr (X)

Susana Onofr (X)
Feb 28, 2007

Dear colleagues,
I haven’t got a lot of experience and need your advice on this…
I fell in love with a book for children (in fact it’s a series of books, I came across the first one and just loved it, so I bought all the other ones - 10 books)
I contacted the publisher (in the UK), to find out if the book had been translated into my mother tongue, I was told the book has been translated into 5 languages (Japanese and Scandinavian languages), but not into Portuguese, Spanish or any other “major” European language.
I was also told the following: “We will continue to show XXX books to foreign publishers and hopefully in the future they will be available in more languages. We do not translate these titles ourselves, but a foreign publisher does so when they buy the rights to publish the book in that language.”

Now, I really want to translate all the books in this series and have then published, but I don’t know how to go about it.
I know of a couple of publishers in the UK which specialize in children’s books in foreign languages, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to try to contact them, or if it’s better to contact publishers directly in my home country?

One of my worries is that if I contact the publishersin the UK they will realize that these books will sell very well if they are translated and they might decide to buy the rights but not choose me as their translator.
(The books I want to translate are similar to “Debbie…” (Martine in French) by Marcel Marlieu, which were a major success in my home country and most European countries).

I have never written a proposal for a publisher. What should I write in my proposal? (I know that I can’t just say “I love the books”).

The other thing is that I love it so much that I would even translate the books for free (they are not too long – around 20 pages each, maybe 1,000 words – and I have already translated the first one and just love it!!), but I don’t want to look to keen…

Also, does anyone know how much the rights of a book might cost? I mean... are we talking about figures that one person would be able (somehow) to raise, or are we talking millions?

I would really appreciate any advice on this.


Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:14
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Nice project Feb 28, 2007

Susana Onofre wrote:

Also, does anyone know how much the rights of a book might cost? I mean... are we talking about figures that one person would be able (somehow) to raise, or are we talking millions?

I would really appreciate any advice on this.

The original publisher usually gets 8% of the net price of the first printing as an advance. Sometimes a minimum number of copies is required, which is usually not very high. It may depend on the target language as well. I do not know the children's book market, but a first print run of 5000 or even less can be acceptable. That means an advance of 400 times the net price of one book (whose price is determined by the publisher of the translation). If the book is sold at 10 euros, the advance is EUR 4000.
If you can push the figures down, to, say, 3000 copies at 6 euros, the advance is less than 1500 euros.
You might want to invest into this, and buy the rights for yourself.
Some publishers (check out with yours!) are ready to sell you the rights of the first volume, grant you a certain amount of time (e.g., 6 months) for publishing the book, and reserve the other volumes for you during this period.
However, having it published an especially distributed is another matter - some publishers will be reluctant to sell you the rights if you cannot guarantee that they will be published.
I don't know whether it is common practice for a freelancer to knock on the door of a publisher saying "I have bought the rights for this book, if you are interested, here are my conditions". But at least you can be sure that they won't buy the translation rights and have the book translated by someone else. And you can set your conditions, since you are in a good position for negotiations with several publishers.
I would say you should find a publisher in Portugal (or Brazil), sincs the books will be sold on that market. However be prepared that the conditions might not be the same as in the UK.
So, check out first with the original publisher; you can say that you are looking for publishers in your country and you would like to give them the specific details.
If you invest into the rights, there might be further, more important investments, so make sure the book will probably sell well before making any serious commitments.
Good luck!


María Salaberry
Local time: 04:14
English to Spanish
+ ...
my comments Feb 28, 2007

I cannot help you as to how much rights can be. But when I was reading your piece I immediately thought why not get in contact with the author/writer instead of any publisher?
Maybe that way both of you can sort out the best way to go about it. Just that.


Jesús Marín Mateos  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:14
English to Spanish
+ ...
Better in your country....I think Feb 28, 2007

I have translated 6 children's books for an UK publisher, I don't know much about the whole process but I don't think an UK publisher would buy the rights off another UK publisher to publish a book in Portugal or Brazil, sounds weird.
I have approached Publishers in the UK on a couple of occasions with no success but that doesn't means you won't be lucky, you need to keep trying.
The best thing would be to find a publisher in your country and if they are ready to go ahead they should buy the rights off the UK publisher......never heard of a translator buying rights but there is always a first time........
Publishers prefer to deal with publishers in other countries instead of translators but if you bring them a customer overseas I don't think they'll refuse is a long process though.
Just last week I contacted an author and told him I wanted to translate his books into Spanish. He was very nice and suggested 2 of his books that hadn't been translated into Spanish yet and gave me the contact details of his agent (the foreign rights manager there) and I wrote to them but no response yet...fingers crossed...
Good luck.


Cecilia Falk  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:14
English to Swedish
Curious Feb 28, 2007

I am very curious now - can you name the writer and/or name of the books? You mentioned they were published in Scandinavia, and I would be very interested to look at them.

Regarding your question I agree that the best way would be to try and get a publisher in Portugal (or Brazil) to buy the rights.

You could contact publishing houses in these countries and offer to write a "publisher's reader's report" about the book for free, and of course also say that you are very interested in translating the books. I do not think they would "go behind your back" and give the translation to someone else. If they agree that the books are terrific, they will appreciate that you brought them to their attention.

Good luck!


Aïda Garcia Pons
United States
Local time: 22:14
English to Catalan
+ ...
writing a review Feb 28, 2007

Hi Susana,

You sound very excited. Like many of us I know the feeling and I really hope you get these books publishedicon_wink.gif

I've translated children's books but have always been approached by publishing houses in my country. So I don't think I can help much as how to do it the other way around.

However, one of the jobs I've had was as a "children's literature critic" for a publishing house in Barcelona. They would give me originals in either English or Italian and I had to read them and write a report saying whether they were both translating into Spanish/Catalan or not. Of course it was not just about my pesonal opinion, for I had to justify my ideas on a series of fields. I don't think a publishing house will want to buy the translation rights of any book just because. You'll have to tell them why this book (or series of books) you've got are worth translating. How well will they fit in the market in your country? How will children react to them? Can they identify with the main characters? what's the targeted reading age? Can these books be compared to some existing books in the target market? And if so, how well are these books doing?
I think you could write a report on one of the books (or the whole series if you've read them all) explaining all this. Make sure to write a short summary of the book/series as well as editors/publishers need to know what the stories are about.
The way I used to do it was first of all write a short summary of the book under the title "summary". Next I'd write "book review" as a title and get o with my report.
I'd complete the report with a suggested title in the target language (I was asked to give suggested titles even if they were not used in the end) and a back cover comment of my own (I was also asked to provide this).

I hope this helps or gives you an idea of what to do next. As Jesús and María suggest, getting in touch with the author is also a possibility although I'm afraid this is something I've never done myself.

Good luck in your adventure.
All the best,


Tina Vonhof
Local time: 00:14
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Contact the publisher of "Debbie..." Feb 28, 2007

Susana Onofre wrote:

(The books I want to translate are similar to “Debbie…” (Martine in French) by Marcel Marlieu, which were a major success in my home country and most European countries).

I would really appreciate any advice on this.

Hello Susana,

My first step would be to contact the publisher of the "Debbie" books to see if they are interested. The similarity and success of those books would be a major point in your proposal as well.


Local time: 14:14
English to Indonesian
+ ...
Contact foreign publishers Mar 1, 2007

I think previous posts already covered what I am about to say. But I used to work as a rights coordinator in an Indonesian publisher, so perhaps I will just summarize and clarify some points.

There is only one person that is authorized to sell translation rights, either the author, the agent, or the publisher, according to the publishing/representation contract they have between them. You need only to contact one of them, and they will refer you to the right person.

However, it is true that they don't usually sell rights to translators. They need a guarantee that the rights-buyers have the capability to publish and distribute and promote their books.

UK publishers that specialize books in a foreign language probably only sells books to speakers in that language in the UK.

So the best way to go about this is to contact publishers in your home country. Only these publishers will know their market and be able to evaluate a book and decide whether it will sell well in their own countries. Only they will be able to buy rights from the original publisher. Only they will be able to publish and distribute the translated book in their own countries.

The proposal would need to list all the positive points about the series, the reasons why you think it will sell well in your country. It should also include a sample translation. If a publisher is interested in publishing it and is able to procure the rights from the original publisher, then ethics would dictate that they give the translation job to you. Cecilia is right, they will probably appreciate you suggesting a good series to them. And Tina has a good point about contacting the publisher of "Debbie...". The important thing is to contact publishers that have a greater likelihood to publish the series, so check out what they have published in the past.

The rights to a book will vary greatly from country to country because it is based on the first printing and the selling price. In Indonesia, first printing is usually only 3000 copies, and the currency rate between rupiah and dollar/euro is horrible, resulting in very low selling prices. So based on that calculation, the advance of royalties is usually under $1000. Mostly around $500 (and sometimes we have to wrack our brains to get a appropriate selling price and to get the book to sell well, to justify paying this amount). Sometimes a publisher has set a minimum for the advance, usually $500-1000.

Hope this helps.


Anna Sylvia Villegas Carvallo
Local time: 01:14
English to Spanish
Dear Susana... Mar 1, 2007

I worked in the Department of Foreign Rights of a Mexican publishing house, and this is what we used to do:

First, we received advertising from the original publishers on several books, and if we were interested in buying the Spanish rights of any of them, we pushed among other publishers offering the best price for the rights. Sometimes, we were the only one interested in such rights, so, there was no competition.

On the other hand, when we were interested in any title not on sale yet, as you are now, we, as a Publisher, asked to the original Publisher for the rights to translate and sell across Latin America and Spain. And there the negotiations started. And it was big money...

Which means that you should contact the Publisher in your country already interested in the series you mention. And if you find it, tell them just what you are telling us here.

Good luck,


Laura Calvo Valdivielso  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:14
Member (2007)
Italian to Spanish
+ ...
Reading report + translation sample Mar 2, 2007

Hi Susana,

I work mostly as a book translator and the usual procedure is to address directly to some publishing houses in your own country (or the countries where your target language si spoken). Be sure to choose the most apropriate publishers, that is, those who specialize in that kind of books. Write to them in a very professional manner, presenting yourself as a very professional and reliable translator and connoisseur of the market in question and send them your reading report (as Aida has explained) and a brief sample of the translated text. It is also interesting to add some promotional material of the book or anything which shows the favorable reception of the book in the different countries. There's always the possibilty that some publisher buys the rights and then chooses another trusted translator instead of you, but it's a risk worth taking, don't you think?


Luiza CostaFrei
English to Portuguese
Contact publishers in your home country Mar 2, 2007

Hi Susana,
If I was you I would contact publishers in your home county (Portugal? Brazil? Angola?) and not those two in the UK.
I think I know which two publishers you are referring to. Well, it’s not difficult to guess there are only two publishers in the UK which specialize in children’s books in foreign languages (I won’t say the names but one is M*****L***** BB and the other one is M*****, am I right?).
Well, if I am right, the first one doesn’t use translators – their “translators” are actually the staff at the Portuguese consulate in London... and I will make no more comments on that...
The second one at the moment is not really publishing much in Portuguese, but they do have quite a lot of Portuguese translators on their database.
I have contacted these two publishers many times…
If you want send me an email, I can give you more details…
Good luck


Marcela Robaina Boyd  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:14
English to Spanish
+ ...
Contact big publishing houses, and not in any country. Jul 31, 2007

Tadzio Carvallo wrote:

I worked in the Department of Foreign Rights of a Mexican publishing house, and this is what we used to do:

First, we received advertising from the original publishers on several books, and if we were interested in buying the Spanish rights of any of them, we pushed among other publishers offering the best price for the rights.

It's not just a question of contacting local publishing houses, it's a question of GREAT BIG publishing houses with distribution and marketing networks.

Living in Uruguay, completely out of the question. Some publishers may get (with lots and lots of luck, and sometimes a little help from the writer) rights to translate a fragment or a short story, for local distribution, but that's about it.

Very interesting thread.



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