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How to Be a Professional Author and Not Die Screaming and Starving (terribleminds.com)
175 points by danso 26 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 126 comments

Glad to hear that there are some authors who can make a living of their writing. Unfortunately, this mostly only applies to the English book market. I'm writing in German, where it is estimated that only a couple of hundred authors can make a living from writing novels. Moreover, science fiction is pretty much dead in Germany. People are reading English novels or translations thereof, which means less risk for the publishers and access to many great and professional authors.

That's cultural imperialism, I suppose.

I'm guessing it's not really about the original language: those Swedish crime novels that sell well in English translation are also sold in German translation, right? But if the book doesn't appeal to UK/US readers then it won't get translated from German into French, say? (I'm just guessing: please correct me if I'm wrong.)

The last German novel I encountered as a popular book in English translation was "Die Vermessung der Welt" / "Measuring the world". The first German science fiction that comes to my mind ... "Die Haarteppichknüpfer" (great book from 1995): no idea if it sold well in English. Science fiction, like crime fiction, seems like it ought to be something that crosses borders quite easily. So why doesn't it?

It applies to English too, if you are using anything but US English.

I find it wearing and tedious. I used to love reading US books - with different spelling, idioms, habits, social expectations, and the odd phrase or word I'd never come across. Then revert to British books, read the odd German translation etc. I'd read a Nordic crime novel because it's not set in a quiet English village, Chicago or London, and things are done differently. Apparently that's not permitted by publishers any more, unless you're as lucrative as JK Rowling or T Pratchett.

Many British recent novels, and just about all recent sci-fi are written in American. Not just spelling, but a book set in 1930s London, with a London character who we've just been told lived in the East End all their life, will talk about the sidewalk, the trunk and hood, and such. All judges will use gavels - regardless that in the UK, only an auctioneer uses a gavel, no court possesses one. This sort of thing gets especially silly with things like the Laundry Files - it's parodying Britain, its culture and its systems, yet talking in "Yank".

I've read a few different Nordic crime novels where not only are they written in American, they are culturally appropriated to be set in a virtual USA, called Sweden (or Norway, etc...). Suddenly the Nordic countries have district attourneys, US police hierarchies, US court systems and such. This is particularly grating.

I don't understand why. It ruins far more books than it helps. Above all, I don't believe it would put off US buyers to read of a few places doing things strangely or talking funny.

The Laundry Files don't sound Yank at all. They sound exactly like someone who might write for (or comment on) The Register, to the point that I ended up googling to see if Charles Stross had anything to do with the BOFH. It's very close version of a cynical British tech geek.

The books focusing on his wife are more American, but then she IS American, so...

The early ones certainly aren't, they're just about pitch perfect. Somewhere mid way, probably around The Annihilation Score, they become so and it starts to feel off, in part because the perfect pitch has become off key. That's entirely ignoring Labyrinth Index centred on Mhari, as it's the weakest book of the series, for its own reasons.

Merchant Princes, set somewhat in the US, gets the pitch of place and character, and keeps it, much more consistently.

The Annihilation Score is a pretty good skewering of modern bureaucracy; we've borrowed a lot of terminology from the Americans and imported a lot of their corporate thinking, so it makes sense that the tone shifts. And again, that book is a Mo book, and she's American.

Not saying there is any problem with an American sounding American in any book. The problem is specifically with the other, non-American characters and their change in tone sounding unreal in the context of a Britain that has adopted many of those US empty corporate cliches, along with a few of our own.

Like I already said, I got no problem with Brits using Americanisms - we all do that.

Without going away to reskim it for quotes, which I'm not going to do, I think we have to agree to differ. :p

It sometimes depends on the printing. Books printed for the US market will use hood, trunk etc. Books printed for the UK and Australian markets will use bonnet, boot etc.

If you buy online there's a good chance you'll get the US printing because it's usually the cheapest.

It drives me crazy when I read fiction books which use Fahrenheit (and sometimes don't even specify units) as I don't understand that measurement or many other imperial units at all. One would think in this day and age that authors could use some semantic markup and one's e-reader could use the reader's preferences to format the book for easier understanding/comprehension

I don't think British characters speaking American English is any stranger than characters in a fantasy setting speaking a real-world language. In both cases I assume it's translated for the convenience of the reader. I'm a native British English speaker, but American English is more common so I prefer reading it because that's what I'm accustomed to.

It's the homogenisation I regret as it's so limiting.

PG Wodehouse and F Scott Fitzgerald probably wouldn't have lasted half as well had the writing been sanitised to some mid Atlantic generic English and humour first. Those archaic and now slightly odd idioms mattered in setting the scene and time. Douglas Adams, always highly reluctant to meet deadlines, might never have got beyond the radio series had his editor required an Americanisation pass. The books would have been far weaker for it. Puzo (The Godfather) would be ruined rendered into British.

Which is not to say I object to a Brit character using Americanisms in their English, we all do that, and vice versa. I just like characters and things to stay believable in a book's particular time and context, which increasingly they seem not to. In making them overly (US or world English) generic I find more that somehow feel out of place in their alleged setting.

I highly recommend if you're looking for diversity and the avoidance of americanization, I would recommend looking beyond the UK settings and into fiction inspired by or taking place in other parts of the world. Speculative fiction has had an explosion of culturally diverse and distint cultural nods lately- The Daevabad Trilogy by Chakraborty for example, or Lagoon by Okorafor, or the Dreamblood Duology by Jemisin, or The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu.

In my opinion it isn't that books aren't increasingly becoming more american. Books are increasingly globally set, from where I'm reading. (Of course, this may not be the case in non-speculative fiction sphere.)

> All judges will use gavels - regardless that in the UK, only an auctioneer uses a gavel, no court possesses one.

Not true - for example Inner London Crown Court.



Edit: LOL. According to "Inappropriate Gavels" @ Twitter, they do indeed, but they're not used at all by the judge. They're the one court where clerks use a gavel to signal the judge's arrival. Still, I stand (partially) corrected. :)

Yes, really. I didn’t say a judge used them - you said no court possesses one, and they do.

This is the best kind of internet pedantry and I appreciate that you took the time to inform us of this.

Seems more like basic economics than 'cultural imperialism' to me.

The German market is very small, the English market very large. This means that if you translate from German to English, you invest a substantial amount of money to get a book onto an already crowded market dominated by English authors. That's a huge risk for the publisher. If you cannot market the book well enough on the foreign market, you will loose money. Literary translations are not cheap.

The other way around, if you translate a book from English to German, you can estimate very well from the performance on the gigantic English book market how it will sell in Germany. Bonus points if the author is already known in Germany anyway. The risk is lower than opening a program slot for a new German author (who would require additional marketing), and the cost of the translation is offset by the reduced risk.

At least that's my explanation. Maybe I'm wrong about it, I'm not a publisher.

>Seems more like basic economics than 'cultural imperialism' to me.

>The German market is very small, the English market very large.

Yes, and the English market is so very very large because... :)

Because the UK, Australia, South Africa, Canada and the United States are ~6x the size of Germany. This was caused by colonialism, though, not cultural imperialism.

I would throw India in there too, as most everyone educated is fluent in English, and I expect more and more Indians to be fluent in English going forward.

Yeah, I think the person who made the cultural imperialism point was trying to say more or less that: that there are a lot of countries that speak English because English is the culturally dominant language. Personally I think there's a less sinister way to phrase that than "cultural imperialism," though. And I'm not sure it's caused by cultural dominance so much as economic dominance and pragmatism. I don't think many people learn English to watch American movies or wear American blue jeans.

Further, I'm not sure to what extent it affects the market size for books. I would guess, not being privy to any actual information on the topic, that the vast majority of English books are consumed by majority-English-speaking nations. There are probably exceptions for outsized blockbusters like Harry Potter.

Perhaps Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Belize too.

New Zealand, Ireland, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago add another 13.5 million.

On the flip side, English is only the first language of 9.6% of South Africans.[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_South_Africa#L...

There are way more native speakers in Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, etc.

To be fair, fans of science fiction are probably more likely to be fluent in English, so the domestic market has additional competition.

Because America, the country with mostly native English speakers, is 4x more populous than Germany.

And exactly why does America speak English, when a few centuries ago it was filled with native speakers of many other languages that are now very rare today?

Because the British Empire (and the Spanish and French empires) killed a great many of them, and forcibly imported their own cultures, people, and languages.

Which is unquestionably imperialism, and undoubtedly cultural. Hence: cultural imperialism.

If it weren't for cultural imperalism, the only native English speakers would be the population of the UK, which is about on par with Germany.


More recently, the US had a good number of German speakers too. Then WWI happened and people didn't want to be associated with Germany any more.

Pedantically the residents of England speak would be speaking Brittonic too minus cultural imperialism.

Making up artificial delineations on arbitrary segmentation of time gets a bit wearying.

Various cultures have their time in the sun and then retreat- it’s as old as humanity itself.

Because it is professionally run and delivers to people what they want to read. In my view US cultural domination comes from actually caring about their customers and not some idealized abstraction of art.

Because of some mistakes made in 1939-1942 timeframe?

Question then, would you say that the French had cultural imperialism when most geopolitical issues were conducted in French just a few hundred years ago? Or how about the Latin stranglehold on science and medicine? Why should english, german or polish speakers learn the Latin terms for dick all anything since it's practically a dead language. Who actually speaks Latin without being ironic? Or Italian was forced down every composer threats back in Mozart's day if they wanted to do an opera. Are those too forms of cultural imperialism?

My main point, dont pretend 'cultural imperialism' was invented by the Anglo saxons. Dont give them too much credit. Their egos are inflated as much as it is. All of history had a dominate 'culture'. I think the major difference to this shift to English is the fact the language is so damn easy and efficient compared to others. Maybe not as eloquent. But when it comes to information transfer, English is by far one of the best languages. Maybe that's why its inherently popular? I mean, in Polish, the word for the number 2 can be conjugated 50 some odd ways. Some intelligent anglo in history looked at other languages that conjugate like crazy and said it's fucking stupid. Obviously I'm being slightly hyperbolic. Only slightly.

Plus, the English culture is one where being upfront and abrupt is alright. Makes business real damn easy. It's a very "get to the goddamn point so I can go drink whiskey early" type of culture.

So yea, as a dirty slav, English is champ right now for very good technical reasons.

> dont pretend 'cultural imperialism' was invented by the Anglo saxons

No one was saying this. As you correctly point out, other cultures and languages have been culturally dominant before, and now English is. It's entirely possible in another century or two it will be Mandarin, or Hindi, or who knows what.

> I think the major difference to this shift to English is the fact the language is so damn easy and efficient compared to others

That's a pretty rare take on English. Most people seem to think it's a PITA due to how many different languages it's cribbed from, resulting in next to zero consistent rules.

I have no idea where the myth started that people think English is a tough language for people. The only struggles non native speakers typically have is pronouncing th, usage of she/her, some oddball spellings, over use of same sounding words and if they come from non article languages, articles. That's a crazy short and easy to overcome list in comparison to, oh I dont know, all the goddamn irregular verbs of romance languages. Male/female articles or conjugation orgy fest most languages have. The tone and writing nature of most Asian languages.

Most people I know that do t speak english natively, picked it up pretty damn quick and easy.

Languages are chosen for many different reasons, which are not all obvious. Also it sounds like you're conflating language and culture, which are related things but not the same thing. If I know French, I can communicate with people in countries on three different continents, and the usefulness of a language trumps all other reasons for choosing a language. I've been in a few weird international groups, with people from dozens of countries present, and everyone communicates in French and English (a mix of both really), even though many of the people are multi-lingual, because everyone present knows at least a few snippets of French and English.

Sure, Latin was the language of empire, and then French had something of a small empire with the Holy Romans. Arabic was too for a while, depending on where you were. Now English is the language of empire.

French was spoken by the educated classes in much of the Western world for some time, had a largish colonial empire. Holy Roman Empire (neither Roman or Holy or an Empire) had German as a primary language.

Oh, you're right, of course. Brain fart.

> Seems more like basic economics than 'cultural imperialism' to me.

These are not at all mutually exclusive; economic policies (in particular exports and imports) figure heavily in academic literature on [cultural] imperialism.

Two things, first translations are a much bigger industry in German than in English, so you get a lot of French and Spanish translations. A book does not necessarily need to sell well in English, but it needs of course some reason that it gets picked up in the first place.

On Science Fiction, I almost exclusively read English novels, to the point were I would expect to miss German ones. The entire surrounding infrastructure, dedicated SF blogs, fanzines, reddit, is just not there in Germany, so I read the English ones and consequently read English language SF.

> The first German science fiction that comes to my mind ... "Die Haarteppichknüpfer" (great book from 1995): no idea if it sold well in English.

Oh, i read that! It's "The Carpet Makers" in English. I rather liked it; it's one of those stories which zooms out and out and out to reach dizzying perspectives of time and space and whatnot. Bit like Star Maker or some Stephen Baxter. It's definitely more modest than those, but it has a sort of creepiness to it that's unusual.

the existence of an english translation is useful to provide more local translations, but not a prerequisite, I believe.

For example, Valerio Evangelisti (italian horror/fantasy/sci-fi/weird writer) has more translated works in french/spanish/german than he has in english, to my knowledge.

Seems like a self imposed problem, because you could clearly just write in English.

Yes, but it is a shame. German language (and others) shouldn't have to miss out on cultural growth just because English is more popular. Authors not being able to eat is a problem.

Do you think if there were more German language books being written, an audience for those books would develop? Is it just a chicken and egg problem?

Don't know. Seems like a lot of work to learn a language for a certain genre, but it's entirely possible. (I've been interested in learning Polish for this reason).

not to mention, writing in english means being unable to use a host of things that other languages have (and viceversa, of course).

Makes me wonder if Chinese writers face the same dilemma

The Chinese-reading market is one order of magnitude bigger than the German-reading market.

Thank you for that.

It seems so many people skip the obvious in these debates. Comparing the situation of Chinese authors and artists to that of German authors and artists is not even apples to oranges, it's apples to skyscrapers. Obviously the Chinese authors have a captive market that, to be honest, no one even really knows the size of. We only know that it is at least 6x that of German authors. Not to mention Chinese cinema which frequently take their novels and make movies out of them.

Of course, but English is still the de-facto universal language in the Western world, and Chinese do consume lots of American television and music.

It's still a valid question.

Not necessarily.

Europeans often have enough understanding of English even when it isn't their native tongue to read English books. But in many countries translations are still a popular way to read. Many books in Mexico are translated into Spanish and people solely read translations.

In markets where translating is the norm, writing in your native tongue is not a disadvantage. In other markets and areas (Germany and Belgium come to mind), where people prefer to read in the original language, it's a disadvantage.

I wonder how much of a role does Amazon's presence in the country play.

I'm from Lithuania, I prefer to read in English, but that means that books are more expensive because I have to order them from Amazon UK or Amazon DE.

Meanwhile, I imagine that for a German who prefers to read in English, there wouldn't be much difference between ordering an English book from Amazon DE and picking up a German translation in the local bookstore, especially if they have Prime.

China is a huge book market, the biggest problem for Chinese writers is piracy.

How about censorship? I would assume some books are considered subversive and censored by the CCP but I may be wrong.

Those books are even more popular. The government ban list might as well be a most pirated list.

So write books in English?

What about German makes you want to write novels in German specifically?

I believe that for most people it is not possible to write good novels in a language in which you're not a native speaker. I wouldn't even dare to try, although my work language is English and all of my scientific publications are in English. Notice that literary translation is also usually from the foreign language into the mother tongue and almost never the other way around.

Yes, there are notable exceptions like Vladimir Nabokov, but these are extremely rare and definitely not the rule.

Joseph Conrad would be the exemplar of this category, I think. English was his third language and he wasn't fluent in it until his twenties.

Andrei Makhine and Milan Kundera write in French, no?

Yes, but personally I consider Conrad a better writer than both of them. Kundera also wrote most of his well-known books in Czech.

I think it is far more common than you think, many Indian novelists write in English, despite it being only their second or third language.

Do you have any grounding for this assertion or is it just something kicking around in your head?

I can provide examples[0] of non-native speakers that have written good novels in another tongue.

The trick to being a good writer is generally being a good reader. If you read enough, you can figure out how to have the turns of phrase and pacing and everything else that makes for compelling prose in any language. As far as I'm aware, there is nothing fundamental about the function of the human brain that would cause your statement to be in any way reasonable. Of course exophonic writers are not very common, it will always be easier to write a novel in your native tongue. But the idea that more difficult is close to the exceptionally difficult that you are espousing does not seem founded in reality. It's just not very common.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_exophonic_writers

Nabokov wrote one of the greatest novels of all time in English as a non-native English speaker, and it's known especially for its turns of phrase. That is much more than a "notable exception". Additionally, the reason that there are so few "great authors" in the English-language non-native category is because there just aren't that many authors in that category.

If he can do that, other people can write passable novels in English. It's not like you're writing the greatest novels of all time in German.

>The family spoke Russian, English, and French in their household, and Nabokov was trilingual from an early age. He related that the first English book his mother read to him was Misunderstood (1869) by Florence Montgomery. In fact, much to his patriotic father's disappointment, Nabokov could read and write in English before he could in Russian.

Why don't we all speak in English then, and be done.

Linguistic diversity is an amazing beautiful incredible thing. There are things you can say in English that you can't say in German, and vice-versa, or Portuguese, or Swahili, or Mandarin, or Lojban.

You'll forgive me for speculating that you don't speak more than one language, or you would appreciate that.

I speak 3 languages. I have tried my hand at many more. I have a great appreciation for all the idiosyncrasies and quirks of the world's languages. Right now I am learning Indonesian and was very surprised when I first learned that Bahasa does not have tenses! At this point, I'm sure many people that only speak English are well-aware of how many words there are in German that can't be as easily described in English - words like "Schadenfreude".

But. I do not complain about being there not being enough demand for any of the languages I speak. Demand is demand, if there isn't great demand for German-language novels, it is not the end of the world.

The answer to the question "I want make a living writing novels, but I am writing them in German and there isn't enough demand for them to really sustain myself - what should I do?" is not "force Germans to start reading more books in German instead of English". It's "learn to write books in English".

Do you really find whining about the fact that native Germans prefer to read books in English over his/her mother tongue constructive?

A good/important book written in other than English will eventually find it's place in the international market. The sad part is that without a large enough market the writers need to get another job and continue to write in their spare time.

What's something that I can say in English that cannot be expressed in German?

To provide a more literal response to your comment: there's no exact word for stain (as in: on clothing) in German. You can say Fleck, but it means spot in a more broad sense. Also, a date, in the relationship sense, has been imported. Verabredung is closeish, but more like an appointment.

Likewise from German there's not a direct translation for Backpfeifengesicht, a 'face that is asking to be slapped', more literally 'face slap face'. Is there a more Englishy way to say Zeitgeist that captures the same meaning? You could replace it with "spirit of the time", but it feels a bit too general and clumsy. Is there a succinct English equivalent to Schadenfreude that isn't too long or clumsy?

The stain example is super interesting to me. Would a German person that spills red wine not acknowledge a resulting stain?

I don't know about Backpfeifengesicht, but both zeitgeist and schadenfreude are English words now.

Of course they would acknowledge a stain. I meant that the word Fleck encompasses both stains and intentional spots including blind spots, spots on a map or drawing, spots in an animal's fur pattern, and stains on one's shirt. [0] Just because you don't have an exact word for something, doesn't mean you can't recognize it or try to express it - but that distinction must come from context around the word.

Conversely in English stain has to be distinguished in cotext from the words for shirt stains, wood stains (Holzbeize) and stained glass (Buntglas).

Perhaps a better word to demonstrate it is Gemütlichkeit. [1]

Zeitgeist and Schadenfreude are exactly words imported into English because no words in English came close to capturing these words' meanings. You'd have to say "pleasure derived from another's misfortune" every time.

[0] https://www.dict.cc/deutsch-englisch/Fleck.html

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gem%C3%BCtlichkeit#Similar_wor...

The word for "fun" exists in both German and English, but is missing from many other languages.

Many social constructs don't translate well. The word "freunde" is much, much stronger than "friends", for example. "We're all friends here" doesn't really work in German, at least not in the same situations. Similarly, English doesn't really have a term for "Wohnunggemeinschaft."

Puns often don't translate, which breaks translating many of the jokes in Shakespeare, for example. Going from German to English, the Rammstein song "Du has(s)t much" doesn't translate due to the puns, as does much of the writing by Yoko Tawada.

Gender ambiguous things don't always translate either. The gender neutral pronoun "they" translates to "sie" in German, which is the same as the pronoun "she" but with different verb conjugations. "Trans man" or "transwoman" are usually translated in German the same as "man" or "woman". Nuance on racial issues also doesn't always translate smoothly between the two languages.

I am sure there are many, many more.

No matter how good the translation of Lord of the Rings, it's never gonna be the same as reading the original English. The text is inextricably linked to the English language, the English countryside, a certain feel that cannot be entirely preserved in translation. It's probably not gonna be so bad in German, but in Italian? Forget it.

100 Years of Solitude is an absolute masterpiece. It's very difficult to put a finger on exactly why, but all agree there is a tone to it and to the way he tells the story, which usually people call "magical realism". The way it's so inexorably connected to a South American place and time, it's gonna be a different thing if you read it in English (credit though to the translators who do this incredibly difficult job in a stunning manner). The musicality and mood of the speech, for lack of a better description, cannot be accurately rendered in English.

In short, it's more nuanced than "what's a sentence I can say in English that I can't say in German".

I'm not the person you were replying to, but I'm also a writer, and I think you are underestimating the command of language required to write fiction.

I'm fluent in English, I write in English for a living, but I doubt I'd be able to write decent fiction in English.

"Just write novels in your second language, bro" comes off as extremely ignorant.

> "Just write novels in your second language, bro" comes off as extremely ignorant.

Just as a note, it is not common but it does happen.

Not to mention other forms of cultural production like songs (where adherence to grammatical norms is not as important as other forms of cultural manifestation).

Which one is the "least correct" one, "Hotline Bling" or "I Want it That Way"? One was written by a native speaker, the other isn't.

Lolita is considered one of the greatest books of all time.

It was written by a non-native speaker in English. Thinking a non-native speaker can't write great English novels is the ignorant view, in my opinion. Is it difficult? Of course it is. But all writing is difficult.

Nabokov was raised bi(tri?)lingual, comparing him to someone who learned English as a second language isn't exactly fair.

Also, Nabokov was an utter linguistic genius and extreme outlier all-around-literary-intellectual, so comparing to him is mostly unfair, period.

Same with Conrad too, English was his third language, after Polish and French, yet he wrote his widely praised oevre almost entirely in English.

Vladimir Nabokov was a native speaker in both languages. he grew up with English-speaking nurses, governesses, etc aroun him... He also spoke French fluently, as all Russian nobility did. Additional fact: he learned to read in English first, Russian next.

Not to mention his years in Cambridge, UK.

TL;DR he probably spoke English better than most native speakers do nowadays.

Yes, and obviously OC speaks English fluently as well.

I'm not suggesting rural German farmers should start authoring novels in English.

I'm suggesting that someone who A. already knows how to competently (I hope) write novels in one language and B. is fluent in a second language should perhaps consider blending the two if they are not finding enough demand for their chosen occupation in their native tongue.

I realize this analogy is a little bit strained, but this would be like me saying, as someone that has known Python for 10+ years, I should not attempt to compete with the JS programmers who have been doing JS for 10+ years because I've only been working with JS for about 2 years. But obviously I don't think that way and I don't behave that way, because I want to make a living in my chosen profession. So I follow the demand, and where my skills are in need of improvement, I improve them.

Nabokov was also supposed to have experienced synesthesia*.

2 thoughts:

1. Nabokov’s synesthesia was largely why..IMO..made his writing captivating. The first sentence of Lolita makes you gasp. It ‘hits’ you where you didn’t expect it and you like it.

The subject matter of Lolita was likely secondary to the synesthetic appeal of the language of Nabokov. It’s is a linguistic neural dissonance.

It reminds of Szechuan peppers in Hunan/Szechuan cuisine. The addition of which gives you a numbing tingling sensation to the inside of your mouth. It is called ‘mala’ in mandarin. It is also said to cause neurological dissonance especially when used with spicy foods.

Szechuan peppers themselves are not peppers but from the citrus family. They are often used with hot peppers..often mildly hot peppers but the numbing/tingling sensation makes the eater think that they are eating something super spicy ..far more spicier than it really is..and the body reacts with watering eyes and increased heartbeat and that endorphin rush associated with eating capsaicin.

It’s the same thing reading Nabokov. You expect to read a story and you are entirely bowled over by the sensory aspect of his language. Even though Lolita is his most popular work, he has written so much more. Pale Fire, Speak, Memory, Real life of Sebastian Knight..

2. My second thought is that authors who are non native English speakers/writers have remarkably rich vocabulary that is super descriptive. English is not a voluptuous language.

Others that come to mind are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Neruda, Borges, Italo Cavalo, Umberto Eco, Marukami, Junichiro Tanizaki and the many Asian languages to English translations. Something lyrical in these languages is beautiful transmitted into English..a quality that English itself doesn’t seem to possess.

On a slightly different note: older languages like Sanskrit and the even earlier like epic of Gilgamesh relied on meter. As our speaking faculties expanded to accommodate more experiences and senses..and as we became more musical, language evolved too. It is the most beautiful evolution of the human state and we barely pay attention to language’s evolution.

I also think Germans shouldn’t be translating anything to English or anything from any other language to English. I don’t know German but I can often tell if any translation has had a translator remotely connected to the language. The language doesn’t lend itself to fluidity and nimbleness. Altho I have read some translations of Carl Jung’s Red Book from High German to English that intrigued and somewhat appealed to me. I don’t know if it was the translator or Jung’s language/words itself.




https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_with_synesthe... : List of people with synesthesia

> Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Neruda, Borges, Italo Cavalo, Umberto Eco, Marukami, Junichiro Tanizaki

I know and love all those authors, but have never heard of Junichiro Tanizaki. Where should I start with him?

Thanks, TIL.

> TL;DR he probably spoke English better than most native speakers do nowadays.

True, especially "internet English" which is abysmal.

neffy 26 days ago [flagged]

Not by anybody who has actually read it.

I beg to differ. I don't know that I'd rate it as one of the greatest works of all time--in the European/American world, there's what, three thousand years of recorded literature? However, I would have no trouble finding widely read folks who think very highly of it.

Downvotes on HN for saying people think Lolita is great?


For the same reason most English-speaking authors are not writing their books in Chinese.

Most english-speaking authors don't speak a word of Mandarin.

The OC obviously has a very solid grasp of English. If the comment had been written in German or broken English I would not have made the suggestion.

Functional English requires a very different level of mastery than writing literature in English. I am a casual writer in French, I consider myself almost fluent in English. I tried to write a short story in English during the last NaNoWriMo, it was incredibly difficult.

I can explain in a lot of details why my C++ code is broken or the intricacies of a compiler inner parts. But I don't have as many words to describe a fence, as I have in French. In French I know how a farmer will call the place they put animals in and I know the official word that is the "correct" terminology. And I know which is which. It is very hard to find good translations of the tone behind this.

That's a great learning experience, but being an author in one language while being fluent in another, does not mean you can easily write stories in both.

Maybe he is German and the majority of his non-professional communication is in his mother tongue?

It's probably best to write in the language you are most comfortable in (which, if you're an émigré, might be a language you acquired later in life) and get translators to translate it into whichever languages have a viable market for it. If you have a good understanding of some of those languages then you can even supervise the translation. You'll get a better result that way and it'll probably cost less, too, if you value your own time.

Umberto Eco heavily supervised some of the translations of his books and has written about that process. He's rather a special case, of course: his books are not the easiest to translate even with the author's help.

Maybe it’s their native tongue?

As it happens I prefer fiction in German.

So please, do write more stuff in German.

>"Have plans on top of plans. What if your genre collapses? What if your agent quits? What if your next advance is way too low to survive upon? What if the economy shits the bed? Have a plan for next year, for five years, for ten. Envision how you remain in this game. A writing career is, as I’ve noted before, a CLIFF MITIGATION EXERCISE. You are eternally speeding toward the cliff’s edge."

That seems like good advice for any career - even if you are comfortably cocooned in an uber-successful corporation. Things change! Your career could be collateral damage from and anti-trust proceeding.

One thing that always annoys me about these sorts of posts is how much they oversell the competence of publishers.

I've worked in book publishing most of my career, both with publishers and with independent authors. Trust me, the publisher's marketing strategy is nothing special.

The difference between a successful book and a middling book, barring the impossibly rare "so good it organically becomes a world beater," is the size of the author's platform. Publishers have a rigid PR/marketing process they run for every book, involving sending galleys (press copies) to the same press contacts, and sometimes those efforts net press coverage, and sometimes that coverage will result in some sales. If a press is very forward-thinking, by industry standards, they may invest in building the author a website or helping manage social.

However, books that hit bestseller lists are typically written by authors who have a large, engaged audience they've built on their own. The impact of a publisher's marketing budget is typically small, and definitely not worth giving up 80%-plus of your sales due to royalties.

> [...] the publisher's marketing strategy is nothing special.

So true! I'm self publishing for this reason—the 10% of profits as royalty just doesn't make sense... I mean I get it that developmental editing, copy editing, cover design, typesetting and other pre-publication services are useful add ons, but still not worth the publisher's 80% cut.

In one thing mainstream publisher have going for them is the reputation, especially in the academic space (textbooks). Seeing that a book was "vetted" by a serious publisher gets you some immediate respect from the reader—something self-published authors have to earn on their own.

Like you say though, the author's "platform" is the key thing, and who better than the author themselves to build that?

I think that nowadays authors have many more ways for revenue streams than before

Doing some ghost writing, being contributors in large publications and selling backlinks (doggy I know) and more stuff writers can do beside their being full time Author

The money they can make from those small jobs can help them to have some more freedom to continue their profession as Authors

How do authors find ghost writing work? They advertise it on their site?

ProBlogger jobs board is the best place for that in my opinion.

There's also UpWork, but I'd avoid that, because it's a race to the bottom.

You could also try applying to marketing agencies directly.

Plus translation if you are not a native english speaker.

Somebody, probably Trollope (employed by the Royal Mail during most of his writing career) quoted Sir Walter Scott as saying that literature is a good staff but a bad crutch.

I feel like 90% of this advice to authors comes down to: your advance is just that, an advance on sales royalties. Non-recoupable, but if you're 'lucky' enough to win a bigger advance than your eventual sales, it's not a great sign for your career anyway.

I absolutely have to plug the author’s latest book, Wanderers. It was pretty amazing.

I've only heard really good reviews, which doesn't happen that often with long books. Definitely planning to read it!

This is the first time ever I see an author is mentioning his book without a link to Amazon. Impressive and refreshing.

Nothing wrong with pointing to your work. Would you say the same if developer writes a blog about his work without pointing to his github account?

This sentiment that there's something wrong with promoting one's work is just bizarre.

It's even more bizarre in the context of an article that discusses how to make a living as an author.

My perception is that the difference is the message an author communicates. The message could be "I will tell you something important" or "Go buy this thing, in the meantime I will do some hand waving". There is no need to add a link to a book in the article which is not about this book, as much as adding a link to Github account in a blog post about unrelated stuff. Otherwise it makes a piece of writing look cheaper in my, probably wrong, view.

Maybe be it's just me, seriously.

At the end of the article, there is a link to a product page, which links to Amazon.

> Let’s say 10% per hardcover sale, or 25% of an e-book.

Are those percentages of the MSRP or of the actual sale price?

I use a price tracker for ebooks where I add every book I want and set an alert for $5. When it hits that price, I buy it. If I do that for Wanderers, will the author get 25% of the $13.99 list price or of the $5 sale price?

Generally, MSRP. It depends on the bookstore's agreement with the publisher. But, most are based on cover price.

So, if a store sells the book for $5. The author still gets $3.50

This generally doesn't apply if the publisher reduces the price for a 'sale period' though.

> My understanding here is, it depends on who initiates that sale. Amazon initiates, you get it on full. Publisher initiates, you get on the publisher’s choice of price.

What a fantastic article. Only cringed at the humour once. Good takeaways.

Wow, this is just far beyond terrible web design. On a 1920x1080 monitor I have to scroll down four and a half entire screen heights before I get to the text of the article. The headline alone takes up about half the screen...

Seems like a good strategy for getting comments on HN

On a 1366x768 laptop it is three screen lengths for me. But this seems to be the common format for news/blog articles these days, there is nothing particularly egregious about this site...

> But this seems to be the common format for news/blog articles these days, there is nothing particularly egregious about this site...

normalization of deviance, i'd guess

On mobile just 1.5 screen.

Do these hero image valuable for SEO or are they just for looks?

Using Chrome dev tools (F12) I can see that it only looks any good (and that's a relative term) on an iPhone X, and a Pixel 2 XL. Even then only the hero image and the title is visible.

Also what is the value added by these massive hero images? I had to stare at the top image for a few seconds to realize what was on it anyways.

Why is scrolling bad?

It's pretty obnoxious on a 5k2k screen even.

At first I thought this was on becoming a professional author, now after I read it I understand this is on how to maintain professional author as a career. One thing I'm curious about though- the author in question never brings up cover designers or editors, but does advise to listen to the agent and ask a lot of questions.

I do know that cover design can be controversial and that editors can often encourage changes that make the author feel like garbage (eg. 'change the entire tense of the novel' or 'kill this beautifully written scene'). What is the advisement for that?

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