SPS-217: How to Profit From Your Backlist During Downtime – with Emma Prince
Emma Prince already had over 20 books published when she became pregnant. Knowing she’d likely have less energy during the pregnancy, and once the baby was born, she created a plan to keep her business growing during that time. Her interview with James is a great example of an indie author thinking strategically about her books, her time, and her ability to turn each book into multiple assets.
- An overview of what you’ll learn in SPF 101
- The importance of planning for the ebbs and flows of a creative life
- On falling backwards into being a self-published author
- How releasing regularly (not necessarily rapidly) keeps readers satisfied
- Doing other work while dealing with ‘pregnancy brain’ and the sleep deprivation that comes with a new baby
- Investing in audiobooks and German translations
- How to find a good translator
- What it costs to translate a book
- On the importance of planning in Emma’s success, especially during her ‘down time’
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
SPF 101 COURSE: For a limited time SPF 101 is open for enrolment.
FREE WEBINAR: Join the free SPF webinar about how to get book reviews.
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.
Emma Prince: I have really embraced this idea that this creative thing that I made, a book, is a product, and it can actually be turned into many different formats and different products that can make me money for potentially the rest of my life.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There’s never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. It’s Friday, it’s whatever time you’re listening to this, and it’s James Blatch with…
Mark Dawson: Mark Dawson. Hello.
James Blatch: We miss the days of scheduling when somebody opened a program, and said it’s 5:00. It was Crackerjack, wasn’t it?
Mark Dawson: Crackerjack.
James Blatch: Yeah. You have to say Crackerjack when someone says Crackerjack.
Mark Dawson: Crackerjack.
James Blatch: And Sale of the Century, it was also Friday night at a certain time. But the days of scheduling are gone. That was quite a good little moment.
I’m finally catching up with 30 Rock, which I know finished about six years ago, but we got to the last couple of seasons and gave up. I’m now watching it.
Mark Dawson: Never seen it.
James Blatch: But that last line with the young girl in there, and they said, “It’s on at 7:00.” And she goes, “What do you mean it’s on at 7:00. What does that mean?”
Mark Dawson: Yep, sounds about right.
James Blatch: Here we are recording this on Friday, March the 6th. Which means we are two days away, or three days where I suppose technically, from the conference. It’s been a really interesting week of battling the virus in a political geobattle that we’re in because obviously people are pulling out, and other events have been falling away around us.
Most notably London Book Fair. We made a decision early on we would go with government advice. Wouldn’t deviate from that. We wouldn’t hold it if they said no. We wouldn’t cancel it if they said you didn’t have to cancel it. And that’s where we are at the moment. It’s going ahead on Monday.
And just to put it into perspective, we are basically still operating as a country okay. Football matches all take place on Saturday. There’ll be the usual four and a half thousand people at Cambridge United. They’re might be more at West Ham, who you support. And all my friends around here go to London every day and work in big buildings with lots of people.
So it would be an overreaction for us to cancel. And there’s no reason for us to do so, and we want to go ahead. Having said that, every day I kind of wake up expecting some more news or something to happen.
Yesterday and today have been quiet in terms of big developments for us. I just want to get to Monday now to have the conference. And I think probably after that, we don’t know what’s going to happen with the virus, but it’s sort of does link into today’s interview.
So I’m going to talk about that in a moment. But I don’t know. It’s going to spawn a few more books I suppose. It’s quite an interesting event.
Mark Dawson: I actually posted it to my readers the other day, I’ve plotted a book for ages and ages on Ebola. So bioterrorism, so deliberately going to places where Ebola is, there’s an outbreak, deliberately infecting yourself, and then going to a major population center and just basically walking around in subways and trains and things.
Because you can see what’s happening with this. And Ebola is more a frightening virus than the one that we’re dealing with at the moment.
I have been thinking about writing that. But at the moment, part of me thought, shit, I could write this in a month. I could put this out in the middle of something like this. Because we can move like that. But then on the other hand I thought, no, that feels really wrong.
James Blatch: Exploitative.
Mark Dawson: It does feel very exploitative. So I’m not going to be doing that.
James Blatch: The balance with the viruses was we’re learning lots, aren’t we? In fact you and I think have read quite a lot on COVID-19’s-
Mark Dawson: I have.
James Blatch: … particular strain of… if you’re reading Russell Blake, you should not read Russell Blake unless you put tinfoil on your head.
The paradox here is the more deadly the virus, the less likely it is to become a global pandemic. And the reason COVID-19 has got them worried is because it’s very mild, and a lot of people don’t even know they’ve got it.
You and I hopefully, in our fit age where we are, in fact, I’ve looked at the stats. There’s 0.2% I think. It might just be over 1% for me because I’m in my 50s. It’s 0.2% for children, the death rates.
Whereas SARS was 10% death rate, even for people like us. But SARS got to a point, and then flat-lined very quickly because it was killing its host. And they were easy to spot, and they were isolated.
Whereas this virus is clever enough to be mild to not affect its host too adversely, which is why it’s propagating and spreading. So if you’re going to write a book, or you’re going to be the terrorist who’s going to unleash hell on the world, you need to work out a way of having a virus that has mild symptoms, certainly at first, for the first few months, and then kills everybody after that.
Mark Dawson: Well not necessarily. What you want is a virus that has awful symptoms and is extremely lethal and highly transmissible. That’s what you want.
James Blatch: Yeah, but you can isolate. SARS is transmittable. They isolated people as soon as they became ill. Whereas now the difficulty with this particular strain is isolating people who don’t know they’ve got it.
Mark Dawson: Well, yeah. Now this episode of Self-Publishing Show is brought to you by James Blatch. Epidemiologist, MD.
James Blatch: I’ve got my laser ready to go. I’m going to fend off the virus with that. Well look, we’re going to mention the interview in a moment. I’m going to come back to this subject because it is sort of relevant and connected.
Let us talk about the Self-Publishing 101 course, which is the baby idea that you and I sat and talked about with John Dyer over our coffee in the BFI on South Bank, gosh, back in 2015, I think.
Mark Dawson: Something like that.
James Blatch: It was the idea that you said, obviously you’d been successful as a self-publisher, and you felt you could teach others how to do it, how to get to there. And you were so excited and enthused about it.
Then we started to put the course together, and you started to lose the will to live because it was so involved, and involved so much. And we pivoted, and we focused on a niche of Facebook ads for authors. But you wanted to come back to this a year or so later.
And we did, and it was a massive effort putting this course together initially. And it’s actually one of the daily tasks we have of keeping it up to date as well and relevant. It’s a big course, lots of components.
Mark, just explain what the course does.
Mark Dawson: It takes you from beginners or intermediates really, from either just having your first book ready to go, or having maybe three or four in the market, and you can’t sell them properly, and they’re not doing what you think they should.
So it will show you, on the basic level, how to format, there’s some stuff on covers, blurbs, metadata, uploading, account setup, tax, everything that you need to do to actually get going. And then there’s a lot of mailing lists, there’s some basic ad stuff.
There’s launch sequences, there’s a tech library which is basically almost all the tools you could possibly want to use from things like Vellum to Draft2Digital’s formatting tool to BookFunnel to BookBub.
All of the things that you would want to use as an author will be explained to you, usually by me, but sometimes by James, as we look over the shoulder, as we explain what we’re doing, what the clicks do, all of that kind of stuff. And puts it all together into a package, like a roadmap that will enable you to go from wherever you are to hopefully wherever you want to be.
James Blatch: Excellent. Good explanation.
I was just doing some fiddling in the background because we do have a webinar coming up, which is part of the period of time when we’ve got the course launch open, but the webinar is a great learning experience in itself.
It is how to get reviews, which is that real chicken and egg situation for people at the beginning of their careers. You need review to sell books, but you haven’t sold books yet, so how do you get reviews?
So we have a webinar set up, and that is going to take place on Tuesday the 17th of March, which I believe might be St. Patrick’s Day. Cambridge United are away at Grimsby Town. It also just relevant for the evening, just so you know.
It is going to take at 9:00 PM UK time. 9:00 PM is, I think that’s still universal time. That’s GMT. And to sign up for that, if you go to selfpublishingformula.com/spfwebinar, forward slash SPF webinar, all one word. And you can sign up there.
And if you want to know more about the course, just go to selfpublishingformula.com/101, one, zero, one.
I mentioned that COVID-19 is related to today’s interview. Today’s interview is with Emma Prince. I’ve been bumping into Emma. She’s a historical fictional author. I’ve been bumping into Emma at conferences, chiefly I think NINC in Florida, for a few years.
During that time she has spawned another human, as we are prone to do. And Emma had that experience of being somebody who works from home, runs a business from home, and suddenly is facing the delightful upheaval of having a baby, and bringing up a newborn baby.
And trying to figure out how she’s going to keep her income going when clearly she’s, going to say distracted isn’t really not the right word, but she’s doing some life stuff with a new child. So it got her to thinking about planning for this in advance, about having a strategy to cope with with breaks.
So that’s what this interview is about. Now the virus may enforce some breaks for some people, it may drop income for other people. There are other things that can happen.
You can suddenly have a parent who becomes ill that you need to look after, or other life events that happen. So having a strategy to cope with that. Something in the background that’s there, almost like a grab bag, which you do have in the late stages of pregnancy, ready to go to the hospital.
I think that’s the philosophy that Emma’s come up with. So she’s put some thought into this, and created a structure around it, and that’s what this interview’s about. So let’s here from Emma, then Mark and I will be back for a chat off the back.
Emma, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. It’s lovely to have you on the show. You and I bumped into each other several times at various glamorous locations. I think definitely in Florida.
Emma Prince: Yes. NINC. RWA, maybe.
James Blatch: Not RWA for me. I think Mark may have been to RWA.
Emma Prince: Yeah. Florida though.
James Blatch: But you are in a little clique of Scottish medieval romance writers, of which you’d think is a quite small niche. But the more I hear about it, I realize it’s quite a big area actually, isn’t it?
There’s something about this men in kilts thing going on here.
Emma Prince: Something about those kilts, man. We’re a small but mighty cohort of authors. We really stick together. And if you see us at NINC, we travel in packs also. So you’ve got to watch out for us historical romance authors. Don’t try to walk in between us or anything.
James Blatch: Don’t get between you and a man in a kilt. Otherwise it could be brutal.
Emma Prince: That’s right.
James Blatch: Cecelia Mecca’s has been on the podcast before, and she’s somebody else who also writes in this area. And it must be fun to have this little group sort of feeding off each other a bit.
Emma Prince: It is. Yeah, and we share ideas. It’s a very generous and welcoming group of authors I’ve found. I know you had Kathryn Le Veque on your show recently. She’s someone who really took me under her wing and has helped out a lot, done box sets with her and things like that.
With Cecelia actually, when she tells the story about contemplating whether she wanted to self-publish, and that she spoke to another author who was writing in her subgenre who told her to self-publish after telling her what she made. That was me.
James Blatch: Your fault.
Emma Prince: I was that person saying come to the dark side.
James Blatch: It’s your fault that Mecca’s now on the scene.
Emma Prince: I know. Mecca’s-
James Blatch: Can’t get away from her.
Emma Prince: … running the streets now. Yeah.
James Blatch: Well, that’s great. You are a great bunch of people to be with. And I’m full of admiration because you work hard at this, incredibly hard actually, and you’re successful as well.
Now on top of working incredibly hard at your day job, you’ve had the whole life event of a baby recently.
And in fact, did you get married a couple of years ago as well?
Emma Prince: No, I was married for almost 10 years. We’re old timers. But yeah, the baby came around this past October.
James Blatch: Congratulations.
Emma Prince: Thank you. Thanks. That threw a little bit of a wrench into the writing and into the publishing. And I was pretty nervous about it at first.
When I knew I was pregnant, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep up my publishing schedule and writing schedule. But I have been very pleased to find that through leveraging the books in various formats, and doing things like BookBub’s, and really working the back list and ads and things like that, it allowed me to take a maternity leave. Which being self employed. I wasn’t expecting to be able to do that. So that ended up working out.
James Blatch: I imagine quite a bit of planning involved in that. That’s what we’re going to talk about. We’ll go through that process to try and help people.
I was thinking before the interview, that obviously a life event like being pregnant and giving birth is something that’s fairly common, but things also happen to people. Suddenly somebody’s ill close to them, and it necessarily takes you out of your routine for a bit.
Other things can happen in here. Your house might subside for a bit. All sorts of life gets in the way sometimes. And it’s absolutely right that your attention switches.
When you are an entrepreneur, a solopreneur, whatever you want to call them, working from home, as you say, it potentially could make a difficult situation worse. Because all of these situations, whether it’s having a baby or a health event, tends to be expensive time of life as well.
This stuff is important. Right?
Emma Prince: Yeah. And obviously it’s great to have a plan for the unexpected, like a health issue, a family something. But it also, I think as creatives, and especially if you want to have this career for a long time, I think you should plan on having fallow times and having ebbs and flows.
I know another author, I haven’t picked her brain about this, but I’m really curious, she just gave herself a sabbatical. And I think it was kind of maybe the creative juices were a little bit low, or she wanted to take a break from the kind of breakneck publishing speed or whatever.
But she very intentionally gave herself a break, worked the back list, made a strategic plan, and then was able to step away from the writing and creative part. Because that can be very draining, and you have to allow time to sort of refill that creative well also.
James Blatch: Before we talk in more detail about how you approached it, let’s talk a bit about you and your writing then.
When did this all start for you, Emma?
Emma Prince: It started on a stormy night in December 1983.
James Blatch: You’ve got to do that in a Scottish accent. I can see a man on a kilt in the mist now. In a kilt.
Emma Prince: I’m originally from Seattle, and my husband and I moved down to Reno, Nevada, which is where we are now because I got into graduate school. I was in a PhD program for English literature.
I was plugging along in my program, and it turns out the only thing you can do with a PhD in English literature is become a professor.
I started to kind of have doubts about whether I wanted to go that route, whether I wanted to have to move around. The job market is really tough in academia.
During that time, I managed to do NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, and I completed it. I wrote the novel of my heart, which was a Scottish historical romance because it was what I was reading to sort of escape schoolwork. And I wrote this just homage to the genre. I just crammed it full of all of the tropes that I loved with no thought at all of doing anything with it.
So I finished NaNoWriMo, which is 50,000 words in a month. But the story was only about two thirds done. So I put it in a drawer, and kind of forgot about it. That was in 2012.
In 2014, I was lucky enough to go on a trip to Scotland and it reinvigorated me. It reminded me why I loved it so much, and the story that I had hanging in the back of my head.
I came home and finished the story. And that was in the summer of 2014. And I was looking at it going, well I don’t think I want to stay in academia. I really don’t know what I’m doing next. I don’t know kind of what my dream is, or what career I would like.
So on a whim, I threw this book up. I bought a premade cover for it, which was $100. And at the time I thought, oh my gosh, I’m never going to make this $100 dollars back. Is this worth this sunk cost?
I threw it on Amazon, and it just started selling. I don’t know why. I think it was those rabid Scottish romance lovers who just were hungry for content and just kind of found it.
I realized, oh, maybe I should write another one. So I did. And maybe I should write another one. And all of a sudden I had backed my way into this self-publishing career, and was just learning and flying by the seat of my pants and figuring it out as I went.
James Blatch: Did it cross your mind at that point to go out to agents and query?
Emma Prince: I really briefly thought about it. I Googled what would it take to publish a romance novel. And there was this one path, the traditional path, which was find an agent, put together queries, find an editor, submit to the big publishing houses.
I thought about it for about 30 seconds, and I thought that’s too much work. Because I really didn’t have aspirations at that point of this being my career, of being my life. I was like, I want to kind of just do the easy way. Got a cover, threw it up there.
Do the easy way, got a cover, threw it up there. This was actually right after KU 1.0 debuted, also. I also hadn’t really considered putting it on other platforms like Barnes and Noble, or anywhere else. And so I thought, “Oh, this new Kindle Unlimited thing, I guess I’ll try that.”
Threw it in there, and that ended up being a good option for me, because that’s where I found my audience.
I really briefly contemplated going the trad route. I’ve said before, I think that I might be one of the first generation of people who almost didn’t even consider going trad, because there was already this emerging indie market in 2014, and people … Well not even emerging, that was the gold rush years, people were killing it. And people in my genre were also already doing indie publishing, so I knew it was a viable path.
James Blatch: And the books you wrote, were they a series or standalones?
Emma Prince: I don’t know why I did this, but that first book I wrote, I called it book one in a trilogy, and I didn’t really have aspirations.
James Blatch: Right. Very George Lucas, although he would have called it book four, of course, when he started off, but nonetheless, yeah. Start with a plan.
Emma Prince: Yeah, with no greater picture in mind about what was coming next. But I did call it book one, and that ended up being hugely significant, that I was writing in a series.
Something about the trilogy, also I think is very satisfying. It’s a short enough number that I think I got a lot of sell through. People are willing to see what happens for three books. I’ve managed to squeeze in a bonus novella in between, because it was selling like hotcakes, and I was like, “Why did I call this a trilogy? I got to find a way to expand this.”
James Blatch: Should have been a 16 book, John Milton series.
Emma Prince: Yeah. So after that, I ended up writing in longer series. I don’t know why, I don’t know if what I was reading at the time were series, and that put it in my head that that’s what I should write.
Before writing, I was very immersed in my genre as a fan, and I think that really helped me have a sense of an understanding of the genre and the conventions, the tropes, all that.
James Blatch: Well, that’s what they say isn’t it? You’re thoroughly conversant with the genre you’re going to write in. Great choices that you made.
You’re portraying it like you did it all by accident, but I’m sure there was some thought there that went into it.
You are in a position where you have how many books? What are your marketing efforts now?
Emma Prince: I have 24 books right now. I keep thinking I have 25 because I started the 25th right before I got pregnant and didn’t finish it. It I was like my brain just turned to mush while I was pregnant.
James Blatch: Did the midwife make you put your writing down at some point? And say, “Emma!”
Emma Prince: “Let it go. Calm down. You need to have a baby instead of writing this book.”
So yeah, so 24 published a couple, very few standalones, mostly in series. I did take a little jaunt over into Viking historical romance, which you would think from outside the genre, would be right next to the Scottish, but actually found that I lost some of my readers by doing that.
Probably not my core readers, not those people who would just read anything I wrote, which is awesome to have. But I did lose some of those die hard Scottish fans. And so I realized I need to stick with what was working, and went back and just completed a 10 book Scottish series, starting the next one now.
James Blatch: That is hilarious. They’re obviously still bitter about the invasion. Too soon to forgive the Vikings.
Emma Prince: No offense, but yeah, the Vikings and the English are often the bad guys in my stories.
James Blatch: But you don’t have kilts though. Sounds like a good point of research.
Emma Prince: When I found out I was pregnant, I was happy and excited, but I was also a little bit nervous, because I had really been on this, publish every two and a half to three months, schedule.
I tend to just release when I have a book ready. I haven’t really stockpiled any stories or anything. So if you take a three month break, then that actually creates a six month gap in releasing, because it takes, if I didn’t write for three months and then I wrote and it took me three more months to get another book ready to go out.
The name of the game, a lot of times, is releasing, if not really rapidly, at least regularly, to satisfy your readers’ expectations that you’ll have something new coming out. So I was nervous about that.
And I wasn’t really sure, but I also know it was a quality of life question. I didn’t want to be trying to write in the delivery room and I wanted to take time off to enjoy the experience and enjoy spending time with my daughter.
So I knew I would need to do something while I wasn’t putting out front list and putting out new material stuff. So I actually just sat down one day and made a list of everything I could think of that I could do, that would be really low effort on my part and low brain cells, so that I wouldn’t have to think ahead of time, I wouldn’t have to learn new things. I wisely anticipated that my brain would be worthless for a little while.
James Blatch: It’s funny how that happens. It’s not just a myth is it? I did see it with a couple of friends of mine, and my wife as well, go through it. I hesitate to talk about this area because it’s not really male territory, but I know it is a thing when women are pregnant that something in the brain changes a little bit.
Emma Prince: Pregnancy brain. Yep.
It was like my thoughts were scattered, I couldn’t concentrate. I could keep up with emails and keep up with logistical, business-related things, but the immersive, creative work was just very elusive. And it was true also in the couple of months postpartum too.
It was just like, “I’m sleep deprived, my brain doesn’t seem to be working right. I’ve got other things on the mind. I’ve got other priorities right now.” Doing the creative work was definitely not really an option.
But I also knew, some people would probably say this would be a great time to do a lot of ads, and it is. I didn’t actually end up doing that many, like Facebook and AMS ads. I have a few AMS ads running at a low level all the time. But I didn’t want to learn a new system and be monitoring data and things like that.
I wanted the lowest hanging fruit that would only require emails or the occasional social media post for me and things like that.
So I came up with a list of different things I could do, different combinations of box sets I could make, and then where I could run sales on those box sets.
I made a list of books that I had never submitted to BookBub before, to see if that would juice sales while I wasn’t releasing anything new. I put together a Christmas in July sale with all of my unconnected Christmas themed novellas.
James Blatch: Oh, that’s an interesting one. Is that a thing? Christmas in July?
Emma Prince: I don’t know. Sure.
James Blatch: You invented it. It is now.
Emma Prince: It is a thing now, yeah. I don’t know. Some readers picked up copies of the books and so I counted it as a success. I was really looking for maintaining a baseline of sales and also having a few spikes to bring in new readers and goose the numbers every once in a while.
A big part of that, I should also say, in addition to manipulating my backlist like that, doing different sales and box sets and things, I also heavily invested in audio and German translations, because having other people do that work, it was like I had already put in the effort to create the book and I can pay other people to translate it and basically have a new product that can sell like new without me having to write a new book.
James Blatch: Which is actually a good point for any writer at any stage. Look around at the assets on the shelf and how they can potentially be leaving money on the table.
Audiobooks and translations, which we are talking increasingly about, at the moment. It’s becoming a really hot topic. Not just that at some point get there, but think about it quite early on in the process. However, both of those do involve investments, of course.
Emma Prince: Yes. On the one hand, I would say even if you only have one book, it’s worth thinking about the difference reformats and iterations you can release that book in, because you’ve already done the hard creative work to make the book in the first place.
Even just make sure you have a paperback version. Have a paperback version, consider audio if it’s selling well. Things like German translations, and especially things that require big upfront cost, you’d probably want to have already established that you’ve got a good flow of income, you’re making good sales.
I think I heard this advice related to audio, but it probably works for translations also, that don’t do it necessarily hoping that you’ll be some breakout audio hit or German hit, do it for your best selling book, do it for a book that’s already a proven winner as an ebook. Because that proves that there’s a market for it.
And of course German translations, or any translation, and audio are going to be smaller markets than an ebook in English. It’s more of an advanced strategy, something you would do if you had a little bit more of a backlist or just a proven track record with ebook sales.
James Blatch: There’s an appetite in Germany for Scottish romance, medieval romance.
Emma Prince: Apparently. Who knew?
James Blatch: Because Cecelia Mecca has also translated into German, has she not?
Emma Prince: Yeah. I didn’t realize this, but I heard some stat that the German readership is the same size as the readership in the U.S., which doesn’t speak great for the U.S.
Germany is obviously a much smaller country, population-wise, but their readership is the same size as the U.S.
I did sell English books in Germany before I translated books. But the translations have really taken off and seem to be hitting a hungry market.
James Blatch: Let’s just talk briefly about that, because I know people will be interested in the translation. So how did you find a translator and how did you go through that process when you … Or do you speak German?
Emma Prince: No.
James Blatch: You don’t, sorry. So you have that disadvantage, which most of us have, of not being able to check the work, not being able to, at a glance, see that there are problems.
How did you go about all of that?
Emma Prince: I was in a small Facebook group of authors, mostly historical romance authors, who swap ideas and share information and help each other out, generally. And several people in that group who were ahead of me on German translations were saying, “This is going great.”
If you had to choose between audio and translations, go translations, specifically German. Because again, it almost felt like, the way amazon.com did several years ago, a very open market where there’s still some organic discoverability.
It’s not all completely pay to play yet. Several of those authors mentioned, “This is going really well.”
I asked them for some recommendations of translators, and I will say, a lot of people are very tight lipped about who their translator is, because it’s very time intensive and work intensive, and they don’t want their translator busy translating other people’s books.
I was lucky enough to have someone share the name of their translator. And also people suggested … You can look on Upwork, or any place, any site where you can contract someone.
Obviously you want to vet the person to make sure they are a native German speaker or whatever language you’re translating into. One tip that I came up with as I was looking for a translator is go to amazon.de, the German store, and look at people in your sub-genre who have books translated, and look to see who is the translator of record and try emailing them.
James Blatch: So you can see who translated, they are a part of the credits, are they? On amazon.de.
Emma Prince: Yeah, so my translator requests that I credit her on the product page as a translator. A lot of people will just put it on the inside cover or whatever, so you could do research that way and look to see who is already translating in your field. Specifically, for indie people.
Probably a trad pub book will be outsourced to … Not following this model of translation of hiring your own translator. Once I found a translator, I went and looked at the books that she had translated and I Google translated the reviews of the books that she had translated to make sure there weren’t any negative reviews about the quality of the translation.
So once I found her, I double checked her work that way. Also, because she had worked with people I knew, I felt she was a trusted entity.
And then I got a proofreader separate from the translator, which is super important. Because just the same as you need a fresh set of eyes on your own work, it’s the exact same. Translators are rewriting the book, basically, and a lot of errors can be introduced.
James Blatch: In an ideal world, I would think the proofreader would have read the book in English as well.
Emma Prince: Yeah, my proofreader, I give her both the English manuscript and the German, and she just compares it. And she’s, again, a native speaker, and so she’s looking for, not just typos and things like that, but shifts in meaning that alter the flavor of the book, which that type of person is worth their weight in gold, if you can find that a type of person.
James Blatch: When you get your proofs back, when you get your edits back, it’s all in German. So you’re just clicking, accept, I guess.
Emma Prince: I just close my eyes and click accept. And I hope that it’s okay. I haven’t gotten any negative reviews yet about errors or things like that. If I did, it would be unfortunate to learn that way, once the product is already out there, readers are reading it and going, “Ugh, this has a bunch of errors.” That would be a bad way to learn, but it’s better late than never, I guess.
James Blatch: Can you give us an idea of the costs involved in this?
Emma Prince: My books tend to be between 75 and 95,000 words, averaging about 80 to 85. And so one of those books would cost me about $3,000 to translate.
And my proofer, again, worth her weight in gold, is doing this for fun. And I pay her like $500. So very nominal fee for the level of work that she’s doing. And she really enjoys it, and I think the way she views it is, “I get to read all of these books.” She’s a fan of the genre. “I get to read these books for free,” basically.
So all in it’s between $3,000 and $3,500 per book.
I also pay small fees for the cover too. I use the exact same cover art, but I have my cover designer change the text to the German title.
James Blatch: In terms of getting your money back, that has been a worthwhile venture for you?
Emma Prince: Oh yeah. I actually started with this very first series that I had done, the trilogy. Because it was, to date, my bestselling series. And I thought, “This will be the one to test.” If this one doesn’t work, then I probably should stay out of German.
The first book came out and sold well. It recouped its cost in, I think, like two or two and a half months, which I thought, “Okay, that’s all right.” When the second book came out, it gave a big boost to the first book as well as the second book and that one earned out in a month.
I put out the novella and because it was shorter and cheaper, it earned out in like half a month. And then, by the time the third book had come out, the other books had already paid for it and it was like the more books I was releasing in the series, not only would that book do even better, but the rest of the series would get a really big bump also.
So now it’s all gravy and I’m starting in on the 10 book series because I actually reached a point where my German income was the same as my amazon.com income and I make six figures a year and so it was a really good, solid German income.
James Blatch: That’s a whole wheelbarrow full of euros to cart home.
What happens when somebody is one of your fans in Germany and writes to you in German? Does that happen?
Emma Prince: It hasn’t happened yet. I would probably have to use Google translate and just pray that they would be able to understand my English response. It is strange.
I think Mark has talked a little bit about this, but besides gesundheit, I don’t speak a word of German and it’s a little bit disconcerting even for things like keywords and the blurb.
At some point when I start advertising these books, I’ll have to probably pay my translator to translate some ad copy and things like that with the key words. It’s kind of interesting, I give her the English words I use, but I also ask her, “Imagine that you’re searching for this book. It might not necessarily, the words you would use might not necessarily be a direct translation.”
James Blatch: She’s your human keyword generator.
Emma Prince: Yeah. And my proofer sometimes, I think because my proofer specifically is a fan of the genre, she sometimes tweaks the words that the translators censor to reflect more of what an actual reader would put into the search bar. So there’s a lot of kind of finessing there.
James Blatch: Okay, brilliant. So these are one of the things which I mean, obviously there is efforts in startup but it’s not the same as sitting down and being that creative thing which you were worried about would, would be a problem, I think you accurately predicted would be a problem for you in your later stages of pregnancy and that’s worked well.
The other thing that you mentioned, I think it was audiobooks.
Were you busy on audio books anyway?
Emma Prince: Yeah. So kind of same thing with the German. I had already set up my team which, that part does take a lot of work and time finding, for the case of audio, who’s going to be your narrator. I hire out the proof listening so that I don’t have to spend that time doing that. I used to make my poor, long-suffering husband listen to the audiobooks and he was just like, “This is not for me. I’m not a fan of this.”
James Blatch: Rude.
Emma Prince: So I already had my team in place, same with German, I had already found my translator and proofer. And so what was so appealing to me, especially when I was taking this maternity leave, was that for me at that point, all I had to do is basically send emails, download files and send them to the proofer.
Or shoot an email to the translator and sign a contract or whatever. Which was much easier for me than doing the creative work. So having the team in place ahead, if you happen to know that you have a planned leave coming up is a good plan. Getting it to the point where it’s kind of automated and can kind of run itself.
James Blatch: Have audio books gone well for you? I think they do go quite well, in that niche, don’t they?
Emma Prince: They have gone really well. I love my narrator and he’s someone who I think because especially in romance that the experience of the book is intimate, for lack of a better word, readers get really attached to narrators and so my narrator-
James Blatch: He’s got a soft Scottish accent I’m going to assume.
Emma Prince: You bet he does.
James Blatch: How did I know?
Emma Prince: He does a soft English accent as well.
James Blatch: Most talented. Which one’s natural?
Emma Prince: He’s American actually.
James Blatch: Oh, is he?
Emma Prince: Yeah.
James Blatch: Wow. So does he do Scottish with an American accent?
Emma Prince: How would I know?
James Blatch: I’m going to buy one now and have a listen. I’ve got a long car journey to the Swiss Alps on Friday. I’ll be an expert by the end of it. I’ll do what your husband does and listen to your books.
Emma Prince: You can give him notes on his accent, too.
James Blatch: How old is your daughter now?
Emma Prince: So she is almost four months old. She’s three and a half, almost four months.
James Blatch: It’s a tremendously exciting busy time in life, upside down, turning time, those first few weeks. I can still remember the magic of it all. It was like an amazing new gadget from the electronic store to play with.
Emma Prince: But they don’t come with manuals, unfortunately.
James Blatch: They don’t come with manuals, which is really surprising. In fact, they come with fewer instructions and almost everything else you buy in your life, which is incredible.
Emma Prince: They shouldn’t send newbies like me home from the hospital with these babies. We don’t know what we’re doing.
James Blatch: I think we’re all the same. You put the baby down in that seat that you put in the car and you bring it to the house and you look at it and think, “What do we do? What do we do to it now?”
Anyway, I’m sure you’ve got over that bit. So the longer term for having children as well in a family unit, and it’s something that a lot of writers we talk a lot about is the new trend in writing is female writers retiring their husbands.
Is this something on your horizon was or has it happened?
Emma Prince: My husband was lucky enough to get a paid paternity leave through his company, which unfortunately is very rare here in America. So he was lucky enough to get six weeks paid off.
He took that, loved it when the six weeks was over, he went back to work and it was a pretty rough transition. He felt like he was missing out on things at home, felt like he was missing moments with our daughter and also had that feeling of like this, it’s hard to kind of reengage in work a day life when you feel like this life changing thing has happened to you.
Meanwhile, I was doing full time baby care and kind of going, “I don’t know about this, I don’t know if this is for me. I would really like to get back to work.”
So we talked a lot about it and realized we’re doing this all wrong. He’s going to work and not liking it. I’m at home and longing to be back at work. And so we looked at the numbers and talked about it and we realized that because of my income and because of even this very passive income that I had been making while not releasing books, we would be able to have him be a stay at home dad for the first year of her life, which was, we wrestled with it, struggle with the decision.
We actually were taking her to a doctor’s appointment to have her checked out, make sure everything was going all right before he put in his notice. And that very day he got laid off. So it ended up working out really well because he got severance and we got extended health care and things like that.
James Blatch: So he was about to hand his notice in?
Emma Prince: Like an hour before. He found out an hour before he’d been laid off.
James Blatch: I want your luck. A lot happens to the Princes.
Emma Prince: We were looking around going, what? Yeah, this is like major karmic, we don’t know what we did to deserve this.
It worked out so well because we had already gotten to the point where we were comfortable with the idea of him not making money and just working my income as our family income. So the plan right now is for him to do the stay at home dad gig for her first year.
I think at that point we’ll assess whether he wants to keep doing that. At some point she’s going to go off to school. But the good news for me is that I’m getting back into writing now after quite a while of not writing and it feels like we’ve made it through this leave time way smoother and better than even I could have hoped for.
So now it’s kind of like, all right, this whole stay-at-home dad lifestyle, this whole I can write fit in writing during the nap time and it’s been working out really well.
James Blatch: You say it’s gone smoother than you could have hoped for, but I think a lot of that was down to you thinking ahead and planning, which is really what your message is, I think, in this interview.
Don’t just let things happen to you when those life events, have some planning to do. Of course pregnancy can be a little bit more predictable than some of the other life events that we talked about, although sometimes it isn’t.
So it is good also I think to have that as you mentioned earlier, that planned idea in your mind that these other things, there’s some go-to things sitting there that you may have done some pre-work for that are going to be the ones you do when suddenly you’re time poor.
Emma Prince: I think it would be worth for any author to take a good look at their back list, consider where am I leaving money on the table? Where are there opportunities to make more passive income?
Especially with things like audio in German where there’s that upfront cost. You have to make wise financial decisions for the position you’re in. But I have really embraced this idea that this creative thing that I made, a book, is a product and it can actually be turned into many different forms, formats and different products that can make me money for potentially the rest of my life.
I think all authors, whether you’re planning on taking the leave or either unexpected thing happens or an unexpected thing comes up, it’s worth looking at your books through that business lens of, “How can I leverage this in a number of formats so that it can just sit there making you money?”
James Blatch: It does come back to that Dawson-esque point about treating it as a business.
Emma Prince: Yeah. During the creative time, during the writing, it can be your baby. There is that duality when you’re a self-publisher and you have to be able to switch back and forth between.
But once the book is out there, you have to not be so precious about it and be willing to look at it as a product that can be leveraged in multiple different ways.
James Blatch: Brilliant. On the side, I’ve been Googling kilts. I don’t know if there are English kilts. I said that, I blurted that out hoping it’d be the case. There’s definitely Irish kilts, the Gaelic thing. But I will carry on looking and send you a link when I find there’s a an Englishman in a kilt somewhere.
Emma Prince: Oh good, I’ll wait with baited breath for that.
James Blatch: I can only imagine. Emma, it’s been brilliant talking to you. Thank you so much for taking the time.
I’m full of admiration for what you do and how you’ve approached it as well. You’ve seemed to have got everything right and you talked a little bit like it was a bit of luck at the beginning, but actually good writing, good books, understanding the genre, all of that was, although you enjoyed it, all of that work went into the start you gave yourself.
And now when you’re in a more competitive environment, you seem to have that edge of very good business savvy head. Pregnancy or no pregnancy.
Emma Prince: Thank you. Thanks very much.
James Blatch: There you go, Emma Prince.
I should say congratulations to Emma for having her first child, it’s excellent news. No doubt we’ll see her at, hopefully, if we will get to travel later in the year, we’ll see her on the beach in Florida again for NINC.
Is this something you think about Mark, life does happen, you and I certainly that stage of life where our parents aren’t getting any younger and you know that there’s going to be moments where you suddenly have to deal with life stuff.
Is it something in the back of your mind, how to cope with that?
Mark Dawson: Not really. I kind of move on a day by day basis. I don’t really think about that kind of stuff too much apart from a good system of ads running to, say, send traffic to the first book in a series for example can continue to run by itself.
If you do it properly with the right amount of monitoring that can be self sustaining. So you could continue to get sales without needing to keep up that ferocious release pace that some authors choose to do to keep themselves earning.
You wouldn’t be downing tools completely if you had something like that happened to you provided you’ve got the backup system in place.
James Blatch: Yeah. But then you also make a lot of money and you’ve got a bit of, I’m sure you’ve put some away, so you’ve got a bit of a buffer there, which is good.
There are other people for whom they’ve made the transition from the nine to five and every month is a matter of making the mortgage and the food bills. So for them, this sort of planning, I mean basic planning has put some money away in those early months. So you’ve got some cushion.
Well that’s it for this episode. It’s slightly weird, isn’t it, that we’ve got a huge event in our lives on Monday, which hasn’t taken place but will have taken place by the time this episode goes out. So who knows?
Mark Dawson: It’s so busy at the moment. We’ve also got 10 authors in Salisbury for the weekend to have a little retreat. I am so busy today. This morning, I’ve been preparing for that. I have literally had half an hour to fit in this recording.
I’ve got an appointment at two. I’ve got an hour, which is packed with stuff between two and three. Then I’ve got to pick the kids up, take them to a stagecoach for my daughter to take my son home. And then I’ll be in the office again preparing more and then I’m seeing these guys for dinner tonight.
I’m doing the keynote on Monday and there is no more time. That will not be touched now between now and then because I just don’t have time to do it. So luckily it’s pretty much ready to go.
James Blatch: Yeah, you’ve given it before, haven’t you?
Mark Dawson: I have, it’s very, very similar.
I’ve got Damon Courtney standing by to play the, if anyone saw the Vegas speech, they’ll know there’s a part that needs to be played. And Damon performed that duty manfully last time and will be doing so again.
James Blatch: With aplomb.
Mark Dawson: He did, yes. He says he’s been warming the pipes up, so looking forward to that.
James Blatch: Okay. Try to think what that means. Okay. Excellent. Good. Well look, here’s to a good weekend with you and your retreat and stay healthy. No handshaking, definitely no man hugging.
Mark Dawson: I’m holding up some bubble gum, fun addition, cleansing hand gel. Really was the only one I could find in Salisbury so I may be shaking hands tonight, but I will immediately be disinfecting.
James Blatch: I didn’t know about last night. I went to a school meeting. Someone thrust their hand out at me. I said, “Uh-huh,” and he was a coroner as well. He should know better. I fist bumped him. He is the worst person to shake hands with as a coroner, thinking about it.
Mark Dawson: He would be, he would be quite badly. Yes.
James Blatch: So we did an elbow bump that seemed to work all right.
Mark Dawson: Yes.
James Blatch: Good. Okay. Look, there’s not too much more we can say about the virus because everything would change this time in a week. We’ll come back. Hopefully we’ll all be here and look forward to that. So that leaves me just today, at the very end of this, but it’s a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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