Self-publishers, try your book in French 'aussi'

Ask almost any author and they will tell you it is tough to find an agent or a publisher these days, however good your book is.

29 January 2020
Author Clara Villanueva, pictured at a book show, has discovered how easy and cheap self-publishing can be
By Clara Villanueva

Most of us end up self-publishing, which is a grind but it does have its rewards – you get to keep more of the profits!

For me, keeping the cost down comes before all other considerations. When I publish my novels, I have to do it the cheapest way possible. I have worked in publishing so I know a few of the necessary skills but these can be learned.

The big problem with self-publishing – apart from the time it takes – is finding your market, and this is much harder if the lang-uage you work in is not the language spoken in the country you live in.

I write in Spanish but it is the same for English – there is a limited market within reach of me in Gascony.

I decided to do a French edition of my last book, an autobiographical novel about my upbringing in Franco’s Spain.

My French is pretty good and I did the first, time-consuming, draft myself. I am a translator and there is a golden rule that you only translate into your native tongue, otherwise you will inadvertently let through any number of howlers and produce a book that earns only derision.

One option would have been to pay someone to convert my so-so text into literary-level French but I couldn’t afford to do that.

Next best was to ask a friend to do it but you have to choose carefully because not everyone is capable of working to the high standard required.

I needed someone who was critical, unafraid to correct me as heavily as needed – you do not want someone who holds back out of politeness – and in tune with the subtleties and registers of Molière’s beautiful language.

I was lucky. A friend of mine, Marie-Paule Erades, was keen to help. She had all the right qualifications: she is an avid reader and, having been a schoolteacher for donkey’s years, knows her language inside out. She is  passionate about how French is used but in no way a pedant.

She offered to spend a couple of weeks going through the manuscript in the old-fashioned way, on paper with the proverbial red pen.

My beautifully neat print-out soon disappeared under swathes of red rewrites and annotations as she crossed out entire paragraphs and recast them for me.

Fortunately, she got a hoot out of my many literal but idiotic translations, so it wasn’t all hard work. On more than one occasion she phoned me in stitches, asking what the hell I meant with this sentence or the other.

I humbly took in her corrections and we started to have a version of the text that was looking like real French.

When it was done, I flowed it into a page-layout computer programme and got another friend to proofread it, before I sent it to the printers.

Even then, a few spelling mistakes got through but that is par for the course with self-publishing.

Sod’s law is that you proudly open your book hot off the press and find there is a glaring error that even a child would have spotted.

Then I had to choose a title that worked. The original in Spanish didn’t mean anything to the French.

After all this work, the pay-off was even better than I expected. First, my friends suddenly understood a lot more about me, about my background and my country.

Some of them have given me heartwarming feedback.

Secondly, I have been staggered by the amount of interest there was in the book from total strangers.

I’ve been invited to give readings in a local library and a bookshop, been interviewed on the radio, been shortlisted for a literary prize, and met some interesting people. None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t taken the risk of venturing into French.

Although, sadly, not enough to give up my day job, sales have been surprisingly good.

Rather than printing a load of copies at one time – expensive, and you have to have space to store the books – I use a print-on-demand service called Lightning Source.

This means I have low overheads and can do microscopic print runs of 20 or even 10 copies, covering my costs as I sell each batch.

Les cheveux de la gitane by Clara Villanueva (¿Y tú de quién eres? in Spanish) is about the author’s family life in Franco’s post-war Spain. 

As a child, she was caught in the middle of a battle between her Republican, anti-clerical father and her grandfather, who was a strict Catholic and supporter of Franco.

The story aims to heal, forgive and foster understanding of the “two Spains”.

Available at amazon.co.uk.

 

Clara’s self-publishing tips

There are companies that will help you self-publish, but the more you ask them to do, the more they will charge.

This is a guide to keeping the costs rock-bottom:

1. Once your manuscript is finished in a word processing programme, you need to do the layout of the book, ideally in a design programme such as InDesign or Publisher.  You will also need to choose your printer – I use Lightning Source: lightningsource.com – and make sure your book conforms to its size specifications.

2. The printer will provide you with a template for your cover that you can download and help you calculate the width of the spine, according to the number of pages and weight of the paper.  There are plenty of design ideas on the internet. I suggest you keep it simple and use only standard fonts.

3. Next thing is to get an ISBN number (International Standard Book Number). If you live in France, you get this from AFNIL (afnil.org). It will cost you about €25.

4. Format your ISBN with a barcode using a free ISBN converter, easily found online. Put the barcode on the back cover of your book.

5. When both your content and your cover are finished, you need to convert them into a PDF file, following the requirements of the printer. Pay the printing fee and upload your two documents. You may be asked if you want to print a proof copy to check. If I am confident of my design, I don’t do this because it adds to the origination cost. When your documents are approved by the printer, place an order for one or more copies.

6. For a fee, you can make your book available on Amazon. I pay about €10 a year for this, although almost all my sales are in person rather than online.

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