In October 2015, I published an article on the rise of Fiberead as an option for authors interested in translating, publishing and promoting their titles as digital books in China. The article was the first in a three-part series on opportunities for independent authors to establish a presence in the Chinese Market. The other two articles of the series were a general introduction to the Chinese Market and an investigation of crucial translation issues.
I would like to stress here that Fiberead is a direct competitor to my own Chinese digital and print book publishing business eBook Dynasty. Despite the fact that my report on Fiberead as a publishing choice for independent authors may have caused me to lose a bit of business - and despite the fact that I have doubts about the quality of translation Fiberead's numerous amateur and/or voluntary translators can produce - I stand by my recommendation. As much as I believe that professional writing deserves to be professionally translated, I do understand that some authors would prefer paying very little or absolutely nothing to get things done.
So, without sounding like a sour grape, I would like to bring to your attention, some of the issues my fellow authors, translators and publishers have mentioned about Fiberead throughout the past twelve months:
Issues of Translation
My fellow blogger "chinafencesitter" pointed out in June 2016 that "Fiberead's upfront unpaid work, which recruits translators from the Internet, is best suited for newbies looking to build a resume". To this, I replied: "I absolutely agree with you that professional translators should be rewarded with a formal contract and payment upfront, and they need much support from authors, publishes and readers to maintain their professional conduct and work standards, not to mention their genuine and continuous passion for producing great literary works." (Please refer to the comments to my article on Fiberead in October 2015.)
All translators, emerging and established, seek to improve themselves, and this can only be achieved when they continue to work hard and embrace a wide range of literary subjects and styles. While both professional and amateur translators are passionate about literature, it is the former's experience and determination to maintain high literary standards that is lacking in the latter.
No author would subject their books to "practice runs" by amateur translators who may or may not continue to pursue translation as a professional career. A survey of Fiberead's calls for voluntary translators on Weibo shows that inexperienced translators tend to choose literary subjects and styles that are easy to translate. As a result, non-fiction titles of a complex nature (i.e. research-based) and those genres outside of the Chinese popular realm - such as hard sci-fi, epic fantasy, horror, high-tech thriller, historical fiction, etc - generally have difficulty in finding enthusiastic translators. Worse, as authors rush to submit their old and new books for translation - there's nothing to lose, right? - hundreds of titles are waiting to be translated, with some of them having waited for more than two years by now. Even in a populous country such as China, you can only have so many amateur translators who are willing to do free but difficult work for titles they may not even like.
A common argument among those authors favouring Fiberead is that even amateur translators would strive to provide the best translation they can, because it is to their own monetary benefits if a book can sell well. However, considering the fact that for a team of four amateur translators engaged by Fiberead to work on a title, each of them will only receive 0.25 x 30% x 70% of the proceeds from the sales of that title, you can understand why they don't really care that much about quality.
For example, for one copy of a translated title that is priced at 1 US dollar (approximately 6.74 Chinese yuan) as a Chinese ebook - which is rather expensive in China - each of a team's four amateur translators receives only 0.0525 US dollar (approximately 0.3539 Chinese yuan). Considering the fact that a Big Mac costs 18.80 Chinese yuan or 2.79 US dollars in China in 2016 (it costs 5.04 US dollars in the United States), doing their best in translation does not really help to get Chinese amateur translators rich.
More importantly, while both professional and amateur translators can be doing their best, there is fundamental difference between the quality standards they can achieve and maintain. Take, for example, this article "The subtle art of translating foreign fiction" by British author Rachel Cooke (@msrachelcooke), published by The Guardian on July 4, 2016, in which two translations of the opening sentence of Bonjour Tristesse (1954) by renowned French author Francoise Sagan are provided:
- Quality translation: "A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sadness."
- Alternative: "This strange new feeling of mine, obsessing me by its sweet languor, is such that I am reluctant to dignify it with the fine, solemn name of 'sadness'."
Can you spot the difference in quality? I hope you can, because it takes a writer to translate another writer accurately, fluently and gracefully. If you consider your writing to be of quality, then you will surely demand that it be translated by a quality translator. Don't say you've got nothing to lose!
Issues of Services
Throughout the past year, I have heard various complaints from authors (including Italian indie author Marco Asteggiano [@marcoasteggiano]) that there is no way to contact Fiberead, apart from signing a contract and submitting your book upfront. There is no way to inquire about anything, as Fiberead's staff do not answer any email or messages sent via their contact form. You can either agree to the terms of the contract they offer or nothing.
Even after you have taken up Fiberead's free service - there is nothing to lose, right? - you continue to wait and see if their voluntary translators will contact you with questions. Most of the time they don't, as a team of up to four amateur translators can often find a way to interpret your writing one way or another. If they get it wrong, then some Chinese reader out there may be bothered to point out their mistakes in the months or years to come, as demonstrated by Fiberead's posts on Weibo. But you have no way of knowing this. In fact, as the author, all you need is to receive 30% of 70% of the proceeds from the sales of your title as a Chinese book.
In other words, 30% of the proceeds from the sales of your title as a Chinese book goes to Fiberead's associated distributors. Of the remaining 70%, you as the author receive 30%, Fiberead gets 40%, and the team of up to four translators get 30%. So, assuming a copy of your translated title as a Chinese ebook is priced at 1 US dollar - remember, this is considered expensive in China - you will receive 1 US dollar x 0.7 x 0.3 = 0.21 US dollar from the proceeds. If you are lucky to have sold 5,000 copies as a "bestseller", then you will receive 0.21 US dollars x 5,000 copies = US$1,050 dollars. This is before the Chinese authorities withhold their tax and all sorts of middle banks take their fees out of Fiberead's payment to you.
And, finally, while commenting on my article "Self-publishing and Translation in China" on the website of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), author Keith Dixon revealed the communication between him and Fiberead's team of voluntary translators was "minimal". Furthermore, "I've asked for an electronic copy of the book for my own interest and have not even had a reply to that request," he said. I have responded to Keith regarding Fiberead's treatment of his book on ALLi's website. A detailed analysis on Fiberead's translation of Keith's book Actress (2013) is provided here.
A close examination of the terms of the contract provided by Fiberead upfront is absolutely necessary, as in the case of any contract any author may encounter. The problem is that Fiberead's contract is not negotiable. Neither can authors make any inquiry about any part of it. Still, giving the considerable number of titles Fiberead receives every month, either these authors are very happy with the contract or they did not read the details carefully.
In an article titled "Does Amazon love authors?", published on July 6, 2015 by ALLi, Irish author Orna Ross and founder-director of ALLi advises that authors should “avoid exclusivity with any one retailer and to make your books available in as many formats as possible on as many platforms as possible”. This advice is the one against which all authors interested in engaging Fiberead’s free service should check its contract. For example:
- Does the contract restrict your use of Fiberead's translation of your book for your own promotional and sales purposes within and outside of China? (i.e. I have heard from Read Out Loud Publishing LLP, a Partner Member of ALLi, that Fiberead does not allow its translation to be used outside of China.)
- Does the contract allow you to check, demand, review and evaluate the quality of Fiberead's translation?
- Does the contract specify the ownership of the translation and the numerous ways of using it, such as the production of a print copy and adaptation into film, TV series, theatrical performance and audio book?
- Does the contact specify what sorts of intellectual property and moral rights that you as an author would be granting Fiberead, such as how your photo and biography will be edited and displayed?
- Does the contract provide detailed explanation on how parts or all of its terms can be modified, terminated and/or renewed and how you can register your grievances or complaints about Fiberead's services?
Ultimately it is up to you - as an author, you have every right to decide what's best for your book, and if that can be achieved without you having to pay any money, then that would be that.
As an author, translator and publisher of Chinese digital and print books myself, my advice is to give your book what it deserves. You have done the hard work and your literary voice deserves to be heard in its best quality, and that applies to the translation of your voice as well. If you want to explore a new market, in this case the Chinese Market, then be sure you give it your best shot. I hereby wish you all the success.