In China, it’s much harder to get a book published than in America. Books are heavily censored and publishing is controlled by the government. You essentially need to partner with an approved publishing house to get your book published, but most small-time foreign authors are ignored by publishers. You may ask, “why bother?” Well, the market in China is quite large and the numbers show readers are hungry for foreign books. There is potential to make a good amount of money there.
If you’re an independent writer, you may have heard of Fiberead, a company that launched in 2011 with the goal of helping authors self-publish foreign language versions of their works. I discovered them in 2015. At that time, they advertised a full translation and e-book of your manuscript with potential to have it become a paperback if it sold well. In exchange for no upfront payment, you would share the royalties with the translators. Essentially, you would get 30% of every copy sold.
As an independent author, I’m constantly warned not to use vanity publishers where you pay upfront for publishing and to maintain as much control over the rights of my books as possible. I knew with Fiberead that I would have to give up some rights to make publishing happen, but I felt it would be a good option for my first book. After all, I would not be publishing in China otherwise. I had neither the knowledge nor power to do so. That’s why I decided to give Fiberead a try. This is my experience with them.
Fiberead has a pool of “qualified” translators. It’s not entirely clear if these are people who translate full-time or are doing this as a side job. However, Fiberead vets them to make sure they’ll do a good job. I know this is throwing up alarm bells for some people reading this, but here comes my argument – like most business situations where one person is due to make repeat money off of their work, they’re going to do the best they can. Otherwise, they won’t make much money. When you work with Fiberead, you have to trust that translators will put forth all their efforts to make it a great translation that people will want to read so everyone will make money.
Before you can start the translation process, you have to pitch the book to get interested translators. Your book is assigned a project manager who helps assemble the team. Translators apply and a few are chosen to work on the book. I had 10-11 apply and 4 (including the project manager) ended up working on it. I submitted my book prior to their dashboard overhaul, but afterwards was able to see the levels of the translators. Each are assigned a level of Average, Good, and Excellent. I imagine that anyone lower isn’t allowed to translate.
Pitching was very easy. However, when I filled out my profile, it wasn’t made clear that this was the info they would put on Amazon and other websites. I thought it was more of me introducing myself to the translators, so it wasn’t exactly how I wanted to present myself to readers and it was hard to get changed later on. But the whole process was straightforward.
Within 2 weeks, I had a project team and they started the process. That was in March 2015. It was predicted to take about 3-4 months to translate my book due to the length. It then would be edited and proofread before being published with a Chinese cover.
My translators were fun to work with and even caught a couple of typos I and my editor had missed. However, during the editing/proofreading stage, things got weird. We lost a member of our team. Tasks were being claimed and then dropped. Communication became sparse. Then, one of the team members stepped up and did a lot of work to get the project caught up.
I was so excited when the project manager finally asked for my base cover image to add the title, description, and author in Chinese. My e-book was posted for sale in October 2015. It was put on 4 of the most popular book sites in China and that later became 5. Like I said before, I wasn’t thrilled with my profile and picture, because I had not realized that the one from my dashboard would be used. However, the cover looked great, and I eagerly waited to see what Fiberead would do for marketing.
When my translation was being completed, I enjoyed watching Fiberead’s social media accounts. They would post announcements of newly published authors, as well as sales rankings. By the time my book was published, they had abandoned their American accounts. They still upheld, from what I could see, their account on Sina Weibo.
I waited for my Marketing dashboard page to update with info on the free sample they would share on Weibo and Wechat. It never updated, and I never saw anything on Weibo. There’s a 60 day delay on sales info, because it has to be transferred manually to the dashboard. So for 60 days, I had no idea if any sort of promotion was happening in China. I just assumed some effort would be made because it appeared from past activity with other authors that some launch efforts were made. So, I monitored the product pages for reviews/ratings and kept checking my dashboard for new activity.
When my sales info was finally updated, I was very disappointed. Sales were poor. I mean, abysmal. So, I reached out to the team and Fiberead and asked what I could do/what we could do to market the book. Fiberead said they wouldn’t do any sort of paid promotion unless the book did well on its own (Say, what? This is a completely new market. No one has heard of me.), but that I should encourage my translators to drum up reviews (Isn’t that against Amazon TOS? Maybe, not in China?). So, I did the only thing I knew to do, and I created an account on Sina Weibo and started social media advertising. This was really hard, because Google Translate only goes so far. Then, I got cut off from my account and couldn’t retrieve my password.
Marketing was dead in the water.
One month ago, I got an email out of the blue from Fiberead telling me that my book was in round 3 of being approved to become a paperback and they needed my photo. I’m going to be completely transparent right now. These are the thoughts that ran through my head:
“But you said you only got a paperback if the e-book sold well. I’ve made a total of $5 in 2 years. This makes no sense!”
Still, I thought that I may have missed something. So, I sent back my photo and asked for clarification. No response. After posting on the author forum, I got a very vague response (2 weeks later). I asked a more specific question. It’s now been 2 weeks and, again, no response. That makes a whole month since I found out that my book was in the paperback process, and I’ve had no update and it has not appeared on the sales sites.
If my book is indeed getting published as a paperback in China, either Fiberead is running out of well-performing books or I’m a superstar in the Chinese market and they aren’t being totally honest about royalties.
If you are an author considering using Fiberead as a translation and publishing service, only do so if you have no other way to get published in China and have no expectations on sales. Oh, and don’t expect anyone to have good communication skills, either. You may get blown away by the service and dedication of your project team, but my experience wasn’t all that great, and I’m seeing authors in the private Fiberead forum having the same issues as me. Proceed with caution.
I’ll update this post if I ever hear back about my paperback.