Saturday, June 10, 2017

Why ? Why? Why few English language books on foreign royals

In 1983, I started RBN Royal Book News, a bi-monthly newsletter, where I reviewed English and non-English books on royalty.  I published the newsletter until about a decade ago, due to the rising international postage.    This blog is the newsletter's successor - where I can reach even more readers without having to raise postage.

[RBN was never a money spinner, never made a profit, but I didn't do the newsletter to pay the rent.]

In the last 34 years, I have written numerous times about the dearth of non-British royal books published in English.  There are several reasons for this.

The first reason is no market.  Let me repeat this, as sad as it sounds to those of us who are interested in royalty, the Anglo-market is largely  non-existent.    Anglo-American publishers are not going to invest money in a book about Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden or King Felipe V of Spain because the books won't make money.  Sad.  But true.

The second reason is translation costs.  Yes, there are books in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg (lovely books published in Luxembourg), Spain, Liechtenstein (okay, few books available on the princely family), Monaco (many books in English on Princess Grace and her family), the Netherlands (Wilhelmina's memoirs were translated into English), as well as the non-European monarchies.

Translations are expensive.  Publishers hire professional translators, and the cost for these services are  expensive.   A good translator is well worth the price.   The cost for the translation is built into the cost of publishing the book.     A publisher has to recoup the publishing costs.  This means the book has to make money. Royal books rarely make the best sellers list.

The text for the annual Swedish royal year book, Det Kungliga aret, is in Swedish and English.

http://www.kungligaaret.se/


A scholarly biography is more likely to be translated in English.  John Rohl's massive three-volumed biography of Kaiser Wilhelm II was translated into English by Cambridge University Press.  However, this is a seminal and masterful achievement, and not a book about what Crown Princess Mary of Denmark wears.

[A review from last year, which includes my frequent lament about lack of translations .http://royalbooknews.blogspot.com/2016/06/wilhelm-ii-und-seine-geswischer-by.html ]


A third reason is source material.  If you are writing an authoritative, well-researched book on the Spanish royal family, you need to speak Spanish and be able to access those sources.    John van der Kiste writes competent and interesting books on non-British royals, but admits he is hampered in his research because he is limited to English-language sources.

This has been a major problem for most Anglo-American royal biographers who have written about non-British royals.  If you do not read Danish, you cannot write about the Danes because you cannot access primary or even secondary sources,

The publisher of the Dutch royalty magazine, Vorsten, made an attempt to break into the Anglo market with The Crown, a quarterly journal that included Vorsten articles translated into English.  Unfortunately, the magazine ceased publication after two issues.


http://royalbooknews.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-crown-new-royal-magazine.html

Money is the fourth reason.   Most published authors do not make a lot of money.  Bestsellers of course make money for authors and publishers.  Authors need literary agents who negotiate a decent contract with a publisher - who then sells foreign rights, which means more money for a writer.

A writer who does not have an agent will make less money. However,  literary agents charge fees, which are paid by the author out of the author's advance and royalties.

http://writersrelief.com/blog/2014/02/standard-commission-practices-payments-literary-agents/

A good publisher might give the writer an advance on royalties.   A writer won't get further payments from the publisher if the publisher does not make money on the book.  Royalties are paid only after the publishing company has earned back the money paid to the writer.  Only after this will royalties be paid.

From The Business of  Publishing: "Typically, an author can expect to receive the following royalties: Hardback edition: 10% of the retail price on the first 5,000 copies; 12.5% for the next 5,000 copies sold, then 15% for all further copies sold. Paperback: 8% of retail price on the first 150,000 copies sold, then 10% thereafter."

This statement usually applies to the larger houses.  A smaller house will probably pay less.

A book on Crown Princess Victoria in English is unlikely to sell 5000 copies, which means a publisher is unlikely to sign a contract to publish the book.  Why?  No profit.

Of course, a writer could go the vanity press (self-publishing) route.   Numerous caveats here.  No one checks a manuscript for veracity.  The owners of vanity presses will pay authors even less than the legitimate publishing house.

The  number of English-language British royal books being published has gone down in the past several years.  Books about William and Catherine do not sell .. and we do not need more books on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.    Far fewer scholarly royal biographies are being published, certainly on  post Georgian royals.  The Tudors remain popular, both for biographies and historical fiction.  

I would love to see a new biography on Queen Alexandra, the consort of Edward VII.   The most recent biography was written by Georgina Battiscombe and published in 1969.  There is unlikely to be another.  Why?   Queen Alexandra did not leave a paper trail.  She destroyed her correspondence and other papers.

And the final reason:  living royals are works in progress so difficult to write competent and authoritative books about them,  It is easy to write books that do not have footnotes and a lot of photographs, but these books are largely fluff and cannot be taken seriously.

I have been reviewing and writing about royal books for more than 35 years -- and I am a published author and I write about royal for several magazines  -- so I feel competent to make these comments.

It also should be noted that most books on the British royals, past and present, have not been translated in other languages.

In conclusion,  a royal watcher might say that  I would love to read a book in English about Crown Princess Mette Marit    Publishers need thousands of these readers.  

I love reading and writing about royalty, and I admit my standards are high.  I do not care who designed the Duchess of Cambridge's shoes or that Crown Princess Victoria wore the same jacket to three different events.  That is not royal writing.

A writer who specializes in royalty needs to know history, access sources (called research), and should be able parse and disseminate the role of the royal within the context of social, familial and political events.   If you want to write about a  non-British royal with authority,  you need to be able to read foreign languages.   I cannot write a good article about Crown Princess Victoria's life because I do not understand Swedish,

In conclusion, don't expect to see British or American publishers seeking  out writers to produce books on living non-British royals.




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