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I am currently co-writing a novel. It is written one chapter in Greek and one chapter in English. We are planning to translate the whole text in both languages, and when we are finished there will be two books in two languages: The one manuscript will be a translation of the other. There will be no exact original and no exact translation or "true" original source because the book has been written in both Greek and English from the start.

My co-author and I were wondering how that novel will be published in both languages by different publishers (a local and an international one). If anyone could give us any information, it would be really helpful. In particular, how will copyrights be handled? What other problems might this cause?

  • So it's not "one book in two languages" but "two books in two languages"? That is, you will have the same novel which will end up all in English and all in Greek when you're finished? – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Dec 15 '16 at 11:20
  • @LaurenIpsum Yes, when we are finished there will be two books in two languages, where the one will be a translation of the other, while not having an "true" original one, because it has been written in both languages, at the same time. It's a little confusing... – Cathy T. Dec 16 '16 at 10:43
  • Cathy, welcome to Writers and thanks for an interesting question. I've lightly edited your question, bringing in some text from your comment. Please feel free to revert or further edit if I've missed the point anywhere. – Neil Fein Dec 16 '16 at 18:46
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    @NeilFein Thank you very much! I think in the way you edited the question it will be easier for members to better understand it, therefore I am much obliged to you for your help. – Cathy T. Dec 20 '16 at 18:15
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When you sell a novel to a publisher, you sell them specific right to publish in certain languages and certain countries. Whatever rights you don't sell, you retain and can sell to someone else. Usually publishers want to buy all rights, and usually writers want to sell only limited rights, since they can make more money by selling the rights individually in different countries.

Unless the writer is very famous or has a very good agent, they probably lose this argument with the publisher and sell all rights. This means they get less money for what are called "secondary" rights -- translations and sales in other countries. So it matters where you sell the primary rights. A lot of Canadian authors, for instance, end up earning less money on their Canadian sales because their American publisher considers Canadian right to be secondary and takes their cut of the profits. So the calculation becomes, do I sell primary rights in Canada, where, as a Canadian I may sell more books, or do I sell primary rights in the US which is a market 10 times the size? You might have the same dilemma between Greek and English markets as primary and secondary. But you shouldn't take the above as gospel. It is based on hearsay and could be out of date. You should consult a good agent.

My guess is that the fact that you wrote half in English and half in Greek might be a point that the publicity department might want to use for promotional purposes, but otherwise isn't going to make any difference. The only exception might be that if the book becomes very famous, or becomes of academic interest, then at some point in the future the publisher might think about doing a dual language edition. Maybe a small Greek literary publisher might be interested in doing a dual language edition right off the bat, but that would appeal to a very small market. Then again, you can never quite tell when a novelty item, like a novel written in two languages, will appeal to the public's imagination, so who knows.

  • Thank you for all this information. We have no experience in publishing, so this made things a bit clearer than before. So, the first thing to consider would be getting good consultation and then the primary and secondary rights. Though, I have to admit that we feel a bit anxious, being inexperienced as writers, and trying to publish a dual-language novel written and translated by us. I guess time will tell. Once again, thank you very much, we are really grateful. – Cathy T. Dec 16 '16 at 11:05

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