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I've written my first novel in Spanish, my native language. The main character is Spanish and starts in Madrid, then goes to Zürich and ends up in the Alps.

I've tried to get it published with no success so far. Independently of the self-publishing idea, my "Plan B" is to translate it to English and try to find an US-based publisher.

I'm thinking a simple translation may not be enough if I want this to succeed in the American market; I'm thinking of making the character an American and starting the action in some city in the US, before moving the plot to Madrid. The main character's nationality doesn't affect the plot, and I can work a change in location between the inciting incident and the end of the first act without substantially altering the story.

Does this sound sensible? Is it obviously the right thing to do? Are there compelling arguments not to do it?

  • So you are self-publishing it in Spanish? – John Smithers Dec 6 '13 at 15:06
  • Not yet, but that's the plan if my current attempts end nowhere, as have the previous ones. – ggambett Dec 6 '13 at 15:08
  • I wouldn't spend a second thinking about translation when I haven't published it in my native tongue yet. What would be the point? – John Smithers Dec 6 '13 at 22:20
  • The point would be getting the interest of an english speaking agent or publisher. – ggambett Dec 6 '13 at 22:39
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    You can get that interest if you show that your novel works in Spanish (works = sells). – John Smithers Dec 6 '13 at 22:40
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I'm also Spanish and when I read a translated book, let's say Harry Potter (his nationality doesn't affect to the plot), I don't care if he's British or wherever.

If you wrote the story in the way you think is the best, I don't think you should change it; even more when you say it (the nationality) doesn't affect.

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As a reader I would tend to argue for direct translation: It gives a window into something I don't know.

As a writer I would argue for retelling: who wants to tell the exact same story again?

In either case I would make it clear which you did, so that speakers of both languages can decide If they want to read both.

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Firstly I really congratulate you for your achievement, as I was a writer since 8 year old but I did not write a novel yet.

My advice to you - if you allow me sir - is to try publish it as a short story. That could be in your local newspaper or on your blog or even on your Facebook notes. Then check if people likes it, tag the critics in your area or country as general, let them know that it is the shorter form of your recently written novel!

Keep the good work up, never give up. Write, Write, Write, and make - if you haven't yet- a blog and write regularly, post your blogs links on Facebook, let your friends share them. Enjoy the public love and someone of them will be your publisher, then do not sell yourself for cheap, get a good contract.

I know you will succeed, I can tell! Indeed you will! I wish I can read Spanish!

Oma from Sudan

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Americans may be ethnocentric, but not to the point where the reading public can't enjoy a book about someone from a different country! However, let's consider the opposite view. The movie High Fidelity successfully changed the British characters and setting to American ones. But that was because the American director, screenwriter and cast wanted to integrate it with their own experiences. In this case, I'm assuming you know Spain better than America, so your original version will probably be more authentic --unless you have lived in America for an extended period of time.

On the other hand, it's also often argued that the audience needs a character they can identify with, usually construed as straight, white, male, American and middle-class. When taken to its extreme, you get the phenomenon of "whitewashing", such as in the movie 21 where the true story of a group of Asian-American casino-breakers was dramatized with an almost all-white cast. This approach has been increasingly criticized in modern times, however, and the success of movies such as Moonlight or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon shows that it may say more about prejudices than actual marketability.

In sum, I would make this change only if it actually improves the book in some way. If part of the book's arc is that you take a very ordinary, unexceptional character, and place them in exotic circumstances, then I could see a good argument to change your character to match the origins of the probable readers. But even in this case, I would use caution. Unless you know America from the inside out, your character is likely to come across as inauthentic in ways that wouldn't be noticed by the Spanish audience, but that will stick out like a sore thumb to the American reader (or publisher).

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