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Old 05-23-2012, 12:21 AM   #1
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Localisation for ebooks

I am not sure if "localisation" is the term used in the publishing industry, but in software we use localisation to talk about adapting a program to different regions. From simple things like dealing with American vs European date formats, to complex issues like translation of all text to another language and even adapting to entirely new calendars.

In the past I've seen a lot about books being adapted to the American market. An obvious example was "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" becoming "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" - and quite a few minor text changes. I've also read of comments to the effect that in America a book cover must have a person on the front. (I can't remember ever reading that an American book was adapted to the UK or Australian market - does that happen?)

Anyway, the point is, is this something the writers here ever consider?

My current work is being written using an Australian dictionary on the spell-checker, and uses mostly UK spelling with a few local idioms. Am I likely to have to localise this to US spelling to find acceptance in an American market?

And similarly when considering covers for these books. Currently I have some fairly basic ideas - but there are no people on these images. Is that a mistake?

With ebooks the issue of localisation appears to be changing. Is it disappearing? What should writers be doing to adapt with this change?
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Old 05-23-2012, 12:28 AM   #2
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I'm not a writer, just a reader, but speaking for myself I hate it when a book is altered to fit the 'market' (like the Potter books). I prefer my books to have the spellings and idioms you mention left alone.
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Old 05-23-2012, 04:59 AM   #3
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I'm not a writer, just a reader, but speaking for myself I hate it when a book is altered to fit the 'market' (like the Potter books). I prefer my books to have the spellings and idioms you mention left alone.
I've often felt that such adaptation was belittling of the audience, it implies "dumbing down" so they can understand. But if it does help to sell books, it is difficult to argue against it.

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(I can't remember ever reading that an American book was adapted to the UK or Australian market - does that happen?)
I just realised I can answer my own question on this point at least. I can see two books on my shelf that have been adapted for the UK/Aust audience: "Honor" to "Honour" in the titles. In one of them, a 2010 publication, it appears that the title was the only /change; in the other, a 1985 pub', a quick flick suggests they may have updated the text as well.

ETA: The fact that I couldn't remember suggests to me that such changes are not all that important to the reader's enjoyment.

Last edited by gmw; 05-23-2012 at 05:01 AM.
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Old 05-23-2012, 09:30 AM   #4
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A book should be localised for where it's set. If you have British characters, don't have them using American English - and vice versa, of course. I recently read a Sherlock Holmes story written by an American author, and it was just WRONG to hear Holmes and Watson use American words like "sidewalk" and "block" when talking about London.
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Old 05-23-2012, 11:08 AM   #5
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I think changes are sometimes necessary when a British word or phrase has quite a different meaning in America: eg "fanny", "knocked up", even "creek". And there is often some degree of bowdlerising of British books for the US market, the most visible being the change of the Agatha Christie title "Ten Little Niggers" to "And Then There Were None", very understandable but which unfortunately gave away part of the plot; and which was later changed yet again to "Ten Little Indians". I have, as objects of mild curiosity, paperbacks with all three titles.

Other changes notable in Christie books are that a lot of Poirot's Gallicisms are either omitted entirely or rendered into English for the US market, leaving just a few simple French interjections.

I notice by the way that the automatic spell check on this Forum objects to my spelling the British way, wanting a "z" in bowdlerising, for example. I can possibly switch it off, but has its uses.
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Old 05-23-2012, 12:29 PM   #6
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I've often felt that such adaptation was belittling of the audience, it implies "dumbing down" so they can understand.
This.

And what HarryT said, if your characters are Australian, don't make them speak American English, or use UK slang. Localize characters to where they are from, and the book to where it takes place, and assume that your readers are smart enough to be able to follow the plot anyway. Glaring exceptions would be words that mean one thing in one country and a different thing in another, but only because there is a risk of confusing the meaning.
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Old 05-23-2012, 03:42 PM   #7
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This is one of those grey areas where the line shifts depending on the market trends, the audience, and the publisher. There is no definitive right answer, IMO.
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Old 05-24-2012, 01:12 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by gmw View Post
(I can't remember ever reading that an American book was adapted to the UK or Australian market - does that happen?)
It used to, but it's not something I've seen for a long time now. I got quite a shock the first time I read an untranslated American book, but it's something I'm used to now.
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Old 05-27-2012, 05:14 AM   #9
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Here's something I've only just hit ... or only just recognised (it maybe time I looked back through some of my earlier work): Measurements.

I just found a page of my writing where I describe something as being "hundreds of feet high", and then later describe something as "five metres wide". That inconsistency bothers me, though it is perfectly understandable - to me.

Ostensibly Australia uses metric, so it would seem that I should probably replace "hundreds of feet" with "eighty metres or more" (or something like that) - even though it doesn't read as well. I can't just say "many metres", because 10 would be "many", and it's higher than that. My problem, which I suspect I share with others of a similar age, is that I are tend to be partly bilingual in terms of measurements (without necessarily being fluent in either), so such mixing of terminology comes fairly naturally - I just use the mode that best suits the occasion.

I remember my father once saying (while we were standing on top of a granite outcropping overlooking a huge flat plain) that he could see for miles and miles, but was ######ed if he could see for kilometres and kilometres.

The problem I face in my writing is that if I convert to metres (aside from not reading as neatly), I might alienate older generations from the work and possibly Americans.

"Metres" vs "meters" is okay, I think most people generally convert American vs UK spelling in their heads without noticing, especially these days of the Internet. And "five metres" seems okay, translating that to "five yards" doesn't interrupt your reading very much. But "eighty metres" feels (to me) like a different problem, especially when used in a deliberately vague phrase like "eighty metres or more", whereas "hundreds of feet" gives the imprecise feeling for the description that I was looking for.

So what do you think? Is it okay to mix feet and metres in the same text? Does this apply to other measurements as well? Could such measurements be one reason to seriously consider localisation even for self-published ebooks?
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Old 05-27-2012, 07:18 AM   #10
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So what do you think? Is it okay to mix feet and metres in the same text? Does this apply to other measurements as well? Could such measurements be one reason to seriously consider localisation even for self-published ebooks?
Yes, IF it is right for your characters. If you were writing about an American family, then I would expect the Americans to use feet/inches. Out side of the scientific community no one uses metric in ever day life.

Do Australians switch between the two in daily life? Do your characters? Does your target audience? If so then yes, else probably not.

You could always do "well over 80 meters" or drop the measurement completely and say something like "towering over most houses and buildings."
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Old 05-27-2012, 08:35 AM   #11
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[...]Do Australians switch between the two in daily life? Do your characters? Does your target audience? If so then yes, else probably not.

You could always do "well over 80 meters" or drop the measurement completely and say something like "towering over most houses and buildings."
Certainly avoiding the problem is my first choice, but that's not always practical.

My main protagonist is an adult, but he's still much younger than I am, and so I wonder if his education might be such that metres feel more natural to him than they do to me. I was in school during the change-over, rulers had both measurements on them ... and many tape-measures at least (it's a long time since I bought a school 1' ruler) still do today. I grew up in a world where both systems were in use and I find it difficult to gauge how it is for others now that metric is more firmly established. Use of terms can also vary with trade: in school we were encouraged to use centimetres (as the closest thing to inches) but I notice many trademen talking in "mils" (millimetres) - even for quite large measurements ("2300 mils" instead of "2.3 metres"). Time to go looking for friends of the right age group and upbringing .

I suspect that, if nothing else, the American influence here is strong enough that most people remain familiar with terms like feet, and miles and so on. More particularly, I wonder how American audiences find reading books that use metres and litres and so on. How much does that distract from your reading?

Last edited by gmw; 05-27-2012 at 08:41 AM.
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Old 05-27-2012, 08:59 AM   #12
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I suspect that, if nothing else, the American influence here is strong enough that most people remain familiar with terms like feet, and miles and so on. More particularly, I wonder how American audiences find reading books that use metres and litres and so on. How much does that distract from your reading?
I think these days most Americans are used to 2 systems existing, but only think in feet/inches. My son is in 3rd grade and they are still teaching feet/inches/etc as the primary measurement... but for some reason we buy our soda in liters! Milk, juice, etc is in gallons/quarts... but not soda. It is the only exception I can think of.

I am a scifi author so I use metric system in my books, and most scifi seems to use metric. So genre of your writing is a bit of a factor. I would suggest avoiding a mix though as many readers will think it was a mistake.

100 feet = roughly 33.33 meters so you could say "many tens of meters"?
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Old 05-27-2012, 10:18 AM   #13
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I think these days most Americans are used to 2 systems existing, but only think in feet/inches. My son is in 3rd grade and they are still teaching feet/inches/etc as the primary measurement... but for some reason we buy our soda in liters! Milk, juice, etc is in gallons/quarts... but not soda. It is the only exception I can think of.

I am a scifi author so I use metric system in my books, and most scifi seems to use metric. So genre of your writing is a bit of a factor. I would suggest avoiding a mix though as many readers will think it was a mistake.

100 feet = roughly 33.33 meters so you could say "many tens of meters"?
I just had a thought, how about: "four score metres or more"?

I find both the soda bottles and your scifi comments very interesting. The fact that scifi uses metric (not something I'd particularly noticed as distinction before, I don't read that much of it these days) suggests that at least the American audience is not going to be totally lost by its use (or not all of them), which is reassuring.

And you're right about the genre being an issue. I agree generally with HarryT's comment about a book being written for where it is set. But there is a distinction between using the language of the specific characters, when the character is speaking, and the language of the story itself. When a story spans the globe it seems arguable that the external language (the omniscient story-teller, or the narrator as applicable) should normally be consistent throughout. Also, most scifi and fantasy is about the story or idea rather than the setting, this doesn't always give the author carte blanche, but it does change the emphasis considerably.

I'm writing a contemporary fantasy story. Being contemporary it should, I guess, be written for where it's set - except in this case it (eventually) spans the globe, so I revert to my idea that the telling should be consistent wherever I happen to be at the moment. But not all the characters are exactly human or of this period, and so things can get a bit mixed. While it is possible to set about creating custom measurement systems for the non-human characters that adds an additional layer of complexity that adds little to the story (at least not in this case), and so I believe it is best avoided, which leaves finding something that will be acceptable to my audience. But even that is not simple: under traditional publishing my first audience would have been Australian, but with ebooks and possible self-publishing it may well be that my (hoped for) audience could be American or UK or anywhere.

(I think I'm just obsessing over this to distract myself from the difficulties of moving forward in my story. )
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Old 05-27-2012, 10:39 AM   #14
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... it should, I guess, be written for where it's set - except in this case it (eventually) spans the globe...
No, I do not agree... at least not completely. It should be written from where the CHARACTERS come from. So if it is an American who travels to Europe.. he/she will think in feet/inches... and do conversions. It does not matter where the story ends up, it matters what the characters would say/do.

As an American I might walk in to a bar in Europe and ask "How far to the nearest hotel?" and they might say, "Around 5k" and in my head I would think "That is about 3.1 miles."

The setting might be global, but the characters are finite.

When I read/write fantasy, I use/see "fantasy" units like " a day's ride." So I really do think genre matters a bit.

In your case, I would probably stick with meters.
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Old 05-27-2012, 10:47 AM   #15
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Not as a writer, but as reader:

I would prefer to have atleast temperatures and maybe some of weights to have atleast editorial conversion. As living in purely metric system there is almost no connections with imperial system. As such it's quite hard to do some of these conversions in head, specialy temperature, feet+inch and things like stones.
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