Posted: Monday, 15 November 2020
November 2020: We finally got my book "Startup" published in Chinese. I can normally publish a book in Amazon in a few days; it took 23 months to publish in Chinese. Here is how we did this.
The Book in English, French, Spanish, Korean, and Audio
Before we start, here’s what I know about publishing books:
- I have quite a bit of experience in writing, layout, printing, and publishing. From 1992 to 2002, I was the head of technical publications at several large Silicon Valley companies, where I led teams of technical writers to write and print computer manuals. I managed print runs of fifty-thousand to one-hundred-thousand books on Heidelberg lithographic offset printing press, which are printing presses the size of locomotives. That required months of close coordination with highly-skilled people because a print run of 50,000 copies at two dollars per book was a $100,000 project, which left zero room for mistakes. (See what it was like to print books with offset printing.)
- I also wrote over a hundred computer manuals for software and hardware. I’ve written eighteen books on SEO and digital marketing. Five were written for publishers, including McGraw-Hill. I’ve published the rest via Amazon. I’ve done this so many times that I can write a book in 30-40 days and do the layout and upload to Amazon in less than four hours.
- I’ve also produced books in other languages. I managed localization at computer companies where the software and computer manuals were produced in up to six languages, including Chinese and Japanese. Many of my own books are in German, Danish, French, Spanish, Finnish, and other languages. I translated and published the Startup book to English, French, Spanish, Korean, and as an audio book.
- I can read a bunch of languages. I proofread my books in German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Danish. I also proofread (proof-listened?) the audio book.
- After writing and printing so many books, I wrote How to Write a Book.
This isn't my first book in Chinese. I wrote a book on SEO that published by McGraw-Hill in 2009 in the US. They have relations with Tsinghua University Press in Beijing so the book was translated and published in simplified Chinese in 2010. A year later, McGraw-Hill Taiwan published the book in traditional Chinese. In both cases, McGraw-Hill took care of the process. I went to Beijing to meet the publisher and team at Tsinghua University, which is the MIT of China.
Publishing My Startup Book in Chinese
Publishing the startup book in Chinese was a challenge. It took nearly two years. Here’s the calendar:
- December 2018: At lunch with J. N. Lin, a Chinese investor, we talked about translating the book to Chinese. He introduced me to Frank Wei, who is the head of MTS.cn, one of the largest translations company in China, which also publishes books in China. Frank is one of the co-founders of the national certification exam for Chinese translators and has many years of experience in translations and publishing.
- January 2019: I send the files in Microsoft Word in English to China. The project was assigned to a team and they started. Every few days, they sent queries to ask about words, phrases, and so on. This went smoothly.
- May 2019: The publisher bought the license for printing a book in China. All books in China must have a license. The license cost about 40,000 RMB (about US$5,000 to 7,000 depending on the publisher and the demand).
- June 2019: The publisher asked if I could write a few more sections. Just as Westerners don’t know much about Shenzhen, Chinese don’t know much about Silicon Valley, so I wrote new sections, such as, “Why is Silicon Valley in Silicon Valley?” (namely, why did Silicon Valley happen in Palo Alto, a small town in California, but not in New York, Paris, Berlin, or Shanghai? That’s was a very good question and the answer shows the differences between Palo Alto, a new city, and the old large cities.). I also added more sections on what it was like to live and work in Silicon Valley to show that it was a community of people. Helen and I drove around one sunny Saturday morning and took photos of many Silicon Valley landmarks, including the garage where Google started, venture capital offices, a great Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto, and so on. I edited the photos and converted them to line drawings which looked better in black-and-white print. I added the new material to the book, including photos and captions, and sent it to China.
- July 2019: The additional material was translated and added to the Chinese manuscript.
- August 2019: The Chinese team did the layout and the book was sent to print in Hong Kong…
- September 2019: …and the file sat at the printing company for weeks. Hong Kong demonstrators were setting fire to companies and warehouses. The printing company was afraid of arson so they waited for things to calm down.
- October 2019: We thought the riots would end, but it got worse.
- November 2019: Since it looked like the Hong Kong riots would not end soon, I began to look into printing the book in the US. I normally print books with Amazon KDP, which can handle all languages. The file is a PDF with embedded fonts so they could have easily printed it but they refused. I talked with Amazon several times and asked for a reason, but they kept saying they couldn’t do it. However, I searched in Amazon and found books and ebooks in Chinese, and just to be sure, I bought several of those books. I showed them to Amazon to prove that Amazon could indeed print and sell books in Chinese. They refused to discuss it.
- November 2019: I called one of the small publishers who was selling books in Chinese in Amazon and he said that I should print at a POD service (print on demand) in the US and then add it to Amazon. That was a back-door solution which Amazon accepts. I talked with Carla King, a super expert in POD printing (at SelfPubBootCamp.com), who gave me URLs for several POD companies that can handle printing in Chinese. I got bids from five companies and chose IngramSpark because they had a low cost-per-unit and experience with placing books (both print and ebook) in Amazon. I uploaded the file to IngramSpark. Their software found a few errors, which we fixed, and uploaded again. That sounds easy, but it meant I wrote emails with clear, detailed description of the problem along with suggestions for the solution, sent the email to the publisher in China, who sent it to the translator and layout person, who made the changes, sent the file back to the publisher, who sent it to me, and I uploaded again to IngramSpark. A minor change could take multiple emails and two weeks. The file was uploaded four times ($25 fee for each upload). When it finally was ready, we printed proof copies to see how to would look on paper. Although the PDF looked fine on a screen, the printed result was not good. Just as there are many types of English fonts, including bold and italics, there are different types of fonts in Chinese. The fonts were too thin and too small. The line spacing was too wide. We also found IngramSpark’s POD has different settings than Amazon, so the text had shifted to the top of the page and left a wide space at the bottom.
- November 2019: I spoke at a conference in Nanchang, China (about 400 miles (700 km) west from Shanghai). I brought pages from my book that had been published in Chinese by Tsinghua University. Using those books as examples, the team did a new layout.
- January 2020: I uploaded the new files and requested five proof copies, which would be delivered by US postal mail in five business days from Nashville, Tennessee to Palo Alto in California.
- February 2020: By late February, we realize that the books had been lost: either they weren't shipped, they were lost in the mail, or someone stole them. In any case, no books.
- March 2020: I asked IngramSpark to send new books. Five days later, the books arrived. The layout was good. Now we can print in larger numbers.
- April 2020: COV19 started and everything stopped. People in China and the US were either working from home or no longer working.
- July 2020: Time to move forward again. A few more edits were made, the layout was changed slightly, which meant we had to change the cover’s spine.
- August 2020: IngramSpark placed the in Chinese paperback book in Amazon. See, Amazon? It can be done. Next step, the Chinese ebook.
- September 2020: The China team sends me a Chinese PDF of the book, which I upload to IngramSpark to convert to ebook in ePub format.
- October 2020: Just as IngramSpark’s settings are different from Amazon, there were conversion errors in the XML. I asked IngramSpark to fix those. But due to COVID-19 and work-from-home, the IngramSpark team was overworked. It took six weeks to fix the file.
- November 2020:A final minor delay: after submitting the ebook from IngramSpark, it takes thirty days for Amazon to publish the ebook.
- December 2020: The ebook in Chinese is finally ready. We made it through 23 months of riots, pandemic, inexplicable refusals, and incompatible systems. Luckily, the publisher, translator, and the Chinese team was very dedicated to making dozens of changes and getting this done.
I published books in the 80s and 90s which was a complex task. The advent of Amazon POD printing brought a revolution in book printing. As I said, I can do the layout for a book in a few hours in any European language and Korean.
But to print a book for China, you need a great deal of patience and determination. The Chinese manuscript was ready in July 2019, but instead of a few hours for layout and upload, it took twenty-three months until November 2020 to print the book. Challenges included the need for cooperation between author, translators, and layout team who have to work in one language with a 15-hour time zone difference, bureaucratic issues (such as the printing license for China), the demonstrations in Hong Kong, and the Corona COVID-19 pandemic chaos in the US. I assume Amazon will not publish books in Chinese for fear of annoying the Chinese government so we must use POD printing companies, but these companies use different standards which create additional layout problems.
This publishing project was possible only with determination and close collaboration with Frank Wei (CEO of MTS) and J.N. Lin (translator), along with the layout and graphics team in China and the support team at IngramSpark.
There’s a bright side. If it’s a challenge for me, then it's extremely difficult for others, which means you'll have very little competition.
Next Step: Book Release
The paperback and ebook are in Amazon. The next step is a global release. We'll offer the book to Chinese in Silicon Valley and around the world, plus of course Chinese in Shenzhen, the Silicon Valley of China. I'll use social postings in Twitter and LinkedIn, an article in LinkedIn, and Google ads. I may do video as well. The social postings and digital ads will be in English and Chinese.
Copyright and Piracy
Several people have said to me that copyright piracy is a problem in China. I’ve noticed these people also have no experience with copyright piracy in the US.
Copyright is protected by law, but in reality, it's nearly impossible to prevent it. It happens in China, Europe, the US, and just about everywhere.
- Scribd.com, a US company, copies and sells books online. It’s a massive piracy operation. They sold 250,000 copies of one of my books without permission and never paid me anything. Scribd investors include Y-Combinator, Khosla Ventures, CRV, MLC Investments, and SVB Capital.
- Google Books is scanning, copying, and posting millions of books to Google. They don’t bother with copyright.
I talked with McGraw-Hill about this. They said this is the reality of book publishing in the US. They know at least four US pirate publishers who copy and sell books. These illegal publishers use shell companies and when sued, simply shut down and pop up again with a new name.
- For translation to/from Chinese, talk with MTS in China
- I'm co-founder and CMO of Lingolet, Inc., a Silicon Valley startup which offers a B2B interpretation management platform for health, legal, and other industries. See Lingolet.com
- My Startup book in Chinese at Go andreas.com/book-startup-china.html
- If you’re going to publish a book, see Carla King’s SelfPubBootCamp.com for the best information on POD printing.
- To learn how to write a book, see "How to Write a Book" by Andreas Ramos
- To publish your paperback books and ebooks in Amazon, go Amazon KDP
POD Book Printing Services
Talk with them and be sure they can work with Chinese and get your book and ebook into Amazon.