Friday, January 14, 2011

The Legend of Argo

Almost a year ago I wrote a blog post called “No Really, I’m Big in Czechoslovakia.” in which I related my difficulties in finding an agent to handle a foreign rights offer from the Czech Republic. The story really begins much earlier than that and reveals just how unprepared we were for success.

As an aspiring writer you don’t sit down to start a novel thinking, what I am about to do is really important. You aren’t Thomas Jefferson in a sweltering bedroom in June debating how to frame the opening of a flash fiction piece that tells King George III you're just not that into him. You doubt anyone will ever read it, anymore than they read the last eight, or ten books you wrote. It would be great if you did know, then you might spend more time picking a better name for your antagonist instead of just calling him Bob after your brother-in-law (who you don’t like) with the intent of changing it later, but then having it stick somehow. Now, inexplicably the book is published and your saddled with Bob and wonder how to explain to your brother-in-law why you named such a despicable character after him. The good news is, knowing Bob, he won’t read it; the bad news is your sister will.

The idea here is that success, even modest success in a writing career, is as unexpected as a heart attack at eighteen. Writers dream of it like actors dream of the red carpet, or musicians imagine playing in Carnegie Hall, but no one really expects it to happen anymore than they expect to win the lottery when they buy their weekly ticket. The odds against you are insurmountable, and yet it doesn’t stop you from trying. Someone has to win, right?

So no one is standing in a tuxedo with their bags packed when the news arrives. Instead, you’re in pajamas on the couch deeply interested in which of the chefs will need to pack their knives and go, when you learn you’ve just made the jump from aspiring writer to published author. There are five stages of grief, and I think there are also stages of joy, and oddly enough they are very similar.

Shock: Huh?
Denial: No way!
Bargaining: Are you serious?
Religious: Holy crap!
Acceptance: Wow.

The result is that you’re unprepared. This was the case, when back in June of 2009, I started receiving emails from Czech Republic publishers asking to buy the rights to my series. Writers understand that getting published is a possibility, but you don’t really think too much about people asking to translate your work into other languages. Such things leave you blinking at your computer screen going through the same five stages, with the addition of the sixth stage—Now What?

We weren’t idiots. Robin and I knew we ought to have an agent to handle contracts, and with multiple offers coming out of the Czech Republic--what the heck is it with the Czech Republic and my books?--we figured getting one would be easy. It wasn’t. So what else could we do?

We stalled.

We received several repeated inquiries from the publishers while we hunted for agents. Months went by. People from the Czech Republic are very patient it turns out. Robin and I considered handling the deal ourselves, but with three offers, we couldn’t tell which was best. Is it better to go with the bigger publisher or the one who specializes in fantasy? What is considered a good advance for foreign rights? Are they different from country to country, language to language? And what about taxes, exchange rates, banking?

About a year later, we finally obtained the services of Teri Tobias, a wonderful foreign rights agent and she brokered the deal with the Czech publisher, Argo, who handles the likes of Dan Brown, Patrick Rothfuss, Neil Gamin, Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams, and Guy Gavriel Kay. Very quickly, Teri turned a respectable offer into a great one and soon after the Czech check arrived.

That was back in July 2010, and that was the last I heard until yesterday. As it turns out Argo was hard at work these many months translating my text and working up the Czech covers for my books. The images here are the first look at the new covers that will be the first ever translation of the Riyria books into another language.

I find it interesting that the word Nyphron remains the same except with an added V on the end.

Makes me wish I could read Czech.


  1. Congrats, Mike.

    Actually, I heard they were sending you a translator ... via parcel post.


    The Czech is in the mail.

    Sorry :)

  2. Even if you don't make a Czech-dime, it's a blast to be live in Eastern Europe! PS, who is that jolly-joker above?

  3. Czech is in the mail?!? ...and you call yourself a writer (or is it more proper to use the term "author")?

    Actually, I should watch myself judging by some of my computer programs. Honestly, I LOL'd for a good 45 seconds.

    I really need to look into your work, Mr. Lowell. Michael and Robin can only SHARE so much without actually giving away someone else's work.

    Congrats Michael, hopefully the Czech translation is just the gateway to other opportunities.

  4. I think those covers are a great - and they used your artwork, too. Brilliant. Congratulations, it must be such a thrill!

  5. I agree, the covers are amazing. I had to laugh reading your saga of the foreign rights offer. I went through much the same thing when I was publishihg a line of indie comic books back in the 70s. Ya- what is it with those Czech folks that they have such good taste??

    And congrats - you and your work deserve it!

  6. Hi,
    I underestand Czech, so to explain a bit:
    1st book is just translated.
    2nd book stays the same, as its a name, which should not be translated.
    3rd book - its translated + "u" a the end, (yes, is "u" not "v"), basically means "of" the subject, (Nyphron at this stage so something ... "of Nyphron", means "Nyphronu" in Czech...

  7. Very cool matej-lach, thanks for that explanation and the language lesson.

  8. Oh WOW!!! Congrats! And I love the covers. There is a touch of the original cover with a new feel to them. Very, very nice.

    Best of luck to you!

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