Digital Manga Publishing's experiment in fan translation, the Digital Manga Guild, is about to bear its first fruit: DMP will release Tired of Waiting for Love, a one-shot yaoi manga, online on its eManga.com website and eventually via other digital channels as well.
This is just the first of 54 titles that are in the process of being translated, edited, and lettered by 18 different localization teams. And that’s only the opening volley: DMP CEO Hikaru Sasahara said that his goal is to release 50 to 100 digital manga per month, which would make DMP by far the most prolific manga publisher in the U.S.
While most of the Digital Manga Guild teams have three members, Tired of Waiting for Love was localized by a single person, who goes by the pen name "Kimiko Kotani." Marketing director Yoko Tanigaki said that one-person teams are rare; in fact, some teams have as many as nine members, three in each job, so they can get through the books more quickly. Each team is paid 12.5% of the proceeds from the books they work on, and they divide the earnings equally among all members, Tanigaki said.
The DMG is an attempt to speed up the manga pipeline by sending out numerous books simultaneously to groups of non-professional translators. No one is paid up front; the manga is published digitally, and the DMP, the licensor, and the localization team all share the proceeds once the book starts to sell. This is in contrast to the usual way of doing things, in which the U.S. publisher must pay a license fee to the Japanese licensor and pay the costs of translation, editing, and lettering before the book is released.
Kotani picked up some Japanese as a child from the families of Japanese friends, and she began studying the language in earnest when her daughter, whom she homeschooled, asked to learn it. Her son is now learning it as well, and her family speaks Japanese at home as much as possible. While she is new to manga publishing, she is an experienced freelance editor and writer, and she was able to turn the book around in 24 days—and, Tanigaki said, “She’s done an awesome job, too!”
Hiring non-professionals has presented some challenges for DMP, however. Sasahara estimates that only 30% of the 1,300 people who signed up for the Digital Manga Guild passed the test and were qualified to do the work. “Some are serious-minded and some are just checking in,” he said. “We are not particularly happy about some people who are overly cautious about legal issues in the contract and we usually prioritize those who just want to do it and see how it goes.”
“I’d be honest, it was a bumpy ride at first,” said Tanigaki. “The biggest challenge was trying to establish the workflow—contracts and taxes (Accounting), assignments and digital data access/information (Production) and when and where to sell these finished products (Sales and Distribution)—we didn’t know how to get all three departments to work together!” Eventually, they figured it out, she said, and so far, no one has turned down any assignments. “The group reps are extremely professional and they are very quick to respond to our inquiries,” she said. “I can tell they are willing to work hard.”
That was certainly true of Kotani, who put every spare moment into her first book. “I was cheered on not only by my husband and children, and friends, and neighbors who heard I was doing it, but online fans and friends who tweeted encouragement and helped me overcome moments of funk,” she said. “I also found that if I listened to [heavy metal group] Japan X while typesetting, my fingers flew over the keyboard, which helped tremendously with keeping my daily page count high.”
For Kotani, who has been reading manga since she was 10, translating was a new experience “When translating and editing it yourself, you end up thinking of all the possible ways what is written can be expressed in English,” she said. “Then one has to take into the over all tone of the manga. Is it meant to be funny? Is it philosophical and introspective? Not to mention the characters, as the way things are said must express their personality and voice.” Adding to the challenge was the fact that Tired of Waiting for Love is about members of the yakuza, the Japanese organized crime syndicate, which has its own argot. “Initially going in, I thought it would be straightforward; just translate the words and edit it into conversational sounding English,” Kotani said. “Then the yakuza slang cropped up, and the way things were being said even in ‘normal’ Japanese obviously had more to it than met the eye.” So she had to research the yakuza in order to get the nuances just right—and that helped her appreciate the manga that much more, she said.
Kotani joined the DMG for a number of reasons: As a manga fan, she wants to see more manga in English, and after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan, she was happy to be part of a project that sends revenues back to that country. “I like to think that by being involved, us fans doing the work as well as those of us buying the manga, are in some small way helping aid Japan's recovery and helping put manga publishing there and over here on more solid footing so that it continues to grow,” she said. Her daughter hopes to go to university in Japan and get a job in the manga industry, and Kotani’s work as both a reviewer and a translator is introducing her to the business, while the DMG payments will go toward the cost of her education.
Her previous experience helped Kotani keep an even keel in the beginning, when DMP was simultaneously working out contracts with licensors and signing up teams. While communication was good, she said, the process seemed to move very slowly. “When it was all hammered out as to business terms, we got our contracts and could finalize our participation, or walk away right then,” she said. “Having freelanced before this as a translator, editor, and writer, I was used to this sort of way of doing things.”
This professional attitude carries over into her work; even if she were assigned a book she didn’t like, she said, “I'd do my very best to turn out a quality product anyway. Different people have different tastes, so something I find boring, others might well find interesting. I owe that effort to both the mangaka and those who may wish to read it. Also, my personal and professional pride would demand it.”
Until the groups have built up some credentials, DMP staff will review their work carefully, Sasahara said, and in every case, the books must be checked for quality control and processed for digital release in the appropriate format. All the DMG books will be released initially to eManga.com, and after that, Sasahara said, "we'll expand to as many platforms as we can." DMP markets its regular line via the Kindle and Nook.
Meanwhile, Kotani is already working on her second book. “I'm a week in, and so far I'm about 1/3 of the way complete,” she said. “Once I've done these two remaining titles, I'm hoping to get the next trio assigned without much delay. It's hard work, but a lot of fun and I wouldn't miss it for the world.”