Lost In Translation …?

In my last post, I mentioned that Surface Tension will be released early next year in the US, with a new cover and a new title. This will be the third of my books to come out over there and people are often curious about how that process works, what sort of changes are needed and so on. So I thought I might talk a bit about how it’s worked for me.

Although I haven’t been asked to alter anything major, certain changes have been necessary for readability and to make some of the specifically Australian aspects of the books translate for US readers. I’m talking about things like:

  • In Duck for a Day, there is a gum tree which is important to the story. The US editor said their readers wouldn’t understand ‘gum tree’ and suggested we change it to ‘eucalyptus tree’. I thought that would sound strange – too specific or something, and it would also be constantly saying, Hey, kids, this is in Australia!, which isn’t really relevant to the story. I suggested we simply change it to ‘tree’ so kids would read ‘past’ it, and that’s what we did.
  • In Surface Tension, there was confusion over the ‘house system’ used for school sports. The editor was curious as to how Liam and Cassie could be in the same class but in different houses. I was confused by her confusion. It took a while for us to work out what the other was confused about. Then we still had to solve the problem in the text.

In both books, there were language changes here and there. For example:

  • The 4WDs and utes in Surface Tension all became trucks, something I find very amusing, given the image ‘truck’ conjures up here.
  • There was much debate over whether ‘toilet’ should be ‘restroom’ or ‘bathroom’. It absolutely could not be toilet!
  • In Duck for a Day, Max is not allowed to have strawberry lollies. But the US editor thought that meant lollipops and that was confusing for a while. After we worked out what was going on, we had to decide whether to say taffy or candy or sweets.

Luckily I really like messing about with words, so I found this whole process really interesting and fun.

Although Surface Tension became Below, both No Bears and Duck for a Day kept their original titles, and No Bears has the same cover. The Duck for a Day cover is almost the same, with a few small changes in colouring and the layout of design elements. Here are the two covers below so you can see what I mean.

Here, I think I prefer the Australian cover, on the left.

I like the way the title steps



the page.

I’m not sure what the reasoning was behind changing it, but it’s not something I feel strongly about so I was fine with it.

There is one other interesting change I’m still getting used to. In the Australian edition of No Bears, the main character’s name is Ruby, but the US editor said they had too many Ruby books at the moment. She asked if I would be open to changing the name, and I said yes, but I wanted it to be another name that I loved – something short and strong, with a lot of personality. I chose Ella, and so that’s her name in the US. Which is great, and I have no problem with it, but I still think of her as Ruby, which can get quite confusing sometimes. I occasionally get email from US readers, who say things like I love it when Ella says ABC, or Why doesn’t Ella do XYZ? and I think, Who on earth are they talking about?

And then I remember. That Ruby went over the sea and turned into Ella on the way. That my books are over there slightly changed. What is it they say – same, same, but different. I guess that sums it up.

4 Responses so far

  1. 1

    Ella Somers said,

    Hi Meg,

    I like the Australian cover too!
    I think the ground should be green though.
    Ha ha!
    How funny, that in your book your main character is called Ella and my name is Ella too!!!
    I love my name, and reading what you say about it, makes it even more special!!!
    Thank you for choosing my name!!!
    Ella 😀

  2. 2

    reardonhs said,

    Hi Meg,

    Do you find it frustrating to have editors change this and that- even a character’s name?


  3. 3

    Meg McKinlay said,

    I like the green ground too, actually, and my daughter said the same thing. It does look as if the US design team wanted more empty space on the cover or something. I’m not sure; I just find it interesting anyway.

    And I do love the name Ella! I collect names I like and put them in a file, then when I’m looking for a name for a particular character, I can trawl through and see what looks likely.

    Tierney, it’s a good question, but I wouldn’t quite put it like that. Editors don’t actually get to change things. They make suggestions for ways in which things could be developed or improved, but it’s up to the writer to decide how (or whether) they go about that. With Ruby’s name, as I think I said, the US editor didn’t say it had to be changed. She just explained that there were lots of Ruby books there at the moment, and some very high profile ones too, and asked whether I would be open to a change. If I wasn’t, I think they would have just gone with Ruby. But her reasoning for suggesting a change seemed sensible to me, so I was happy to consider it. If I’d been more attached to the name, or didn’t agree with her reasoning, I might not have done so.

    If you’re interested in knowing more about the editing process, I had a blog-based conversation with some other writers about a few issues earlier this year, and that was one of them. You can read my post on my normal blog, and there are links there to the others and also some interesting comments (warning: very long blog posts ahead, possibly lacking in images…): http://megmckinlay.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/on-being-edited.html

  4. 4

    Tierney said,

    Thanks Meg,

    I understand now that editors don’t change people’s work- they just suggest things that could make the work better.

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