The first book in this language
July 10, 2012 12:21 AM   Subscribe

How can I cheaply self-publish a trilingual book in a previously undocumented indigenous language?

I am wrapping up some fieldwork I completed with a remote indigenous community. Along the way I recorded, transcribed, and translated a series of stories, folktales, and myths together with native speakers there.

Although my work is more geared towards academic publications, it occurs to me that putting these stories together with a translation into Spanish and English would be an interesting gift to the community. I'd only need like 50 copies or so (or maybe more, if I could sell the copies and donate procedes to a local development fund? But this is more of a fantasy I guess).

I also have some illustrations made by an artist there, so it'd be cool to do something with those, too.

Anyway, this is a sort of open-ended question I guess. Any ideas how I can get the ball rolling with this? Perhaps Kickstarter or some other such resource? Or Mefi Projects? I know the idea of e-books may sound appealing in this scenario, but I'd like to give something tangible back and of course no one in this community has cell phones, much less e-readers of any kind.

Ideas/Advice/Insight would be much appreciated.

Thanks a lot!
posted by mateuslee to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have permission from the community to translate the stories?

If so, then I think your issue is a design one - incorporating the three translations plus illustrations on the page/s.

After arriving at a good layout, you could get a small print run of 100 published, sell 50 for twice the cost of each copy and donate other 50 to the community. With a blog detailing what you are doing, pre-selling 50 should be doable without kickstarter.
posted by Kerasia at 12:37 AM on July 10, 2012

Response by poster: Yes, I have permission - in fact, they would like to see the stories (though many are illiterate, it's mainly a gesture).

I like the idea of making it into a project that funds itself. Kickstarter seems like it could complicate things, maybe.

posted by mateuslee at 12:42 AM on July 10, 2012

I haven't used, but I've heard good things elsewhere. A 200 page 15x23 cm softcover book (colour cover, black&white insides) runs $10 a book, ordered in bulk (50-100). If you get fancier (colour insides, hardcover, larger format), the price can triple or more. For what that's worth.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:50 AM on July 10, 2012

What script is the language printed in? If it's something relatively standard, the question of printing it will be very different than if it requires something custom-set.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:54 AM on July 10, 2012

Response by poster: It's in standard keyboard characters for precisely this reason...
posted by mateuslee at 12:59 AM on July 10, 2012

I've done exactly this using cheap copy-shops/binderies - if you are working in South America, which it sounds like you might be, maybe there are local equivalents that can do it cheaply. Since it's a gift to the community rather than anything academic or to sell, self-publishing/desktop publishing like this is fine.

If you need funding, there may be small grants available from your university or from language documentation projects that could be used. For my fieldwork area, ASAO offers small grants precisely for returning materials to the community that assisted you with producing them. For your region, there may be a similar organisation. ELDP small grants is another possibility, but I'm not sure exactly what their scope is - they might be aimed only at people making a new fieldtrip to collect more data.
posted by lollusc at 1:49 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, my link should have gone here.
posted by lollusc at 1:51 AM on July 10, 2012

You might be looking for the keyword phrase "print on demand"; this section of the article is most applicable.

Out of curiosity, I checked into what's required to get an ISBN for a book. Evidently it's free to do so in Canada. This web page discusses applying to be registered as a publisher and there's a directory of existing publishers.
posted by XMLicious at 3:56 AM on July 10, 2012

Check your MeFi Mail. (The icon indication of new messages is easy to miss.)
posted by D.C. at 4:01 AM on July 10, 2012

Response by poster: > Thanks.
posted by mateuslee at 4:08 AM on July 10, 2012

To me Kickstarter fits the bill, and you can use MeFi Projects and other social media to spread the word. If donors at a certain level get a copy you could sell far more than 50 copies — you'd be surprised how large the community of people interested in language preservation/documentation is, that is among amateurs as opposed to academics. I have never done a Kickstarter for anything else but I'm in at whatever donation level gets me a copy if you do it.
posted by beagle at 4:59 AM on July 10, 2012

Make sure you also publish the whole thing on a Web site (assuming there are no legal obstacles) so other people can easily find it, study it, and perhaps contribute to it. You should use software that publishes print and HTML output from the same source files so you don't have to edit two sets of source files in parallel. It would be extra cool if you could put some of your recordings up on the Web site and let people download the files for study and further distribution.
posted by pracowity at 5:12 AM on July 10, 2012

Response by poster: Yes, but I must be careful about that, Pracowity -- people tend to be touchy about getting their voices accessible by all. Also, I'm not eager to make the data analyzable for study (I'll be publishing specialized articles for interested linguists and anthropologists) -- this is really just for people interested in oral literature, folklore, and the community themselves.
posted by mateuslee at 5:25 AM on July 10, 2012

If you do end up publishing something like this to raise support for a community fund, I'd like to suggest that you get this on MeFi projects so we can all hear about it. Also, I'm not sure I understand your response to Pracowity, especially regarding making the data analyzable for study.

Sorry if this is a derail, mods, but I figure it's relevant to the conversation moreso than MeFiMail could provide.
posted by monkeymadness at 6:04 AM on July 10, 2012

I'm not sure I understand your response to Pracowity, especially regarding making the data analyzable for study

Assuming mateuslee is an academic, this is completely normal. He doesn't want to get scooped-- the first person to publish (in a legitimate academic journal, not a self-published book like this one) is the one who gets cited whenever anyone else uses this information. If he's not the first to publish, he loses that.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:16 AM on July 10, 2012

(apologies if you're female, mateuslee)
posted by oinopaponton at 6:16 AM on July 10, 2012

Response by poster: @ oinopaponton: Bingo. There will, of course, be an entire grammar forthcoming... so if you're interested in that, drop me a line. That, however, will be published in some academic press (hopefully)
posted by mateuslee at 12:27 PM on July 10, 2012

Well, sure. I'm an academic too, but after publication it's common to share these sorts of things. I didn't get that you were talking about sharing or not prior to publication.
posted by monkeymadness at 3:33 PM on July 10, 2012

Response by poster: I think we're getting off track -- it is not common in my field to share data in this context. Sure, a motivated researcher can go through the text and the translation and do his/her own analysis, but all this data will appear in a "science-friendly" format in a separate publication. After all, it may sound crass, but it's a matter of principle that if someone uses this data they must cite the source, and I don't want them citing a book of folklore instead of a grammatical description -- otherwise I risk upsetting the granting organization.
posted by mateuslee at 10:56 PM on July 10, 2012

mateuslee, I Me-Mailed you. Sorry to all for the derail.
posted by monkeymadness at 9:39 AM on July 11, 2012

I didn't know about this until jessamyn happened to mention it another thread, but there's a MetaFilter-curated Kickstarter page, (Brief explanation here. You could Memail mathowie and ask for more info.)

If you go the Kickstarter route, could you include prints of some of the illustrations as an extra for some pledge levels (or maybe even a stand alone option), assuming the artist (or the Tropenmuseum) are up for it? They're lovely, and the guy has a really neat approach to perspective.

(And by the way, Memail me when/if you go through with this in some form. Like beagle, I'm interested.)
posted by nangar at 12:20 PM on July 12, 2012

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