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Vestra Lingua Publishing's While Mommy Was Fast Asleep Is Translated into Braille

Thursday, March 12, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Christopher Locke
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Vestra Lingua Publishing Founder Lisa Cole (far right) visits the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind Foundation (SCSDB), which has a Braille version of her book, While Mommy Was Fast Asleep. Pictured alongside Lisa are SCSDB Director of Development Weslie Higdon (far left) and Lisa’s daughter, Maggie (middle).

IBPA supports making reading, and books in general, accessible to all, so we were intrigued when we learned that IBPA member Vestra Lingua Publishing had their recent title, While Mommy Was Fast Asleep (written by Lisa Cole and illustrated by Joy Eaton) translated into Braille, and we wanted to inquire how that came to be and how other independent publishers might do the same for their titles.

Vestra Lingua Publishing's While Mommy Was Fast Asleep written by Lisa Cole and illustrated by Joy Eaton

“The ability to read is vital to one’s quality of life in the modern world,” says Vestra Lingua Publishing Founder Lisa Cole, “and Vestra Lingua Publishing’s roots lie in promoting equal access education. We also believe in the power of representation, and that children who see themselves in a great story will be better able to navigate their own world. In While Mommy Was Fast Asleep the main character is blind, although that’s not central to the plot. Her home environment reveals clues that her entire family is leaning in and learning Braille along with her as she grows. This family’s unconditional love and acceptance for each other was the message we wanted children to internalize. Consequently, we sought partnerships with educational organizations that provide blind children with high quality education and access to inspiring literature.”

On that note, Vestra Lingua Publishing partnered with The South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind to create the Braille version. Lisa explains the details about how they created it. “Those who are blind from birth often have trouble understanding how 2D pictures can represent a 3D world. So, picture books created for blind children often have other tactile sensations and raised edges. Our book, however, is a normal print book designed to be read by a sighted person. The SC School for the Deaf and the Blind (SCSDB) took copies of our printed book and used their Braille transcribing machine to create transparent overlays that go on each printed page. Captions of what’s happening in the illustrations are always included in Braille translations using this method.

Vestra Lingua Publishing's Lizard Brew by Bonnie Stanard

“Because of the tremendous cost to translate into Braille, there is a severe shortage of Braille books of any kind in the mainstream market, and it takes intentional effort to produce these resources. Right now, the SCSDB Library, who serves thousands of families across our state, is the only place with our Braille edition. Producing a Braille version of a single title for mass market would be an overwhelming expense for any independent publisher unless they had the Braille machinery and a trained, full-time translator on staff. As with any niche offering, publishers must overcome challenges by meeting our target audience where they are, building relationships, tweaking distribution style, and partnering with those already devoted to serving that particular community.”

In addition to While Mommy Was Fast Asleep, Vestra Lingua Publishing has multiple books on the horizon. In the fall of 2020, they have Lizard Brew, a sequel to author publisher Bonnie Stanard’s award-winning picture book, Cat’s Fur (which also has a second edition coming out). Another, out in October, is a picture book for grown-ups entitled I Wish You written by Lisa Cole with illustrations by South Carolina librarian Ashley Warthen. While They're in Heaven by Lauren Roeder and Gail Fagler and Ants by Denise Lynch are also on the docket. In 2021, they have Andy Dandy’s Candy Factory, by William Savage.

Four Questions with Vestra Lingua Publishing Founder Lisa Cole

IBPA: For other independent publishers who want to translate their books to Braille, can you share some tips about the process?

Lisa Cole (LC): Translations are an expense that can add up too quickly if you’re not cautious. Braille, even more so due to time involved and the severe lack of skilled translators nationwide. Because of such high upfront costs, Braille books retail for hundreds of dollars per copy. When I visited the SCSDB, their librarian pointed out a copy of The Wizard of Oz that cost over $400! Middle class families often cannot afford such literary luxuries. So, to misquote the Ancient Greek, publishers must “Know Thy Market.” What is your end goal with the translation? Where will it find a home?

Independent publishing allows us to learn quickly and respond to niche market needs (that the bigger houses overlook) while making a big social impact! For this one particular book, our research showed us that blind character representation was lacking in the market. And from there, we built relationships with and sought pre-publication input from those who were best served by such a story (classroom teachers and nonprofits for the blind.) We cast a small but finely targeted net. For any sort of translation work—whether it is Braille or any other language—building relationships within that community and understanding why your house wants that community to connect with that story is paramount for indie publishers. If that foundation is present, opportunities and resources to achieve your goal will organically arise.

IBPA: You’re also translating While Mommy Was Fast Asleep into Mandarin Chinese. Is that common for most children’s books to get them translated into multiple languages right when they’re published? If not, why did you decide that it was the right step for your indie publishing company to make the extra expense and extra effort for this edition?

LC: No, this is not common. Not at all! But in today’s low-barrier publishing world, why not? As an indie, our success hinges on finding ways to increase our impact while utilizing connections… rather than dollars. Here in South Carolina, there is a large Mandarin-speaking business community. And, across the nation, a grassroots push for Mandarin language immersion programs grew from 75 fledgling offerings in 2011 to over 260 nationwide by 2019, speaking to public hunger for Mandarin language resources. South Carolina, in fact, has one of the south east’s oldest and most successful Mandarin immersion public schools, which I have been involved with for nearly a decade.

Our Mandarin translation was done for free by a brilliant native Chinese college professor whose wife I met through my work with the school. He has translated numerous academic books, but never had the opportunity to break into trade market translation. He received a full-page bio in the Mandarin edition, name credit, online exposure, and a great product to add to his professional portfolio. The Chinese edition is designed for Mandarin language learners here in America (whose native language is English) and will include the pinyin pronunciation.

As for why it was the right step? Because the publishing door was wide open and we have numerous contacts in the local Mandarin community. There were also no additional costs other than time, some design file tweaks, and a few more ISBN numbers (which we purchased in bulk at a discount thanks to our membership with IBPA!).

IBPA: For Vestra Lingua Publishing, you state that all books in your catalog will feature either an author, illustrator, or editor who is local to South Carolina. Why did you want to make that part of your indie publishing company’s mission?

LC: My roots in central South Carolina go back over a century on both my father’s and mother’s side. I was born and raised here, and currently live in a suburb of our bustling state capitol, Columbia, with my husband and four children. So, I feel a deep loyalty to this region and its people. The artistic voices in our state would benefit greatly from an intimate relationship with a local publisher who has their best interests in mind.

IBPA: Vestra Lingua Publishing is a relatively new independent publishing company. Can you share some strategies that you’re planning to implement as a new company to succeed in the publishing industry?

LC: I am a grassroots marketer at heart with a bent towards social media. A broad network (both online and offline), trusting relationships, word-of-mouth referrals, press releases, and a “willingness to ask” are all at the heart of indie success. And, all of those are free. One of my mentors, known for gaining consistent exposure for his company in the local news, taught me the unspoken rules of professional press releases—all I had to do was ask. I also joined the local chamber of commerce and was given access to hundreds of media contacts. As for marketing strategies, since we use IngramSpark, we positively promote ourselves as a respectable, modern, green publisher with no warehousing needs. On the flip side, since print on demand isn’t tremendously profitable, we diversify revenue through word services (ghost writing, small job editing, document proofing, and more), marketing seminars, and word-themed product lines such as classic literature clothing and jewelry, all of which have larger profit margins.

IBPA: Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your story and insight with the IBPA community!

Click here to learn more about Vestra Lingua Publishing!

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