US editions vs. UK editions

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US editions vs. UK editions

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jul. 23, 2007, 2:36 pm

I've tried to discuss this subject with others and I am beginning to think that I'm the only one in the world that is upset over it. I know that when a book that was originally published in the UK (or another area outside the United States for that matter) is published in the US it is, well, "translated" into American English. I find this quite unacceptable and many times I feel it renders a book almost unreadable. Since no one else I know seems all that concerned about this, I just go about my merry way and order books from Amazon UK and not mention it anymore. But now I'm finding that my habit is quite expensive. Does anyone else here do in the US but order from the UK? I've found a few retailers (all through Amazon Marketplace) that offer the UK editions of books for sale here in the US for very reasonable prices but I just wondered if anyone had a great tip on a retailer that I've not run across as of yet.

I put this here because I read a lot of British detective/mystery/crime books. I purchased a copy of one of Ian Rankin's books (in the Rebus series) and he mentions that he was told to add an extra chapter to the American edition but he didn't think that it added to the book at all. Do authors have any say in this matter?

For all I know, most of the members of this group live in the UK and don't have this problem but I thought I would post here and see what happened.


jul. 23, 2007, 9:02 pm

I don't think I can help you (I order through, but I can commiserate. I make it a practice to try to read a book in its original language if I am able, and that includes British v. American English. :)

I don't think it renders a book unreadable, but I see no reason for the change. And it's purposeless nuisances that I find unacceptable.

So, as I said, I order through or sometimes, if I can find them, through marketplace. But I haven't found any place where I don't have to order through Amazon (which is a pain because they can't give bulk shipping discounts through the marketplace). Turning the question around, do you have any other leads? Do you know of any retailers that do not limit their sales to purchases through Amazon?

jul. 23, 2007, 10:20 pm

Thanks for the reply christiguc. It is comforting to know someone else finds this practice upsetting.

Okay, perhaps saying that it rendered the book unreadable was going a bit far. I am like you in that I can see no reason for the change. Maybe that really is what makes me mad.

As for your question, sadly, no. I don't have any real leads. Every retailer I've worked with thus far has been through Amazon (US) Marketplace or I just break down and buy from Amazon UK.

jul. 24, 2007, 1:03 am

Here in Holland, "bricks and mortar" shops often offer both the UK and the US editions. I tend to avoid buying US editions of British authors, if only because you risk ending up with the same book with two different titles. OTOH, US editions are generally cheaper.

You could try which is a sort of metasearch engine for non-Amazon online booksellers in the UK. There's a list of book search engines on . Or try going to the UK publisher's website.

jul. 24, 2007, 3:26 pm

I often order British authors from Amazon UK , but mostly because the authors either aren't available in the U.S. or there are time lags I don't want to wait for. Can't say i have noticed the textual difference, but then i read so many books from both countries that neither British nor American English seems distinctive to me, it's all one big hodge-podge English language to me along with Indian English, South African Australian, Canadian, Nigerian, etc.

jul. 24, 2007, 4:33 pm

Thanks for the responses.

#4 thorold - that sounds lovely to have both the UK and the US edition available. I suppose here, in my small US town, they would tell me that there isn't enough interest or space for such a thing. I'll look at the sites you mentioned. Thanks.

#5 quartzite - I've read so many British editions of books that sometimes I forget how to spell things in "American." I mean to say, I can't remember which way I should spell something. Then I get accused of putting on airs or trying to be English. :)

jul. 25, 2007, 1:31 pm

I live in an area with a huge number of book stores and residents in the US of A. Only the USA edition of books is available in English in the book stores (not counting used book stores; mention "available in English" as there tends to be sections for "untranslated" books).

jul. 25, 2007, 2:40 pm

(Someone who knows more than I do about this, please correct me if I'm wrong)

It isn't just the fact that some place is a "small town" and that there isn't enough interest or space. Literary distribution and printing contracts are mostly negotiated by region--that is a certain publisher is contract-bound to not distribute the book outside a certain set area. There are exceptions, where "territory" could be language-bound or where no other publishing rights are negotiated and the original publisher simply works export contracts to foreign bookstores. And I'm sure there are other exceptions. But, for the most part, the UK publisher of the book cannot supply the book to bookstores here in the states if there is another contract giving the US publisher exclusive distribution rights. (In fact, even if the contract has not been worked out yet in the US, the UK company's publishing contract probably limits the region to the UK in anticipation of the US deal).

If you order from the UK, the sale is in England and then shipped here, so I believe that the rights of the US company have not been infringed upon. Also, there are some exceptions for used books being sold at minor and major bookstores and for new books being sold by individuals (not distributed by the UK publisher but instead through places like Amazon marketplace).

As thorold says, in Holland, he has access to both copies. I don't know the specifics, but I think that it has something to do with the EU laws, in that if something is marketed in one country it can be marketed in the others. (Is that right, thorold?)

Now, why the US publisher needs to "translate" the british english in the first place is beyond me. . . .

So, if you are looking for a major bookstore that sells foreign editions of books that have american editions, you probably won't find it. I've been trying to find other marketplaces like Amazon marketplace that might be cheaper, but not much luck so far.

jul. 25, 2007, 3:23 pm

I've been fighting hard from actually saying this but . . .

I love Peter Lovesey's books. Picked up one of his early books to continue reading a particular series - the book had two different titles but that actually didn't indicate area of publication (one region did use one or the other title at first and the other region used the other title; but over time both used both titles - I'm confusing myself and will move on). I started reading the book . . . and then stopped. I couldn't understand what was going on, what was being said. Why? Because it was the British edition of the book. All those books I had read by Lovesey, and loved, and I couldn't read one of his books because it was still in British.

So . . . I admit it. I love British books, but sometimes, like Swedish books, or German, or . . . I need it in American English to understand it. This does not mean that I automatically understand Texan, New England (if written as it sounds), Californian surfer dude or the like just because they are variations of American English.

I love "untranslated" British television shows, spent some time in England, and have read many British authors but still had trouble with a book written in British.

jul. 25, 2007, 4:11 pm


I thought it was just small changes in the actual language, but if it makes that much of a change, then, yes, I see why it is necessary. And if it's the difference between me having phrases jump out at me as being out of place in the setting and momentarily jar me vs. someone else being unable to understand and enjoy the book as a whole, then I not only see why it is necessary to translate but also support the translation.

I'm more just griping because I have to pay shipping and import costs to soothe my hyperactive criticism. ;) Plus, I was hoping someone here had a suggestion of an easier way to do it.

jul. 25, 2007, 9:40 pm

christiguc, I agree with your #10 post and thank you for the information about offering the UK editions for sale in the US as well.

jul. 25, 2007, 11:23 pm

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jul. 26, 2007, 4:54 pm

Wow, I've never noticed that there were that great changes in the different edition, I always thought, like christiguc, that it was mainly spelling. I don't read much american crime so I can't really tell if I find american hard to understand but I'm really interested in what sort of things you found not understandable. Are there any examples you could give?

jul. 26, 2007, 4:59 pm

If I could find that book again, I would. :) I will note, though, that the book is a series set in the 19th century and it is possible that the author attempted to use "historical local dialect". On the other hand, I can read and understand Shakespeare, and sometimes Chaucer without too much trouble. I think the problem was that I just wasn't expecting to need to "translate" the book (I can "translate" books in my head but I need to prepare myself for it).

jul. 26, 2007, 9:39 pm

10 - christiguc, check out

No shipping charges. :)

jul. 27, 2007, 12:07 am

Good deal.

jul. 27, 2007, 12:54 am

Thank you. They should give you a finder's fee--I've now spent budgeted book funds for this month and next month. I'm just going to call that organization and planning ahead. :)

jul. 27, 2007, 2:29 am

I think I'll just be happy if they stay around and keep doing what they are doing. Someone on a forum mentioned it to me, so happy to pass it on to others. :)

jul. 27, 2007, 4:19 am

>8 christiguc: Yes, not sure of the details either, but I think you're right. I think the situation in Holland goes back to before the Single Market, so it's probably simply that the deals UK and US publishers have don't specify who gets "the rest of Europe".

Several UK publishers have long-standing distribution arrangements here: practically every bookshop has a shelf or two of Penguins, for instance. But before the days of Amazon the importers made them charge a hefty markup over the UK cover price, so it was worthwhile (and apparently legal) for specialist English-language booksellers to import direct from the US and undercut them. The rip-off prices are less blatant these days, of course, but the American bookshop is still in business, so there must be a demand for US editions. Their customers certainly aren't all North American expats.

jul. 27, 2007, 4:34 am

Oh right, thanks. Yeah, I can well imagine that attempted dialect is confusing. I've had real difficulties with some guy trying to be scottish, couldn't understand a word.

Editat: set. 5, 2007, 10:54 am

Boudleaux , I couldn't agree with you more. There have been a few Australian novels that have gone through that process as well.

One recently which won a Ned Kelly Award for best first novel (Ned Kellys are Australia's crime writing awards). The book was called Diamond Dove which is a bird native to outback Australia which is the setting for the book. The title was changed to Moonlight Downs. The Australian cover had a representation of the bird on the. However, the US edition the bird looks like an eagle. When the author complained, he was told that the cover is for the readers not the writer.

oct. 31, 2007, 8:04 pm

Lindsey Davis gives an author's perspective on translating from British English to American English. She doesn't like it ;-)

des. 18, 2007, 4:17 pm

I live in Canada, and as the daughter of English born folk, I have not noticed the British crime novels being in American English here, and I would notice it (and find it very annoying). So it seems likely the Canadian bookstores are stocking the British editions. So ordering from amazon Canada ( might be a bit cheaper for Americans, or even trying which is Canadian owned and operated.

des. 19, 2007, 7:33 am

I`ve noticed that collectors of modern crime fiction first editions by UK writers often have no interest in the US 1st, whereas at one time I`d have expected them to be snapped up. Partly, it may be that the coming of the internet means that overseas editions no longer have so much `wow` factor, but I bet hey don`t like the Americanisation of these titles.

Changing the subject slightly, I notice some US publishers don`t have any arrangement for a specifically UK edition, they simply ship copies of the US edition over here, it seems. Don`t know why, perhaps they prefer to deal directly with a distributor.

Editat: des. 19, 2007, 1:40 pm

24> On the other hand, maybe the American publishers know how much the English dislike Americanization and therefore decided to not Englishify the books (with the assumption that the dislike has more to do with changing what the author wrote, and less to do with American words in general). And without the need to make them "English", there is less need for a specific UK publisher (and UK edition), and therefore they get to tell their stockholders that they have "cut out the middleman" and therefore saved them some money. Or not.

abr. 6, 2008, 4:31 pm


Speaking from the collectible first edition marketplace, I think economics are responsible for the lack of interest in US titles .

UK firms publish fewer hardcovers than do their American cousins. Much fewer, in fact.

As with anything else, scarcity determines price and the internet has flattened and compressed the bookworld such that, if there are 200 collectible copies of a particular title, and they are all listed on one web site, it seems as though the market is flooded. That is a tough world in which to compete, and so you'll often see prices artificially depressed to as little as one dollar.

So if the first printing is 50,000 copies or more - as is the case with a lot of highly promoted US titles - there will not be a profitable secondary market for that title for the next 20 years or so.

On the other hand, a hardcover first printing of 2,000 - 1,000 of which will probably go to libraries - creates an immediate scarcity and promises a return on investment within a couple of years at most, assuming the story and author are worthwhile.

That is why I buy all my British fiction from All the titles are sold at discount and the shipping is free to anywhere in the world. By limiting my purchases to first printings of first novels or fiction collections, I am building value that is impossible to match in the American marketplace.

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