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Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Curious Decisions of Foreign Book Licensing

Wiley Publishing, the company that produces the whole For Dummies series in the United States, licenses its various titles to different foreign publishers, and I've been especially surprised and happy over the years over the growing number of editions created by the French publisher, First EditionsI was extremely gratified when they hired my French Masonic Brother, Philippe Benhamou as the co-author to rework my initial framework and tailor the French version of Freemasons For Dummies (La Franc-maçonnerie Pour Les Nuls) to better suit that unique market. 

First, there was the original edition, which was a substantially reworked version of my own original book for the French marketplace—but one that went far beyond a mere translation. Take a look at the way that French Amazon describes the book on its website (taken from that book's introduction) and you can immediately see why many alterations had to be made:

"[T]he double door opens. You are invited to enter. You are at first surprised by the calm and harmony of the place. Your eyes adjust to the soft blue light that falls from the star-decked ceiling. You start to see the different elements that adorn the temple: first the Sun and Moon framing a large luminous triangle with an eye in the center. Then, on the ground, black and white tiles and three small columns each surmounted by a lighted candle. On each side, you feel presences, but you dare not even turn your head.
"The door closed quietly. You walk slowly towards what looks like a small altar with an open book that supports a compass partly covered with a wooden square. No doubt, it is indeed a Masonic lodge. Behind the altar, the one facing you seems to chair this meeting. He holds in his right hand a gavel with which he strikes a blow, and then speaks:

"Welcome to the Temple of Freemasonry. Here you'll discover what attracts nearly 3 million women and men around the world to meet regularly in temples like this to work in a rigorous ritual. We will visit all of the varied Masonic landscape. Varied, because there are both atheists and believers, Catholics, Jews and Muslims, young and not so young, ambitious and modest ... While every Freemason has his own individual commitment, all share a faith in man and in his development; they agree on the fact that the world has meaning, which it suits everyone to discover in order to find their place.
"Entering the temple of Freemasonry is to therefore first share these values: freedom of thought, respect for others, tolerance and brotherhood. These ideals were born during a history of almost three hundred years we will explain. You can then explore the differences, for instance, between American Freemasonry and European Freemasonry, between the French Rite and the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, or between a "Compangnon Freemason" and a "Compagnon du Tour de France."
"More so, you'll have access to a practical guide to Freemasonry for the use of non-masons: discover the method of initiation by degrees, including the initiation ceremony, visit a lodge, decode the symbolic language. All that punctuates the life of a Freemason since the first day of his initiation will be presented to you in the familiar style of the readers of this [For Dummies] series. 
"So advance one step, approach the square and compass, and let us guide you..."
And that's just the first page.

Philippe's name on the cover is placed above mine for a damned good reason: he had to subtract the strictly US/Anglo-Saxon Masonic material, and then compile all new information that was specific to the far more complicated minefield that makes up the French Masonic world. That meant creating a book that would be applicable to the members (or potential ones) of the Grand Orient de France, the Grand Loge de France, the Grande Loge Nationale Française, and more; PLUS the feminine AND co-Masonic organizations (since women make up more than 20% of French Freemasonry). He had to include all original material specific to French Masonic history that I had no reason to address. And to make it even more complex, French appendant orders and bodies are also very different, as well.

Next came a pocket-sized edition—actually a bit too big for the average pocket, at 400+ pages. Maybe better suited for a sturdy backpack... or a Masonic apron case. But that still wasn't enough for our French publisher.

I was downright, drop-dead jealous when the next version was a hardback, full COLOR illustrated French edition of La Franc-Maçonnerie Pour Les Nuls. Never before had I encountered a hardback For Dummies book in ANY language (much less one with my name on it). And for those too embarrassed to be caught reading a bright yellow For Dummies/Pour les Nuls book that could be spotted from low earth orbit (as the former Prime Minister of Senegal discovered the hard way several years ago), the paper dust jacket was easily removed, revealing a bland, inconspicuous, black cloth volume, complete with a bookmark ribbon sewn into the binding. (Would that Wiley's U.S. editions offered such a beautiful version here, since we have a MUCH larger potential audience.) Philippe and the French publisher amassed an enviable array of more than 100 illustrations of artwork, objects, symbols, jewels, aprons, and lodge rooms, including more than a few images I had argued (to no avail) to be put in my original U.S. version six years before.

Now, First Editions has just released La Franc-maçonnerie pour les Nuls en 50 Notions Clés (Freemasonry for Dummies in 50 Key Concepts), a sort of abbreviated, introductory arrangement of the 50 most important topics needed to have a basic understanding of French Masonry. And a mere bargain at the paltry sum of just €8.50!
"Welcome to Freemasonry!

"Freemasonry is surrounded by many clichés, assumptions and misconceptions. But close your ears to rumors. This book invites you to discover from the inside one of the oldest secret societies of the Western world: Freemasonry. Clear, precise, playful, it helps to better understand the mechanisms and the sanctity of the initiatory experience while dusting some legends attached to the Freemasons. What is Freemasonry, what is its history, what philosophy underpins its work, the meaning of the Masonic symbols, or what the initiation, many questions, and many others, who will find their answers in a didactic work devoid of jargon!"

Philippe is a talented author and has written several other books on French Freemasonry, and even L'Histoire de l'Aviation pour les Nuls (History of Aviation For Dummies), motivated in part by his role as an engineer in the French aerospace program. He ventured into fiction in 2014 with Madame Hiramabbi: La concierge de la rue des trois frères, which features more than just a little symbolism that some of us will recognize—beginning with the title, along with Mme. Hiramabbi's cat Solomon...

Back in 2007, I also had the happy experience of accidently meeting the Brother who was translating Freemasons For Dummies into Dutch (Vrijmetselarij voor Dummies). Jimmy Koppen is a Mason from Belgium, and I had the pleasure of stumbling into him by total accident in Edinburgh, Scotland at the International Conference on the History of Freemasonry that year. He had contacted the Dutch/Flemish publisher of the Dummies books and asked if such an edition was being planned. He suddenly found himself plunged into the business of translating my American original, AND Brother Phillipe Benhamou's French version, along with making even more specific alterations to explain the variations of Freemasonry in both Belgium and the Netherlands, PLUS incorporating the history of the Craft in those nations. Because of the unique way that Belgium was created with its melding of French, Dutch and German societies, along with having to make the book applicable to both Belgium and the Netherlands, Brother Koppen's job was equally complex.

Sadly, the Dutch/Flemish edition didn't catch on like the French one did, and it was never reprinted after its original publication. However, Jimmy Koppen did establish a Dutch language Masonic blog of his own at VrijmetselarijVoorDummies.blogspot.com that was updated continuously up until at least two years ago. He has also written other books on Freemasonry, as well as Belgian Politics For Dummies (Belgische Politiek voor Dummies).

Over the years, there has also been a German version, Freimaurer für Dummies (a straight translation without any customization by Harmut Strahl, and I have no idea if he is a Freemason or not). Despite the fact that it is just a German language version of a pretty distinctly American book, it too has recently been published in both full sized and pseudo-pocket sized editions. And it's done well enough to warrant a new cover in 2015. It's unfortunate that it doesn't even include at least a chapter about the complex and unique arrangement of the United Grand Lodges of Germany. Theirs is a complicated Masonic landscape to negotiate, and both the fraternity and the general public would have been better served if the publisher had involved a knowledgable German Mason with it.

Over the years, I've heard rumors of a Romanian and a Russian translation on the horizon, but I haven't seen them. Interestingly though, there is a Turkish translation of Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies For Dummies (Komplo Teorileri ve Gizli Cemiyetler) but not of the Freemasons book. It also appears to be a straight translation without being locally customized for the Turkish market. I suspect the potential audience in Turkey will be woefully disappointed with it however, since Alice and I wrote the book several years before the feud between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his nemesis Fethullah Gülen really kicked into high gear. They'll find no mention of Gülenists anywhere in its pages.

While more than a few people have requested it, there remains no Spanish language version of Freemasons For Dummies for either the U.S. or especially the Mexican market, which is definitely needed (the actual masonic market in Spain is pretty small by comparison). As in Europe, the Mexican Masonic landscape is complex, with its competing grand lodges and supreme councils which are not uniformly recognized throughout the Anglo-Saxon Masonic world. There are more than a few American states, the UGLE, and the other Home Grand Lodges that do not recognize the same Masonic bodies in Mexico, and a version of the Dummies book localized for them (or Brent Morris' Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry, or frankly ANY sort of similar guide, not just mine) would be helpful. And popular.

The same situation is also true for Brazil, which also has large, multiple, competing Masonic groups. A Brazilian Portuguese edition would be invaluable in that country, as well. (NOTE: See below.) And after last week, I have a feeling a Tagalog translation for the Philippines would fly off of shelves, as well. But we authors have almost zero input on licensing decisions like this. It often just takes an excited and qualified translator and author in a foreign country to push for such an edition on their own. That's how Brother Koppen got the Dutch edition published.

UPDATE 9/13/2017

Brother Kennyo Ismail posted a comment yesterday letting me know that there IS indeed a Brazilian edition of Freemasons For Dummies. Maçonaria Para Leigos was published in December 2015 by Alta Books, and he wrote a very kind introduction to it, as well. Kennyo acted as the technical reader and editor on that edition, and he made a few tweaks to ensure it was not baffling to Brazilian brethren when it ventured into purely American Masonic practices and structure. I never received a copy from Alta by way of my own publisher, so I have no way to currently flip through it to see if anything major was adjusted. Kennyo and I had spoken about such an edition back in 2012 and 2013 at Masonic Week, but I presumed nothing had ultimately come of it after that. So I'm happy to know it actually did make it into print. 

I also dug a little bit and saw an old note from 2014 that there is supposed to be a Hungarian edition of the Conspiracy Theories/Secret Societies book published by Taramix Kft., but I've never seen that one, either.


  1. I would love an English translation of the French version so that I could learn more about how Freemasonry in France operates.

  2. The journal Ritual, Secrecy and Civil Society publishes English translations of French Masonic research open access at http://www.ipsonet.org/publications/open-access/ritual-secrecy-and-civil-society and the Paris World Conference presentations on Masonry which are presented at the French National Library are at http://www.ipsonet.org/conferences/ritualconference-main


  3. It was a great honor for me to review the Brazilian edition, adding some pertinent notes to the readers here, considering our masonic diversity, and writing the introductory text to Brazilian readers.
    We talked a little over a few Masonic Weeks and I hope to see you soon.

    1. Kennyo, thanks for posting this. For some reason, messages you have sent me from back in 2015 and ever since went into my spam folder, and I've never seen any of them! This is the first time I've even known the Brazilian edition was actually published. My publisher never followed up with me, and they never sent me a copy. I recalled that you and I had spoken a few years ago, but I just figured they never followed through with it. As soon as I am home, I will update this posting to reflect your news. And I have a message in to my editor...


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