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International Rights; Selling Your Book Abroad

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Paul Feldstein

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International rights are simply all publishing rights outside of the author’s home territory, including both English language rights and translation rights. When and author or their agent makes a deal with a publisher, it can be for a variety of rights: World Rights – grants rights to the publisher for the entire world in all languages World English language rights – grants rights to a publisher for the entire world just in English Specific territory rights – grants rights, typically in the language of the territory, for the specific territory. The publisher or agent will determine, based on the offer and the potential for other offers, which of these makes the most sense for the author. If World Rights are granted, it becomes the publisher’s responsibility to pursue all rights sales, through the publisher’s own rights department. The bigger the publisher, the bigger their foreign rights department.   If specific territorial rights are granted, that responsibility remains with the agent or author, which is often the case with smaller and mid-size publishers. As you can imagine, it would be very difficult for an author themselves to pursue international rights sales. It is difficult enough for an author to try and get their book published without an agent here in Ireland and the UK, near impossible to do so internationally. Depending on the size of the author’s literary agency, their agency may pursue international rights sales themselves; if they have the staff to do so, or, as many smaller agencies do, they may use a sub-agent in various territories. A sub-agent is a literary agency, based in each international territory/country, who acts on behalf of agents in other territories, for a share of the agent’s commission. The sub-agent will have the local knowledge, contacts and language deals necessary to navigate foreign language sales.  As a small (two-person) agency, we sell directly to Ireland, the UK and the US and tend to use sub-agents for all other markets. It is possible, as regards Irish authors working with Irish publisher, to sell UK rights separate from Irish rights.  The Irish publisher will usually insist on having all 32 counties as their territory, but on certain books it may still be possible to sell separate UK right, excluding N. Ireland. Our agency recently placed a book on the Colin Howell/Hazel Stewart murder case (a big news story, especially in N. Ireland) with Dublin-based Gill & Macmillan for Irish rights, and with Penguin UK for UK and Commonwealth rights.  We continue to reserve US rights in anticipation of a future sale if a film is made that makes it over to the States. Another book on golf was originally published here by Blackstaff Press, who bought UK and Irish rights. We then went on to sell US rights, and later combined with Blackstaff to sell a German edition. For a military history book, we sold World Rights to HarperCollins UK, who published it this past Spring.  This has now been sold to a US publisher by HarperCollins, who are also working on foreign language editions, with an Italian edition most likely. In addition to direct contact with foreign publishers and sub-agents, one of the most useful avenues for international rights sales is International Book Fairs. The three big ones are; The Frankfurt Book Fair, which takes place each October in Frankfurt, Germany (where the Feldstein Agency will exhibit in Hall 8.0 Stand B908), the London Book Fair, which takes place each April, and Book Expo America, which takes place each May in varying cities in the U.S. These Book Fairs are essential for publisher’s and agent’s foreign rights business. Meetings are arranged with acquisitions editors at publishing houses, at which new projects are pitched, and new potential publisher customers can be discovered. The more general a book is in scope, the more potential for International rights sales.  These sales can add substantially to the author’s income on a book, and also build the writer’s reputation in other markets, giving their next book a better chance of an even wider sale.  Therefore, it is essential that the author, their agent, and/or their publisher actively pursue these international markets.

About the author

(c)Paul Feldstein, October 2011 Paul Feldstein is a literary agent and director of The Feldstein Agency, www.thefeldsteinagency.com The Feldstein Agency offer publishing consultancy services, ghost writing as well as representation for new authors.

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