Foreign Rights Agents: Everything You Need To Know (& Why You May Want One!)

Foreign Rights. Now more than ever, we're seeing translation rights buzz and increasing a book's global range. And why not? Authors work incredibly hard to create the best book they can, and language should not be a barrier to finding readers to share stories with.

Because of this, it is our pleasure to welcome Marleen Seegers, Foreign Rights Agent for 2Seas Literary (& our FR agent for The Emotion Thesaurus!) Marleen recently sold Korean rights for the ET, and I asked her if she could peel back the curtain on what a FR agent does, and the process of finding the right match. This is really valuable info, so please read on...

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Give Your Book a Second Life: Get It into Foreign Markets 

Tens of thousands of books are translated into another language each year. The most translated author is the Queen of Crime Agatha Christie, followed by Jules Verne and William Shakespeare who occupy respectively the second and third positions.

 Looking at the global market, roughly 60% of all translations around the world are books originally written in English. It comes as no surprise, then, that only 3% of the books that are published in the US are translations—in the UK, this is even a mere 2.5%! By comparison, in Poland a smashing 46% of books published are works in translation, in Germany over 12%, in Spain around 24%, and in France about 15%.

This leads us to conclude that, particularly as an English-language author, it can be lucrative to try selling your book into foreign markets. Besides the additional income, isn’t it wonderful to show your friends and family a copy of your book in French or Korean?

 Selling foreign rights is just one of the many possibilities to give your book a second life and create an extra revenue stream. Movie/theater/comic strip adaptations, audio books, and merchandising are other examples of the so-called “subsidiary” rights umbrella.

“Primary” book publishing rights include hardcover, trade paperback, mass market, and digital editions of your book in its original language.

As a foreign rights agent, I work with authors, publishers, and literary agents from all over the world to help them get their books published in foreign languages.

So what does the work of a foreign rights agent consist of? 

 First of all, I read—a lot. Yes, a good foreign rights seller has to LOVE reading! Even though Pierre Bayard wrote an entire book on how to talk about books you haven’t read, it’s virtually impossible to pitch a title to foreign publishers without having read (at least part of) it—which can be frustrating, as I have so many titles to read that sometimes I don’t even have the time to finish books that I’m really enjoying!

That brings us to the second stage of foreign rights sales: pitching titles! As soon as I’ve decided a title has enough potential abroad, we include it in our online catalog. We then send out a newsletter to present the title to our network of foreign publishers, literary scouts and co-agents.

You might think foreign rights sellers are rather invisible actors of the publishing scene, but let me introduce you to an even more obscure job: literary scouts. They try to discover possible bestsellers as early as possible and alert the foreign publishers they work for. This enables the latter to acquire the translation rights before everyone else knows about these titles, usually for a relatively low advance. You can find more information on scouts here. They are very important contacts for foreign rights sellers, as they can make or break a deal.

Additionally, we work with co-agents in territories other than our “specialty markets,” which are Holland, Scandinavia, Germany, France, and the English language. They are often locally based, know their specific market through and through, and handle submissions, rights inquiries, and negotiations on our behalf.

After our initial newsletter, we take the initiative to send the book and further information to those publishers who are likely to be interested in the title in question—because they have published (one of) the author’s previous titles, or the title is a great match with their catalog, or we know they are personally interested in the subject, or all of the above.

How do we know what foreign publishers like/dislike? 

We’ve built relationships with them for many years, meeting with them in person during international book fairs, talking to them on the phone and via Skype. Interpersonal skills are extremely important in foreign rights sales, as personal relationships can (will!) make a real difference. Speaking another language besides English is also very helpful, as you connect more easily with the publishers of that specific language territory.

Attending international book fairs is truly indispensable, since that’s where most of the action happens! I visit two not-to-be-missed book fairs each year: the Frankfurt Book Fair which always takes place in October, and the London Book Fair in April. While I’m in Europe for these two fairs, I also like to visit publishers in Amsterdam and Paris, two of our “specialty markets.” Furthermore, I attend at least one other, more “local” book fair such as this year’s Rio de Janeiro and Gothenburg Book Fairs.

The Frankfurt and London Book Fairs can be compared to massive speed dating events: every 30 minutes I have meetings with different foreign publishers to whom I show our print catalogs and pitch specific titles. These meetings start at 9 am (sometimes even at breakfast) and last till 6 or 7 pm. In the evening I attend dinners and cocktail parties, which are great networking opportunities in a more relaxed atmosphere.

While these two fairs are the highlights of the international publishing calendar, we receive requests for titles and offers throughout the year.

When a Publisher Offers

If a foreign publisher offers for one of our titles, the first thing we do is check which other publishers in that specific country are also considering this title. Foreign rights agreements are always signed on an exclusive basis, which means we can only sign one contract with, say, a French publisher for the French translation rights in a specific title. This French publisher then owns the exclusive French rights for the duration of the agreement (between 5 and 10 years).

So it’s important to give the other French publishers who are also considering this title a chance to offer as well. We give them a deadline, usually one week to 10 days, to make a decision. If no one else offers, we start negotiating with the offering publisher.

If we receive one or several other offers, we organize an auction—that’s very exciting! We ask all offering publishers to send us their best offer, usually three or four days later. Note that “best offer” doesn’t always mean “highest offer.” Of course we take the advance they propose into account, but we also look at the other conditions like the proposed royalties, other titles and authors in their list, the publisher’s reputation, our previous experiences with them, etc. We submit the information about all the best offers to the rights holder of the book (our client), who will have the final say in which offer to accept. We do of course give our opinion!

After the Deal

Our involvement doesn’t end once a contract is signed: further activities include closely following the publication process, making sure due payments are made and complimentary copies are sent (so you can show off that French or Korean edition of your book!), and receiving and checking annual sales reports.

 You get it, being a foreign rights agent is an incredibly varied job! Every day is filled with different activities and challenges, and that’s what I love about it. You make books travel and authors happy, get to travel yourself, meet interesting people from all over the world, and get to read some of the most inspiring books around!

If you want to know more about my activities, please check www.2seasagency.com and join our international community of authors and publishing professionals at http://www.facebook.com/2seasagency.

WOW, great to see how it all works! Thank you very much, Marleen. This is such great information to have on hand, and demystifies the process for all of us. 

Your Turn: Do you have a Foreign Rights Agent? Have you looked into getting one? Which language would you love to see your future book translated into? Tell us in the comments! 

For more writing resources, craft tips, giveaways and news, you can sign up for our newsletter HERE. Also, don't forget to grab a free copy of the Emotion Amplifiers PDF in the sidebar, which is filled with body language ideas on how to show conditions like Pain, Stress, Addiction, Illness, Attraction, Hunger, Distraction, Inebriation etc. to make your characters more emotionally reactive! 

18 comments:

Robin said...

I'm still working on getting my books published in the US, but I do want to be published on foreign ground one day. I'm a quarter Swede, so it would be awesome to have my book published there. But I'd take anywhere that wants it. I've heard the Frankfurt book fair is the oldest book fair in the world.

mshatch said...

My first book comes out next year and this is definitely something I'm interested in knowing about. Thanks!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I've always wondered what was involved in selling foreign rights. Thanks, Marleen, for the great post!

Angela Brown said...

I would definitely be interested in a foreign rights agent. This post has certainly shown how one would be an essential key to growth beyond my US borders.

Becca Puglisi said...

I was so excited to hear that Marleen was going to be posting on this topic. When Angela and I first started looking into foreign rights for The ET, there was so little practical information about foreign rights agents and what they can do, particularly for a self-published title. All of this is information I wish we'd had earlier, so I'm grateful to her for stopping by and sharing :).

Tim Flanagan said...

Thanks so much for this information - it's really useful. I have three books that I self published and are already available in the US and UK, but sales in other countries are limited. I notice on my KDP dashboard that I sell a few copies in Germany and recently Japan has started to pick up on some too, so i guess there is a market for my books in non-english speaking countrys. The books are sci-fi/fantasy/adventure stories for teens and young adults. I had never really thought about getting a foreign rights agent, but now I think it might be worth a look. Thanks so much for an interesting article.
Tim Flanagan

Angela Ackerman said...

I'm with Becca--I am so grateful to have an insider help demystify Foreign Rights. Writers have to think like business people, and to do that we need information. Thanks so much for sharing so freely! :)

Angela

Marcia said...

Filled with great information. Wonderful!

Julie Musil said...

Wow! This is an area I hadn't even thought about. Thanks so much for the great information. Congratulations on selling Korean rights, ladies!!

Fiona Ingram said...

Thank you for a great article. I am an indie author and I found my foreign rights and translation agent via the Bologna Children's Book Fair. I had exhibited before with my publisher (iUniverse) but after a few fairs with no results, I was ready to give up on them. After some persuasion, I exhibited my MG adventure novel with a group of indie authors under the aegis of Foreword Book Reviews. I received a large number of separate requests from European agents ranging from Germany to Russia. My US agent has links worldwide with international agents so going with her has been like finding a one-stop shop. So, if you can exhibit your print version at international book fairs, you could swing a deal. The next big one is the Shanghai Book Fair.

Jacqueline Howett said...

Thanks for sharing! Some great tidbits!

Sankarprasad Tripathy said...

thnx for the article.it helped me a lot .i am a indian writer 15 published books with me .it is drama and novellas.iwant to publish them in english .i dont have forign rights agent,will you help me in this matter

Sankarprasad Tripathy said...

i have 15 published books whom i want to publish in uk.i want a forign agent

estetik said...

Thanks for sharing such useful information. The information provided is very very niche and this information is not available so easily.
Estetik

abraham sen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Carol Riggs said...

Wow, cool--your book in Korean!! I'm always intrigued by translations, and wonder how accurately they convey the original intent of the author. I'm sure some slang and idioms don't translate well, and approximations have to be made. Easier for nonfiction than fiction, I'm sure.

Thanks for the info on foreign rights and the world of foreign publishing! LOL on international book fairs being like massive speed dating events. :)

estetik Burun said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
najamonline4u said...

very nice post for a good translation in UK. thanks for the post

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