Jo’s away gallivanting across Europe (ok, so she’s going to meetings, attending a conference and promoting her clients…), so she asked me to guest blog in her place! I wanted to shake things up again and blog about something that’s not easily found online. So after some Googling and not finding too many posts on the topic, I decided a post on foreign rights would be fun.
So let’s start from the beginning: who decides who controls foreign rights for your book? It’s a combination of your offering publisher, your agent, and you, the author.
When an agent receives an offer from a publisher, it’s typically for world translation. This means the publisher keeps the rights to sell your book to other territories for publication in another language.
The three basic foreign rights are North American (rights to publish in North America + North American territories), World English (rights to publish worldwide in the English language, including selling to the UK, Australia and New Zealand), and Translation (rights to publish in non-English languages).
If your agent has a strong subrights person in-house, they’ll more than likely try to keep translation and sell just North American rights to the U.S. publisher. If the U.S. publisher has a sister-company in the UK, they’ll try to keep World English rights so if the sister-company buys the rights, they can work together to promote your title better worldwide.
What’s the difference between your U.S. publisher selling your foreign rights and your agent selling it? Boils down to two main points:
- You make more from the sale if your agent sells them. Typically if a publisher keeps them, the cut can be anywhere from 50/50 and up. So if the publisher makes a sale, you’re getting a percentage of the actual foreign advance, plus it goes straight toward your domestic advance to help you earn out. If your agent keeps foreign rights and sells them, then he/she takes the agreed upon, AAR-approved, commission and you get the rest.
- Publishers have thousands of titles on their list. Imprints have hundreds. While they certainly want to make money on all of them, the reality is that they have time to focus on only a handful of titles at a time. If they have five awesome dystopian novels, they can’t really pitch all five the same way. One of them has to be the lead title. With an agency, the chances of your book competing with another author’s in the same agency is slim, and the list is much, much smaller than a publisher’s, giving you the opportunity to stand out when being pitched to foreign publishers.
So your agent has sold your book in the US for North American rights—now what? Let’s pretend you’re with New Leaf.
First you get a fun e-mail from me which explains the process…and gives you a link for you to file for your tax exemption.
Several territories will deduct up to ~30% of your income if you don’t have proof you’re paying taxes on your income here in the U.S. So the IRS has this form you fill out and then they’ll send you tax certificates within…eh…4 weeks to 5 months (true story). So I always have our clients apply ASAP, because without this, several territories won’t pay you after a deal is made. (Some territories don’t have a tax treaty with the US and automatically withhold a % — this is where having an accountant who is familiar with publishing comes in handy…that’s an entirely different blog post.)
So once I’ve informed you, I get started on my end. I get information from the agent who made the deal so I can put together a little pitch packet based on territories who are looking for a project like the one just sold. And the pitches are sometimes different for some territories. There are some genres, topics and themes that simply don’t work in certain territories. And if I were to try to pitch everything to every territory, they would assume I didn’t know their current market and lose faith in my professional knowledge of the industry.
So I have my pitch and I’m ready to contact my co-agents and scouts.
Co-agents are literary agents in each territory whom we have a business relationship with. We work with about 19 co-agents who represent about 35 territories. Our co-agents are fantastic. They know the ins and outs of what their publishers want, and they also work hard to be the best advocates for our titles overseas.
Scouts are people who work for a specific publisher in each territory. They get to know their publishers’ specific tastes and keep an eye on the current sales so they know when the perfect match pops up. When that happens, they alert their publisher who alerts me or the co-agent, and if it’s a right fit, an offer is made. Scouts are essential to the foreign rights process.
So I send my pitch to scouts and agents, based on whether or not the project is a match for them, and from here on out, it’s all about updating them with any blurbs, reviews, deals, etc that pop up. Every bit of information helps them to get a sale. At the same time, I’m updating our rights guide—a catalogue with information on all of our agency’s titles and rights sales, blurbs, etc.
This handy catalogue is shared with our co-agents and scouts a couple of times a year, specifically before the major book fairs: Bologna Book Fair (March), The London Book Fair (April), Book Expo America (June) and Frankfurt Book Fair (October). Additionally, foreign publishers come to the states between these fairs to meet with agents and publishers face-to-face, so the rights guide has to be updated at all times and always ready to share.
Once an offer comes in, I coordinate with the co-agent to see if it will go to auction. I also update the scouts who have a client in that territory to ensure they’re not currently considering the title or if they’re interested enough to make an offer. Once we have a final offer, I counter offer (always!) and then once we have the final, final offer, I contact the client and ask if I may accept on their behalf! Then I send a fun YouTube congratulations video if it’s their first foreign sale.
After following up with contracts (did I mention each territory has a different format?) and sending out the tax exemption certificates (see why I have them apply so early?), it’s all about the follow up: payment, sending out the final manuscript for translation, asking about foreign promotion and marketing, covers, pub dates, receiving final copies, keeping up with sales and royalties and marketing, ensuring all publishers are updated on bestseller lists worldwide and sales and marketing, etc.
And I do this for every, single agency title in every, single territory sold and not sold. And at any point within this process, another new sale comes along, and the process starts all over for them, too!
KATHLEEN ORTIZ is Director of Subsidiary Rights and a Literary Agent at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. She is an agent member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives and New Work Women in Communication. She has an intimate client list of authors, and loves nothing more than reading a good book while drinking an eggnog latte. For a partial list of her foreign sales, you can visit her Publishers Marketplace page.