Navigating Foreign Rights Without a Map

I was delighted to learn my novel, Crossing Oceans, was translated into Dutch to be sold in the Netherlands. I don’t know what this means as far as fame or fortune goes, but I suspect it’s not going to change my life much, but I also suspect that it’s a priveledge not all writers get. Needless to say I was pleased regardless.

I had nothing to do with this foreign rights sale. A kind woman Marian Baay apparently chose my novel for her publisher to translate. How did she receive a copy? [Gina shrugs.] You know this business, it’s a roulette wheel. I learned about this translation because I happen to be friends with the woman on facebook and she told me. (Isn’t the cover lovely?)

The next day, I received an email from my publisher that said the book would also be translated into Romanian. Wow. Still not real sure what this means for me, but again, I suspect it’s a good thing, not world shaking, but nice.
I hear we’re in talks with a Korean publisher as well. I, of course, wouldn’t be upset if I happened to become an “international best-seller”, but even if that doesn’t happen it’s still very cool.

All of this got me thinking about how foreign rights sales work and if it’s possible for an author to make this sort of thing happen for themselves. For me, my agent negotiated some, my publisher negotiated some, and possibly one happened because I was lucky enough to have the right person read my book and recommend it. The truth is, I don’t really know how it all happened, but I wanted to offer you all something useful so I did a little research and came up with the following:

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“For the uninitiated, typically a publisher buys a certain set of rights, permissions to publish the book in a certain geographical area. First US rights, first English language rights, first World rights – the variations are seemingly endless. There are also film and theatre rights, graphic novel rights, comic rights, audio rights, etc. As a writer, you will get paid each time a new set of rights is sold.

Foreign rights work the same way. Each sale earns the author more money. That money is applied against their advance until that advance earns out. Once it does, the author starts earning royalties, a situation we all like to be in. On the publishers end, the book is more successful with each sale made. So you would think that most publishers or author’s agents would be actively working to sell additional foreign rights for the titles they acquire.

You would think.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Publishers might be too tied up with their latest blockbusters to push foreign rights for your new mass market paperback, particularly if you are writing in a genre like horror. Your agent might not have an interest in foreign sales or might be partnered with a sub-rights agent who doesn’t have the same faith in your work. Like most everything else in the publishing industry, there are a thousand different variables that come into play.

As an author, you CAN do something about this. Educate yourself on what’s selling where. Understand what foreign publishers regularly by translations to be republished in their country. Know who the editors are who are making those acquisitions. Inform your sub-rights department (if your publisher controls foreign rights) or your agent (if they do not). I try to provide both my sub-rights rep and my agent with a list every few months of foreign publishers who have acquired book similar to my own, at least in general terms, and politely suggest that they submit to these individuals, citing these recent acquisitions. At worst, all it means is a few minutes of work and another rejection. At best, another sale. And that sale can increase your worth in the eyes of your publisher, making them more prone to attempt other foreign rights sales or more interested in your next book.

And that’s a good thing.

There are several places you can do some research with regard to foreign publishers. I’ll suggest two, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. The first way is to make a habit of researching publishers in your local library’s International Literary Marketplace. This exhaustive book lists all of the works coming out from foreign publishers and provides information about the publishing companies themselves. Another way to do it is to join Publishermarketplace as a member and use their Deal List to review recent sales of foreign rights. The advantage of this latter method is that it often tells the name of the agent who sold the rights as well as the name of the editor who bought them.

In today’s market, making that first sale is great. But selling that book two, three, four or more times means greater success for you and greater interest from your publisher.”

Joe is the internationally bestselling author of the Templar Chronicles trilogy and a trained writing/creativity coach. Jumpstart your fiction with him at

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