Book Fairs and Book Worms

Jon Holder has dedicated Monster of the Month to London Book Fair and has created these bookish creatures… And Mary Darby, Rights Executive, is talking foreign rights.

Reading Time colour

In the frantic run up to the London Book Fair I thought I’d take some time out from preparing for my 56 meetings and introduce you to the exciting, and somewhat mysterious world of Foreign Rights. I say exciting, because it truly is – we liaise with foreign publishers every day, discuss excellent books and lovely authors, and negotiate exciting deals. And I say mysterious because not many début and aspiring authors know foreign rights even exist…

LBF takes place next week (15th – 17th April) and Earl’s Court is bracing itself for another fantastic Book Fair where it will be filled to the brim with book people talking about… books! Rights people will be pitching next year’s bestsellers and editors will be looking for them.

Bestselling Darley Anderson author Tana French commented, “Before I was published, I knew basically nothing about foreign rights, and I didn’t even think about them.”

So if you’ve never heard of them, you’re not alone. However, Tana French’s books are now sold into 31 languages, so sit up and take note.

Foreign Rights (also known as translation rights) are one sub-right of many that make up a manuscript/book. They are the rights that mean the manuscript can be translated and published in another language. And the best bit? The author doesn’t even have to pick up their pen (or fire up their laptop) to write another word. Foreign editions are translated from the original manuscript.

Tana went on to say “I didn’t really expect them [the foreign rights] to sell; I was just crossing all my fingers and toes that the book would sell in English that even thinking about other languages felt greedy. So foreign rights sales still feel a bit magical and unearned to me, like un-birthday presents being dropped through the letterbox by a fairy godmother.”

Let me translate. What this means is that because we, the Agency, handle the foreign rights and not the publisher (foreign rights can be sold in bulk to the UK publisher – more about this later) the author receives an advance on top of any other advance already earned (UK & Commonwealth; US.). Each foreign rights sale is a separate deal and so is separately accounted. So as you can see, foreign rights can be very valuable and the author has had to do nothing more!

Alternatively, if the agent sells foreign rights to the UK publisher (WORLD RIGHTS) then the publisher’s in-house rights team will handle them. A publisher’s rights team won’t differ all that much from an agency’s rights team; deals are negotiated and rights are sold in much the same way. But, any income generated by foreign rights sales through a publisher’s rights team will go towards recouping the initial advance paid out. Only once the total sum has been recouped by the publisher will the author see any more pennies or pounds for that manuscript. This is what’s known as earning out.
Big difference and a discussion for another day.

As I’ve said before, if you’re an author thinking about submitting to our agency, think about international appeal. Will the manuscript work well abroad? Is it too British? Is it easily translatable and does it deal with universal themes? This isn’t a deal breaker, but it can be a sweetener, and as an aspiring author, it’s something to think about.

And also remember that I, and the editors I will be meeting with next week, will have between 15 and 20 back-to-back appointments each day, so please also bear us in mind before you submit and try the elevator pitch; you have 30 seconds to pitch your entire novel. Use this pitch in your covering letter; this will help the agent who opens your submission, and will help the rights agent pitch it to publishers at the International Book Fairs.

From Monday Earl’s Court will be buzzing with the sound of rights agents pitching their new titles to editors. Because the fair is only three days long, we try to cram in as many meetings as possible to make the most of the publishers being in our city. This makes for a really exhilarating and very busy three days. And we can’t wait!

LBF 2013

By Mary Darby

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One Response to Book Fairs and Book Worms

  1. thanks for this article as I think foreign rights seem a strange concept topeople and this will help writers to try and tailor their books with that knowledge in mind. Having read many books in foreign languages and translated one or two, this is an issue dear to my heart

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