Why self-publishing authors should think “foreign rights” from the outset

Posted By on March 1, 2013

Not all power tools are in the Black & Decker aisle at Home Depot. Foreign rights sales are often an underappreciated power tool with great potential. Few people realize that what keeps many smart mid-sized to small publishers thriving is the revenue generated from these sales. Although some believe books need to be published traditionally to take advantage of foreign right sales, this is just not true. Self-published fantasy author Michael J. Sullivan swung a six-figure deal with three of his titles after U.S. sales skyrocketed.

Will this work for your books? Here’s how to assess the potential.

First, your topic must be in demand. Business is very popular. New age and metaphysical subjects are popular as well, especially holistic medicine and natural healing. Titles on aging that deal with second careers, care giving, travel, disease, and dating after middle age have appeal. Relationship and parenting topics do well also. And books on technology sell like hotcakes. Happily, many backlist titles are just as viable as brand new books. Genre fiction, such as The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, can also be quite popular.

Second, your books must “travel.” That means they must be as appropriate in other countries as here. If you include a lot of U.S. addresses and phone numbers in the text, you’ll hurt your chances of foreign sales. (Consider whether you can group such material in an Appendix—which they can elect to delete.) Other countries depend on the metric system of measurement, so cookbooks with ingredients specified in the American standard will be met with resistance. Books referencing dollars and prices are also likely doomed. But perhaps you can condense your U.S.–oriented material into one chapter, which can be omitted from the foreign

It’s highly recommended that self-published authors defer to the expertise of a literary agent when it comes to shopping around for foreign rights possibilities.

On the Book Marketing Network website, John Penberthy related the story of how he received almost nearly 40,000 dollars from selling foreign rights for his self-published book To Bee or Not to Bee. He says, “I strongly recommend using literary agents (as opposed to contacting publishers directly); they are worth their weight in gold.”

One exception that is worth noting is that Amazon now allows self-published authors to sell their ebooks on Amazon’s international sites when they use Kindle Direct.  Now, when authors upload those books to Amazon’s free print publishing tool, CreateSpace, Amazon will distribute the books to Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.es and Amazon.it. Of course, this is the English version of books, so it is somewhat different than selling foreign rights outright to a publisher that will in turn have the book translated.

Knowing how lucrative foreign rights can be is a real impetus for evaluating how you write, edit, and slant a book in the early stages.

This is part of a continuing series based on the forthcoming Jump Start Your Book Sales, 2nd Edition, by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier. The book is scheduled for publication in fall 2013.

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4 Responses to “Why self-publishing authors should think “foreign rights” from the outset”

  1. Great post. Thanks for all the valuable advice!

  2. My pleasure, Becky. Thank so much!

  3. Apple has ebooks for sale in 51 countries – way more than Amazon. Smashwords is open to the whole world. Sony and Kobo also sell internationally now. Selling English-version books in foreign countries is pretty easy. It’s getting a translation that takes more effort.

  4. Hi Carla–I totally agree…getting the translation is definitely more complicated. Thanks so much for weighing in!

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