Ask The Experts – Subsidiary Rights

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Topics Discussed Below Include:
Royalty Help With Publishing Translations in Europe
Distribution Help in South America
Rules and Regulations for an American Publisher and Australian Author
Determining the Worth of Screen Rights


My question is about usual practices in publishing translations.

We will be publishing several translations of books in the public domain about World War I (along w/ other titles), but there is a recently published book in Dutch that I would like to acquire. I spoke w/ the author, who I know slightly, and she seemed to think the Belgium publisher would pay for the translation. In this country, of course, the foreign publisher acquiring rights will always pay for the translation. Is the practice different in Europe?

Also, is it more customary to pay a flat fee for permission to publish a translation, or to pay an advance and a percentage of the royalties? I know authors in the U.S. normally get a fairly high percentage of the initial payment, and nothing more, so I would assume the second is more common. If so, is there a customary percentage?

Thanks very much for your help with these questions.

Answer (01/2012):

By ‘this country’ I assume you mean USA. I don’t know what the practice is in Europe, but in the USA yes, the US publisher covers the cost of translation.

Most US publishers pay a non-US publisher (aka the Proprietor) an advance vs royalty to translate and publish a foreign work. I don’t understand when you talk about a publisher paying a ‘percentage’ of the royalties. If the Proprietor gets a percentage of the royalties, who gets the rest? The translator? The deal usually doesn’t work like that. The Proprietor gets one deal, usually an advance vs royalties. The translator may also get royalties, or may submit the text as a work for hire, in which case it is a one-time payment with no royalties. As for the split between original author and Proprietor, that is governed by the original author’s contract and should be no concern of yours. In the USA, the split is usually 50/50, but authors with agents may have more favorable terms, and in some cases the US publisher has no foreign rights at all, so you really can’t generalize. There is no customary percentage. When we sell rights we usually get 6 to 8% of the foreign cover price, and there is usually an escalator clause that adds a percentage point at specificed milestones, like 5,000 or 10,000 copies sold. When we buy rights we always offer a percentage of net receipts, anywhere from 5% to 12%, depending on what the translation costs for us will be.

I wouldn’t overthink this. You can start offering the Dutch publisher a small advance ($500) vs 6% royalties and see what they say. That would be a pretty low offer, so if you’re feeling more generous offer a larger advance . . .

~ Stone Bridge Press president and publisher Peter Goodman is a graduate of Cornell University and lived in Tokyo, Japan, for ten years, where he worked as an editor for English-language publishers Charles E. Tuttle and Kodansha International before returning to the United States in 1985. He has served as in-house editor, ghostwriter, translator, and project manager on over 200 Japan- and Asia-related titles. Peter established Stone Bridge in 1989. He is past president of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (formerly MSPA).


We have published 9 titles in Spanish which we sale well in the US market but we would like to expend to South America. 

We get some orders from SA but shipping tend to be higher then the price of the books. Do you know of any fulfillment centers we can work with? What about other US based Spanish language publishers, how do they distribute to SA?

Answer (01/2012):

A lot of them partner with publishers in SA. The price point was the biggest issue for us. We produce $7.95 children’s board books and most distributors wanted to get the price down to $2. That just did not work for us. We also do books for the American Academy of Pediatrics and they sell the Spanish language products into SA. But they have a built in market of doctors.

To really understand the market I would suggest you get a shared booth at the Guadalajara International Book Fair ( You will find other US publishers, US librarians who go to the show looking for Spanish language products, distributors, and publishers that you might be able to partnership. Bobby Byrd from Cinco Puntos Press has done a lot of work in SA (

~Mark Wesely – me+mi publishing is an independent publisher dedicated to creating the highest quality books available in two or more languages for infants and toddlers.


I was recently contacted by an author in Australia for a book project similar to one I have already published. Are there specific rules and regulations regarding an American publisher and an Australian author? To potentially complicate matters more, an American illustrator will be used for the book project. The book would be printed and released in the US.

Answer (01/2012):

I’m not fully sure if I understand Cathy’s question, but I think she’s asking if there are any legal constraints in having an American publisher publish an Australian author. If so, no, there are not. The publisher would treat the author like any other author, domestic or international. The publisher would pay royalties in American dollars and issue the normal 1099. The author would be responsible for including that information in his own foreign tax return. The same would be true for the illustrator.

The technological innovations allow publishers to flatten the world and explore talent internationally. What a marvelous opportunity.

~ Christopher Robbins is a husband and father of nine children. He is real and is not, contrary to those who meet him for the first time, a storybook character. He holds a BA in English and an MBA from Brigham Young University—a perennial top 20 football program. He has been in the magazine and book publishing fields for 20 years. He currently chooses which 80 hours he works each week as CEO of Gibbs Smith, which just celebrated its 42nd year as an illustrated lifestyle publisher.


We are a small publishing house in San Diego, CA. Recently I had a request to purchase screen rights to one of our books. Most of my background has been in Production so this area is new to me.

How do we determine what screen rights are worth?

Answer (11/2011):

Ultimately, determining the value of the screen rights to one of your stories is something you’ll probably want to consult an agent about — in particular, a good agent will be well-equipped to carefully examine the contract and make sure there aren’t any surprises that will come back to bite you later on. Before it gets to that point, though, here are some general principles to keep in mind:

  • What are the film rights worth to YOU? Seriously: How much do you think they’re worth, or how much do you think it would take to let somebody else make a movie out of your story? You might want to set that number high enough so the only people who’d be willing to pay it are likely to be serious about actually making that movie.
  • Remember, these aren’t one-time deals. Producers almost NEVER buy the film rights to a property outright and for forever and ever. Instead, they buy an OPTION on the film rights for a set period of time (usually measured in years), and then if they haven’t actually moved forward in their efforts when the option runs out, they have the choice of renewing (and paying you more money) or dropping the option (at which point you can sell it to anybody else who’s interested). One of the reasons I recommended bringing in an agent is that she’ll be able to negotiate an appropriate length of time for that option; more importantly, she’ll be helpful in negotiating the ADDITIONAL payouts — more money that comes your way when, for example, the film actually goes into production and becomes that much closer to being a real thing.
  • How involved do you want to be? Generally speaking, authors get paid for the film rights to their work and then that’s the end of their involvement, unless the producers feel generous enough to invite them to come spend a day on the set and meet the actors. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Some authors who are already demonstrably skilled at writing screenplays can easily convince producers to let them write at least the first draft. If you don’t have a strong track record as a screenwriter, maybe there’s still some chance you could persuade the producers to let you try if you’re willing to come down on your asking price. It’s a long shot, so this probably isn’t where you want to draw your line in the sand, but if you’re interested, you might as well ask. To re-invoke the first principle: How much is it worth to you?

Once you’ve determined for yourself what you think the film rights to your story are worth, a good agent who agrees that your valuation is realistic can help you negotiate a deal that matches your expectations, or help you recalibrate your expectations if necessary, or maybe even get you more than you originally imagined. Good luck!

~ Ron Hogan Ron Hogan helped create the literary Internet when he launched Beatrice in 1995. His latest website,, recruits authors and independent booksellers to make personalized recommendations for readers based on the books they already love. He lives in Queens.

We hope you will find this program useful, but as with any advice, we recommend that you make sure it fits your specific business needs. IBPA does not specifically endorse or support any particular group or service.

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