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Bring Your Frankfurt Experience to Fruition

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OK, your book has been to Frankfurt. You’ve displayed it through PMA or one of the other cooperative displays. Or perhaps you were there yourself; maybe you even had your own booth. Now you have inquiries from foreign publishers and agents you know nothing about. And you’ve heard lots of gee-whiz stories about huge advances as well as even more horror stories about bootlegging. Where do you go from here?

Begin by putting your books in perspective. This year’s Frankfurt Book Fair had more than 6,800 exhibitors from 110 countries who showed 350,000 titles in 175,000 square meters of booth space located in six buildings to more than 300,000 visitors from around the world. But although the scope is extraordinarily large and the climate extremely competitive, small publishers can and do succeed in making deals and developing mutually rewarding global relationships. For instance, books by two PMA members–Nancy Zi’s Art of Breathing (The ViVi Company) and Linda Pillsbury’s Answer Is No (Perspective Publishing)–are now available in a dozen different languages, and counting. And they get paid!

However, as is true with most success stories, a good deal of work was necessary. Here’s a step-by-step program that will help you profit from your experience at the fair.

Qualify Your Leads

Whatever the source of your leads–PMA, other cooperative displays, or your own conversations with potential rights buyers–-make sure each inquiry is from a bona fide publisher or agent. Bootlegging does happen, but you can eliminate that threat by screening. Is a lead from someone who simply sht=1led unannounced into the booth and asked that a copy of your book be sent? Or is it from a foreign publisher or agent with whom you or your display service has a relationship, or whose credentials you can check?

Ship Smart


When you’re ready to ship copies to qualified leads overseas, you have two options: fast/expensive or slow/inexpensive. “Slow” in international shipping means really,really slow. Parcel post can take several weeks, even months, to reach its destination, or never get there at all. So fast/expensive is the better choice. I recommend using the USPS Global Priority Mail service because it seems to be the most cost effective, and it’s available to most countries.

However you ship, avoid saddling the recipient with unnecessary duty charges. Complete the customs declaration form properly by indicating that the book is a “sample copy, no commercial value.” It is also useful to include a pro forma invoice for under $2 in the package, indicating that this is a “sample copy with no commercial value.” A few years ago one of my Frankfurt clients sent two copies of each of his four large hardcover books to me at my hotel in Germany. Because he put the full retail value of each book ($39) on the customs declaration form by mistake, the German customs official asked me to pay duty of $75. A foreign publisher who receives your book with duty payable will simply reject delivery.

Include a Covering Letter

Always include a brief letter addressed to the recipient by name with the name repeated in the salutation. Refer to the recipient’s request for the review/reading copy, and ask for confirmation via e-mail that it arrived. Also, let each person know that you will be following up because you have requests from other publishers in their country who are eager to review the book.

Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up

This is the most important part of the entire process, and the one most often overlooked. Far too often, American publishers obligingly send review/reading copies to foreign publishers, and then simply hope for the best. Following up–with good manners–is crucial. If you don’t get e-mail confirmation of receipt within a reasonable time, send an e-mail of your own to ask whether the book has arrived. And once you know that it has, create a timetable for following up at three- to four-week intervals. Generally, it takes rights buyers several weeks to make a decision.

Respond Intelligently to Offers

Typically, an offer to translate and publish your book in a foreign country will come in the form of a licensing agreement that involves an advance and royalty. The standard advance is the entire royalty on the first printing. Most initial offers can be negotiated upward somewhat, but you must be realistic. It this is your first book, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by being greedy.

And, since many legal elements are involved in contractual agreements, get professional advice from an attorney or agent with experience in foreign rights licensing if you are not thoroughly familiar with terms, conditions, and options.

Pointers from Baseball

To help my clients reap benefits from the Frankfurt Book Fair, I call up a comparison with baseball. The fair is like the regulation season; all 32 major league teams play 162 games each. At the end of the regular schedule, only eight teams go to the playoffs. In terms of the fair, these are the books requested by foreign publishers. Of the eight teams that make the playoffs, only one survives as the world champion. Similarly, of all the books that a foreign publisher considers on a particular subject, only one (or a very select few) may get an offer. In the final analysis, the best teams (books) usually win!

Publishing consultant Bob Erdmann created PMA’s Trade Distribution Program and served as PMA president for two terms. His Frankfurt/Foreign Rights Program has meant hundreds of foreign rights sales for his clients. To reach him, call 707/726-9200; fax 707/726-9300; e-mail bob@bob-erdmann.com; or visit www.bob-erdmann.com.

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