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Selling Foreign-Language Rights

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In its original form as a manuscript, any book is a Work. The Work may be published in several different formats or editions–hardcover, softcover, audiotape, e-book, magazine condensation, newspaper serialization, movie, translations, etc.–through “subsidiary rights” deals.

Subrights deals that provide for having your book translated into other languages mean that more people will benefit from your message and that you will gain a new profit center. Also, a foreign rights sale counts as an “endorsement.” In book publishing, success breeds success. The more you sell, the more you sell. Part of your sales package is a list of the subsidiary rights you have sold.

Overseas Opportunities

Publishers would sell more foreign rights if they just took the time to let international publishers know of their books.

Publishers in the United States are very lucky. English is the business language of the world. It is also the aviation language, and it’s the Web language. English has replaced French as the diplomatic language and German as the scientific language. The market for our original English-language books is quite large. Worldwide, more people speak

English as a second language than any other. But given a choice, many people would still prefer to read your book in their first language.

Publishers in other countries who buy language rights will translate the book, design it, typeset it, have it printed, and then plug it into their existing distribution system. You do not want to take on these functions overseas as you don’t have ready access to their markets. It’s hard to find buyers for a book in a distant land.

I sold the Spanish-language rights to The Skydiver’s Handbook to a publisher in Madrid. Though only 13% of the skydivers in the U.S. are women, I had made the original book gender-equitable. I showed female instructors and competitors. When I received the translation, I noticed the text was completely masculine–the Spaniards took out all the women!

After some reflection (actually snickering), I decided not to object. I realized this Spanish aviation publisher knows its (macho) customer base better than I. Being closer to their buyer, they know what will sell.

To Do at BEA (and Before and After)

To find foreign-rights sales possibilities, contact the publishers’ associations in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Japan. See International Literary Marketplace or visit the association exhibits at BEA and other book fairs. Ask the foreign publishers’ associations to recommend member-publishers that specialize in your type of books.

Match your book to publishers in the major language groups. They are the ones to contact. They know what you are talking about, and they know where to sell your book.

Wring more value out of your Work by having your book read around the world.

Dan Poynter is the author of “The Self-Publishing Manual” and a past Vice-President of PMA. His company, Para Publishing, provides valuable guides on book publishing. You’ll find the firm’s Web site at http://ParaPublishing.com.

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