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Breaking into International Markets by Orna Ross of ALLIi

1: Sell English Language eBooks in International Book Stores.

In recent months, Amazon has been aggressively moving into ebook markets abroad. The Kindle store is now available on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, Amazon.es, Amazon.co.jp, Amazon.com.br, Amazon.cn and Amazon.ca.  Once you load your books, they are automatically for sale in all stores. Those countries that do not have a store of their own are included in one of the bigger stores. e.g. customers in Ireland shop in Amazon.uk; customers in Australia in Amazon.com.
And other companies like Apple and Kobo are ahead of Amazon on the big push into overseas markets. Kobo has teamed with booksellers throughout the world — e.g. British book chain WH Smith and French chain Fnac — as exclusive ebook partner. This strategy has allowed them to reach 27 countries in two years. Kobo's strapline is: Read Freely and they are trying to provide a robust challenge to Amazon's Kindle, whose proprietary software locks  its ebooks into its own device. The US giant Barnes & Noble announced that it was launching the Nook in the U.K. and will presumably be targeting other countries soon also.

TOP TIP #1: To maximize your presence in overseas Kindle stores, set up an Author Central account on each of those country-specific sites. If you are selling your books only in English, set up your bio and book information in English. If you have a foreign translated version (see below), use that language instead.
TOP TIP #2: Having a free book is a good way to be discovered in overseas stores, going on anecdotal evidence from members of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). You can do this on Kindle by being part of KDP Select or, if you offer a book free through other stores, Amazon will eventually price match. This will happen first at Amazon.com, then slowly in the others (Amazon.uk, .de, .es  etc) over time.
Lindsay Buroker has blogged about making that strategy work for her. 

“It’s taken a while for the free ebooks to percolate through, showing up in the international Apple stores, but I’m now … making between $1,500 and $2,000/mo overall in overseas sales… If I tried to target each of these countries individually through forums or paid sponsorships, it’d be a tall order.”

Many ALLi members agree — but all emphasize that this take a long time to filter through and that you should be clear which book you are going to offer as your ‘discovery vehicle'. Like all free strategies, this works best if the book is the first part of a series.
2:  Get An Agent to Sell Your Rights To Foreign Publishers Who Will Translate and Sell Your Book.
If an agent believes they can make money from your book, they work on a commission basis, usually 20% of advances and subsequent royalties in foreign markets. The author pays nothing up front; the agents only get paid if they sell.
Most foreign agents work with a co-agent or literary scout in the author's country, who feed them books to market which already have a proven sales track record in the author's country. In these cases, the two agents usually split the 20% commission. 
Jennifer Custer, Rights Director at AM Heath, represents suitable books in translation markets for members of ALLi. 

“It’s important to understand that the translation markets are each as tough to crack as home English language markets,” Jennifer says. “Translation itself can cost many thousands of dollars/euros, and so publishers have an extra financial dimension to their calculations. Each market comes with its own difficulties and the economic crisis is biting – trade book sales are down and publishers are cutting their lists and have less money to invest in translation and marketing.” 

Foreign publishing is behind the US and UK with regard to the self-publishing revolution. In most countries, the market share of ebooks is 1% of the total — compared to approximately 20% in the US and 8% in the UK. “And here are still some editors who will dismiss any indie book out of hand,” says Custer. “However, for every one of those editors I've spoken to, there are five more who are intrigued and inspired by the possibilities.”
ALLi's rationale in seeking an agent for our members was that it is challenging for an indie author to acquire the knowledge of international territories and publishing houses required to handle their own translation rights, on top of everything else. It seemed a good service for members to have their books read and assessed for translation rights potential by somebody who had experience in this complex arena. 

“I’m generally trying to bring new thinking to the submissions process,” says Custer. “In addition to the usual pitching and submitting, I'm now experimenting with an interactive newsletter, which will help me track how editors (and book scouts) are engaging with the ALLi highlights I send them. So far, I’m pleased with the results of this.” 

TOP TIP #3: Join The Alliance of Independent Authors to avail of this translation rights service
3:  Get LOTS of Agents to Sell Your Rights To Foreign Publishers Who Will Translate and Sell Your Book.
John Penberthy received almost $40,000 from selling foreign rights for his book, To Bee or Not to Bee, by identifying the email addresses of over 100 foreign literary agents through Internet research. 

“I sent them a brief descriptive email with the link to the trailer (for the book). This piqued the interest of a dozen or so who requested a review copy. Several of them took me on and offers for translation rights from foreign publishers started coming — Korean, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Slovenian, Chinese, and Romanian — with advances totaling nearly $40k. Several other languages are in the works. I strongly recommend using literary agents (as opposed to contacting publishers directly); they are worth their weight in gold.” 

You can read more about John's strategy here.
TOP TIP #4: You can only have one agent per book and many agents prefer to represent an author's entire oevre.
4: Sell Your Rights Directly To Foreign Publishers Who Will Translate and Sell Your Book
The popular self-publishing guru, Dean Wesley Smith, recommends a more DIY approach, cutting out the agent to co
ntact the overseas publishers yourself to try to sell it to them directly.  

“If your agent in a big agency wants to try to sell your books overseas, they give it to the dedicated foreign agent (who you likely don’t know) who then either shops it or gives it to yet another agent (who you certainly don’t know and didn’t hire). If you want to be an internationally selling fiction writer, take control of this aspect of your career as well as home market. My wife sold her last few books overseas on her own completely from start to end. On another, she sold it but brought her agent in to help with the deal.”

In order to do this, You will need to become an expert in foreign rights, getting to know a wide variety of agents, sub-agents and publishers in a number of territories. Travelling to large international rights fairs at least twice a year becomes essential to get direct contact with foreign publishers and sub-agents. The three big ones are; The Frankfurt Book Fair, which takes place each October in Frankfurt, Germany; the London Book Fair, which takes place mid April, and Book Expo America, which takes place end of May in NYC or Chicago. 
TOP TIP #5: Do not just turn up to an international book fair, hoping to sell your book. Meetings are arranged in advance with acquisitions editors at international publishing houses, to whom new projects are pitched, and new potential publisher customers can be discovered. 
TOP TIP #6: Be prepared to invest. A table in the rights arena at an international book fair will cost $1000. 
5:  Pay for Translation and Sell the Translated Ebooks and Pbooks Direct to Readers
Bella Andre, the popular romance writer, has as many as 30 people contracted to help translate her books into foreign languages. She admitted that DIY translation was much harder than she’d ever expected, even with large QA teams to help ensure quality. Given her experience, which would she recommend — using an agent or direct translation? Both, she says. 
Finding a translator is extremely tricky and the more literary the book, the trickier it gets. A rate of about 4 to 10c per word is lowest level and standards vary greatly. Fiction is most difficult.  This option also requires a great deal of upfront investment. Translators typically get between 2k and 5k euros fixed for the translation of a standard fiction book, and/or some 30% of royalties.
As indies enter the market, other deals between writers and translators are becoming possible. 
 TOP TIP #7: Be aware that in many  European countries the copyright of the translated work lies with the translator, even if paid an upfront lump sum, unless otherwise specified in a legal agreement.
TOP TIP #8: Shorter books are better for translation because they keep costs down.
6: Hit it big.
Hit it big with a book, newsworthy big. Either huge money big or award-winning big. Overseas publishers are then likely to take note and contact you. 
  • Never, ever give up world rights as standard to a trade publisher or assisted self-publishing service. 
  • Always ask any publisher or publishing service to give you full details of their plans for your book in a particular territory or language — especially how they intend to exploit the rights. If they don't have a plan, or you don't believe they will pursue it, retain those rights yourself.
  • Similarly, check your agreement with a translations rights agent carefully.
  • Works published in a foreign country are subject to that country’s copyright laws, not those of their country of origin.
  • Be aware that if an agent sells your book in a particular territory, they are entitled to all subsequent income on that book in that territory, even if you subsequently part ways.  
  • Have a plan but also know that publishing is an erratic, mysterious business and this is especially evident when it comes to foreign rights. Roddy Doyle's book about a Dublin based soul band, that uses the local vernacular to such a degree that audiences were issued with “slang sheets” going to see the film version so they'd understand what was being said, is huge in Japan. How? Who knows? Lots of writers have the experience of selling better in France or Italy than they do at home and having absolutely no idea why.
All rights sales rest on the concept of copyright. No worldwide law governs international copyright. Rather, it derives from a patchwork of bilateral and multinational agreements and treaties, implemented in national laws. What happens in practice is that different countries sign treaties with other countries agreeing certain aspects of copyright, which are then incorporated into the country’s national law.
Chief among international copyright agreements is the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, established in 1886 and revised numerous times. The Berne Convention creates for its 166 agreeing countries a concept of copyright protection that attempts to vouchsafe the rights of authors and artists and foster a landscape where it is worthwhile for authors and publishers to globally distribute their work. 
  • Copyright covers literary, artistic, and scientific works
  • A work created in a one of the agreement countries is protected under its own laws and the copyright laws of every other contracting country.
  • Copyright affords the holder exclusive distribution and subsidiary rights (including translation, adaptation, audio, serial rights etc.).
  • The creator of the work holds copyright just by creating it. Contrary to popular belief, there is no need to follow any formality (like registering) in order to claim copyright. Though many a lawyer has been give a fee from writers to do just that, it is unnecessary and no guarantee of anything.
  • For printed works, the minimum duration of copyright is fifty years after the author’s death, though some of the agreement countries grant seventy years after author death.
  • Copyright is a passive right; it has to be asserted and in cases of continued breach, asserted in a court of law, a proceeding that is usually beyond an individual writer's budget. 
  • Having said that, its very existence affords writers and artists protection and is the principle on which the entire global publishing industry, with its rights contracts and fairs, is built.
Traditionally, writers license publishers the rights in their work for a period of time (usually ten years). With digital rights management issues arising from electronic publishing, the legal questions grow — as they are wont to do —  ever more complicated and are being played out in courtrooms by vast multinational companies like Amazon and Penguin. 
The good news for us, as indies, is that rights issues are greatly simplified. We own our rights and we can decide what we want to do with them. We are not bound by a publisher's overall policy and can do what seems best for each individual book. 

ORNA ROSS is a London based Irish writer of novels, poems and the ‘Go Creative!' books. Formerly a features journalist, a lecturer in Creative Practice at University College Dublin (WERRC) and Penguin published author, she moved, in 2011, to publishing her own work. The creative freedom and commercial possibilities for writers afforded by the self-publishing revolution led her, in 2012, to form The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi),  a global association offering self-publishing writers a wide variety of benefits: advice, guidance and information; contacts, connection and collaboration; incentives, code of standards and encouragement towards excellence; and advocacy within the literary and publishing industries. 


This Post Has 15 Comments
  1. Fascinating and valuable information, Orna, thanks so much for sharing your expertise with us! I’m an affiliate member of ALLi, hoping to become a full-fledged member in the near future! An excellent writers’ organization!

  2. What valuable advice! There’s currently a publishing campaign in Romania for my book, Cicada. I needed this! And, yes, I totally plan to join ALLi! <3
    Many thanks for sharing this info!

  3. This is a wonderful post. Although I have quite a few books out, I still haven’t expanded beyond selling my English ebook via amazon. I’d love to sell foreign rights but it’s a challenge to do and I haven’t quite figured out how to go about enticing a Foreign Rights Agent to put my books out there on the block. So this is the motivation I needed. Thanks!

  4. Thank you, Orna, for a great post. It is also thanks to you, in part, that I find myself here at this conference as I spotted it on ALLi in the first instance. It has really changed my mind about self-pubbing so, thank you! 😀

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