The moment you receive an email from a publisher or licenser pitching you for a potential rights deal, is an exciting moment. While there are also lots of scammers in the world, there are also many genuine publishers and licensers out there who really do want to partner with you. Today, the Alliance of Independent Authors AskALLi team looks at what you should do when you're approached by an overseas publisher.
As soon as you achieve success as an indie author, you're going to be approached directly regarding foreign rights or other rights deals as–unless you have an agent–you are the point of call for your books.
This might feel odd at first. You might instinctively think it's a scam, as we're so used to doing things independently, with no help or support. This post will help you weed out the scam from the genuine deal and tell you what to do when you're approached by an overseas publisher or other rights buyer.
When Are You Likely to Be Approached?
If your book is selling well–anything from a few thousand up to several hundred thousand copies of your book sold a year–then you may receive approaches from overseas publishers. If you write general fiction, you'll usually need to have sold considerably more copies—as many as 50,000 upwards before you start to receive approaches. That said, if you write in a super niche genre, or if you write nonfiction, then chances are that you'll need to have sold fewer copies before being approached. Especially if your niche has like-minded niche publishers in foreign countries that specialize in publishing books in that niche.
How Do You Work Out If It's a Scam?
There are a few key things you can do to work out whether the offer is genuine or not. First of all, research is your friend. Get onto your computer and start researching.
- Check out the publisher's website and social media channels. Given that most of the content will be in a foreign language, you can use Google translate or innate app translation to view the content of the publisher. Are they posting book related content? Do they publicize their authors? How frequently are they publishing? Do the posts make sense (given the varying reliability of Google translate)? How's their reputation
- Email them: Ask the publisher for a list of authors they publish. Reach out to the ones who speak the same language as you and enquire whether the publisher has been professional to work with. Ask about the timelines, the swiftness of payments, communication, etc.
- Email any authors associated with them. If they list their authors, reach out to a few and ask some salient questions.
- Browse the Internet for any other commentary. Do a wider search on the publisher to see if any news articles or blogs come up refuting the authenticity of the publisher.
Don't forget that ALLi offers a dedicated rights support desk and literary agent for its members. If you're an ALLi member, contact the dedicated rights support desk and ask for a second opinion.
Log in and navigate to –> Rights & Contracts–> Literary Agent.
Ethan advises:We live in an information ocean so your first step is ‘due diligence’.You can search for this publisher online and gather a great deal of accurate information about them. There are pitfalls about the scope of rights and these deals and agreements need careful attention, but that is something you can do on your own, or find the right partner for.
How Does the Process Work?
Approaches by email invariably take a similar form.
- You receive an email from the publisher introducing themselves, the publishing company and the books they're interested in reviewing
- You may have additional questions for them and should also do research on the publisher at this point
- Once any initial questions are answered, you send your book files for review (usually PDF)
- Some time passes. As the offer has come to you then it should be on the shorter end 2-4 weeks. And, of course, you can chase too. Note though, that some publishers may take longer and they'll have set processes. Be efficient but not annoying.
- Once the publisher has reviewed the files, they will either offer you a contract, or they won't.
- You will then negotiate and either agree or decline the offer.
Note that you will have to send copies of your books, usually in the form of PDFs. This can feel daunting because of the fear of piracy.
If you're receiving a foreign rights deal, then the publisher would have to translate the book before being able to sell it anyway, and doing this without a license makes little financial sense. The consequence of being caught would be considerable.
Ethan Advises:If your search raises red flags, you can simply ignore the query.If the publisher is legitimate, you should submit an introductory package to the publisher that includes a one page writer’s c.v. about you and your career, a synopsis of the work they are interested in, and a copy of the book.You are in sales mode now. You want to make this sale unless there are compelling reasons not to.Selling foreign rights is a key income stream. My guidance is to be aggressive about licensing these rights, so long as they don’t interfere with your own publishing.
What Will a Genuine Offer Look Like?
Your offer should contain some key pieces of information and if it doesn't, then you need to go back and ask for it. You're looking for:
- Advance royalty rate
- Royalty percentage rate
- Length of term
Other information could include:
- Estimated print run copies
- Unit pricing
- Publishing dates
- Publisher information
- Any information on additional rights such as audiobook etc
A few points to note:
Publishers are in business. Which means they're going to want to squeeze as much out of the deal in order to make the most profit as possible. So are you, and so do you.
The tighter and more specific the publishing terms, the better for you. Always aim to limit the term, territory and format you are licensing.
For example, they might say something like “estimated publishing within 24 months of signing”. This might seem specific on the surface, or if you're under contract for one book, but under other circumstances it isn't. If you receive an offer on a book series, say a trilogy, then you need the rights buyer to be clear, is that the first book published in 24 months, or the whole series?
Ethan Advises:If you have an actual offer in hand, congratulations. It can create a dilemma because how is the average indie author to know what an offer from a publisher should look like? There’s no easy answer.You can analyze the advance, the royalties, the term of license and other key elements and if you are feeling confident, go forward. Foreign licenses are often 3, 5 or 7 years, so that allows for ‘mistakes’ resolving themselves without too much damage, this license will expire.If you are insecure about moving forward, you can seek out a literary agent that negotiates foreign licenses on behalf of indie authors (we do and there are many others that also do so).
Overseas Publishers: More Considerations
- You'll need to speak to an accountant regarding withholding tax and whether your country has a treaty in place with the country under offer.
- Expect delays due to government blocks, legal issues and unforeseen circumstances arising
- Likewise for payments, there could be delays in monies owed
- Chances are, the first offer will be the lowest amount they can offer. Do negotiate and expect resistance. They're a business and want to make a profit but don't forget: so are you, and so do you.
- Translation advances are lower than “at home” advances, so be realistic in your expectations. $5K to $10K is a good overseas offer (depending on genre etc.) but again, do try to push it a little higher.
Final Advice from Ethan:
There are two key things I want to stress.
- Be careful about the scope of rights granted. Do not grant movie/t.v. or game rights. Those don’t belong in the hands of a foreign publisher.
- Another key thing, many foreign licenses are language specific, so check that you are granting Spanish or Portuguese language rights only, not the right to publish in Spain or Brazil (which might imply all languages published in that country, including English).
ALLi Member Experiences
“I've been approached by numerous foreign publishers and agencies. All of course requested PDFs. I did due diligence and checked their backgrounds to the best of my ability before replying. Several resulted in contracts, others did not. Some advances from smaller places like Korea have far exceeded what even a US publisher offers for first rights to a new author. The one thing that has irked me is that fewer than half have sent me the actual printed books, despite that being written in the contracts.The one thing I want to emphasize: it is way too often the case on various indie author groups, when someone posts a question about a foreign publisher who has requested a PDF, the kneejerk reaction from others is: “Scam!!!” You'll find 10 or 15 responses shouting “Scam!” before you find one with calm advice on how to intelligently proceed. Think about it: without a PDF, how else are they supposed to evaluate your book?They heard about your book and see its sales rankings, but it doesn't mean they've read it. They're contacting you because they're willing to put in the time to read it for possible rights acquisition. They're offering you a business opportunity; don't expect them to buy your book first. Yes, you need to be diligent and cautious, but if you dismiss such approaches by assuming that they're scams, you are likely costing yourself money and the pleasure of seeing your work in another language and market.
I'm not saying there are not scammers out there. But of the many approaches I've had over many years, every single one has been legitimate.”
“I’ve been approached by a two foreign publishing companies interested in my fiction titles. They sent an email introducing themselves with a link to their websites. I vetted them by checking the website/online and asking in writers groups if anyone was familiar with the publisher. They requested a PDF of the book, and I directed them to PubMatch where they can find a copy. I had to ask what specific rights they are interested in. They either sent an offer or their boilerplate contract. In each case, I thought the offers for the rights they wanted was very low. I’m project managing my own translations now.”
“The first few times, it was very straightforward. I was contacted via email with foreign publishers asking whether the rights were available. When I confirmed that they were, and did a quick search to establish that the publishers were legit, we negotiated rights – which mostly consisted of me saying ‘great' to everything because it all seemed remarkably reasonable. I signed contracts, the books were translated and I made money.
Things got a bit more complicated when last year, within the same week, two different German publishers got in touch for exactly the same rights. I decided I had no interest in playing them off against each other and got in touch with ALLi who directed me towards an agent. Since then I've used the same agent to negotiate other rights when new to me publishers get in touch. It's not something I have to spend very much time on myself.
So far, I have books translated in French, German and (soon) Hebrew.”
“Several have approached me about my nonfiction titles–some agents, and some editors from publishing houses. Most came from China, one from Taiwan, and one from Italy. One contacted my agent (no longer with her, but she forwarded the email). The rest contacted me directly. Each introduced themselves, shared details (usually a website) about their company. In all cases, they requested a “review copy/pdf” of the book in question, which I sent to them.After months of no further correspondence, I followed up with each. Only the contact from Italy replied with apologies (a personal medical issue derailed the process, she said). None of the others responded. I no longer reply to any of these, and suspect those in China may have simply been ways to get the material–although not all of them actually downloaded the book. I've also been approached by companies wanting to license material to put on an app–again from China. And after previous experience, that was a hard “no thanks.””
ALLi's Rights Licensing Resources
The Indie Author Publishing Rights Program educates and encourages authors about selective rights licensing, limiting term, territory and format when licensing publishing rights at home or overseas, to trade publishers, TV and film producers, and other rights buyers.
Based around ALLi’s guidebook, How Authors Sell Publishing Rights: ALLi’s Guide to Working with Publishers, Producers and Others, the program worked with indie authors for a six-month period to pitch translation rights. You can watch the videos and find out more in this Ultimate Guide Post.
How Authors Sell Publishing Rights: ALLi’s Guide to Working with Publishers, Producers and Others shows you how to approach rights buyers, what they’re looking for, and what to expect when discussing the license or ‘sale of rights’ for your book. You’ll learn how to pitch, negotiate and close a deal, and how to work with literary agents and global publishing companies. You will also be introduced to the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi)’s indie author rights program, which offers ongoing support.
Everything you need to begin successfully and selectively licensing your publishing rights for sale.
ALLi members can download complimentary ebook copies of How Authors Sell Publishing Rights: ALLi’s Guide to Working with Publishers, Producers and Others in the Member Zone. Navigate to allianceindependentauthors.org and log in. Then navigate to the following menu: PUBLICATIONS > GUIDEBOOKS.
Available to non-members and members in other formats, in ALLi’s Bookshop.