OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
For several years now, we have seen the rise of ebooks and online print book sales in the US, followed by the UK, Canada, Australia and a few other markets.
But until recently, other foreign markets haven't really seen much growth in these areas. I'm excited about foreign rights exploitation in 2014 and beyond, both through self-publishing and signing specific territory deals.
In today's article, Sharmeen Akbani Gangat talks about some of the key aspects of foreign markets.
What are Foreign Rights Sales?
It is about licensing the right to a foreign publisher to reprint/translate, distribute, and sell an English or a translated-language edition of your book.
Typically, traditionally published authors do not own foreign language rights to their book. They are with the publisher who can exercise these rights without the author's input or approval, whereas most self-published authors retain rights to their work, and therefore, can sell rights to their work/s for production and distribution in a foreign country.
But, all this is not as easy as it sounds.
While some self-publishers — like Lulu in partnership with Ingram and Amazon — provide a distribution platform for international readers, they do not assist with the translations and promotions abroad.
Translations can be tricky.
For fiction, more so. Unless you are a Bella Andre (a popular Romance novelist who is handling the translations of her books on her own), it can be a very expensive proposition.
But, you can work out revenue-sharing /royalty-split arrangements with translators, as Joanna is doing for some of her books. Or, you can target emerging markets like India, where English is closest to being the national language.
So, whether you sell your books directly to readers or foreign publishers (there is also the option of getting a foreign rights agent; but more on that later), you need to know what works where.
Finding and Targeting the Right International Market for Your Book
Ideally, you’d want to sell your books in the United States or the United Kingdom, but that's just a start.
You also have the opportunity to tap uncrowded but eager foreign book markets like China, India, South Korea, Turkey, and Indonesia.
Let’s tackle each of these countries separately.
Note: Since Brazil is considered the best market for self-published authors, you must be wondering why I haven’t included Brazil on my list. Hence, I would like to clarify that most of the growth in Brazil’s book market was because of government purchases. And, reports in 2013 indicated that the Brazilian book market is hit by inflation and lower government purchases.
Every author wants to be in China, and for obvious reasons – given the size of the market and the demand for Western content.
While censorship and translation issues can seem overwhelming, you should not ignore it just yet. Especially, the digital prospects of the market.
The ebook market is exploding in China. Self-published websites like Rongshuxia.com, a Shanghai-based Chinese-language literature website, and Qidian.com, an online original literature platform, attract more than 100 million visitors every month.
What books work in China?
Non-fiction: Self-help books; English language books; science and technology books; and, children’s and youth books.
Fiction: Crime stories and romantic fiction
India is the best bet for English-language books – even more than China, considering that almost 30 percent of India's population can speak English. Whereas, in China, English is a second language. It is, therefore, no surprise that India is right behind USA and Britain as the biggest book market for English-language books.
According to R.R. Bowker’s Global eBook Monitor study, India and Brazil may represent the best opportunities for publishers to sell ebooks in the future.
The Indian ebook market is better than that of France or Japan where, despite the technological advances, the attitude towards online reading is negative.
Hence, in my opinion, Indian market definitely offers a better opportunity for self-published authors.
[ Note from Joanna: See this interview on publishing in India]
What books work in India?
Non-fiction: Biographies; histories; travel; and, science books
Fiction: Adult fiction and historical romance
The world’s third-largest democracy and touted as world's 11th largest economy by 2050, Indonesia is one of the prime targets for authors looking to sell rights, especially since 50 percent of the books published in the country are translated from other languages.
There are some 1000 publishers in Indonesia. An Indonesian publishing giant, Kompas Group, is looking to transform the publishing industry in the country: they have launched their digital publishing service, Gramediana. It is said to be emulating Amazon’s business model.
What books work in Indonesia?
Non-fiction: Professional, business, and technical books
Fiction: Mystery and detective novels; Japanese comics
South Korea is a major importer of foreign books: in the last few years, more than 40 percent of bestselling books in South Korea were translated titles.
This way, South Korea offers best opportunities for fiction writers.
For a self-published author, in South Korea, it is better to get your ebooks on Apple iBookstore versus Amazon because Apple has a larger market share in Asia Pacific.
What books work in South Korea?
Non-fiction: Children’s and business books
Fiction: Poetry and comic science fiction
Ebooks are beginning to gain ground in Turkey – thanks to idefix.com, a popular online bookstore in the country. Publishers are beginning to convert paperbacks into ebooks.
Also, it is believed that ebooks will gain more popularity because of the Turkish education project, as per which 15 million tablets are to be provided to schoolchildren across the country.
What books work in Turkey?
Non-fiction: Education and language books
Fiction: Romance novels; books with psychological themes; and, detective novels
Note: I have intentionally discussed the ebook market scenario in each of the countries discussed since that’s what you need to know in the face of online book stores and the possibility of selling books directly to readers. Besides, foreign publishers are keen on digital rights of a book since they understand its potential.
Warning: Trade with Extreme Caution
In all of the above-mentioned markets, there are issues related to censorship, copyright, bureaucracy, and distribution. The opportunities are not without risks and uncertainties.
What Should You Do?
You have three options to go about it:
– Sell yourself – both translated and English-language pbooks and ebooks – to readers
– Sell yourself to foreign publishers
– Get an agent who would market and sell rights to foreign publishers
Selling yourself to readers
If it is an English-language book, it can be relatively easy to sell on an online bookstore. But getting your book translated can be a tricky and expensive proposition unless, of course, you have your heart set on a certain market because of your understanding of the market/readers, and you are able to strike a partnership deal with quality translators.
Selling yourself to foreign publishers
This would mean approaching the foreign publishers yourself – without the aid of a middle person. This also means that you need to be excellent at pitching and negotiating. Plus, you should be totally aware of the market demands and needs you’re going after.
Getting an agent who would market and sell rights to foreign publishers
I tend to favor this approach because it keeps you from unforeseen circumstances. For instance, you don’t need to worry about translations. Agents have established relationships with international publishers, literary scouts, and co-agents. Besides, publishers are receptive to agents they know. Last but not the least, an agent can ensure that the payments are made on time.
Attitude towards Self-Publishing in Foreign Countries
Let’s face it: not all self-published work is equal. There are biases against indie authors in the West as well. Therefore, one shouldn’t expect that there wouldn’t be any in foreign countries, which are comparatively less mature than the United States or Britain.
Foreign publishers are and will be skeptical, but there are some and some more who are looking to find new voices and hoping to discover the gems for less money compared to when working with a traditional publisher.
What Works Regardless?
The ideal situation would be to have your inbox filled with queries from rights buyers. But for that to happen, you have to understand that, as a rule of thumb, people invest in or buy books that are:
– By big name authors
– Boost of big sales numbers
– Tied to bigger events (if it is by no-name authors)
What if You Aren’t Big?
Not everybody makes it big — most don’t. Everybody starts from somewhere.
One of the authors I was advising to had her heart set on Africa. Now Africa is a tough market to crack. We chalked out a road map for her to build a following in the country before approaching the publishers. She did that, and is now in negotiations with several publishers.
Lesson learned: not every situation or method works for everyone. In fact, I believe that once a method has been tried out, it loses its applicability for others, especially in the creative world. Therefore, you should be thinking:
What do I do?
Your creativity is not in writing a masterpiece; it is also in presenting it to sell for top dollar. If you would like to know how to go about it, be a part of our community and learn how to connect creativity to commerce.
Do you have have questions about foreign rights, or what might be appropriate in specific countries? Please leave a comment below.
Sharmeen Akbani Gangat is a coach and consultant to creative professionals and entrepreneurs who are interested in landing high-paying clients and promoting their works and talent in the United States and internationally. She is the founder of The Glocul Group.
For the past 12 years, she has been advising media and entertainment companies on international expansion, launch, and marketing strategies in the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. She has also taught marketing and branding at New York University and Hunter College in New York. She is a certified filmmaker from New York University, and has a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University in New York.
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Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Globe by Steven Richie