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Subsidiary Rights

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      English-speaking sub-agents on the ground abroad who are familiar with the publishers in a given country or region. These sub-agents are the conduit between U.S. publishers and the various foreign publishers, and they often craft the contracts. These sub-agents process a huge volume of pitches, and reaching them as an indie would be very difficult. In her view, indie authors would be better advised to devote their business acumen (and limited time) to creative promotion. For an individual to pay for a translation is not currently cost effective, because the European e-book market has not yet reached the critical level. However, because licenses for foreign translations tend to be short term (five to 10 years), the author may be able to utilize sold rights again when the market is better. Indie authors who are approached directly by foreign sub-agents should be cautious; these agents may not be legitimate or may push exclusive contracts that are detrimental to the author. Always ask questions and request examples of other authors with whom they have worked. But do not ignore a foreign offer, as some may indeed be legitimate and deserving of further follow-up!

Having good representation for foreign rights sales is important not only in terms of market knowledge but also in the supervision of contract negotiations and collection of payments. Non-payment is a common problem with foreign publishers, and authors may need significant leverage on their side in order to solve it.

According to Lauren, foreign rights contracts should always (1) be written in English, (2) have an advance attached, (3) clearly specify royalties, which are not as standard in foreign markets as they are in the U.S., and (4) designate specific territories covered, not just language.

Elizabeth would like to see viable business models develop whereby authors work directly with translators to produce high-quality foreign language editions that would remain under the author’s control. Publishing houses that perform translations often hire inexperienced and underpaid translators who do a poor job, and the author has no way of ensuring quality. She has seen foreign publishers reduce the length of a manuscript by 20 percent, with the decision of what to cut being made by the translator with no editorial input.

In regard to dealing with foreign publishing contracts, Elizabeth’s wish list for the future would include (1) at least twice-yearly royalty payments, (2) contractual obligation to inform the author of the release date, (3) some mechanism for evaluation of the quality of the translation, (4) opportunities for author promotion including ability to engage in social media in the local language and publisher assistance with applying marketrelevant keywords, and (5) editorial direction for any needed cuts to the manuscript.

Lauren recommended against an author hiring an amateur translator; ability to speak a language does not equate with writing ability and a good translator must have both skills. When asked what kind of sales record an author should have to attract an agent for subsidiary rights only, Lauren responded that sales record is only part of the picture. The foreign market revolves less around e-book sales than does the U.S., and other elements are necessary to make a given book or author a good fit with a foreign publisher. Foreign sub-rights in general are about the big picture, because an agent’s commission on each deal is small and only in the aggregate is such business profitable.

Elizabeth closed the workshop on a positive note by stating that over half of U.S. film profits now come from abroad, and as e-book technology continues to develop and physical distribution of books ceases to be an issue, authors will see a significant increase in the percentage of their income coming from abroad.

Edie Claire was traditionally published with cozy mysteries and contemporary romance in the late 90s and early 2000s. After many years of feeling like a failure, she relaunched her career as an indie in 2010, reviving her mystery series and adding new YA romance and women’s fiction releases to the fold. She is now earning way more than she ever did before--and she owes it all to information gleaned at NINC conferences! Visit her website at

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