Partnering to Expand Your Reach
BY EDIE CLAIRE
Panelists: Robert Gottlieb (Chairman, Trident Media Group), Larry Norton (Inscribe Digital), Jane Dystel (Dystel & Goderich Literary Management), Jen Talty (Cool Gus Publishing), Paige Wheeler (Folio Literary Management), and Rachel Chou (Open Road Media).
When the agents on the panel were asked whether they sought to keep foreign rights for their clients, Jane Dystel answered that although it depends on the advance, her agency attempts to keep any subsidiary rights they believe they can sell better than the publisher because when a publisher holds those rights, the author has less control. Robert Gottlieb stated that one third of the Trident Media Group’s income comes from foreign rights. They retain the majority of their authors’ foreign rights and do not use subagents. Paige Wheeler replied that at the Folio Agency, they want to keep rights regardless of advance, because their foreign rights team is able to secure deals that most publishers would not pursue, and they are aggressive in collecting payments, which can be more difficult when working through a publisher. All agreed that with any book contract, one cannot predict what may happen down the road and how valuable those foreign rights might someday become.
The agents’ opinions differed on the effectiveness of using subagents, but all agreed that the foreign market was complex and required special expertise to navigate, particularly with regard to judging the stability of foreign publishers in a struggling global economy. According to Rachel Chou of Open Road Media, print and e-book publishing differ in that a digital publisher with world rights can do international sales effectively by coordinating with e-retailer outlets across the world. Larry Norton of Inscribe Media agreed that with vendors like Amazon, Apple, and Kobo opening up divisions overseas, translation rights will become more important.
Jen Talty of Cool Gus Publishing pointed out that while independent authors can upload foreign language e-books themselves, good translations can be costly, and an understanding of the culture is important to create an appropriate cover and marketing plan. Robert Gottlieb agreed that knowledge of a given culture is critical. For example, people in Japan read on phones rather than e-readers, while in France print and eeditions of a given book must be sold at the same price. A savvy agency can create better access for its authors by maintaining relationships with high-level publishing personnel in the designated country, he said.
Can an author exploit foreign rights on his or her own? The panel agreed that given the complexity of the market, doing so would not only be difficult but would consume time and energy better spent writing, making foreign rights an ideal area for partnership.
Larry Norton suggested that authors without agents might be able to attract the attention of foreign markets by increasing their international e-book sales in the English language. Authors should make an attempt to understand foreign pricing, taking tax differences into account.
Is paying for a foreign translation worth the price? According to Jen Talty, probably not—unless a book has well-established sales and the author has a partner “on the ground” in another country to help with promotion.
Robert Gottlieb agreed that the risk of investing in a translation must be carefully weighed and warned that a poor translation can cost sales.
Is it worthwhile for an author to produce his or her own audio books? Jen Talty explained that ACX allows authors to select a narrator for their work, then either pay a flat fee or enter into a 50:50 royalty-sharing agreement to have the audiobook produced. Algorithms then connect the work with Amazon and CreateSpace for free promotion. Rachel Chou suggested that rather than investing money in translations and recordings, authors with limited funds might be better served to spend that money and energy promoting existing books to increase sales. Once an author accrues some “extra pocket money” she would advise considering audio first because the technology of syncing e-books and audio will likely cause a boom in that market,