What we do
We only publish in the English language, and sell rights to publishers in other languages, about a hundred a year. We do not sub-license editions of the book to other publishers in English, with the exception of sales to India (their retail price is equivalent to our cost price). Around 300 publishers subscribe to get a mailing from us. Last year (a weak one) we sent out 500 books for consideration, resulting in 50 foreign rights contracts.
If we have the translation rights (the case in around nine titles out of ten), you need to pass any queries on rights you might receive to us, through the Rights section of the Marketing & Publicity page in the Author Forum, to avoid confusion. The financial penalties involved in our mistakenly selling translation rights to two different publishers in the same country can far outweigh income gained from selling any number of rights.
About half our translation sales rights we handle directly, half through agents. We work with ten of these in different language territories. They take 10% or so of any income before it comes to us, from which we then send you your share when the royalties are due (for this reason, along with bank charges, the sum we receive does not always exactly match the advance given in the contract). We do not attend the major international book fairs like BEA (USA), Frankfurt, though we go to the London Book Fair. It doesn’t reflect our place in the market, but the fact that we choose where we spend our money and fairs aren’t one of the choices. Our distributors and agents are there.
If you’re not a recognizable name, or if we haven’t sold 10,000 or so copies of your book, the chances of rights sales are not high. Publishers overseas prefer to work with authors in their own market, who can promote in their own language, and avoid the very substantial translation costs, which effectively double the investment (which is why we have few translated books on our own list). Some markets, like self-help and health, are simply too crowded.
It does not generate substantial income, being often outweighed by the cost of getting it. €5000 is generally a good advance for us, not common, most are more at the level of €500–1000, and many are in the hundreds, or in places like Vietnam or Indonesia are sold with no advance. In many countries, like India and the Far East, retail prices are anything from one tenth to a quarter of those in the West, and the costs to us of processing the transaction are disproportionate. If there are illustrations in the book a good proportion of this is taken up with the costs of duplicate CDs and administration. It can take months, or even years, trying to sort out the complications of double taxation between different tax offices in different countries, with documents needing to be stamped in the original by Inland/Central Revenue Departments, and occasionally it simply doesn’t get sorted.
We do not approach other publishers on rights sales till the book is in print. Some ask for PDF (proofs) by email, but they usually want a copy of the book in their hands before signing a contract, unless you are a well-known author. If a publisher contacts us asking for copy of a book before it’s published, the request goes up on the website and we either send a PDF if we have a finished one or it’s sent when we have stock if they want a hard copy.
Some overseas publishers will bring out a translation quickly, but all the serious publishers work on more traditional publishing schedules; at least 12 months between finished manuscript and publication. And they have to translate the manuscript first—impossible to put an average time on that, but one to two years is much more common than one to two months. And it usually takes them several months at least to consider the book.
What you can do
Contact with foreign publishers
If you leave the translation rights with us, do feel free to approach publishers overseas direct, either contacts already on our database who have published our titles before or others that you know of. Do however ask them to contact us (at firstname.lastname@example.org) if they are interested. We are easy to work with on the agreements. Encourage friends/colleagues in other countries to do the same. If a publisher knows that there are already people in their market keen to see a book comes out it does make a difference. Sometimes they can even help on the translation.
Authors sometimes have friends/contacts who want to translate the book into their language. Or are bilingual and can do it themselves. Which is great, but we cannot get directly involved with that, in terms of publishing the translation. Effective publishing means finding a local-language publisher in that market. Encourage them to find one.
We don’t get involved in correspondence as to whether the translation (including the title) is accurate or not. We don’t speak the language, we have to leave it to the local publisher. They’re the ones who are investing in the work. Similarly, if a publisher wants to shorten the text, we leave it to their judgment. This may happen particularly on longer books, and especially with languages like German which bulk to one third more than English. There may be passages that are more relevant to an English audience than overseas one, and they want to delete those. Or convert them to a local example. We give permission for the publisher to do this, without getting back to you, unless you ask in advance for us to do so.
If your book is illustrated with pictures or photographs we can’t guarantee to make these available to an overseas publisher in future years. If you have supplied them it’s best to keep a copy on a CD which you can copy again later. The reason is that application software gets updated as the years go on, and earlier jobs reflow when opened up in newer software. It’s often simpler to produce new photographs or illustrations rather than sort the software out.
Getting in touch with the foreign publisher
Feel free to contact them directly:
Tick on the box alongside the publisher’s name, and click on "View" for their details. Look up any publisher you wish to find under “Contacts.”
We will send you two copies of the translated book when we receive them from the publisher. We don’t get involved in detailed correspondence in this area. We do not chase up overseas publishers asking if or when they are going to publish, or how many they are printing.
Please note that we do not forward statements on sales from overseas publishers. You can see on your Financials page the advance paid to us, with subsequent royalties. You can make a rough calculation of the numbers sold from royalty received, but we do not track sales of translated titles like we track our own sales.
We do not chase publishers for royalty statements. It may be a few years before you receive anything other than the advance. This is because it can take two or three years to translate and publish, and some publishers do not send us a statement until the book has earned through the advance. Different publishers send us statements covering different periods, one might be six months, another once a year.
As soon as we receive the income, it will be paid over to you in your subsequent royalty statement. We do not pay over your percentage of the advance as soon as the contract is signed, because sometimes it can take six to twelve months to come through, sometimes it does not come at all, and we have to cancel the contract.
There is a sample foreign rights contract in Appendix 2.
Most sales of foreign editions tend to be considerably smaller than those achieved in the home market, and they die down quickly. Which titles are picked up where often seems random, and sales sometimes seem inexplicably low, or more occasionally high, with little logic behind them, unconnected with the clout of the publisher. Our most successful foreign rights title is a seemingly obscure little hardback called God Calling, which was actually first published in 1935, and to which we bought the rights some fifteen years ago. Sales are still steady in the UK, at a few thousand a year, but overseas sales run into the many tens of thousands a year. Norway manages to sell more than we do, but we can't sell it to Sweden or Finland. Go figure......