Mark Terry

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Publishing Basics, Part 4: Translation Rights

March 5, 2009
I love translation rights. They're also sometimes called foreign rights. This is when you give a publisher the right to translate your book into a different language and publish your book in it. To-date I've had two of my books published in French (by a Canadian publisher), German and Slovak.

If you go back to my second-day post where I quote a clause from one of my contracts, you'll note it says something about English and Spanish. That's a little strange, actually. What you usually sell in a novel in this country is typically English-language rights and often that's limited to North America, which gives you the option of selling your work to someone in the UK and Australia. I don't know exactly why Midnight Ink also bought (ha! I laugh, what was I having, a fire sale?) Spanish rights, but I think it was because their parent company, Llewellyn, also has a Spanish language division. (But note I didn't get published in Spanish. I also didn't get "extra" money for including the Spanish rights in the deal).

Your publisher wants to control these rights. Generally speaking, you and your agent also want to control these rights. With Midnight Ink, they controlled the rights and the author gets, if I remember correctly, 50%. A lot of agents have relationships with foreign agents all over the world because it brings in a lot of money getting your books published in Swahili, Japanese, French, German, Spanish...

What can get you on this is the involvement of foreign agents, whether they're working with your agent or working with your publisher. They're stripping some money off the top as well. (If there's a theme in these posts it's that everybody gets a piece of the authors' money. Have you noticed that?)

Look, don't underestimate foreign rights. I've mentioned Joe Moore, The Great and Terrible. He and his writing Partner, Lynn Who-Puts-Up-With-Joe Sholes, write thrillers featuring SNN reporter Cotten Stone. Their book sales are relatively modest (at least compared to, say, Stephen King) in the U.S. But... they've been translated into at least 23 languages. And last time I heard, they were even bestsellers in Poland and Amsterdam. (Joe, correct me if that's not correct). Hey, now they can put INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLERS on their books.

Here's the thing. You might get a couple grand from your U.S. publisher, but by selling a bunch of foreign sales, hey, a few thousand euros in Germany, some rubles in Russia, pesos in Mexico, yen in Japan, yuan in China... it adds up, okay? Sometimes it adds up to A LOT.

All of my foreign deals were fairly small, but they added up to more than my U.S. advances--even after the publisher took 50%.

And by the way, this is a typically negotiable right and agents usually really want to hold onto them. Midnight Ink, who has a hotshot foreign rights person, really held tight to those rights, but they did okay with them for me, so I suppose it worked out. (The fact they handled them as if they were a state secret is a separate issue).

I can add one or two more things. First, to-date my Derek Stillwater novels were published in English in trade paperback. Some of my foreign deals were in hardcover. Cool. Second, sometimes working with the translators is kind of fun. I didn't have any interaction with my German translator, a little bit with my French and a lot with my Slovak translator, who was a more careful editor and asked tougher questions than any of my other editors. He caught things they didn't either.

Movie sales are like winning the lottery. Foreign sales are a lot more likely to happen, which in my book, makes them a lot cooler. Sehr gut, as they say in German. Sehr gut indeed.

Mark Terry


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