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world bookSelling rights to international publishers to translate and publish your books has many advantages for authors and publishers alike. What does it mean to sell your translation and foreign rights?

Basically, the works you publish can be looked at as financial assets. When you sell the foreign rights to translate, publish, and distribute those works, you are diversifying your investment in the book’s publication. In other words, you have already put in the cost and effort to publish the work in the United States; you can increase the potential for additional success by selling a foreign publisher the right to reprint, distribute, and sell an English or translated version of the book in another country.

There are many benefits to selling foreign rights:

  • It exposes your work to a broader audience — drawing new readers to your content and your authors.
  • It appeals to authors, as it offers the opportunity for greater success.
  • It contributes directly to the monetary bottom line, bringing in additional revenue for you and your authors.
  • It strengthens your company’s international relationships.
  • It boosts your brand.

However, foreign rights sales aren’t hassle free. Challenges include

  • finding the right international partners;
  • being clear about the dissemination of responsibilities such as translation, printing, and distribution; and
  • selecting international buyers that you can build a mutually beneficial relationship with.

To find the right partner, start by seeking out publishers who are already familiar with your target market and content. Many publishers connect with international partners at book shows and conventions. Some events that are popular for publishers interested in rights sales include

Consider creating and bringing a Rights Guide to distribute at appropriate industry trade events and to make available on your website. Rights Guides typically profile books that publishers are making available for international rights sales, and include detailed descriptions of the books, profiles of authors, and details about images and quality of content. Guides like those put out by Princeton University Press include notes about license and permission requirements and the availability of translation rights and the author’s manuscript.

Most important, when considering foreign sales you must understand the true value of the transaction. Will you be better off if you sell the rights or if you sell copies of your book as is directly to your targeted international market?

Consider whether the revenue and opportunity to publish and distribute in a foreign market is projected to exceed the rights revenue after the author split. A helpful viewpoint is to calculate the potential rights revenue and author royalties for rights (which can be as much as 50%, depending on the author’s contract); then compare the result with the units you can sell directly, less discounts and associated selling, distribution, and royalty costs.

Although many publishers expect to sell rights and include mention of rights sales in author contracts, these terms are not always defined and consideration for foreign sales is not a given.

Examining the benefits of foreign sales — and having a solid strategy for pursuing those sales — is essential for any publisher.