Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Risks of Foreign Publishing

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I've received a number of email inquiries from authors in the past, and a recent flurry of them, asking about foreign publishers who contact them about book rights. The tone of most authors is one of wariness--the traditional system is still so ingrained in the writing culture that anything outside the norm instantly seems suspicious. "What? A publisher WANTS me?" (what a sign about how the publishing field has changed, huh?)

I can't speak for anyone else's experience, and I don't want to be responsible for anyone else's decisions. Some people tolerate more risk than others. Some writers believe foreign rights are best dispensed through agents (yeah, good luck with that!) From where I am sitting, there are no rules or conventions, and if a publisher has a new proposal that may seem suspicious just because it's new, well, you might be paranoid, whereas I would be intrigued. Because this era demands newness.

Every agreement and partnership has a risk. The two deals I did with supposedly "legit" foreign publishers never earned me a dime. Other deals have been fine, even with tiny publishers. So there are no guarantees in this game, and there never have been.

But on any offer, there are really only two real risks, assuming you already realize the greatest risk is to do nothing.

1) The publisher wants to steal your work and basically pirate it for sale. To which I say, "Why in the world would someone bother contacting you if they were going to do that?" Digital files are easily downloaded for free in torrent streams all over the world. Anybody can steal your file at any time and do anything they want with it. Why would an unscrupulous person email you about your work when that's the most difficult way possible to steal your file? If they wanted to steal it, they would have already stolen it, and odds are you would never even know it was for sale.

2) You don't want anyone to have your financial information. This is a little more valid, but think of how many times a day you willingly give your financial information over to complete strangers: the check-out clerk, the waitress, the online business. If this concerns you, consider setting up a separate bank account just to receive publisher payments. If you are like most writers, it will never have any money in it to steal anyway.

I suppose you could say a third risk is you have your book tied up by a contract and if the "publisher" doesn't publish the book, then you won't be able to sell rights to another publisher in that market. But that's not a risk. Because if the publisher doesn't meet the contract, it's not a contract, is it?

That said, the real bottom-line question is, "What do you have to lose, and is what you have to lose more valuable than the possible gain?"

Don't ever do something because I would do it, or I did it once. Only do it if you would do it.



SBJones said...

I think if someone is offering to buy your foreign rights, you just need to do a simple background check and have the contract looked over by a lawyer.

It would suck for them to translate your book, print 100,000 copies and sell none, then bill you for the ones that didn't sell.

If your book is so popular that they want to pay you $1-$5,000 for those rights, you could most likely go down to your nearest college and pay a language student or professor to do it for you and upload it to yourself.

author Scott Nicholson said...

I am getting my own translators, SB. But have your ever sat down with a lawyer and gone over a contract? It truly does not matter what a contract says--every single word is literally open to interpretation. And a contract never saves you from getting screwed. A contract is worthless when you're dealing with a thief anyway.

If you're interested in foreign translations, I invite you to read the post just before this one. Thanks for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

Eminently sensible as always, Scott.

It seems to me if a foreign publisher approaches you then it's worth looking at very closely.

They would presumably be looking to translate and market in their own language, and reach an audience otherwise off limits.

Our problem being UK based is primarily one of receiving payments. Even the payments from for US sales costs us a fortune in fees to receive, and for money transfers from further afield it becomes all the more expensive. Maybe the US banking system is better integrated with the ROTW.

As "foreign" writers we can offer overseas readers good stories set in internationally recognized locations like London / NY / Washington that are not being offered by local authors. A marketing USP that the overseas publishers clearly think is worth the investment.

Authors would be crazy to let paranoia about piracy (dealt with perfectly in your post) stop them reaching new markets.

And for those who still chase the B&N plinth, proving an international market for their work may just give them the edge to secure that big deal back home.

author Scott Nicholson said...

thanks Mark, yes, it's worth taking a chance if you look at what you actually have to lose!

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