Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. Your Agent Sells Your Book Overseas

I hear over and over and over again how a writer must have an agent to sell books overseas. I even used it as one of the reasons in an earlier post about why a writer might want to have an agent.

But is it your agent, the person you hired in New York, who actually sells your book overseas? Of course not. And that’s where the myth and misinformation really gets out of hand in this area about agents.

I can hear a few of the thoughts out there right now. Writer Boy has lost it. On one hand he says it is a reason to get an agent to sell books outside your own country, then says now that your agent doesn’t sell overseas.

Yup, that’s what I’m saying. The myth is that your agent sells your books overseas. The truth is so far, far different. Which is why over the years I’ve watched my wife get odd looks from other writers when she’s talking about selling this book or that series to another country. Often the question is “How do you do that?” I can’t begin to tell you how many successful novelists in this country have never had one overseas sale.

The reason: Your agent doesn’t sell your books overseas (for the most part).

How important are overseas sales? Huge. Many, many smart authors I know make far more money out in the big world then they do in this one country. And often writers can make their living by selling into a foreign country and not making many sales at all in the States. It’s a huge world, folks. Huge.

So, let me see if I can make some headway into this crazy puzzle, another standard silliness for the writing side of the publishing industry.


Agents you can hire fall generally into three different categories. Stay with me now, this is important.

1…Agent who works for a large agency.

2…Agent who works in a small group of other agents or in a small agency.

3…Agent who works alone or with one other agent.

Now, I will be back to this information in a moment. And note that I’m not even counting the scam agents. I assume by now in these chapters everyone reading this would be beyond scam agents. There are enough troubles with New York based top agents, let alone some scam artist based in the sticks.

Do any of these agents in any of those groups sell your books to overseas publishers? Very, very few.

So how does a book get sold from this country into other country’s publishing programs?

Many ways, actually. And there is the problem.

First Major Way:

You sell World Rights, or English Language Rights, or certain “translation rights” in your contract with your publisher. Then your publisher has an arm of their company overseas, or your publisher has a staff inside their house that works and sells rights overseas. You get your money through your royalty statement put against your advance.

Second Major Way:

If your agent is with a large agency, the agency has a dedicated foreign rights agent. This agent sometimes contacts publishers directly overseas, but often works with an agency based in the foreign country. So if your agent in a big agency wants to try to sell your books overseas, they give it to the dedicated foreign agent (who you likely don’t know) who then either shops it or gives it to yet another agent (who you certainly don’t know and didn’t hire).

Third Major Way.

You contact the publishers yourself overseas and sell it yourself. (My wife sold her last few books overseas on her own completely from start to end. On another she sold it but brought her agent in to help with the deal.) Going to large conventions with international flavor helps in this as well since you have a chance to meet overseas publishers.

Fourth Major Way.

Hit it big with a book, news big, huge advance big. Then the overseas publishers will take note and contact you. Also, this happens when you win some awards. Kris had a Nelscott book announced for the Edgar and sold Japanese rights before she got out of bed the next morning.

So notice I didn’t mention the other two levels of agents? Why?

Because those agents rarely manage to get a book even into the hands of an overseas publisher. It happens, especially for their bestsellers, but rarely because of anything the agent did. Most of the time the writers with these level of agents either sell the books themselves or hit it big and get the sales that way. (However, to be clear, there are a few agents in smaller houses that do have knowledge and can sell overseas, but the fraction of these types of agents is very small.)

Agent Level #2 & #3 aren’t big enough (usually) to have a dedicated in-house foreign agent. So many, many, many of these agencies or agents contract with a dedicated foreign agent who is independent (and you don’t know). That’s right, your book leaves your agents hands and goes to another agent in New York in a different agency.

Actually, that seldom happens either. It is THE NAME OF YOUR BOOK and YOUR NAME that are given to the other agent along with your publisher and publication date and genre.

Then this dedicated foreign agent makes up a big list of hundreds and hundreds of book and sends it to either overseas agents or overseas publishers or both. That’s right, just a list. Some at the top have a blurb about the book, most don’t. Does your book at #114 on the list have a shot of being picked up by a publisher in France? Nope. Sorry.

And, of course, this is done every month. Sometimes every week. Only the bestsellers on the list have a hope or get any extra attention at all.

So, when you got all excited about getting an agent, did you bother to ask who their foreign agent was? Or do they sell overseas themselves? Or how they would get your books to other publishers overseas? Or if they would even try? Many, many agents don’t even try, considering themselves only agents for North American publishers.

(Back to my point about better to sell your own book first, then hire a top agent at a big agency. Then you have a faint shot. Or hire an agent in the other two levels who does it directly herself. Rare.)

The Ugly Numbers:

A Big Agency: Might have upwards of twenty or more agents, often more. But for math sake, let me leave it at 20 Agents. Each agent has 50 clients, some more some less, depending on the number of bestsellers on their list or the number of “project” first authors. That’s around 1,000 authors in a place like Trident or Writer’s House and who knows how many more are in William Morris.

So that’s 1,000 authors for one dedicated foreign agent. And a bunch of them are bestsellers. A bunch. And if you are not, do you get much time with that agent pitching your book? No, but you might get some if you book has enough attention in other areas or is a lead title in a genre.

This dedicated foreign agent has contacts with overseas publishers and also has sub-agents in each country and has the clout of the bestsellers behind her if she likes your book.

So imagine this sub-agency in say Paris, who works with ten agencies out of New York and another dozen from around Europe and another dozen from other parts of the world. That’s the agency your book goes into in Paris from the dedicated foreign agent in your agency, with thousands of other books, all published in one country or another. Yup, those agents are going to give your book special attention without some special reason. Nope, afraid not, unless it is a bestseller or has something special or has a powerful sub-agent pushing it.

By the way, sometimes these overseas agents are called “agent networks” or something similar depending on how your agent wants to sugarcoat it to make it sound better to you.

Dedicated New York Foreign Agency. Now, let’s go back to New York and focus on the #2 or #3 level agency. Say a #2 Agency has 300 clients, a #3 agency might have 50 to 100 clients. (All numbers rounded and that varies from agent to agent.)

Now this dedicated foreign agency contracts with thirty to fifty New York agencies to handle their overseas submissions. This dedicated foreign agency can be dealing with upwards of 5,000 or more writers, all producing published works. See why about all they can do is send lists? And, of course, the bestsellers in those client agencies get all the attention, as they should. Duh.

The key is to ask when you hire an agent. If they send your book to another agency, I would run like the wind from that agent. It’s a deal-breaker for me. The agency either has an in-house foreign agent or the agent has a track record of selling overseas herself.

How to get around the Ugly Numbers?

Same way you do selling a book to New York of course. In this modern world of internet, it is very easy to find and contact an overseas publisher. You might be surprised, if you are businesslike and have a track record and a book that fits their program, how welcoming they will be.

Or you can just jump the New York step and contract agents in each country directly.

As I said a few thousand times this last week in the marketing workshop, what is the worst thing a foreign publisher or agent can say? “Thanks, but no thanks.”

The point of this chapter is simple, so let me lay it all out in a simple fashion.

1) Overseas sales are worth your effort in both money and time.

2) Don’t expect your agent to automatically just do it for you, especially if you have a lower-level agent or agency. Won’t happen.

3) Don’t ever hire an agent in New York just so they can sell your foreign rights. Back to my posts about how agents don’t sell books and how agents don’t care about you, only their contacts with New York publishers and their own business.

4) If you want to be an internationally selling fiction writer, take control of this aspect of your career as well. It will be slow and the learning curve steep and sometimes painful, but worth every penny.

Trust me, it’s wonderful to hold in your hand a beautiful book from a country with a language you can’t read, but yet there is your name on the cover. And the money is really, really nice as well.


Copyright 2010 Dean Wesley Smith
This is part of my inventory in my bakery now. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

Actually, this post was about some of the many slices of the magic pie that can be cut out for each country in the world. It’s a big world and if you sell out into the big world, you can cut many, many pieces of your magic pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated. Once this book is done, I will send you a copy. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it. Every week or so I will be adding a new chapter on the myths and sacred cows of publishing. Stay tuned. Upcoming are chapters on bestsellers, research, rejections, and so much more. This business has a lot of myths. An entire book full.

Thanks, Dean

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54 Responses to Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. Your Agent Sells Your Book Overseas

  1. “But what about your foreign rights?” is oftne the very first thing that professional writers say to me when I say that I work without an agent now.

    Frankly, I think this concern is illusory and delusional for a fair number of writers, precisely for the reasons Dean describes above. When writers are saying, “I would NEVER work without an agent, if for no other reason than foreign rights!” a key question to ask them is, how much are they currently making, this year, in foreign rights sales agent? How much did they make last year in foreign rights sales via their agent? How much did they make the year before in foreign rights sales via their agent?

    On many occasions, they’ve made little or no money from foreign rights sales. On many other occasions, they haven’t had an agent for a few years, but want one. On many other occasions, they haven’t written and/or haven’t sold a book in several years. In all of these examples, what they’re talking about and protecting is the IDEA of foreign rights income via an agent. Which is a little like talking about Santa Claus. I mean, I just don’t see the point of arguing, once you realize you’re talking to someone who’s objecting to the prospect of shedding an income that they DON’T ACTUALLY HAVE.

    Meanwhile, there are other writers who say “but what about foreign sales to me?” who are indeed making excellent foreign sales via their agents. I talked to one writer a few days ago who says his income is DOUBLED via his agency’s foreign subrights sales on his behalf. And if that’s the sort of real-world stats that a writer has got in his bank account, and he’s happy with his agent, I WOULD NOT URGE him to leave that agent or to consider working without one. What he is doing is working well for him. His agency relationship is fruitful for him.

    But I have to base my business decisions on my own experiences–which have consistently been that foreign sales has turned out NOT to be a strong enough reason for -me- to have an agent.

    As previously stated a few times in these discussions, during the years I was agented, I averaged about $500 in foreign sales income. In the two years that I’ve been UNagented, I’ve -saved- at least $7,000 per year by paying a lawyer to negotiate my deals rather than paying agency commissions. Meanwhile, my foreign subrights business continues at a very modest pace -without- agents, while I’m saving a lot of money on US commissions, I’m not yet losing money on the (VERY MODEST, I admit) standard set by my foreign subrights experiences at literary agencies. Meanwhile, the internet continues making it ever more manageable and feasible for a writer to handle her own foreign subrights and/or to make alternate arrangements for subrights (such as directly working with a subrights specialist, whether here or in Europe).

    I think the bottom line is that there are a lot of choices and options that a writer should examine. Many writers (and certainly most agents) talk about the subject of subrights AS IF you need an agent to exploit those rights, and AS IF you’ve got little or not chance of exploiting those rights -without- an agent (or a primary US agent). And that simply isn’t the case.

  2. Robin Brande says:

    Another great post, Dean! Thank you for these incredibly informative lessons on the business side of writing. You are providing such a valuable and necessary service. Thanks for taking the time to educate.

    And thank you, Laura, for always chiming in! I learn as much from the comments as from the posts.

  3. Well, Dean, as suspected, this message seems like more of the same. “You are in charge of your own career.”

    That should be the subtitle of this book, honestly. Or maybe better, “The best person to help you is you.”

    It’s like a slow, steady drumbeat designed to brainwash me, which is interesting, because although you’re not saying it every time, that’s what I am hearing: take control of your own career!

    Granted, there exists the right kind of agents for this aspect of business, but much like all the others, it seems best if a writer learns, sometimes the hard way, how to handle these aspects for himself, and use the agent for what the agent is intended: negotiating the contract.

    You didn’t mention the possibility of acquiring a separate overseas agent to help with contract negotiation. Although I figure that by now it goes without saying that this might be a prudent course of action, particularly if the writer is not familiar with contract law in the country in question. That said, the agent is not necessary in every case, as both you and Laura have painstakingly and repeatedly illustrated.

    Is that about right?

    • dwsmith says:

      You got it, Jeremy. You can often just hire say a French agency to handle a contract you got for a French book, or you can just do it yourself. Interestingly enough, overseas contracts are, for the most part, much simpler than contracts from a US publisher. And if you have a basic of publishing contracts and what you are selling, not many problems arise. I know, that sounds odd, and isn’t the case in every situation, but far and away, overseas contracts are simple by nature and by design.

      And yes, the message is always the same. In fact, in all of our major workshops, I take a huge sign made by one master class for me, that I have in my office. And I take it into the workshops. It says simply. “You are responsible for your own career.”

      It hangs in my office as a constant reminder.

  4. As per the scenarios Dean describes above…

    I worked with a large agency that had a dedicated foreign rights desk. I never had any contact whatsoever with that person and consistently had no idea whatsoever how that person was handling my business.

    I also worked with a small agency that worked with a freelance foreign rights specialist. That person signed contracts on my behalf. I pointed out that this was legally problematic (er, to say the least!), and I said to my US agent that either -I- needed to receive and sign the contracts (my agent told me that would be “too much trouble”) or, at the very least, we needed some sort of legal document wherein I authorized the subrights agents to sign those deals on my behalf. (In retrospect, I am STUNNED that I was considering authorizing a total stranger to sign deals on my behalf. Though, even without my legal permission, that person was already doing do.) But sending me a document for such legal authorization was also considered “too much trouble.” The agency never did it–and I evidently became known as a crank for asking questions about this and multiple times saying that I really didn’t think it was a good idea that a total stranger was signing contracts on my behalf, without any sort of actual legal authorization, and that I was NEVER EVEN SEEING those contracts.

    And can I just reiterate at this point? This was a high-profile, respected literary agency. This was also a foreign subrights specialist who works with a LOT of reputable, high-profile smaller agencies. I wasn’t objecting to the practices of some obscure, unknown, fringe agency or obscure, unkjnown, fringe subrights specialist. As was irritably pointed out to me by the parties in question, they were handling the business of MANY, MANY writers this way and had been doing so for years, thankyouverymuch. And since I knew a lot of other writers with whom they worked, I knew that this was perfectly true.

    (Is your jaw hanging open? (g))

    For various reasons, there seemed to be quite a bit of tension between me and that foreign subrights specialist. I heard things the individual said about me to other writers which implied I was a nuisance. On another occasion, I sent some of my books to a foreign editor who had approached me directly when we met socially, and then I asked the subrights specialist to follow-up; the specialist was difficult and surly about this, implying that I’d tried to pull a fast one and get out of paying commission by giving a couple of books to an editor myself (even though, er, I had immediately ask the agent to deal with the editor). And so on and so forth.

    Well, this specialist was someone whom I did not know AT ALL, and who I had not picked (and, all things considered so far, would NOT have picked; but because the agent had made the choice, I was stuck with this person handling an important aspect of my business), and who seemed to resent and dislike me in the very few and very brief contacts that we had. So I thought, you know, maybe it’s because we don’t know each other. There’s been no personal contact of any kind. Just a handful of short, brusque emails. And since I am generally considered not wholly unlikeable, I thought it might smooth things over and FINALLY get us on the right footing if we could meet in person and develop some sort of rapport. So on my next trip to NYC, I proposed this.

    The response was that meeting me was not worth the time.


    We never did get on the right foot, surprise, surprise.

    So, yeah, it can indeed go badly when your business is being handled by people whom you didn’t choose, don’t know, and are denied any opportunity even to monitor or instruct.

    • dwsmith says:

      Yup, Laura, sadly as you said, you are not unique in that situation. Writers just give over this power of attorney to have some stranger sign legal documents for them. I told my business lawyer friend that a few years back and after he stopped laughing he looked at me, and frowned and said, “You aren’t serious, are you?”

      I can’t repeat what he said after I told him that I was not only serious, but a writer trying to fight it had troubles. Lots of swear words and shaking of head.

      By the way, this is exactly how agents can steal from writers and is the common scam even among name writers. They get a writer to not sign contracts, then just cut the money flowing to the writer because 1) Writer has never seen the contract and 2) When royalties run, writer isn’t in control of where the money goes or even knows there are royalty checks coming in from overseas.

      Kris did a French deal on her own a while back and we were stunned at the royalties coming in regularly. Wonder where the royalties ended up on other French books on the years before. Did the French agent keep them, the US agent? No way of knowing I’m afraid if there were even royalty payments due.

      We had one royalty payment for almost five grand due from France on yet another project and that payment sat in the French agents office for almost six months before it was released because of pressure.

      Writers as a class are stupid at business. I’ve been saying this now for years. Smart people at business take advantage of stupid people at business. That’s the law of business. My hope is here, with these posts, I can help a few writers become smart at business.

  5. Steve Lewis says:

    Awesome post, Dean. This is actually something that I’ve been wondering about for awhile. I’ve mentioned before that a local Arizona author, Joe Nassise, makes a large chunk of his income from his German sales, so I knew it was possible. Now maybe this is the control freak in me, but I like the idea of selling my book myself, both overseas and at home. Why? Well, past experience (I’ve owned two businesses) has taught me that no one, not even CLOSE PERSONAL FRIENDS, are as concerned or knowledge about what’s in my best interest as I am.

    That’s not even to say that people are looking to cheat you. I’m just saying that their own best interests are foremost in their mind and you might get screwed as a byproduct. Actually, I’ve had that happen and had the people who did it be absolutely horrified and at the point of tears when they found out. So I don’t see the publishing industry being any different. So, in other words, I like being in control.

    I have two questions I wanted to add to the discussion:

    1) Would a regular IP lawyer be able to negotiate a foreign publishing contract or would you have to locate someone who specialized? I really like the IP lawyer model because of the level of accountability.

    2) Is there any chance of discussing how to sell audiobook rights on the blog, either as a separate post or in the comments section? This seems to be an untapped revenue stream for a lot of authors. Are there special considerations to the process or is it pretty similar to shopping a novel around? It seems like there might be more to it. For example, Piers Anthony mentioned in one of his newletters that he was having a hard time selling the audio rights to the Xanth series. That blew me away. How is that even possible? I’m totally clueless in this area, so any feedback would be much appreciated.



  6. Steve,

    Similar to what Dean said, the few foreign contracts I’ve seen myself (keeping in mind that, for several years, my subrights deals were handled by a US agency that REFUSED TO SEND ME the contracts, so I never saw those) were very simple compared to most US book contracts. They were only two pages, the clauses were all familiar, the licensing grants were very simple and limited, and the changes I requested were made.

    So, yes, I imagine a regular US literary lawyer would be perfectly capable of handling this. (I just haven’t raised the subject with mine, so far.)

    RE audio: There are various circumstances where it’s probably more beneficial to bundle in the audio rights with the print rights (ex. a major house with a strong program for moving books into audio, cross-marketing with the print editions and with your other print books from that house, keeping the same identifiable packaging for the title across multiple formats, etc.)

    However, I know some writers who’ve been selling their audio rights directly to audio publishers–and doing well this way. Short fiction as well as books. So, yes, it’s perfectly possible.

  7. Steve, audio rights can be tougher to sell for a variety of reasons. For one thing, productin is expensive, and GOOD production is MORE expensive. You need professional quality sound production, professional sound production staff, a professional actor, and a professional director.

    Then you need a book that the audio company thinks (a) will work well in audio format (books are not written with audio in mind, they’re written for the page, and many don’t necessarily translate that well into being read aloud–for a wide variety fo reasons) and (b) will have a big enough audience to make it the audiobook profitable–keeping in mind that, the audience for audio is smaller than it is for print. This is partly because some readers (my mother, for example) don’t like being read to–they feel it intrudes on their reading experience, rather than enhancing it. And partly because an audiobook is so much more expensive than print.

    So there’s a specific set of factors and considerations that can make rights hard to sell in audio–even when dealing with a popular work that seems.

    But that’s true of virtually any subrights. Audio is not special in that respect. Dramatic subrights (ex. film) have a whole set of criteria (and a lot of competition). Graphic novel rights have a VERY specific set of criteria for which most print books would probably be considered unattractive subrights propositions. There are whole genres, subgenres, and bestselling trends in the US that don’t translate well into various other cultures, and so those foreign subrights don’t get acquired. There are writers who are popular here who’ve never been able to crack the UK market. Or the French market. Or whatever.

  8. So let’s say I have a first novel with one of the New York houses, and it’s on the shelves domestically. Do I just walk into a WorldCon or a World Fantasy Convention — or the romance or mystery equivalents, like BoucherCon — and start looking for the foreign booths who might look at it? I’ve never even been to a world con of any sort, though I plan to hit Reno in 2011 because it’s close. Anyone have a good idea of where to begin researching international publishers in Europe and elsewhere? Like, a Writers Market for the globe, written in English of course.

  9. Brad, I think the most efficient way to research this is by following announcements (on the internet and in the trades) of foreign sales in your genre. The publisher (and usually the editor) is named, as in US sales.

    Additionally, writers often post their foreign editions; look up who published those books.

    I’d also follow short fiction sales in your genre (if there are any), since a number of foreign publishers publish both shortfic and novels, or there are foreign shortfic e-zines with sister companies that publish books in the same genre, etc.

    Developing relationships with foreign publishers that come to US conventions can be effective, too; but convention-going is expensive and time-consuming, and just not a practical avenue for many people (and especially not on a regular basis).

    In a similar vein to the, GOING to conventions in other countries can be effective, too, since European editors are at European cons, Israeli editors are at Israeli cons, etc. (Again, that’s expensive. More more feasible if you’re being INVITED to those cons, of course.)

    There are foreign/international bookfairs that a lot of agents go, in hopes of marketing foreign rights to the many publishers that attend. I don’t think I know any authors who’ve gone to those in pursuit of marketing their own foreign rights, so I’ve no idea how effective that would or wouldn’t be (and I’d be curious to read reports by writers who’ve done it). The most famous ones are probably the Frankfurt Bookfair and the Bologna Bookfair (which I think may be going on right now).

    Licensing foreign rights to your US publisher is another avenue to consider.

  10. Oh, and if you wanted to try to contact foreign AGENTS directly, quite a few US agencies list on their websites which foreign agencies they work with. I’d look those up, exactly as if I were researching a US agent, and see which ones I wanted to query or contact.

    However, my own =very= limited experience with foreign agents, I must admit, seemed so depressingly similar to my limited experience with US agents that I decided after a couple of jabs at it that I’d rather not deal with foreign agents, either. One, for example, showed a lot of interest in my query, had me spend about $50 sending him a box of my books, acknowledged receipt… then never contacted me again or responded to my emails. Two others never answered my emails at all, even though one of them had (as a contact of my final literary agency) made a previous sale of my work, and I was following up to ask, “Are you aware that that was the first book of a trilogy? Here’s info about the other two, both of which got starred reviews in major trades, made ‘Year’s Best’ lists, and earned well in the US.” No response. I prodded. Still no response.

    So, although my experience of foreign agents is much more limited than my experience of US agents, my impression is that, exactly like US agents, I can’t seem to convince them to want to earn money with me. So I’ll just go ahead and earn money without them, as I do without US agents.

    Similarly, btw, after deciding to give up in the US on the author-agent business model, but still, at that time, thinking I probably needed an agent of some sort for foreign sales, I also looked up and contacted a couple of US-based foreign rights specialists. I explained I was a multi-published author, had a series under contract at the time, ood reviews, good earn-outs, romance and sf/f awards, ‘Year’s Best’ lists, a backlist of books that had never been marketed overseas…

    Never got a response. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

    That was when I thought, well, maybe I’ll contact some foreign agents. (See above.)

    After all is said and done, and although this is not everyone’s experience, my own experience with agents, here and abroad, over and over, is such that it’s difficult (no, actually, it’s currently impossible) for me to imagine any circumstance under which it would make sense for me to hire one. (shrug)

    • dwsmith says:

      What Laura said all the way down. Nothing at all wrong with going straight to overseas publishers.

      But I want to underline what Laura said about some books not being right for an overseas publisher. Books set here in the states, that are American books at their core, don’t fly well in other countries. Fantasy novels, international thrillers, science fiction novels, literary novels with overseas settings are the best. As Laura said, not every book is right for every sub-right.

  11. “Books set here in the states, that are American books at their core, don’t fly well in other countries.”

    Here’s an interesting tidbit. The romance genre is consistently, for about 30 years now, the most stable and popular genre in the US fiction market. There are commercial spikes in other areas (ex. legal thrillers), but the romance genre is overall the most consistently popular genre of fiction in this country (and I’m including mainstream and literary fiction in my use of “genre” here). That is to say, if you gave every genre 1 point for every copy of a book sold in that genre, the romance genre would win, virtually every year for the past three decades.

    And yet, guess what? Most US romance genre fiction doesn’t have that strong an overseas market. It’s not non-existent, it’s just not stronger than other genres in foreign markets–and, indeed, it’s often -weaker- in foreign subrights sales than sf/f, for example; while meanwhile, in the US market, sf/f’s market share is VERY modest compared to the romance genre’s.

    There are other examples, but the disparity of the romance genre’s popularity in the US compared to its popularity in foreign markets is a striking one–and one that I’m familiar with, since I used to write romances and still hang out with a lot of romance writers. (There are also interesting sub-genre divisions. There are imprints in the Harlequin empire, for example, that don’t do well in the North American market but which are HUGELY popular in certain overseas market–such as, say, India and Latin America.)

  12. Russ Crossley says:

    A romance writer in my RWA chapter just sold the rights to a Japanese Manga w/o an agent. She says they contacted her so yes it does happen.

    Great stuff in here, Dean and thanks, Laura for contributing to our education.

  13. “…the Bologna Bookfair (which I think may be going on right now).”

    As a result of having read this, I just learned that the Bologna Bookfair is in its second day, as a result of this interesting story:

  14. This is a bit of a big tangent, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be more profitable for an author to self-publish an audio book electronically via his or her own website these days.

    A decent voice actor could be retained fairly easily and inexpensively, as there are performers everywhere.

    I’m not suggesting it’s the right way to go, but it’s certainly an option. Of course, one would have to consider the implications on paper sales, although as previously mentioned they two aren’t necessarily apples and apples. Just the same, existing book sales, and a very popular book at that, would certainly help promote audio sales.

    But of course, there’s the consideration that the author would have to promote the audio book on his own time and at his own expense, so it could be a losing battle.

    • dwsmith says:

      Jeremy, one of the wonderful things about this new golden age of fiction we are living in is that options are everywhere. And even more fun about this is that writers with this new world can take back a ton of control over decisions about how to push a story, decisions on setting up varied cash streams, and decisions as to which form to start with and how.

      So as you said, yes, it is an option. No writer will do any of this the same. A writer afraid of technology and new stuff won’t be interested in directing a lot of new methods and thus will go a traditional route which is fine. A writer like me in the middle will go both traditional and some new paths, often at the same time. A writer who is an early adapter and fearless will push the edges of new stuff. It’s those writers in that last group that I love to watch and learn from their success and mistakes and take what works for me.

      Every writer is different. It’s a huge new world. The key is setting up as many cash streams as a writer can set up. If that includes a way to make a self-produced audio book worth the time and money, then fire away. But one thing to always remember folks.

      We are writers. Writers write. If it takes a huge amount of time from your writing, it’s not worth the effort. You are always, and I repeat, always better served to write the next story or book.

  15. Great post, Dean!

    Dean wrote: But I want to underline what Laura said about some books not being right for an overseas publisher. Books set here in the states, that are American books at their core, don’t fly well in other countries. Fantasy novels, international thrillers, science fiction novels, literary novels with overseas settings are the best.


    You contact the publishers yourself overseas and sell it yourself. (My wife sold her last few books overseas on her own completely from start to end. On another she sold it but brought her agent in to help with the deal.) Going to large conventions with international flavor helps in this as well since you have a chance to meet overseas publishers.

    I find all that hugely encouraging! From the day I was born up until the time I turned 24, I was either a military brat or in the Air Force myself. In fact, I spent so much time overseas that the US just became another foreign country to me. The end result is that a lot of my stories tend to have international settings. The last fantasy novel I wrote, for example, was set in mostly in England and a little in France and was based in large measure on things I knew about England when I attended high school there, and the bits in France were based on both short stays I’d had in France and on research.

    Going to international conventions or even the bookfairs mentioned by Laura (I already knew about the one in Frankfurt, but not the one in Bologna) wouldn’t be at all out of the question for me as I vacation in Europe annually, anyway. It would just require me to make some adjustments. I typically go to other destinations, but because of that I’m always going in and out of Frankfurt since it’s a major European hub.

    I’m wondering, though, how well do books with international settings do in the US? And how much does genre matter in this respect? (For example, I know that Jack Higgins and Ken Follett sell well in the US with their books, but theirs is an entirely different genre from what I write, too.)

  16. Yes, true. And a worthwhile reminder.

    I’ve been following David Farland’s information about his own self-published book, and I believe he has concluded that while he’s made money on the book, the amount of time he has spent on all tasks normally handled by the publisher, especially promotion, would make it not a very good use of a new writer’s time.

    So that’s something I have in my head. A self-produced audio book is maybe a good idea for David, Kevin J. Anderson, James Patterson, or others who have from very good to incredible followings. A new writer would likely find himself spending far too much time on tasks not guaranteed to add to his “magic bakery.” And writing is enough of a non-guarantee that a new writer probably shouldn’t embark on any others, at least not without being well-informed and aware of the risks.

  17. Pati Nagle says:

    A related question:

    Is it a good idea for a writer whose publisher has bought World rights and not sold any of them to contact foreign publishers s/he thinks might be interested in the book?

    My experience with foreign rights is that the publisher eagerly demands them in the contract, then ignores them. I have reached the conclusion that they demanded them “in case” my book hit big, at which point they’d sell it all over the place. But independently of that, they’re not going to market it.

    • dwsmith says:

      Pati, I don’t think it would be. You don’t know that the publisher’s people might have already contacted the publisher overseas.

      Actually, publishers make a ton of money selling books overseas when they can, and have entire departments doing so, because of the money. It might seem like they ignore them, but I have a hunch each book is pitched in one form or another.

      Key to remember is that the overseas markets are much smaller than the US market, and they have their own writers as well. So it takes a pretty special (in setting, in content, in something that makes it right) for that publisher in that country to invite in an overseas writer. As Laura and I both said, not all books are right for overseas sales. But a publisher that takes World Rights has a reason for doing so. It might not seem like it to the writer when nothing happens, but trust me, there’s too much money in the mix for them to not at least try in some fashion or another.

      And yes, if you hit big, both you and the publisher make money on those rights.

      Back to the math for a moment. You hold back your translation rights to say France and let your agent sell them for you. You get 80% if your agent’s sub-agent and French agent can manage to pay attention enough to sell it. Fine.

      But sell French Translation in your contract and you get a slightly bigger advance because those rights are in there, then if the publisher working directly with a French publisher, sells those rights, you get 50% standard. So counting the increase in advance, there isn’t a lot of difference in actual money into your pocket when it boils down to the final tally. And more of a chance if your publisher is selling them.

      Which is why I listed having your publisher sell them as the number one way of getting a book overseas. Hope that makes sense.

  18. “I’ve been following David Farland’s information about his own self-published book, and I believe he has concluded that while he’s made money on the book, the amount of time he has spent on all tasks normally handled by the publisher, especially promotion, would make it not a very good use of a new writer’s time.”

    I haven’t self-published a book, but I came to a similar conclusion as a result of an extremely stressful experience in the traditional publishing world.

    I worked for a while with a monumentally incompetent editor–one who I got stuck working with only because the editor was a buddy of my then-agent, who had placed me with this editor, and my then-agent kept refusing, rejecting, and quashing my instructions to request that the publisher reassign me to another editor.

    Anyhow, there was, in particular, a book during this tormented period of my career wherein the editor was, for all practical purposes, AWOL from delivery through publication. Thus -I- wound up having to do the editor’s job of managing the delivered MS through the stages of the publishing process. This was a complete (and not-readily-welcomed in house) overturning of standard operating procedure. But these things HAD to be done and, once it became clear that the editor wasn’t going to do them and that, therefore, if I wanted the book published at ALL, let alone published competently, it was up to me to get the editor’s job done.

    And, yes, it was very time-consuming. It was clear to me that there was a good reason that editors get paid a SALARY to do this, and can only do it for so many books in a given year, and that because of the demands of doing this, they don’t have much time to read the slushpile.

    And so I imagine if I hadn’t been accomplishing all those tasks in place of an employee in an established in-house process, but was instead farming out the work, negotiating fees, finding a distributor, etc… BOY that would be time-consuming. I can easily imagine how heavily that would cut into my writing, knowing how heavily that above experience cut into my writing.

  19. “if the publisher working directly with a French publisher, sells those rights, you get 50% standard. ”

    50% for the author is in most publishing boilerplates. My lawyer negotiated this to 65%, so I definitely recommend asking for that.

    A 65% foreign subrights percentage via the US publisher also substantially narrows the gap between the standard publisher 50% boilerplate and the standard US agency 80% for foreign sales. Especially if you’re meanwhile also NOT paying 15% of your advances and royalties to a US agent.

    The lose-lose scenario, of course, would be to license translation rights to the publisher in an agented deal. You don’t want to get 50%-65% of translation rights via the publisher and then ALSO pay 15% of your share to a US literary agent, which is exactly what you’d have to do if a US agent negotiated a deal wherein the publisher licenses your foreign subrights.

    At that point, on a $3,000 book in Germany at a standard 50% percentage, less the US agent’s commission for doing nothing (viz subrights), the client’s share of that advance would be $1275; even if the agent negotiated your subrights share of to 65% (and I’m actually quite skeptical that an agent that can’t handle foreign subrights would be a competent enough business person to negotiate that, actually), the writer would get 65% of $3000 less 15% = $1658. Whereas my unagented 65% share of a $3K fopreign advance is $1950.

    In that scenario, the writer is spending, oh, $300-$675 per book sold overseas for nothing more (as far as I can see) that the privilege of using the phrase “my agent” in conversation.

    There are a lot of viable possibilities for handling foreign subrights with a US agency, without a US agency, with foreign agents, without foreign agents, etc.

    And I would say the only scenario to COMPLETELY AVOID is one whereby the writer is paying for a US agent -and- signing over foreign subrights to the publisher, because that’s just much too expensive–a lot of money in exchange for no service at all.

    Meanhile–Pati–another possibility is just a communication issue. I’ve so far made only one foreign sale via a publisher to whom I licensed all foreign subrights when negotiating an unagented deal (via my lawyer), but this publisher does communicate with me, which makes a difference. The in-house foreign department rep handling my book read it and wrote an email about it to my editor which my editor shared with me, and my editor has also discussed with me interest in the work in a foreign market. This is certainly more communication that I ever got at a literary agency about my work, and I suspect it’s probably also a lot more communication that most writers get in-house from their publishers when they license their foreign subrights to the house. I just got luck in this respect with this excellent editor and house. But it does teach me that sometimes COMMUNICATION is the difference between having a sense that there’s some activity going on and having a sense that there is NONE.

    So one possibility is that your publisher is doing pretty much what mine is doing… but not TALKING to you about it.

  20. “Is it a good idea for a writer whose publisher has bought World rights and not sold any of them to contact foreign publishers s/he thinks might be interested in the book?”

    You can’t do this until the license grant expires.

    For example, I’ve licensed foreign subrights to a publisher, but they’ve got to exercise (i.e. sell) those rights within three years of US publicaiton, or the license expires–that is, the grant of rights returns to -my- possession and they’re no longer authorized to market the book overseas. Not until we reneogiate and I extend the grant of rights.

    Prior to the license grant expiring, I can’t market the foreign subrights myself. It would identical to trying to sell the novel to another US print publisher before my US print rights have reverted; i.e. a serious breach of contract and a violation of the licensing agreement.

    AFTER the grant of rights expires, I can do whatever I want with those rights–reture them, market them, relicense them, contact a subrights specialist, etc. However, one thing I would make SURE to do is to notify/alert the publisher that the grant of rights had expired, since this is precisely the sort of thing that publishers don’t ever bother to keep track of, though they should.

    • dwsmith says:

      Laura is right on the contract restrictions. Watch your time limit in contracts on those rights.

      • dwsmith says:

        I agree with David and Laura’s take on self-publishing. It is time-consuming in the extreme if you are not already up to speed on many aspects of the job. I was Pulphouse, so I have a ton of learning behind me with self-publishing and I know I can get the actual design and layout down to a decent number of hours per book. But sales are another matter all together. Getting a self-published book through the noise these days to make enough out of it to even cover your time is difficult at best. And impossible if you don’t know a great deal about what you are doing, so learning curve causes more time spent.

        But that said, there are a ton of ways to make money and set up cash streams with these new publishing outlets. For example, it now takes me about 30 minutes to design a cover and put a short story up on Kindle, another ten for Scribd. Another five to add it on my site. And after that no work at all. Just a slow, very small, cash stream.

        POD books (if self-designed and not paid for the design) can be a long, long term cash stream, also small, but if you have the right product and take a five or ten year approach, and do enough of them to matter, it is possible to flow some really nice money. But again, it boils down to writing. To do enough, you have to have written enough, have enough sales in traditional outlets to help cut through the noise, and have an active web site to direct traffic. So it boils down to the writing and producing product. If doing this takes time away from writing the next story or book, it’s not worth it.

        • dwsmith says:

          I hope everyone understood the lose/lose that Laura was talking about.

          You sell your French Translation rights to your publisher. You get 50%. But if you have an agent, your agent takes 15% of that as well. For doing nothing.

          But don’t forget to count into the equation the extra money sometimes offered for World or Translation rights. I’ve seen many offers that have one figure on North American rights and another higher number for World Rights. Always a math calculation when that happens. And AT THAT POINT, you had better know your agent’s ability to sell overseas. If you agent is contracting with another New York sub-agent, you are doomed to never sell the overseas rights and thus are better to take the extra money in hand. But if you are with a top agent at say Trident or Writer’s House or William Morris, they have proven track records for selling overseas rights through their in-agency foreign agent, so you might be better to take the lower advance and go for the bigger money.

          All calculations that need to be made. But before you can do that, YOU MUST KNOW what your agent does with foreign rights on books. Ask them. Now!

  21. Probably readers of this blog know what “earn-out,” but just in case: After you’re -advanced- money (say, $20K) for your novel by a publisher, you will only be paid royalties if/when your share (ex. usually 8% on a mass market paperback) of the sales revenue has equalled $20,000 (ex. on a $7.99 book at 8%, it takes about 31,250 books sold to earn out a $20,000 advance).

    With that explained, it should be acknowledged: A disadvantage of licensing foreign subrights to your US publisher rather than selling them directly oneself -or- selling them via literary agents is:

    In a direct author-publisher foreign sale, you get a check (for 100%) from the publisher.

    In a semi-direct author-agent foreign sale, you get a check (for 80%) from the publisher via the agent.

    In a foreign rights licensing deal with your US publisher, foreign income (let’s say 50%-65% of a sale) is credited against your US advance until earn-out, and then it flows through to you via your US royalty payments thereafter.

    This means that, for example, if you sell a book in the US for $20K and then don’t earn out here, but you sell it yourself or via an agent overseas to, say, France and Germany for $1K in each country, you’ll get payments for $1K from each of those countries (or $800 from each, if you sold via your US agent) even though your US edition will never earn out or pay you royalties.

    Whereas, in a similar example, if you sell your book in the US for $20K and never earn out, and then your =US publisher= sells that book to France and Germany for $1K apiece via your 65% unagented licensing deal with the US publisher, then for each sale, you will get $650 credited to the earnings of your book… but you’ll never get any actual CASH if the book never earns out.

    So one very obvious flaw in the licensing-translation-rights-to-US-publisher model is that you can make overseas sales via your publisher and never get ANY fiscal advantage from it. And it means that your foreign earnings are vulnerable to the peculiarities that characterize US publishing accounting practices. (Ex. Your spring royalty statement may show that 9,000 hardcover copies shipped and you’re within pennies of earning out. Then the fall statement may show that 6,000 copies were returned, you’ll die olf old age before this book earns out, and the advance from you German sale is a pathetic entry in your “earnings” margin compared to the enormous number currently displayed in the “unearned portion of the advance” margin.)

    Now, if that same book DOES earn out in the US, then you do indeed get that cash from the publisher’s foreign sales. But you don’t get the payments direct. You get them flowed through your semi-annual royalty payments.

    In this same manner, foreign advances also contribute to your book earning out in the US or progressing towards earn-out. Because each foreign advance will be listed as a credit in the “earnings” column.

    All of this is why it’s not only an individual AUTHOR decision about how to handle foreign rights, but also, IMO, a project-to-protect decision. How invested is the publisher in the project? How long do you think they’ll keep it in print and earning in the US? How good do you think their translation rights division is at selling books overseas? How do you want to use your time?

    I’m experimenting with multiple scenarios. I’ve licensed translation rights to a US publisher for one series, and will see how that goes. I’m probably handling foreign subrights for another series myself, and will see how that goes. I’ve licensed e-rights to some of my backlist to be translated into several languages and to be distributed across multiple e-platforms in a number of specified countries, and will see how that goes. Although I’ve had consistently negative experiences with foreign agents and US specialists in foreign subrights, I’m not unwilling to consider contacting one of I heard really good things about one (whom I haven’t already tried) from a credible source. And so on.

    I would eventually like to settle on what is the One Perfect System for my entire career and handle all foreign subrights that way, but I’m not sure I will. However, my experiements may at least ead me to a dominant or preferred choice that I make in most cases in future, if not all.

  22. Worth noting again… all this is just business.

    Are you as competent at business as someone who runs a little import/export gift shop in your hometown? Have you budgeted for, scheduled, and supervised remodeling on your home? Do you invest your money competently? Did you figure out how to pay for collge via a combination of scholarships, loans, and work-study? Have you ever planned a fundraiser? Or a big wedding or bar mitzvah? Have you wrapped up the estate of a suddenly deceased relative?

    Running a writing career involves skills similar to any of those endeavors. It’s just treated and talked about as if it’s somehow so esoteric and unknowable that you should unquestingly hand over all your decisions, all your cash flow, and 15% of your income to someone else.

    • dwsmith says:

      Running a writing career involves skills similar to any of those endeavors. It’s just treated and talked about as if it’s somehow so esoteric and unknowable that you should unquestioningly hand over all your decisions, all your cash flow, and 15% of your income to someone else.

      Agreed, Laura, on both last posts. But a couple of things I want to add to the paragraph above. Instead of the words “someone else” replace those with the word “stranger.” And that is also assuming, as we have talked about in other posts, that you even get all your income. Remember, agents best place to skim money is with overseas sales, which is why I did this chapter next after the money topic. So a better way to say that above paragraph would now be:

      Running a writing career involves skills similar to any of those endeavors. It’s just treated and talked about as if it’s somehow so esoteric and unknowable that you should unquestioningly hand over all your decisions, all your cash flow, and 15% of your income(that manages to get to you) to A STRANGER.

      Split payments, folks, split payments with US publishers. Sign all your own foreign contracts, and talk with even your overseas publisher (especially if an agent sold it) so you know when checks are coming, when royalties are paid out, AND HOW MUCH is due you. Your agent is a stranger to you. Treat them like one.

  23. I just had an insane thought. Maybe I should check out intellectual property law for my advanced degree, once I get done with my bachelor’s?

    Yah, I know. Totally nuts.

    Hell, I wonder if I could get the Army to pay for it. Jump over to JAG. I have no clue what JAG does with Warrant Officers.

    It would be worth investigating. I was going to get an advanced degree in something eventually anyway. Hmmmm…..

  24. I have to say, it’s pretty encouraging to think that planning my wedding, which mostly sounds stressful and overwhelming, can help me prepare for my writing career!

  25. Dead, indeed. And speaking of “a stranger…”

    Something that’s occurred to me often over the past couple of years, as well as during the course of these blog discussions, is how much of the agenting profession, as ACTUALLY practiced by many agents (though certainly not all) is a dirty little secret.

    For years, I had negative, odd, unprofessional, bizarre, unreasonable, and often outrageous experiences with agents whom I queried as well as agents whom I worked with. (Ex. The first agent ever interested in taking me on as a client–a well-known agent at the time, since retired–tried to convince me to sign a self-evidently egregious agency contract, one which would, among other things, surrender management of my work to that agent for the life of the work’s copyright. I courteously declined to sign and said I wasn’t going to become a client after all. And this agent–supposedly a reputable, experienced professional (whereas I was just a young aspiring writer) responded by threatening me. (sigh). Ex. After I got an offer for my first novel from a major house and, at the urging of other writers, contacted an agent who was referred to me personally by a much-published writer who was a client of this agent… the agent advised me to turn down the offer, permanently retire that MS (which the agent had not seen), permanently retire the other completed MSs I had in which the major publisher was expressing interest now that it had made me a first-deal offer, and instead write something on spec in the genres that the agent was more interested in handling. (sigh) And those are just two brief examples from the very tip of my iceberg of absurd experiences with literary agents. Indeed, I didn’t even WORK WITH those two agents.)

    And for years, through frustrating, negative, stressful, and damaging experiences with the agents whom I actually hired, as well as odd and negative and absurd experiences with various agents whom I queried … I always thought it was -me-. That -I- was having uniquely weird, odd, bizarre experiences. Moreover, my own -agents- assured me that -I- was the only person who objected to certain practices, had certain areas of conflict with them, didn’t agree with certain “truths” they told me, etc. I ran through four agents and many strange query experiences, always thinking it was =me= (and oftne being assured by agents that it was INDEED -me-). When I quit the agent-author business model at long last, I said (indeed, I wrote about it in my column) that this was the right decision for -me- because -I- had bad Agent Karma.

    But the thing is… once I quit the agent-author paradigm and started GOING PUBLIC with my negative and outlandish experiences of that business model, and my absurd experiences of contact with and of working with literary agents over the years, and TALKING about my experiences in public or on e-lists or in blogs or on convention panels or in speeches or at parties with other writers, etc., etc…. Writers began talking talking to -me- about their bad agent experiences, their weird agent experiences, their frustrations with their current and previous agents, the bad behavior of agents whom they query, etc. For about two years, I’ve been hearing a LOT of anecdotes and weird tales and painful accounts and anxious questions from writers…

    And what’s clear to me is that the problems and and experiences that I spent years thinking were “just me” or that in some way represented strangely bad luck or bad decisions on -my- part alone, etc… Are actually quite COMMON (not universal; but common) problems and practices, that a LOT of writers experience them (not all writers; but a lot), but (for reasons discussed elsewhere in these blog chats) that most writers don’t talk about–and DEFINITELY don’t talk about in public.

    In a similar vein, guess who else doesn’t know about how much of this rubbish goes on?


    While I do not use names (partly because I don’t want trouble, and mostly because I see this subject as being about problems with the business model, rather than being about specific individuals), I’ve told some editors about my experiences with various agents, and they are FLABBERGASTED. Stunned. Many of them have no idea that agents say and do the things that my own agents and agents whom I’ve queried say and do; and that–based on my many conversations with other writers in recent years–that a surprisingly large percentage of agents say and do (or fail to do) those things, too.

    Editors, for example, seem to have no idea how often they’re receiving material from an agent which the agent HASN’T READ. Editors seem to have no idea how often they’re negotiating with an agent who is COMPLETELY UNFAMILIAR with the writer’s work. Editors seem to have no idea how often they call an agent to discuss the contents of a MS that the agent hasn’t read–has even told the author not to bother sending precisely -because- the agent isn’t going to bother reading it.

    Editors also clearly have no idea how often agents WON’T send them material. (I know, for example, that there’s an editor who thinks I wouldn’t submit to her after she showed interest in me. Actually, I told my agent multiple times to send the editor my work, and the agent kept refusing. Editors mistakenly assume over and over that agents WILL SEND them material for a writer they’re interested in–when my own experience and the experience of various writers who’ve confided in me is that, in fact, many agents won’t. Some agents want to stick to their buddies and don’t WANT to send a MS to an editor who’s more interested in the writer than in the agent. Some agents are control freaks who don’t like authors or editors taking intiative; -they- want to be the only ones determining a submission choice. And so on.

    This all comes to mind because I poked around the internet last night… and saw a couple of editor blogs wherein the editors were critical of various aspects of these blogs and propounded a different view of agents, once that they clearly assumed was more informed and experienced… But, actually, SO much of agenting occurs in “private” and “behind closed doors” between just the agent and the client, and never gets talked about (or, rather, gets =lied= about)… a surprising number of editors… really don’t know that much about agents or their practices. Certainly they know less than they think they do.

    In much that way that until I started learning how COMMON rather than extraordinary my negative and even bizarre agent experiences were, -I- didn’t know that much about agents, either.

    Just getting that off my chest.

    • dwsmith says:


      There’s enough information on this topic for a chapter. And I had it down on my list as a possible chapter. Editors DO NOT KNOW what agents are doing in the slightest. You are spot on the money. Spot on.

      And as you detailed out, there are reasons they don’t know. First off, how could they know? Not their job, not their business, and the order to have agents read slush came down as a “good idea at the time” from above editors. No thought put into it at all. Some editors are friends with agents, but that’s it. Kris and I told one editor about how a certain agent stole from Kris and the editor was shocked.

      Even more shocking, most editors don’t have a clue how writers make their living. They think if they are paying a writer only $20,000 for a book as an advance every year, the writer can’t be making a living. And so many more details like that. But again, why should they be expected to know. Problem is, they go out and try to help new writers, and thus these myths get pushed even harder.

      And, as we have talked about before, writers would be shocked at how agents do their dealings with editors in reverse. You’ve done some great stories on that.

      Only reason I even know this stuff about editors is because I was an editor and spent a ton of time and many hundreds of meals with editors being considered an editor, not a writer. Editors flat have no idea about what happens with agents, which is why I pretty much ignore editors defending the stupidity in the agent system.

      Let me put this clearly: Editors, what writers do with their employees is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.

      Just like it is none of our business how you deal with your boss or how your boss deals with you. None of our business.

      Hmmm, guess I had better do a chapter on this part after all, at least to have it in the book in the end.

  26. Er, the first line of that should read, “Dean, indeed.” Not “Dead, indeed.”

    What an interesting Freudian slip. (g)

  27. I’m the writer Russ Crossley speaks of from his RWA chapter who sold Japanese rights without an agent on this side of the ocean. I don’t actually even know how it happened, because it all started with the Japanese editor – who is no longer with the publisher! He wanted to buy Japanese manga rights to my first book, which was initially published in North America in 2003 and then again with a second publisher in 2005 after the first publisher folded. From what I know, he contacted a major Japanese lit agency, who contacted the scouting division of an NYC agency, who contacted someone at my very tiny publishing house, Amber Quill Press. Amber Quill publishes ebooks and trade paperbacks. They don’t retain foreign rights. So the contact there contacted me. I thought it was a scam. After a bunch of research and advice, I realized it wasn’t, and I dealt with the Japanese agent from there.

    You could have knocked me over with a feather. I have no idea why the Japanese editor wanted the book. My husband thinks it might be because the story is set in Whistler, which is where the Olympics were held this winter. Maybe that’s what brought it to the editor’s attention.

  28. Literary lawyer F. Robert Stein has a column called “Ask the Lawyer” in NINK (where I am also a columnist), the monthly journal of Novelists, Inc. (an international org of professional novelists, of which I am a past president).

    This month’s months question to him concerned language that seems to sweeping in some boilerplates and what to do about it. Bob addresses the specific question, and then he concludes his column with these words:

    “You’d be surprised how reasonable publishers’ contract administrators can be when presented with such a counter-offer. You then find yourself in a discussion of exactly which rights the publisher actually requires, rather than a discus- sion about the publisher’s original sweeping attempt to grab all rights.”

    This has been my experience exactly. Via my attorney’s negotiating method of proposing alternatives, negotiations over my contractual clauses have been discussions about what both sides need and how to achieve that through fair compromise, rather than publishers simply saying “yes” or “no.” Moreover, thanks to the transparency of legal negotiations via literary alwyer, compared to the opacity I always experienced in the negotiating process when agented, I see this in action and can make adjustments and counter-suggestions to my lawyer myself, based specifically on what the publisher has said, rather than just getting the “they said no” or “they said they didn’t want to” or “they position is such-and-such, so they won’t agree to our request,” which was the sort of results I typically got from agents.

    IOW, with an attorney’s methods of counter-proposal, I find that my negotiations just don’t run into the solid wall of “no” nearly as much as they used to. (This is also because an attorney, who’s being paid by the hour, will keeo going back to the table until I’m satisfied. Whereas an agent’s paycheck isn’t going to change on the basis of doing more work, and my experience is that they balk pretty quickly at the prospect of continuing negotiations once -they- are satisfied with the clauses that primarily affect -them-. I also get the impression that after a round or two, agents then seem to feel they’re nagging rather than negotiating, and become uncomfortable. Whereas lawyers are more results-focused: we’ll stop when we’ve got the contract that my client is satisfied with and which I can conscionably advise her to accept.)

    I’ve also found this principle to be true when negotiating by myself with small presses or on other types of deals. Proposing an alternative instead of JUST saying you don’t like a clause is more fruitful, and proposing additional alternatives of variations if your first one is rejected is also more fruitful, and opens the discussion about why the boilerplate is the way it is, what the publisher’s bottom line is on that clause, and what compromise the publisher is willing to consider for it.

  29. Hmmm…Laura, your last post really makes me think about Kris’ posts on negociation. It really is a fine art. You have to be really aware going in what you want and yet be also be aware what you’re willing to give up and where the dealbreakers are.

    I’m also seriously thinking an IP lawyer might be the way to go, for me.

    Thanks again for the excellent discussion.

  30. Russ, always keeping in mind, of course, that to be aware of where you’re going, what you want, and what you’re willing to give up, you’ve got to be someone who READS your damn contracts.

    I was in conversation just the other day with a writer-friend the other day who mentioned, with some exasperation, talking a while ago to a writer who not only did not read publishing contracts before signing them, but who (wait for it!) clearly took PRIDE in not reading her contracts. Nay, BRAGGED about not reading her contracts. A writer who considered it the epitome of professionalism as a novelist that she just wrote the books and let her agent worry about what the contracts said.

    And that’s not as uncommon as it ought to be.

  31. Amanda McCarter says:

    Dean, up until this post, it never occurred to me to hire an agent to do overseas sales. I had no idea how they were sold. I figured the publisher did that, honestly. Still this has been very enlightening. I know you’re not anti-agent, but you’re convincing me more and more to hire a lawyer.

  32. Yet another great post by Dean, and yet more great comments by Laura.

    One thing I take away from this is that if I have the chance to get an agent, his or her track record with foreign sales is one of the first things I will ask about.

    Btw, I have a new site/blog and a new YouTube Channel covering SF/F that I launched all of it today. Click my link for that.

  33. So, true Laura!

    Don’t read the contract?? What??? Why would anyone not read a contract they’re going to sign? This is INSANE! Stunning.

    This is like getting hired onto a job and not knowing what the benefits or wages are before you start. Whoever would do this deserves waht they get.

    Hmmmm…wasn’t there a guy named Faust who didn’t read his contract before signing?

  34. Good point Russ.

    Because we should all trust that the ‘boss’ would never screw us over, right? I mean, the ‘boss’ would not do that!

    (evil grin)

    I’m quite certain my experience at my civilian job last year has greatly influenced me on the agent issue.

    Mostly because my boss who hired me in 2007 seemed like a dream boss, at least at first. Gradually, however, it became apparent that he didn’t have my best interests at heart, nor the company’s best interests, nor even his own best interests — he was canned last Thanksgiving.

    Nicest guy in the world, until it became convenient for him to throw you under the bus. Which he was fairly adroit at doing when the heat came down on him from above.

    In the end, he was fired for gross incompetence and now it remains for the rest of us to try and pick up the pieces of the organization he almost obliterated — results pending.

    Yet there are still people in that same organization who LOVE him and think he was SO TOTALLY WONDERFUL and they just can’t figure out WHY he got fireEERRrrrr, I mean, laid off.

    In fact, they’d have him back in a heartbeat.

    Seems to me this sort of phenomenon is common in the writer world too. People who insist their agent(s) are awesome even when those agents are actively working contra to the best interests of the writer, botching the business, sabotaging or otherwise doing all kinds of stuff wrong — to include not doing anything much at all.

    Yet writers will sit there and angrily insist that their agent is the greatest thing since the flushing toilet, and anyone who says otherwise is blaspheming.

    Yup. I am so too familiar with that kind of mentality.

  35. “A writer who considered it the epitome of professionalism as a novelist that she just wrote the books and let her agent worry about what the contracts said.”

    Well, actually, I hope to someday be a writer who not only doesn’t read his contracts, but whose agent will put the pen in his hand and then move his hand to sign the document.

    Even better, I’d like my agent to come over and type my words while I dictate to him.

    I jest.

  36. Amanda McCarter says:

    Jeremy, I’m glad you put “I jest” at the end. I was about to reach through the interwebs and throttle you. I cannot abide by foolish people. =D

  37. I cannot abide by foolish people. =D

    You sure you want me coming out to Conestoga, Amanda? (grin)

  38. Sorry for getting your heart rate up, Amanda, but given that example, I just had to run with it a bit.

  39. And speaking of foreign subrights sales without an agent, my first just hit the stands in Germany.

    I made this sale via my US publisher, DAW Books (a division of Penguin USA). Therefore, the payout is following the model described in an earlier post: The German advance flows through to me via my US royalties (or is credited in my royalty statement against the unearned portion of my US advance) rather than being sent as an advance check directly to me or to a literary agent.

    And, that is a disadvantage of selling via your publisher. OTOH, my fourth agency was completely unable to sell this very book in Germany, whereas DAW/Penguin -has- sold it there. And I’d rather have a flow-through credit/payment of an actual advance than no advance or sale at ALL.

  40. Coming in late with this, but it’s the most relevant place to post this information. I write a fantasy series for a US publisher to whom I sold it on my own, in my post-agent professional life, and I licensed foreign subrights for the series to this house. And they contacted me this week with news of another foreign sale.

    Upshot: As an unagented writer, I have (at least, at this time) now achieved and surpassed the subrights goal I set for myself when I decided to shed the agent-author business model: My average annual foreign subrights earnings now exceed what they were when I was agented.


    • dwsmith says:

      Laura, Kris and I are discovering the same thing, not only with overseas rights, but with Hollywood deals. We have gotten three Hollywood deals in the last two months that NEVER would have happened if gone through an agent. Never.

      Shocking me as well. Thanks for posting that.

  41. 10 months later, I need to correct something I said in my previous posts. (Should’ve done this sooner.)

    It turns out I was confused about how the money flows, in my arrangement of selling foreign rights via my US publisher. I do NOT wait for the money to flow through royalties. The US publisher cuts me checks, which they send directly to me, when they receive checks from the foreign publishers.

    The upshot is that my foreign rights business -and- my current foreign rights income (i.e. what I’m actually pocketing) have now both met my initial goals, which was to do better than I was doing while I was agented. Now I need to set my next goal for this.

  42. I’m not sure if people still hang around this thread, but it seemed like the best place to post my question. I had a subscription to publishers marketplace this month, so I’ve been following the foreign rights deals to see if perhaps I could sell them myself. I had a pretty hard time finding submission information or contact information for the publishers. I’m not quite sure if I’m doing it right. The publishers weekly deal announcement usually gives the foreign publisher’s name ( but usually not the editor who bought it). When I google the publisher, I usually end up finding their retail arm, and the contact information provided is usually for their sales department rather than for editorial. Does anyone know a better way of doing this?

    • dwsmith says:

      Livia, I’ll talk about this more when I get to this chapter in the update part. So hold on, it should only be a few weeks until this chapter comes up.


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