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Speaking in Tongues

I write to you all today from the bosom of my family in Ireland. The sea is crashing outside my window, I am dazzled by my baby brother's new and sparkly diamond earring, and I thought it was well past time to write another Stumbling Towards Publication post.

To start with, some news!

I've been selling some foreign rights.

Foreign rights to Sarah Rees Brennan's debut urban fantasy trilogy starting with THE DEMON'S LEXICON, to Bertelsmann Jugendbuch in Germany, in a pre-empt; Albin Michel in France, at auction; Recliff Holdings in Russia; and to Media Factory in Japan. Complex Chinese rights to Crown, in a pre-empt.

Basically, this means the book will be translated and published in Germany, Russia, France and Japan! Complex Chinese rights means that it will be translated into Chinese (complex characters) and published in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao - but not yet in mainland China.

Obviously this is wonderful news for me because it means that more people will hopefully read my book, and because I will get to read my own book without being able to understand a word of it, which is unreasonably cool. I am especially pleased by Japan, given my new love for Japanese entertainment, and amused by the fact that The Demon's Lexicon will be published by my lovely German publisher in spring 2009 - which means it will come out in German before it comes out in English.

It's a little scary too, since now a lot of people have read my book, but that's all right since they seem to like it.



So Anthea Author writes a book called, for instance, The Bear Unicorn and His Rock Band. She gets an agent. The agent gets her a publisher. If she's selling to an American publisher (let's call her American publisher Dancing Henry) she now has three major options.

1) Sell North American rights - the book will be published by Dancing Henry in North America, and her agent may look for other publishers around the world, including England and Australia.
2) Sell World English rights - Dancing Henry has the rights to all English forms of this book, so in England The Bear Unicorn and His Rock Band will be published by Dancing Henry UK. Anthea's agent can sell the book to be translated into other languages if other countries want to buy it. (That's what I sold.)
3) Sell World rights - Dancing Henry owns the book in all possible languages, and sale of foreign rights by Anthea would be very, very illegal. And naughty.

Anthea's publisher or Anthea's agent will probably decide on what kind of rights to buy or sell. Anthea will nod like a bobblehead doll.

'Right,' the Intelligent Reader may say. 'But what does all this auction and pre-empt stuff mean?'

They mean excellent and wonderful things!

An auction for a book is not like an ordinary auction of antique furniture or slavegirls. Nobody dragged me or the book onstage while several publishers called out bids and my agent slammed her hammer and said 'Ominous Murmuring bids five shiny dollars! Do I hear six?'

In a way this is a shame, as I feel my agent would have wielded a hammer with great style. On the other hand, it would have done my nerves no good at all to be up on that stage and I would undoubtedly have panicked and had an idea like performing an exotic slavegirl shimmy.

This could only have led to disaster. Nobody approves of sexy dancing more than I do (and in fact, it is in my book, so the shimmy would have been an on-topic shimmy). Sad to say, however, I have all the grace of a gazelle stuck up a tree. My hips do not lie, but on occasion they have been known to take out vases. I would have cleared that auction hall in under five minutes as publishers fled for their lives.

A typical auction is conducted by Anthea Author's agent over the phone. Several publishers will express interest in the book, Anthea Author will be informed, and an auction will be held as Anthea Author (thrilled and overcome that several publishers like the book enough to want to buy it) dances. At home. In strict privacy.

I had an auction for my World English rights, but that's a whole other post that involves underwater antics. (No, really. No, really.) Today we talk foreign rights!

In my last Stumbling Post, I discussed how important having an agent is. She will know the English-speaking market and where to sell your book, but having an in-depth knowledge of every single market in the world is a little much to ask for. So your agent will have another agent specialising in foreign rights working with her - in my case, the clearly amazing Whitney Lee. This agent will often sell in association with other agents actually in the countries to which they are selling the book.

Trust these people. Your agent does, and for good reason. They will tell your agent everything, and your agent will tell you everything.

So in a Faraway Land the publishers Dancing Henry Faraway, Crispy Fried Publications, Moving Mountains and Ominous Murmuring all call Anthea's agent's Alter Agent. Dancing Henry Faraway bids five shiny dollars. Alter Agent calls the others and tells them about the bid. Moving Mountains bids six. Ominous Murmuring says 'Really, I don't see what The Bear Unicorn and His Rock Band has. Our book The Fire-Breathing Dolphin and His Hula Party is immeasurably superior and we are going to get a coffee.' Alter Agent keeps calling people until she collapses with exhaustion. This can go on for weeks, until one publisher wins or two publishers even out and Anthea Author is left in the terrifying but wonderful position of getting to pick one.

Sometimes it will look like an auction is going to happen, and Moving Mountains will call Alter Agent and say 'Don't let anyone else bid on the book. Just give it to me, and I will give you eight shiny dollars.' This is called a pre-empt, and Anthea's agent and alter agent will advise her on whether or not to take it. She should listen to this advice. These people know more than she does.

Picking a publisher (if you do get to pick) is not simply a question of money, but whether a publisher would be a good fit for a book. Anthea's agent and alter agent will know this, and will tell her things like 'Crispy Fried's director owns a unicorn reserve and she wept over the book in the ladies' bathrooms.' In-house enthusiasm means that everybody will be happy together, and Anthea can trust her publisher has faith in the book. Other factors might be what else they've published. My lovely French publisher did the Bartimaeus trilogy in France, and Crown did Harry Potter in Taiwan.

Finding great publishers is always wonderful. Hearing people are liking your book is terrific. The best thing, though, is the idea that there might one day be people out there with whom I don't have a language in common, who might still enjoy what I write. That's the real reason why people get excited about foreign rights.

Was I helpful? Any further questions? My quest to keep you guys informed of everything continues...

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
spark_of_chaos
Nov. 21st, 2009 11:05 am (UTC)
Lately I've decided it might be good if I read all your Stumbling posts in order, and now I see the first ones, which are Very Important, are missing. :( What happened?

Anyway, I've been meaning to ask for a long time (ever since you announced you had an agent, actually, but it was not very pertinent then) how did you decide which agent you wanted? What did you look for? Did you just go around checking out blogs and looking for someone who sounded your type? :)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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