Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sara: On foreign rights and book fairs.

My clients always have questions about foreign rights, especially as we get closer to the big book fairs, because my clients are very smart and ask smart questions. I thought I would talk about what goes into preparing for a fair, and how I did so a few years ago as a foreign rights agent, and how I do so now as an agent who still handles rights for her children's books.

Before joining HK in 2006, I was a foreign rights agent at two different agencies, selling UK and translation rights directly for a big group of agency clients. Now, I have my own client list, and also represent the children's list for UK and translation. I attend the Bologna book fair, and like other agents in NY, especially at this pre-fair time of year, I also take many meetings here with co-agents, foreign editors and scouts.

I know that my experience as a foreign rights agent has made me a better agent overall, not only because I have a better understanding of the rights potential for my projects, but because much of what I learned selling books abroad applies to what I do now. What goes into selling a book in Germany is not so different from what goes into selling a book here. For one thing, selling here or there or anywhere requires research, contacts and knowing the market. Before each fair or foreign editor meeting, I prepare with reminders of our last meeting, of what this editor has read from my list, what other editors at their house may have read, what they liked, what they hated, and then I decide on a few books that I will pitch them in those 30 or so minutes. If I am not meeting the editor this time around, I make sure our co-agents have all of this info. Just as I would not send an editor here 25 projects to see what sticks, I do not want to over-pitch- especially at fair time. That editor has a million other meetings; they do not want you to pitch them all of your books. They want you to pitch them what you think they will be interested in.

Much of my book fair prep has stayed the same. I make sure our foreign rights agent has all of the info he needs about my adult titles, and I make sure our kids rights list is up to date: that newly sold projects have been added, that we've updated sales info, review info, film info, and pub dates for projects already on the list, that it reads well and will make foreign editors want to read our books, and that it will help our co-agents sell our books.

At HK, we love it when our co-agents come to town in the weeks before Frankfurt. We get to catch up, and to talk about the books in person, which is incredibly worthwhile. We work with them because they know the market in their country and it is great to hear what is new and different and what has stayed the same, especially in this time of sweeping changes. Of course, we are talking a lot about ebook markets abroad, but also about how adult publishers in France, Germany and other markets are adding YA imprints. We get to find out what books are really working in their markets (in addition to THE HUNGER GAMES), because not all successes here translate to successes there, and what titles from the list they love and what books they think will sell in their market.

From meeting with scouts at fair time we get an overview of what their clients are buying and we hear about the books being talked about as the big fair books.

By meeting one on one with foreign editors and agents we learn what we cannot learn just from what they publish. It is why we have lunches with editors here, and it is why we meet with editors from all over the world. We learn something about them personally, about their market, their publisher, all things that we could not know otherwise. And it is awesome to meet with editors from Spain, France, Germany, Italy, etc. who have bought one of our books and to hear what their publication plans are and how things are going. And to know if the title will change and if they are using the US cover and if not, to see the cover they designed. Agents want to sell books they love so that other people will find them and love them and when they are translated or sold in the UK or Australia it means more people can find them and love them!

Even though fairs are SO much work, before, during and after, they are such an exciting part of our job and I can't wait for March and Bologna!


  1. Great post, and interesting that you are probably having to keep track of books that are doing well on a country-by-country basis. Wow.

    I'm curious, Sara, do they all speak English? Is language ever a problem when you're meeting with them?

  2. Really fascinating to peek behind the scenes and see all the work and thought that goes into these events. Like Lisa, I'm interested in the potential language barrier as well.

  3. Thanks, Lisa! The editors acquiring English fiction and non fiction all speak English very well, and must read it well, too. My boss in London was Swiss and could speak many languages, which seemed to be a plus. My years of studying Ancient Greek and Latin did not come in handy at all.

  4. This was a great post, Sara. I agree with every single detail in it. Particularly about how important one on one, in person meetings still are--and why you can't pitch 25 books successfully to one editor.

  5. Thanks so much, Ginger! So happy that a foreign rights expert liked my post!

  6. This was really interesting Sara, thanks! I could totally picture you doing this--you have such a zeal for the books you represent, I can just imagine how you would do it!

  7. Foreign rights are over my head... I'm so happy agents exist if only for that purpose. ;)

  8. Wow, it's amazing just how much work you must do ahead of time to get ready for this! March seems like a long time away, but I imagine you've got to start thinking about it now!

  9. Really interesting post, thanks! Also, I'm beginning to start some research on YA publishing in foreign (non US/UK/Canada) countries--whether it exists, if it's more translation or original works, how YA is defined in other cultures, etc. Based on your experience, would you be able to recommend any good links/publishers/festivals you attend/etc?

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