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Author/Illustrator Selling Own Foreign Rights

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I have been reading your web site with much interest and hope that you may be able to help me with a question that follows on from question 21 in your frequently asked question section.

21) Like publishers and editors, I also have a bottom line, and, while I appreciate the need for dedication to craft and creativity, I must ask the crass questions about money. Specifically, can I supplement my income writing for children? And is there any hope of supporting myself by writing for children? Finally, would you have any specific figures available regarding the kinds of incomes other writers in the field make. I'm obviously not looking for names, just facts and figures.

I have been writing and illustrating my own books for the last three years and have made the decision to do all I can to make a living out of it one way or the other. I now have one book published and two more on the way and interest in two new projects.

I first made contact with publishers by going to book fairs and talking directly with them and this is how all of my published/to be published books have been sold. I have now been to six book fairs and am slowly building up a good relationship with a number of publishers from all over the world who are supportive and interested in my work. Because of this I have decided not to look for an agent but accept the challenge of promoting and selling my own work. This decision also comes from what I am seeing happen to my first published book:

By book fairs I assume you mean places like the Bologna Book Fair or the London Book Fair? That's a very unusual approach, as I'm sure you know!

The book was published with a [non-US] publisher who paid me $XXXX (standard advance on sales) for the world rights to the text and illustrations. Since then they have sold the [Country 1] rights for $XXXX of which I receive 35% and they are negotiating the [Country 2] and [Country 3] rights at the moment. Having decided that from now on I want to be in charge of the sale of the rights myself I find that I have no real idea of how much I can expect to charge for them other than the example of my first book.

And, indeed, there is no place I know of where you could research this. A site called Publisher's Marketplace reports on rights sales, but they are pretty much limited to US and UK sales, and on books for adults and YA or middle grade novels for children. They don't report on picture books much, and they don't cover other countries much at all.

I imagine that the English language rights, for example, should be worth more than the Dutch rights because the audience and therefore sales is potentially much larger? That's a reasonable assumption. And what should I do if two publishers from different countries want to publish the book as a co-edition, should I sell the rights to them separately and let them agree between themselves how to finance the co-edition?

You could facilitate it to some extent, but I think you'd make your life easier if you concentrated on the rights and let them deal with manufacturing.

And finally, in the case of my first book, because it was published in [a non-US country] before any foreign rights were sold what they are selling is the text and the digital scans of the illustrations. If I sell the English rights of my new projects to a publishers and they publish it in England and then I want to sell the rights to a German company should the German company be expected to re-scan the illustrations or is there a standard way for them to acquire them from the English company that first published it?

Typically, when a company publishes a picture book, they will create a set of high-res files that can be used to create their own edition, or can be duplicated and sold, possibly on a cost basis, to another publisher for a different edition. Something similar used to be done with film.

In this case, since your rights licensing will be separate from the actual book manufacturing, you would need to make sure that your first publisher is going to cooperate with other publishers. You might need to get it written into your contract that they will provide files on a cost or cost + 20% basis within x days of a request.

In short, where can I find up to date information about the current value of foreign rights and how may these change as I become better known and more widely sold as a writer/illustrator? I have tried to approach a few agents to ask them but they were understandably uninterested in helping me.

As I said above, I don't know of any resource that will be very helpful to you, and I have to say that in my experience, foreign rights sales are not very lucrative for publishers. Many picture books never get a foreign sale, for one thing. And the US is much the largest market in the world for picture books--for some of the European countries you'd be lucky to get an advance of $1,000 and a print run of 1,000 or 2,000 copies. The success of your first publisher, in other words, may not be repeated.

Though you clearly relish the work of making contacts and talking to publishers, which is a big plus, I'm actually going to suggest that you rethink your approach. Acting as your own agent, you could spend a lot of time that you could otherwise spend writing and illustrating, and make no sales at all, or sell only the Latvian rights for $500. Also, a publisher has existing relationships with other publishers and with scouts which you, as an individual, might have a hard time replicating.

You might do better to instead insist on a better split of foreign rights income. 50% is pretty standard in the US, and you can probably push that higher. The original publisher can, after all, make some money in manufacturing a co-edition.

Good luck, whatever you decide to do.

See Aaron Shepard's response to this entry in the June 2006 blog.

Subjects for Illustration Samples

Thank you for your excellent book and website, they are very helpful. I am an aspiring children's book illustrator, and have a question: When sending out illustration submissions to publishers, should the subject matter of the illustrations be the illustrator's own ideas and creations, or can (and should?) an illustrator use existing children's books as subject matter? ( For instance, can I render my favorite scenes from Harry Potter or C.S. Lewis?)

Ideally, a portfolio contains work you have done as an illustrator. If you are just getting started, then you could illustrate your own story, or a folktale, or the like, I generally don't advise illustrating published stories. Also, be sure to provide work that shows off your ability to do the kind of book you want to illustrate. If you want to do picture books, don't just do single illustrations. Show a sequence. You might even include a dummy.

See the articles in the Illustration section of my site for more guidance, and please feel free to follow up if you have more questions.

The Cost of Publishing Hardcover Picture Books

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Thanks for your message. The article you found on this subject oversimplifies--it is meant to give a sense of relative costs. Please keep that in mind.... Now, re your questions:

I've just started some research into the cost of books, hardcover in particular, and what goes into the final sticker price. I stumbled onto your informative site after a Web search.

Two questions: First, as traditional wholesale of a book is 50 percent or so of retail, is there some informal collusion between publishers and distributors/retailers that accelerates the price of books? That is, if the cost of paper goes up $1.00, that is presumably reflected as a $2.00 increase in the final book price.

Quite the opposite, in fact, at least in children's books, which is my main experience. Publishers of hardcover children's books have struggled with pricing, since consumers will not pay as much for a children's book as they will for a book for adults, even if it was just as expensive to produce.

I think it's true to say that the price of hardcover books, for that reason, has not kept pace with the cost of materials, services, etc., over the past twenty or thirty years, and so publishers have had to do such things as use cheaper paper, eliminate cloth covers, increase print runs (so as to reduce unit costs). etc.

Publishers definitely get push-back on pricing from the big chains, especially Barnes and Noble, whose CEO has been quoted as saying that books should be less expensive.

Second, I was struck by the $0.64 per book cost of plates for a 10,000 run of a 32-page picture book. That would be roughly $6400. Is that accurate, and also, how much less expensive is that part of the production of a hardcover book without color images?

That number is a few years old so it might actually be higher. Scanning and creating high-quality full-color film IS expensive. It still can't be done digitally. Plate costs for a novel ARE much lower--maybe half. That does not reduce the price of the book, though. It usually means that the publisher prints fewer copies

My thanks for any words of wisdom. I'm a newspaper columnist (The ZZZ in Anytown, USA) and may write a future column about the book publishing industry.

Feel free to get in touch again if you do. I hope this has helped.

Agents, Multiple Queries, and Multiple Submissions

I am looking for your opinion regarding a pickle I've gotten myself into.

Having experienced my share of rejections the past few years, I decided to e-query 4 carefully selected agents at one time, thinking at least 3 would immediately reject me. Within 24 hours I've heard from two of the agents who want me to send on the entire manuscript.

I am dizzy with happiness, but afraid I've really screwed up. Everything I've read indicates you don't need to mention multiple queries ... but now it's turning into a potential multiple submission. 

Should I submit one at a time (I've heard agents are touchier than editors on this subject) ... or should I send them both the manuscripts and indicate a multiple submission?

I would really appreciate your opinion and thank you in advance for any advice you can offer.

This is the problem with email. If you get a response, it's likely to be a quick one.

If it were me, I'd send the manuscript to both of them, and tell them about the situation. Be matter of fact, not apologetic.

Then if one of them contacts you, saying they want to represent you, you should let the other know and politely withdraw from consideration.

Manuscripts Your Agent Doesn't Want

I have searched your site, the internet, and books, but haven't found the information needed to answer some agent questions. I have posted my questions on a writer's board, but they said to look at my contract. I did, but that didn't do the trick either. So, therefore, I am writing to you. 

Recently, an agency accepted one of my PB manuscripts to represent. It is an exclusive contract (at least as my inexperienced self reads it). The manuscript the agency accepted is funny. I have sent several other manuscripts to them as well. The agency has indicated they are good, but if the story isn't funny, the agency doesn't seem to be interested in representing those manuscripts. Her statement is, "editors are interested in humorous stories." What can I do, since I wish to pursue getting them published?

Also, I have written two MG chapter books. The agency doesn't handle that particular category. What should, or can I do then? Is this indicative of a "not so good" fit for me? Being unpublished as of yet, I feel very flattered to have an agency listed in the Children's Writers and Illustrators Market accept one of my manuscripts. 

I hate taking your time, since I know you are very busy, but I didn't know where else to turn. Thank you for reading this and any help you can provide.

If I were you, I'd talk to this agent. Tell her you don't know what to do. That you have several picture book manuscripts she doesn't want, and two MG books. Ask her what she would do in your situation.

(I think she should either let you submit them yourself, or agree to stop representing you after this first accepted manuscript. But see what she says.)

Good luck, and let me know what happens.

A follow-up: Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my questions. I shall do as you have suggested, but feel I should probably wait until I see what she can do with the manuscript she currently has. 

It seems there is a lot of information about acquiring an agent but I haven't found anything that tells a person what to do after you get one. Is there such a thing out there?

I think there are many more people trying to get an agent than wondering what to do about a problematic relationship with one. People dealing with the latter problem seem to talk to other writers--this does come up from time to time on some writer's boards.

I can't remember if I touched on it in my Idiot's Guide in the chapter on agents, but I'm making a mental note to say something in the next edition if I didn't in this!

This installment is based on emails I sent in November and December in response to questions received at The Purple Crayon.

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Copyright 2006 by Harold Underdown. All rights reserved.

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