Foreign Rights and Translations
Authors who wish to reach a worldwide audience for their literary projects will want to find a well-rounded agent who is well-versed in foreign rights and translations. An agent who has a good pulse on foreign markets will be able to give you an honest and educated assessment about whether or not your work could be of interest to foreign publishers. The book's foreign marketability factor will be contingent upon what genre it is and the topic. For example, Business and Self-Help books seem to be highly sought after in multiple countries, but a book about American football more than likely will not create much of a splash. When it comes to the publication of books, some countries are more liberal than others. The agent you choose to work with should have a good working knowledge of which countries only publish conservative works and which ones do not shy away from more racy and controversial themes. And if the agent is not able to provide this kind if insider information to clients, then he or she should have a good working relationship with reputable and capable co-agents who can lend a helping hand in this aspect.
Any experienced literary agent knows that the trick to selling foreign translation rights is to first place the work with a U.S. based publisher. This will open up the door and make it easier to sell foreign translation rights. Normally the bigger conglomerate publishers such as Simon and Schuster, Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins and the Hachette Book Group offer to buy world rights with the intention of having its foreign rights department focus on selling translation rights to as many countries as possible. Ideally, this is the easiest and most financially promising route to take. If the work has been sold to a mid-size or small independent publisher who does not have a foreign rights department then it will be up to your agent to sell foreign translation rights for you. He or she can either go about doing this independently or recruit the help of a co-agent.
In trying to sell foreign translation rights to your work, obviously having a literary agent who is fluent in more than one language is an added plus, but it is not absolutely necessary. It is more important for your agent to be hardworking, and personable. Most foreign literary agencies and publishers are able to assess a manuscript written in its source language without having to translate it into the targeted language.
With the right agent representing you in the U.S. and abroad, "the world can be your oyster."
One of the things I've learned from past experience about selling foreign translation rights is that it requires more due diligence, patience, and tenaciousness, especially when it comes to making sure your client gets paid as it has been negotiated in the contract. The whole contract negotiation process and payment of any advances can take up much longer than when dealing with a U.S. or Canadian based publisher. Back in 2011, I sold Indonesian rights to one of my client's young adult novels, which was the first in a series of five. The negotiation of the contract went smoothly enough but when the time came to receive the advance, that's when my client and I hit a snag. I sent repeated e-mail messages to the publisher's accounting department, reached out to the house's foreign rights administrator, and sent invoice after invoice, but still no advance. It took nearly a year to get the publisher to pay the advance via a wire transfer. Now the time has come for the publisher to pay my client royalties and once again payment which is now way overdue has not yet been paid.
Not every foreign publishing deal is an uphill battle. Some of them can be easy as pie and lucrative as was the case with a Suspense/Thriller YA adult series I sold to HarperCollins Australia after months of trying to place it with a U.S. based publisher with no success. Since the novel was set in Australia and the author was a young beautiful student from Melbourne, I decided to take the unorthodox route and set out to find either a UK or Australian-based publisher. Luckily, my out of the box thinking paid off because in less than one month after starting my search, HarperCollins Australia made an offer on the entire series. Not only that but I made dozens of new editor contacts to whom I pitch YA novels with international settings to on a regular basis. The moral of this experience is that when it comes to selling foreign translation rights, an agent doesn't always have to follow the industry play book.