By Rachel Aydt
International rights deals provide a growing revenue stream many agents, even as advances from publishers continue to shrink. Tuesday’s panel “What is the Low-Down on the Global Publishing Marketplace?” panel moderated by agent Ira Silverberg of Sterling Lord Literistic, offered several tips, observations and “best practices” for working in the field of international rights.
Mr. Silverberg spoke to a group of professionals (the bulk of them agents) on their recent and changing experiences dealing with the global rights scene. Featured panelists were Jennifer Weltz, of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc.; Stephanie Abou, of Foundry Literary + Media; Chandler Crawford, The Crawford Agency; Wendy King, Big Apple Agency; and Thomas Minkus, VP, Emerging Media & English Language Markets for the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Here are a few thoughts from the agent field and beyond:
Reading and Buying Trends
Chandra Crawford: You know “that book” about the South of France? The last thing they want in the South of France is that book. It’s the crème de la crème and brand names that are going now. The hardest market is the Western market, but what does sell is noirs; Jesse Kellerman’s The Genius is #1 on the paperback list in Paris right now.
Wendy King: There is a vast, huge territory in mainland China. We don’t understand it here, what’s going on electronically over there; there are vast cultural differences.Midlist titles are doing pretty well because prices are more reasonable for publishers. Renewals of old books and classics are still strong. What’s really hot now are YA trilogies. Classic business books will generally work in China, but not so much business titles from the U.S. anymore! Also, e-books are the hot thing. In China they read books on their cell phone by downloading them in chapters and sections. They’re cheaper for readers that way. People who don’t read books are downloading chapters on their phone and then reaching out and downloading the complete books. Those mini chapters work as a marketing vehicle. What’s not hot in China is historical fiction or true crime…
Thomas Minkus: To prepare for this panel, I made a few calls around Europe and confirmed that midlist is super, super difficult to sell. Crime and suspense is strong all over Europe. Another big trend is that European authors are being translated in other European countries.
Jennifer Weltz: The international scene is one that more people are looking at more closely. Publishers in Europe will tell us, apologetically, that they’re using more local writers now, but that’s a good thing. They’re nurturing their own! This certainly doesn’t help U.S. sales, but it shows us that there’s a crowded market. Hopefully, we’ll get much more of an international selection here, too. Everything in Italy is hot; particularly stories around the time of WW2 are very big right now. They’re working well all over Eastern and Western Europe.
Stephanie Abou: Selling in Scandinavia has been difficult for three years. They’re turning back to us now, but they’re also turning inward to Europe. And in Japan, translations are getting drastically cut, post-tragedy. Now in Japan we’ll sell psychology and spiritual titles, and also how to cope self-help books. They need those now.
Jennifer: Publishers don’t naturally collaborate with each other, and they’re not doing it now. But think about it; if you’ve sold rights in other countries and merge with publishers, you’ll get more returns. You’re creating something larger.
Stephanie: Traditionally, YA has always been strong in America, and now is one of the big emerging markets [in Europe]. As agents we cannot expect foreign rights to sell themselves. We need to share the books and the passion. It’s very cost effective to share rights. For example, one person can make a trailer in a richer country that can be used in a poorer country. A reemerging trend is historical fiction. It’s hot, then it goes Fuddy Duddy, but it’s hot again now. I was just in London and U.K. publishers were talking about historical fiction. In Germany it’s a boom.
Thomas: When it comes to the Rights business, it’s crucial to talk to your counterparts on a regular basis. Over the last few years, with the emergence of eBooks, the question always comes back to what rights to include and what rights not to include.