Skip to content

Greetings from Matt’s literary agent! When I opened my own agency in 2009, I decided to specialize in the selling of foreign rights (along with selling domestic rights for authors like Matt). Matt often complains that he never understands what I do, and that my Twitter posts are mysterious and indecipherable. I suspect he’s referring to this one:

And because of the complications with the NEOM, I have to create a special catalog just for the Brits. Gah.

Yeah, that IS mysterious.

And my chosen profession is, admittedly, rather mysterious in general. People at parties tend to glaze over if I go much farther than “I’m a literary agent, and I specialize in selling the translation rights to books that are published in the US.”

But for every book sold in the US, there are a host of other “subsidiary” rights that can be sold. Film rights, audio rights, e-book rights, merchandizing rights, and, of course, foreign rights. Newbie authors tend to forget about these important rights, which can sometimes rake in even more money than the US sale.

So, what, exactly do I do?

Well, I work with foreign co-agents all over the globe. These fine people know the ins and outs of their specific markets. Knowing the publishing scene in ALL territories is just too much for one person, so I must count on my co-agents to be savvy, smart and aggressive on my behalf. In addition to relying on the expertise of my co-agents, I also know about nine million foreign publishers from Norway to Germany to Thailand (ok, maybe not quite that many, but sometimes it feels like it), and sometimes I contact publishers directly, or I suggest publishers for my co-agents to contact. It’s a huge, global matching game of sorts. Get the right book in the right hands…and then get the person on the receiving end to actually read it, and buy it! Relationships are important!

A BIG part of what I do is collect, organize, and then disseminate information about the books I represent to my foreign co-agents, foreign scouts, and foreign publishers. All these foreign folks need information, but it has to be the right information. I use the manuscript, the physical book (I’m an expert in mailing packages overseas), reviews, cover art, author bio information, author photos, magazine and newspaper articles, “blurbs” from other authors, catalog copy, and my own opinion to help sell books to foreign territories. Getting all that information in one place is a bit like herding cats. Getting the best of the best of that information into catalog format (I create four catalogs a year or more) is like herding cheetahs.

I also attend two or three book fairs a year. The biggest one is in Frankfurt, Germany each October. Last year, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, over a period of six days, I had 78 meetings (18 with foreign co-agents, 14 with foreign scouts, and the rest with publishers from 17 different territories). Scheduling for this monster fair starts in July. Again, I’m just one person, and I can’t possibly meet with everyone I need to meet with. It’s very stressful trying to figure out how best to spend those six days. But going is also a bit like summer camp! The foreign publishing community is relatively small, and people stay in it for years and years. It’s wonderful to see the same friends each year at the Fair.

After sending out a book, disseminating all kinds of relevant information about that book, “pitching” the book at book fairs, madly trying to create “buzz,” and a good dose of good old-fashioned finger-crossing, some foreign publishers might actually buy the book. At that point, I negotiate offers and contracts, deal with foreign tax forms (yuck!), make sure the foreign publisher has everything they need, answer any silly questions the publisher may have (and they tend to have a lot), and generally keep things moving. It can take up to two years from the time a book is sold to, say, Italy, for it to be published. But, as I mentioned before, it can be lucrative.

Example: I once sold a debut thriller for one million dollars collectively to something like 19 different territories.  The US publisher only paid around $25,000.  That’s a particularly awesome example. 

In the case of Matt’s UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO, I’ve so far sold German rights and hope to sell a few more territories. That’s a more realistic example.

So what about that mysterious Twitter post?

And because of the complications with the NEOM, I have to create a special catalog just for the Brits. Gah.

Let’s just say, every single territory has its own strange stuff going on.  Turkey pays advances on printing rather than on sales like everyone else. Germany likes subsidiary licenses to run two years past contract expiration. China censors certain material.  And England often exclusively wants extra territories besides just the UK (like India), and I can’t always grant them (because the US publisher wants India too, but on a “non-exclusive” basis).  This fight over what territories are exclusive or non-exclusive causes endless problems, hence “because of complicates with the NEOM—the “non-exclusive open-market”—I have to create a special catalog just for the Brits.”

Did any of that make sense? It did to me, and it’s these weird intricacies of foreign rights that I love. So now you know the truth: 

I’m a foreign rights geek.