Foreign Book Rights: How much should I charge, given these sales figures?
March 8, 2011 12:01 PM   Subscribe

Foreign Rights to a Book: How much should I charge? In the last week, two agents from two different big literary agencies in a rich Asian country (not China) have, apparently independently, come calling for one of my non-fiction how-to books. One gave this pitch, which seems to me low-ball:

*500-1000 first run printing;
*5-year term for exclusive rights in that country's language;
*$1500 advance;
* 7% royalties.

Here's why I think it's low-ball:

A few years ago, I let a firm in a relatively poor Eastern European country, one with a 20% smaller population and a 40% lower per-capita GDP, publish an edition of the same book in that Eastern European country's language. Over the last three years, they've managed to sell either about $40K or $100K worth (yeah, big difference-- due to their kludgy website's mechanics, I can't see their sales stats at the moment)... and sold 3-7000 copies at a relatively high price for books in the region.

What would be a smart advance amount, and a smart deal, to ask for? Note that the book in question has been around for about ten years, so it seems a little odd that the two agents have approached within days of each other. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't you have an agent? This is the sort of thing they're supposed to negotiate for you.

If it's hardcover, the standard royalty in the US is 15%, but for paperbacks it's only 7%. Given that they don't seem confident that this is going to be a runaway bestseller (1000 copies? Really?), you may not be able to get them to budge on the advance.

But really, get an agent.
posted by valkyryn at 12:25 PM on March 8, 2011

From my rad friend who works in foreign rights publishing for a major US house:

"If the offers are coming from an agent, it's in that agent's best interest to get as much as possible out of the offering publisher, so it's not like it would benefit them to be sneakily lowballing the author here. Some agents are lazy and don't care or just expect YOU to do the math for them, though, so you never know! By 'rich Asian country that isn't China,' I'm assuming they mean Japan, in which case $1500 is actually on the lower side. If they were talking about Indonesia or Malaysia or something, that $1500 would be fantastic. 7% is an okay royalty rate.

Also, for some reason, Asian countries <3 how-to books, or anything with numbers in the title, or anything with lots of charts and sidebars and whatnot. So that would maybe get them to improve a little, but really it depends on the age of the title. If it's some obscure backlist title, forget it."
posted by scarykarrey at 12:58 PM on March 8, 2011

Also keep in mind that you may be expected to 'haggle' or 'bargain' and like any self respecting businessperson their first offer is indeed an obvious lowball. You may wish to reply with a set of figures approximately the same percentage higher than your preferred amount is higher than their offer.
posted by infini at 1:02 PM on March 8, 2011

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