International Rights

Andrew Lownie was recently interviewed by the Society of Young Publishers magazine for a feature on international rights. Website visitors may be interested in his responses.

Q: What are the main things that a literary agent does to promote a writer internationally?

I use my website which has extensive information about each book represented with synopses, review extracts and details of rights sales. The website has about 10,000 visitors each month and I also write a monthly newsletter which goes to the 3,000 subscribers (many of whom are foreign publishers) giving details of latest sales and submissions.

Announcing deals on Publishers Marketplace (where I am currently top agent dealmaker in all categories), Bookbrunch, Book2Book and in the Bestseller.

On every enquiry about a particular book I direct the editor to the list and other comparable books which might be of interest.

Working with my various subagents (Marsh Agency, Graal, Tuttle-Mori) and publishers where they control foreign rights with meetings, attending book fairs and general liaison. It’s a collaborative business and we all have different contacts.

Q: Which books tend to lend themselves to the international market in particular and why do you think that is?

Fiction tends to travel better than non-fiction but trivia, business, self-help and popular science can have good markets abroad especially in Asia and if customized for the market. General history can work ( Roger Crowley's book on the Fall of Constantinople has been sold in eight countries in translation) as can strong memoir (Daniel Tammet's Born on a Blue Day already has over twenty publishers and has sold better in France than anywhere else.)

Q: Have any books surprised you with the success they have found or indeed lacked on the world stage?

Daniel Tammet's success was welcome but exceeded expectations, especially as I had trouble initially selling the book in the UK. The Latin American sale for Cambridge Professor's book on The Black Death was a welcome surprise. Sometimes simply it's a matter of timing and competition why some books don't do better internationally. My bestselling thriller writer Duncan Falconer has Polish and French publishers but no sales elsewhere which I find strange. Increasingly I'm selling rights first abroad and using that as leverage for English language sales as with the memoirs of the husband of Betty Mahmoody (Not Without MY Daughter) Lost Without My Daughter.

Q: How much of a difference does an author's ability to translate well into foreign markets make to your potential signing of an author?

Daniel Tammet and Roger Crowley's earnings clearly are much supplemented by foreign sales but foreign sales are the cherry on the cake. Selling a book well in the English language markets is the key decider on taking on a new author. Daniel's ability to speak several languages has helped with sales and promotions in various countries.

Q: How important is it for a writer and their work to be marketable and saleable on a global scale?

Not everything travels. A lot of books have only a local appeal such as tv personalities, history, politics and current affairs and novels of a certain sensibility. It’s horses for courses. In 2008 I had forty three UK sales, eleven US or Australian sales and thirty three sales in translation . Translation sales were divided between twenty authors and were down from forty six sales between nineteen authors in 2007.