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Small streams make big rivers

Why foreign rights?

  • For a publisher, foreign rights can make the difference between profits and losses on a book.
  • For an author, foreign rights can represent more than income from sales in his own country.
  • It is easier to receive 1000 Euros net in one very small foreign rights deal than selling 500 cookbooks at a book fair, which is what an author needs to sign and sell to make the same amount on the average cookbook.
  • There is little investment; it is mostly time and travel.

Who sells?

  • Nearly all publishers now have a foreign rights department. They are the key to negotiate and sign the contracts. It is best for authors to let publishers negotiate.
  • When there is an agent, they often take a leading role in the negotiations, and they usually earn more for their client than the 15% they charge.
  • The authors very often initiate the contact with the foreign buyer. They know their book well. They can market it better than the foreign rights department who very often does not have the time to open the books.
  • A good author for a publisher is one that not only writes good books, but one that will easily promote himself the book, and sell foreign rights himself.

Who buys?

  • English speaking markets are more sellers than buyers. It is extremely difficult to sell to the US.
  • The buyers are now in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. There are many small deals, rather than the one big deal. For Paris Cookbook Fair in March 2011, 13% of professionals registered on January 25th come from Asia, 10% from Eastern Europe and 7% from Latin America.
  • Foreign rights is a long term business, with many deals between partners who trust each other.
  • It is a much more personal business that it would seem. Sending a book by mail is not the same as meeting the buyer.

Who owns the foreign rights?

  • The majority of contracts in the English speaking world is a balanced split of 50/50 between authors and publishers.
  • In France it is often lower for the author, from 25 to 40%; in Spain it is higher, 60% for the author.

How do you calculate how much?

  • There is usually an advance, calculated as a percentage of royalties. It is wise to think all you can count upon is the advance.
  • Calculating the advance is easy. You need:
    • The retail price of your book in the market in the contract.
    • The number of copies of the first printing.
    • The royalty.
    • The percentage of the advance, usually 60% of the royalty.
  • So a book with a printing of 3000 selling at 20 Dollars in the foreign market, with a royalty of 10%, will net to the author and publisher 3.600 Dollars if the advance is 60%. Then it is split between publisher and author.

Happy stories?

  • Some publishers buy many rights. They often do their shopping at Paris Cookbook Fair or on the Gourmand stands at Frankfurt and London Fairs. They will look at all exhibition books one by one to find authors and translations. Other buyers wait for the books to come to them, or at the Gourmand Awards lists.
  • Paris Cookbook Fair is the key for small publishers. More than fifty percent of publishers in Paris do not have stands at Frankfurt Book Fair. In 2010,White Tara found translations in 4 languages for their Cambodian book “Au Pays de la Pomme Cythère”, Féret sold wine books to China, Chakall found deals for books in Germany, Spain, etc. We believe more than 200 deals were initiated last year at Paris Cookbook Fair 2010.

Seller beware!

  • The Royalties are very often “lost in translation” in foreign rights deals. Following up is much work and rarely worth it.
  • First story.- A bestselling author complained and did receive five times his advance in unpaid royalties after much expense in audits, time and lawyers. The big publisher paid, but cancelled future books from this author, after paying him over years over 200.000 Euros. It was very difficult for him to find another publisher.
  • Second story.- A wonderful author from Europe was so happy selling 100.000 cookbooks in the US. Unfortunately his publisher had sold the rights for this book for one dollar. The buyer was a US corporation his European publisher controlled.
  • The unending story.- There are countless examples of books published in another language with the authors not being told about it. It happens to the biggest authors, with the biggest publishers, in the top market. So it may happen even more with smaller authors and markets. Internet is very useful. The same is true, by the way, for paperback deals.


  • Foreign rights have always been a major activity at big publishers for big fiction books. Now it is becoming a key to the business of smaller publishers and authors. The growth of the cookbook sector leads to a fragmentation of the markets, with the foreign rights becoming a fundamental business.
  • The movement is led by the authors and small publishers. The big publishers are slow to build on the possible economies of scale and synergies in their different cookbook imprints. If you have published a cookbook in one country, reality today is that there are several countries around the World where your book should and can be sold, in the original language, or through translation. In nearly all cases it will be small deals, but you cannot ignore the total income it will generate.

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