The Caregiver's Voice

Brenda Avadian has devoted her professional life to helping others become better leaders and communicators, first as a college professor and then as a consultant and corporate trainer. In 1997, as she devoted time to her father's care and affairs, she began writing "Where's My Shoes? My Father's Walk Through Alzheimer's" -- hailed by critics as one of the most telling and informative accounts of a caregiver's experiences. Brenda is currently writing her sixth and seventh books on the topics of Alzheimer's and Caregiving.

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Is There a "Right" Way to Sell Foreign Rights?

A publisher tells of the winding road she traveled on the way to foreign rights sales success. "It takes a village" to sell rights, and a team effort to get the book noticed, reviewed, and sold overseas.
I read all the articles--"Do you want to sell rights to your books?" I read John Kremer's 1001 Ways to Market Your Books and followed Dan Poynter's advice. I read each PMA Newsletter, IP and ForeWord, and the messages posted to the Publish listserv. I even accessed participants' websites, e.g. Ivan Hoffman's. I talked to as many people as I could: Jan Nathan of Publishers' Marketing Association, Ed Malinowski of Combined Book Exhibit, Sam Spiegel of Partners, and more.

North Star Books had just released "Where's my shoes?" My Father's Walk Through Alzheimer's, and my goal was to sell foreign and subsidiary rights. After everything I had read and heard, I thought that rights sales could leverage our own marketing efforts. A book available in audio and other languages would attract more attention. Also, rights sales would move us closer to fulfilling our ambitious goal of touching 100,000 caregivers' lives (translation: number of books sold) within two years of publication. Besides, how hard can selling rights be?

Book Expo of America 1999
I started implementing this goal at BEA in Los Angeles in 1999. Everything was coming together-we were in the process of signing with a national distributor and we were already thinking foreign rights. I accessed BEA's website and learned about the Rights Center at BEA. I spoke with Alan Gadney of One-On-One Book Marketing, whom we contracted early on to help with marketing and to save us from costly mistakes.

Yet, the more I learned, I realized that my rights sales goals might be unrealistic-e.g., we had to set appointments well in advance of BEA (also true with Frankfurt). Undeterred, my husband and I drove to Los Angeles (150-mile round trip daily commute) to accomplish three objectives: one, support the efforts of our distributor (Partners) by meeting with regional wholesalers and drumming up interest; two, garner interest from resellers and catalogers; and finally, get foreign publishers interested.

The first day, I walked over to the Partners booth where our book was on display and spoke with Sam Spiegel about selling rights. He suggested what kind of royalties I might expect and cautioned me about contracts for different territories-e.g., simple versus complex Chinese rights.

We ventured forth into the world of foreign publishers. After a few impromptu meetings, I got excited. "This is easy!" I thought. "Who says you need appointments?" We sat down with a publisher from Mexico who said, "Make me an offer."

We were also exhibiting through PMA. We went to the PMA booth and I saw Jan Nathan, "Jan, Jan!" I exclaimed, "Foreign publishers are interested in 'Where's my shoes?' What should I do? What's a fair deal?" Jan asked us a few questions and shared a few guidelines-the cover price of the book times the number of copies in the initial print run will determine your royalties. Try to ask for 10%; however lately it's been closer to 5 - 8%. Try to get half up front. We thanked her and left quickly to pursue this trek of good luck!

We met with more publishers before returning to the Mexican publisher. "Could it really be this easy?" We visited Peter Birch at Combined Book Exhibit with whom we were also exhibiting. He introduced us to Ed Malinowski who was experienced in rights sales and also in semi-retirement. Ed told us that we were doing quite well on our own; however, his encouragement and willingness to introduce us to more foreign publishers, those he had come to know over the years, fueled our fire.

At the end of BEA eight countries expressed interest: Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, and Spain. We were walking on air! We promptly sent "Thank you's" to all who helped us.

A few months later the biggest foreign rights fair (Frankfurt) would give us an even greater opportunity. We sent follow-up letters to all the publishers we met at BEA telling them to look for us in Frankfurt, and made arrangements for "Where's my shoes?" to be included in the co-op displays offered by PMA, Independent Publisher, and ForeWord.

In the interim, PMA sent the results from BEA. In this report was a request from a foreign literary agent for a copy of "Where's my shoes?" This began an eMail exchange between North Star Books and the agent. We had a lot of questions and this agent patiently answered all of them. We contacted his references. Afterward, we signed an exclusive contract with him to represent us in Europe. With only a week and a half remaining before Frankfurt we Fed Ex'd promotional kits and copies of the book to him.

We were on a roll. We expected immediate results and were surprised when our agent returned from Frankfurt requesting that we send each of his thirteen European sub-agents a promotional kit and book. (I took some time to consider if this was just getting to be too much work.)

Spend, Live and Learn
Each glossy promotional kit would take time to create and to do it right I wanted to send a personalized cover letter with a personally autographed book. By the time I decided we should continue and after assembling the packages, it was early December. We airmailed them to thirteen European countries to get there before the Holidays.

Once the packages were on their way, I let the agent know we sent the packages via airmail and personally autographed each book. Promptly came his email reply, which advised us not to rush, since "the agents and their families will be on Holiday" and they won't want to spend time with rights sales. As for the personal autographs, he said this was more of an "American thing" and that not all foreign publishers/agents appreciate this.

Meanwhile, after multiple follow-ups, we were still corresponding with two of the eight countries-Czech Republic and Singapore. Strangely, the publisher from Mexico did not even reply to our emails or phone calls.

Our balloon of hope was slowly deflating... California Library Association
We registered with CBE to exhibit at the California Library Association conference in Palm Springs. There, we met with a few audio book publishers. Increasingly, people were asking about the availability of "Where's my shoes?" in audio. We met Janice Wierzbicki, of Recorded Books, LLC who asked for information to send to her main office. We gave her promotional materials and let a month or two pass (longer than usual) when David White from their Maryland office faxed us an offer to buy the worldwide-unabridged English-language audio rights for the non-retail market.

After four months of emails and phone calls, we received an advance and signed the contract. The "Where's my shoes?" audio will be released this November and will feature an author interview. We have been promoting this product since mid-year. In early September, we received a request to buy the photo used for the cover of "Where's my shoes?" This initiated another "mini-learning intensive" via email with Publish-listserv members. I learned just enough to close a respectable deal. I see this as a win-win since keeping the covers of the audio and book similar will aid in cross-promotional efforts.

Book Expo of America 2000
I returned to Book Expo in Chicago this year where we exhibited with Partners, CBE, and PMA.

The surprise came immediately. Our European rights agent, Dieter Hagenbach of GAIA Media and Literary Agency in Basel Switzerland, gave me the GREAT news. A large German publisher, Verlagsgruppe Luebbe bought the rights to translate "Where's my shoes?" into the German language. Tentative release of the German-language mass-market paperback is August, 2001. (Now, if only the Deutsch Mark would increase in value before our advance is converted into U.S. dollars.)

While still on a high, I followed up with the publishers we had met in LA. I also saw the publisher from Mexico but he was in a meeting. When I returned the following day, I learned he had returned to Mexico. Still, I continued conversations with Singapore and the Czech Republic. Even though no deal has been closed yet, I feel good about the relationships we are developing with these countries.

I took advantage of the opportunity to attend a briefing. The benefits were immediately obvious. Lisa McGowan, Production Team Lead, helped us to register at BEA. I need to take more time to update our listing.

The Chinese Market
Earlier this month, I took time to give an update to Publish-listserv and others who had helped us along the way. Almost immediately, I received an inquiry from fellow publisher, Shawn Ye of Homa & Sekey Books who represents titles between the Chinese and U.S. markets. After following-up on his references and a lengthy telephone call with Shawn, I sent him a book and promotional materials to take when he went to the 8th Beijing International Book Fair, which is held biannually. What an opportunity!

And now, as we approach the eve of Frankfurt, I reviewed a couple of articles about Frankfurt in old editions of the PMA Newsletter-Jan Nathan's and Nicholas Weir Williams. Someday, we will attend and stay for a few extra days for the beer. For now, we will exhibit with co-op displays and support our agent's efforts.

What have we learned?
- Be patient.
- Follow-up.
- Always thank those who help you.
- We need others to succeed.
- A good agent is better than going it alone.
- Be willing to work extraordinarily hard if you expect extraordinary results. However, don't be surprised if your hard work will result in fruition elsewhere.
- When you feel like giving up keep trying because that is when you will succeed.

Brenda Avadian, M.A., is author of "Where's my shoes?" My Father's Walk Through Alzheimer's (c) 1999, and soon-to-be released, The JOY of Alzheimer's: Caregivers Share JOYFUL moments with their loved ones (c) 2001, both from North Star Books. Contact her via email at