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One Book, Big World

So often, people wonder: why isn’t that book available in (country)? Malinda Lo tackles some of the big-picture issues in a post here.

Beyond just the idea of rights–well, if you had a book, wouldn’t you want to sell it to publishers in lots of different countries and collect those payments? Where the local publisher knows whether or not your book is of interest in that part of the world, and how to best market it to readers there? It’s partly about earning more money for a book, whether a publisher or an agent handles those sales–though, I have heard of publishers in some countries only able to offer a pittance in U.S. dollars, and about authors who’d still happily have okayed the deal just to have people in other places have access to their work, but, let’s say, their publisher turned the offer down as a net loss. I thought I’d saved my supporting link, but I didn’t; I recall it being an author offered a very small payment from a country without a big economy, and having it turned down on their behalf because it was so small.

I think it’s a good thing, on the balance, to have these territories and sales opportunities in place, because it means there is a global book industry, with opportunities for business in lots of regions, not just a book industry that caters to the trends and desires of, say, the U.S. market and what it wants to read and to export. The future, eventually, may be all commodities slapped up on one global marketplace, but I fear that will be controlled by one giant company.

Another wrench that comes up is that sometimes local publishers don’t see a market for certain books, and it would be a waste of their time and money to bring it to their readers. For example, the U.S. teenage experience is somewhat different from the teenage experience in other parts of the world, and even if it’s of a little interest, how many books would a publisher really need to slake that thirst? This doesn’t even take into consideration what content might be legal, much less desirable, in a region. For a recent example, see Wendy Doniger. (Please note that I haven’t read her book–I simply think the story interesting, and I generally think that censoring material isn’t the way to go. After all, ignoring material seems to condemn it just as well.)

Here’s another possibility: the author has decided not to take any offers in a country. On the one hand, I’ve seen nods toward the idea that it might be best to go ahead and sell the rights in certain countries, and hope that a publisher is good at translation, even if they don’t do a great job at it or even if a country’s tendency to put out fake editions is high, just so you have an official version out there. On the other, I’ve also seen nods toward the idea that some countries, regions, or regional publishers tend to be less than timely in their payments, if payments are made at all, and that the reward might not be worth the effort it took to arrange the deal. Those rumors run the gamut, and I found this article to be an interesting look at how unrest, cultural differences, business differences, and language barriers might cause those sentiments. (I think it’s encouraging that the publishers in that article want to keep at it, and since I want to be fair here, this isn’t a part of the world I have heard payment complaints about before! I’ve always assumed that foreign rights sales and payments were always risky because of the distances and different laws and cultural expectations involved.)

I’m not addressing access, or equality, or how it’s not equally easy for everyone to import foreign editions; I think that there are alternative routes to making a work available, if its rights holder chooses to do so. I just wanted to share a little interesting information that might come into play when decisions are made about where, when, and how books are made available.


I found this in my posts queue from…well, certainly a while ago, but it didn’t post. Just some food for thought about how an author might be hoping to receive an offer to distribute their work from a traditional publisher in a particular territory before they explore–or not–other options for selling their work.

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