Monday, August 17, 2009

Our Friends Down Under (Or, Don't Forget Oz)

Got this note:
Dear Moonrat,

Yay! I have a publishing contract in hand! Unfortunately I don't have an agent to help me negotiate, and I'm a little confused about some of the clauses and whether I have a right to argue them. For example, it says here that they have the right to publish in Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines as well as the US and Canada. I never agreed to that--should I question it?



Ok, well, first off, I can't help but restate my position on agents (coming from one of the publishers that wants to nickle and dime you to death, please take this as precious advice that I offer at my own expense). If you are an unagented author, even after you get an offer from a publishing company, it's not too late to involve an agent to negotiate on your behalf. Agents call it a "smash and grab" deal--they have to smash into what you've got and grab back what they can. But they almost always earn their 15%.

But anyway, back to Oz. Territory (where a company has the right to publish your book) is a critical component of your deal, one of the three biggest points (the other two being advance and royalties). So you're right to value this piece of the contract.

That said, as an unagented author, it's difficult to imagine a scenario in which you'd be able to sell these rights internationally on your own. Remember how difficult it was to get an offer from a publisher in your home country? It's 600 times harder (approximately) to get a deal unagented in a foreign country, where you don't even have citizenship as a piece of your platform.

In this case your best bet is to let your publishing company have those rights, so at least they'll have an opportunity to try to sell them. (This brings me back to why you want an agent, since an agent could try to sell these rights for you.) Don't take my word for it, and assess your own situation, but ultimately wouldn't you rather have your book available in those territories, even as an export, than not available at all, because your publishing company doesn't have a right to sell copies there?

But let's talk more specifically about Australia and New Zealand (ANZ). Our publishing friends down under don't like to be forgotten by the rest of the English speaking world, as they occasionally are. To protect them from being forgotten, they have a law that says British and American publishers only have 30 days from the pub date of a book to work out their distribution schedule in ANZ. If UK and US publishers neglect to work this out, a book is closed out of that market.

Brits tend to forget their Commonwealth friends less frequently than Americans (shame on us), but it's something our rights departments need to keep in mind, and a reason we need to try to place Commonwealth sales as early as possible--ie months before the pub date. (Please cf last week's post on delivering on time--here's another reason not to be late with your finished manuscript.)

But to my friend who wrote here--I'd say don't sit on ANZ rights thinking you can do better elsewhere; if you run out of your 30 days, your book may never be sold in ANZ at all.


Anonymous said...

Hi Moonrat

Nice post! And I agree with your general point here about unagented authors not trying to sell their foreign rights themselves.

Just jumping in for a sec about this paragraph:

they have a law that says British and American publishers only have 30 days from the pub date of a book to work out their distribution schedule in ANZ. If UK and US publishers neglect to work this out, a book is closed out of that market.

That's only true for certain values of 'closed out'. Publishers can retain EXCLUSIVE rights within Australia if we make the book available here within thirty days. Once that window has passed, we can still buy the rights, but it's a riskier proposition because booksellers are then allowed to import and sell any US/UK/etc edition they choose in preference to the Australian edition. Rights do get sold outside the thirty-day period but we have to consider them on a case-by-case basis ... with some titles there is a big risk that retailers will undercut our sales by parallel importing, but it's much less likely for other titles.

(Booksellers can fulfil special orders for US/UK/etc editions and not violate these laws as long as they can prove they have an actual order for a customer.)

Hope that's helpful.

Anonymous Australian publishing person

moonrat said...

Thank you, Anonymous Australian!! I need all the help I can get.

Let me know if there's anything else I/we should know.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, no, I think the rest of it was fine.

Oh - New Zealand! (They hate it when we forget them.) NZ became an open market in the late 1990s, so they don't have the thirty-day rule. But in the case of your friend, it's probably immaterial because NZ rights are almost never sold individually unless the book originates there. Many of the publishers/distributors in NZ are either based in Australia or have an Australian arm, hence the prevalence of ANZ bundled rights.

NZ publishing punches far above its weight, both in terms of literary quality and industry size expressed per head of population, but in absolute terms their market is relatively small. They've also been suffering since the open market came into effect.

We Australians are freaking out about that, because our government is considering getting rid of territorial copyright protections, and that really hasn't helped the Kiwi industry at all. It's a terrible idea. *quails*

Er, I will stop hijacking your comments now! Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

Anon Australian

Clotilde said...

With your opening "Yeah, no" alone we could have guessed your country of origin, Anonymous Australian! :)

Fugitive Pieces said...

Oh, boy. Can of worms. This is a useful summary of what's happening in Oz from James Bradley, an Australian writer who's also had recent success in the UK:
No prizes for guessing which side of the barricades I'm on. Ooh, let me see? Writers, small publishers and independent booksellers vs big business and government? Um...
Believe me, I'd love to see cheaper books here in Australia - but not at the expense of their writers, or the local industry that's spent decades nurturing those distinctive voices.
(So sorry that my first comment ever should be a mini-rant. I'm a long-time lurker; your blog is so generous, celebratory and chock-full of usefulness, and I've been meaning to say so for, well, a long time. Thank you.)

Alli said...

Great info here Moornat and Anon Aussie Publishing Person.

I'm an Aussie living in North America, hoping to get my books sold on both sides of the pond. I am targeting the North American market first as this is where I live but I would dearly love to see my novel on the shelves in Oz, my home country. So this topic and information was extremely ineresting. Thanks!

Fugitive Pieces - yeah, no (haha!) the whole debate going on at the moment is scary. I just hope the outcome is the one we want. Australia has some amazing writers and it would be horrific if their voices were stifled because of big business and government.... OK. Stopping rant now. :-)

Michael Reynolds said...

For the author: you can also consider a publishing lawyer to negotiate. You can pay by the hour ($450 or so) or work a commission deal. I have a 10% deal with my lawyer. I save 5% and get very good representation from a guy who doesn't need to get along with editors over a Cobb salad.

Hilary Wagner ~ Writer said...

I have a few friends who got an offer from a publisher without having an agent. The first thing they did was go back to the agents they liked and let them know, who readily to took them on. I don't know one person who regrets going this route and now their other MS' are getting subbed to editors by these agents. I think it's a win/win deal for everyone. I seriously don't know what I'd do w/o mine. Life is hard enough! I'm glad to give my 15%/20%!

xoxo -- Hilary

Pamala Knight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Klousia said...

Bet you didn't know you were this international, Moonie! Since there are so many other aussies here, I thought I'd de-lurk to say g'day from Tassie. Yeah, it's that little island to the, not New Zealand - next to it.

I'd be very interested to see what the outcome of this situation for the unnamed author is, if you ever feel like doing a little follow up piece.

Coral Press said...

So interesting to get this important perspective from you. People in the business can often become so desensitized to the big issues that come in most contracts, and forget that it's tough for publishing non-experts like some authors to understand. Thanks for your insight!

Pen said...

HI from NZ

The whole agent/publishing thing is a tricky one for a writer over here. I have googles agents in NZ there really don't seem to be that many and the ones that are visible seem to be very busy (i.e. I'm not taking on anyone new so go away). Most of the published writers I have met and spoken to here say, "don't bother with an agent, you don't need one."
Whish leave someone like me a little confused when everyone else seems to be saying it's suicide to publish without one.
Would agents from overseas (i.e. Aussie or the States) take on someone like me half way around the world anyway?

moonrat said...

Pen--I wish I knew a little more about NZ publishing. I'm afraid I can't answer you helpfully. Sorry :( I must do some research.