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How to get your book in the hands of an international audience

Tom Chalmers

Tom Chalmers, Managing Director at IPR Licensethe global, digital marketplace for authors, agents and publishers to list and license book rights; launched in 2012

When mentioning the words rights and licensing to many writers you tend to get some pretty glazed expressions or at the very least a variety of bewildered yet interested looks.

Then when you add the word international into the conversation eyes immediately light up but then quickly dissolve into the aforementioned puzzled look. This is then generally followed by the plea of ‘yes please' followed by ‘but how?'.

These reactions are hardly surprising and are certainly not meant as a slight on writers. Rights and licensing has long been the domain of the traditional publisher who wittingly or unwittingly drew a curtain around the whole process with authors not knowing, and in truth not really caring, about how deals were done. But then we had the emergence of the ever-growing indie and self-published author community and the rules of engagement have dramatically changed.

In my last article I wrote that ‘most self-published authors understand the process that takes them from a written manuscript to a published book, but few realise the additional elements that make publishing a profitable business.' And this remains true. Sadly it's clear that the vast majority of self-published and indie authors don't fully understand the rights they hold to their work, never mind how to best monetise them - especially on an international stage.

Which leaves the question - how can writers get their book in the hands of an international audience?
The international rights and licensing landscape can inevitably be a somewhat complex and daunting one for authors so I'll try to lift the lid on this arena and have a peek behind the scenes at what really goes on.

As with many things in life contacts in specific areas can often be the key to getting things done. Or if you don't have the right contacts then engaging with someone who does is the next best thing. In the publishing world it's difficult and time consuming for authors to build a strong contact book, which is where international rights agents or platforms such as IPR License can help.

It's clear that experience and market knowledge, as well as good contacts, are key elements in the placement of titles and getting deals done. Our licensing manager Caroline Sloan was recruited from Penguin Random House and has a number of years' experience working in foreign rights so she has a wealth of knowledge across a number of territories but that doesn't mean she knows every single intricacy or quirk attached to every single marketplace. But throughout her career what she has done is to make sure that she engages with people on the ground who do. These people are called sub-agents and literary scouts.

Sub-agents and scouts will generally work in dedicated territories in which they have close relationships with a range of domestic and international publishers and agents. They know the types of book individual publishers and agents will be interested in, if they are looking to buy or sell rights, and how international titles could work for their list. So even the most experienced international rights agents might not know exactly where to place a key title but if they don't inevitably they will know, and be working closely with, someone who does.

Of course there is nothing to stop you doing your own research into publishers or agents in countries where you think your book might be well received. Then, once you have compiled a list, to contact them directly with samples of your work. But in taking this path it's vital that your research is as in-depth as possible to ensure that the companies you approach a) publish books in your particular genre b) will accept unsolicited manuscripts or a direct approach c) be currently looking to add to their author list d) think there's a market for your work e) the list goes on. Not to mention the fact that even if you manage to capture their attention, the negotiations and laws could well take place in a language you don't know, with laws you might not be familiar with. These factors help to illustrate just how tough the process can be.

Not surprisingly the vast majority of authors still look to engage with an expert when it comes to trying to sell their works into international markets and it's not hard to understand why.

At IPR License we have recently enhanced our sub-agent and scouting network and broadened our proposition across Eastern Europe, Russia and Asia to meet growing demand from our new publisher and author members. We're constantly looking to form even stronger connections across a larger number of international territories. This is also achieved via the IPR Rights Magazine which allows authors to get their titles showcased at five of the largest international book fairs; Frankfurt, New Delhi, London, BookExpo AmericaBookExpo America, commonly referred to within the book publishing industry as BEA. The largest annual book trade fair in the United States and Beijing. Each issue also includes exclusive interviews, articles and profiles with publishers, literary agents and authors.

The quality of our sub-agents and scouts is a key element in unlocking vast amounts of licensing revenue for the highly marketable work we have on our platform, as is ensuring that your works gets the maximum amount of exposure to the most relevant industry audiences. Of course quality and marketability is the key to reaching an international audience but such work can only get there via the right kind of push at the right time by the right person/platform. And another thing that also needs underlining is the vast potential revenue attached to rights and licensing which means it will be an area that authors, and publishers will continue to focus on to boost revenue streams across the board.

So there we have it, a little sneak peek behind the international rights and licensing curtain. Breaking boundaries is what publishing is all about, so if you have a market in mind you want to break into or are interested in learning more about rights and licensing on a domestic and international level why not drop us a line at to see how we can help or take a look at for further information.

Tom Chalmers is Managing Director at IPR License. IPR License was launched in 2012 and is the global, digital marketplace for authors, agents and publishers to list and license book rights. See or email for more information.

In 2005 Tom Chalmers set up Legend Press, a book publisher focused predominantly on mainstream literary and commercial fiction which has also launched successful self-publishing and writer workshops ventures. He then acquired a further publishing company, Paperbooks Publishing, and in 2012 he launched new venture IPR License, the first global and digital platform on which to list and license literary rights.

Tom Chalmers first IPR article for WritersServices, Self-publishing - the rights way, was about authors and rights.

In our Inside Publishing series there's also an article by Chris HolifieldManaging director of WritersServices; spent working life in publishing,employed by everything from global corporations to start-ups; track record includes: editorial director of Sphere Books, publishing director of The Bodley Head, publishing director for start-up of upmarket book club, The Softback Preview, editorial director of Britain’s biggest book club group, BCA, and, most recently, deputy MD and publisher of Cassell & Co. She is also currently the Director of the Poetry Book Society; During all of this time aware of problems faced by writers, as publishing changed from idiosyncratic cottage industry, 'occupation for gentlemen', into corporate business of today. Writers encountered increasing difficulty in getting books edited or published. Authors create the books which are the raw material for the whole business. She believes it is time to bring them back to centre stage. on Subsidiary Rights.