Writing Wednesdays: Why publishing deals are more complicated than you realise

Wondering why you can't find a book you love available in your country yet, even if it's published somewhere else in the same language? Publishing rights can get complicated. I try to demystify them a little in this post.

Last week, I announced that I am going to be publishing a sequel to The Kissing Booth called Going the Distance and my spin-off novella, The Beach House.

(Quick aside for those of you who missed it and are asking - yes, there will be a second Netflix film too!)

Both of these books are available for pre-order... and at the time of writing this post, they're only available for pre-order in the UK and Commonwealth.

"But why?" so many of you have asked me. "Why can't I get it in my country? When will it be in the US? Will it be available in Italy? Can I get it in Brazil?"

Right now my answer is the same no matter where in the world you are, outside of UK and Commonwealth: I don't know when, or even if, but hopefully yes, it will be available.

But here's the thing.

Publishing deals are more complicated than you realise.

I asked you guys on Instagram last night what I should blog about for this Writing Wednesdays post, and so many of your responses weren't so much suggestions as just asking where you could pre-order the sequel or if it would be available in your country... Hence, today's post, explaining that.

And let me start out by saying I am by no means an expert on this - I'm just trying to explain what I can and what I've learnt about over the past few years.

Rights are complicated. And there are so. many. damn. rights. On a basic publishing level, there's not only mass market paperback, but sometimes hardback, there's digital editions, there are audiobook rights, there are translation rights.

And that's not even mentioning things like dramatisation, TV and movie, merchandising, special editions, and God only knows what else. It's a long list and I'm not even going to try to cover it all here.

Typically, literary agents keep hold of translation rights (among others). When I say translation, though, sometimes the rights the agent keeps include distribution in the same language but other territories... like the US. 

Okay, but what does that even mean?

When I say the agent 'keeps hold of' some rights, I mean that when the first book deal is made - say, to a UK publisher, whatever rights aren't granted, the agent can try to place elsewhere. Things like movie rights, or translations, and so on.

And, actually, even when those rights are granted to the publisher, it doesn't mean that the book will automatically become available worldwide or in every format. Think about it - not every book sells movie rights, even if those rights are actually 'sold' to the publisher (by which I mean, part of the book deal with said publisher).

Really, when the publisher gets those rights, it just means that they have the authority to try to sell the rights - on your behalf as the author. Kind of like your agent would.

(By the way - if you want to read more about what literary agents do, here's a post I wrote a while back on that, and here's one I wrote about the end-to-end publishing process.)

Let's think about translation rights...

Using translation rights as an easy example, let's say a publisher was granted world rights for a novel, but they're based in the UK. They publish books in the UK. They might have sister/partner companies in other territories and countries (eg. they're the same brand or owned by the same parent company) but they themselves aren't the publishing house for Bulgaria, Albania, Russia, Argentina, France, Spain... even the US, in the same language as they'll be publishing in themselves. That's not their market: their market is the UK. That's where they publish books.

Just because you have a book deal, even for world rights, does not mean the book will actually be made available worldwide.

But because, in this example, we're saying they have world rights, the publisher can submit the book to other publishing companies around the world and sell the rights there. 

Let's say they get a publishing deal for the book in Spanish, with a Spanish publisher. The Spanish publisher will pay a chunk of money (an advance) to the UK publisher, of which you as the author would get a cut per your contract with the UK publisher, and they will then go away and translate your novel and publish it in Spain. But - doesn't mean it's available in Spanish-speaking countries elsewhere in the world. 

See how this gets complicated?

To be honest, it works in a similar way for literary agents. They will go and find a publisher in another country to publish (and translate where necessary) your book. That publisher will pay an advance, your agent will get a cut, and the money will then come to you.

If the agent sells world rights to the first publishing house, and they then sell it in another country, the publisher takes a cut, then the agent takes a cut, then you get the rest.

Which isn't, like, the end of the world. And personally, I can't comment on how common this is, but from what I've heard, it's less common than the agent simply retaining the rights from the start and trying to sell them themselves. 

After all - agents make money when you make money. They'll make around 15-20% (ish) of whatever you make through the deals they make on your behalf, so it's in their interests to sell as many rights as possible.

What this means for TKB2

Going back to my example of The Kissing Booth 2: Going the Distance - this is why you can't pre-order it elsewhere in the world right now. Those rights haven't been sold yet - at least at the time of writing this post. We sold the rights for UK and Commonwealth (but even if we'd sold world rights, it wouldn't mean anything different).

Now is when I cross my fingers and wait as the book is submitted to other publishing houses for translation - and, yes, hopefully for publication in countries like the US, too. And obviously, if (when!) we sell any of those rights, I'll be letting you guys know.

Getting a publishing deal is a lot more complicated than it sounds. Just because you have signed that one contract and the book is going to be published doesn't mean it will be published everywhere - even if it doesn't need to be translated. (This is why The Kissing booth is available in Brazil, but not in Portugal - it was sold to a Brazilian publisher, but as yet, not a Portuguese one.) 

Often, authors published in the UK won't be published in the US - and vice-versa. Authors may sell dozens of translation rights, or none at all. 

(Obviously, I'm hoping to be in the former category there, selling all the translation rights. I'm hoping that we'll at least be able to get both The Beach House and Going the Distance out in countries where The Kissing Booth is being or has already been published, but I honestly can't promise either way! You'll just have to wait and see, same as me.)

Hopefully, that all makes sense. Sorry. It's not the easiest thing to explain and rights and book deals can be a lot to wrap your head around. If you have any questions, drop them in the comments or send them to me on Twitter (I'm @Reekles) - I'm no expert, but I will do my best to help demystify as best I can, based on what I've learnt.

And like I said - keep an eye out for any news of Going the Distance and The Beach House being made available in your country... and in the meantime, keep those fingers crossed!

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