The Wonderful World of Foreign Rights

The guest blogger this week is Sam Curtis and her mission, which she chose to accept for thirteen years, was Foreign Rights.

Over to you Sam

Foreign Rights


Foreign rights is a specialised field of publishing, whereby the translation rights for a specific title or project are sold in another language.

I was lucky enough to work in the F.R side of the children’s industry for thirteen years; first for a small novelty book packager, then on to Bath where I headed up the department for a medium-sized mass-market publisher, another stint with a non-fiction publisher, and then finally I ran my own agency for a couple of years.


The usual route is by starting out at junior level as an assistant, ideally with a second language.  I was extremely lucky.  After a degree in Modern Languages, I took a risk and applied for a job I wasn’t at all qualified for!  Nobody else from London was prepared to move from The City to The West Country… and the rest is History.  I started out at managerial level, looking after my own list of countries, whilst answering the phones and packing parcels for a company of 6.


The front (and backlist) are presented to customers at the three main book fairs; Frankfurt (largest fair in the world), Bologna (largest children’s fair in the world) and London.  A customer will request to be sent samples of the book(s) for further consideration, along with prices and schedules.  The sale can happen in one of two ways:

1)       Co-edition

2)      CD/royalty

Co-edition is the most usual route when selling board, novelty, pop up books etc.  In the ideal world, several F.R editions  will ‘piggyback’ onto the US/UK print run, keeping costs down and achieving one nice, uniform printing.  But nowadays, the likes of France, Germany and Poland are in a position to print alone, satisfying their own particular delivery requirements.

Once a contract has been signed, the customer (usually they are also the editor!) will be sent a disc.  This contains high resolution images for the cover and title page; so the font can be changed, their logo, barcode and imprint details added.  The inside files are in low resolution, so only the translated text of the customer can be input onto the disc.  The customer then sends their translated files back to the F.R team.  They are given a cursory glance by the production department, before winging their way to the printer in China.  Hopefully every country’s material has been sent in on time so the schedule will be adhered to…  The printer will produce ozalids (or blueprints as they are called nowadays).  A set goes to the customer, and a set to the F.R team.  There will almost always be corrections to be made!  Even with a one sentence per page board book.  Editors are notoriously overworked.  The process is repeated again until everybody is happy.  Then an advance copy will be sent.  Checks will be made and the OKTP (okay to print) will be given.  A pre-production sample will also be sent just prior to shipment.  This is the very last opportunity to check for mistakes!  The F.R team would also add their PPS to the ever-growing archive – something which should be kept religiously as a source of reference for future reprints.  Are the cover and binding the same?  Is the paper quality up to scratch?

Most customers will buy on a CIF (Carriage Insurance and Freight) basis, meaning the F.R department will arrange the shipping from Hong Kong to their port of entry for them.  This is fairly common for Europe.  Other customers, such as those in the Far East, will pay a slightly lower price and work on an FOB (Free On Board) basis.  This means they arrange their own shipping, to say Tokyo or Manila.

For a CD/royalty sale, a percentage per copy is paid 100% in advance (on the retail price of the initial print run).  The high resolution disc (containing four colour files for both covers AND insides) is sent to the customer.  In this situation they have a little more flexibility with regards to the format, meaning they can change it to better suit their market; they could also change the font and cover design to allow it to ‘travel’ in their particular country.  This kind of sale happens mostly in South Korea, China, Brazil and Eastern Europe with non-fiction, but also compilations of stories – a Bedtime Story Collection for example.  It was largely trust based.  A royalty statement should be sent once a year, and hopefully there is no piracy going on!


A Foreign Rights Manager (in the heyday) could expect to be on a plane every 6 weeks, either to a book fair or for a sales trip.  In addition to the 3 big fairs, there is a lesser book fair somewhere in the world, each and every week; Moscow, Warsaw, Prague, Tokyo, Taipei and Guadalajara to name but a few.  In days gone by, attendance at the fairs with the company stand would be critical to sell.  In the age of the internet and aftermath of the global recession however, it’s becoming much more common for buyers to spend less time out of the office – some even shunning both Bologna and Frankfurt, making all of their acquisitions for their children and adult lists in London in one fell swoop.



The hardest thing of all is finding one common style that suits all pre-school, mass-market novelty books!  Germany is one of the trickiest markets, with an extremely refined style that is very difficult to emulate.  We found that our backlist was extremely popular in Eastern Europe (and some Southern European countries).  But if you wanted to sell into Scandinavia, sophistication was critical.


Every now and again, a ground-breaking idea would come along that EVERYONE wished they had thought of first.  More often than not, it would see itself reincarnated in the guise of various rip-offs by other companies (no names mentioned).  As the years went on, and the competition and cost prices increased, coming up with a novel novelty grew harder and harder.


–          Selling our carnation of photographic First Word Books into 24 languages (including Icelandic!)

–          Making the first ever sale (so I was told) of Papiamento language text books into the schools of Aruba.  Prior to that, all books were in Dutch.

–          My record-breaking, eye-brow raising 25,000 copy ‘New Suit for Santa’ deal with a Finnish book club.

–          My Arabic edition Farm Pop Up made it onto the official top 10 list in Israel… for several weeks in a row.

Okay, I’ll stop blowing my trumpet now.


I once approved a shipment of well-overdue Argentinian/Venezuelan edition books to Hamburg instead of Buenos Aires!

I’ve committed the ultimate faux-pas by foolishly going against the advice I gave to my employees:  Never, ever berate a customer in an internal email.  You never know when you’re going to send it to the customer instead by mistake…  The Swedish client, who I fortunately never did meet, took it extremely well under the circumstances.  But I do believe it was THE ONLY set of non-text board books he bought from us.  We never did get to the bottom of why he wanted to purchase blank books…

A certain set of company directors decided to go against the advice of myself and my former boss.  Instead they thought it would be wise to put all eggs in one basket, selling everything to one giant client in Belgium, working with them on a Bill of Exchange basis, too, and authorising them to collect their goods from Antwerp before they’d even sent shipping documents that we could have used as ransom!  The client eventually went bust for the third or fourth time in a row, owing our company just shy of a million Euros.  Ouch.

I could go on.


The era of the ‘good old days’ is sadly long gone.  No longer can a prepared contract be taken to a book fair meeting ready for the client to sign on the dotted line!  And in the words of my former F.R director:  ‘It is now 10 times harder to get a sale.  You even have to beg and plead sometimes.’  Chinese print prices rose sharply for the novelty book market, and along with the global recession, this resorted in many of the big companies sadly swallowing up the little independent fish.  I don’t think anybody would venture into F.R for the jet-set lifestyle anymore, either.  The travel budgets must be a shell of their former selves.

But I do believe the demand for F.R for older children’s books (as well as the adult market) will continue after this blip.  The world has an insatiable hunger for books, in whichever medium we are choosing to read them.

The Ebook and self-publishing have also created their own tides of change.  I don’t think there will ever be an on-screen substitute for a good, old, interactive novelty book… there just might be a lot less of them!

‘Silence’ – Stream of Consciousness

An example of the literary technique ‘stream of consciousness’ by SW member Emma Wilson that illustrates the benefit of free-flow writing. Getting down what comes into your mind without interruption can be a powerful stimulus that can help to kick-start the creative process and help you get inside the mind of a character.


I dream of silence.

Tap Tap, Scratch Scratch, Tick Tock, Cough.

That’s the sound of my life.

No wait, that’s just the dark hours. The evenings. The darkness.

Darkness means silence right? Nope.

Tap Tap, Scratch Scratch, Tick Tock, Cough

My days are not like this.

Oh no, they are much worse.

I DREAM of silence.

I rise from my bed to the ear piercing scream…


I lift my body unwillingly and lurch toward the high pitched screech,

Inevitably followed by the clatter of cereal bowls and cups in the kitchen.

Here we go again.

Oh god I dream dream dream of silence.


Tap Tap Bang Bang “I want juice!!”

I glance longingly back at the bedroom door and my inner clock starts the countdown.

How many hours until we are re-united once again in silence.

Tap Tap Bang Bang Hiss Bang Screech

Oh God I dream of silence.

“Darling, where are my car keys?” It starts again.

Oh Lord just give me five….

“Mummy I want my…. Honey I cant find them – Jesus is that the time?”

 The day drags on, the air filled with noises. Screams and cries, giggles and groans.

The darkness of the coffee pulls me in… darkness, stillness, black and thick. Oh god im dreaming of silence.

As their heads hit the pillows and their eyes slowly close, little breaths and whispers escape their dreams.

Tick tock tick tock – counting down. Nearly time for sleep.

We meet again my dear old friend, a million noises have kept us apart.

Tick tock, click click and suddenly its dark.

His tinnitus takes over and tap tap here come the noises.

“Today in the news” – Lord above here we go again.

 Tap tap scratch scratch Cough tap tap.

Finally he slips into sleep and the radio clicks one last time, finally the start of silence…

But then it starts…

I fear the silence.

“Is the oven off, is that bill paid. Did she clean her teeth – what was that noise, is that her out of bed?”

Holy hell I just want to sleep.

I dread the silence, because that’s when it starts – that’s when my day begins.

All the worries, all the questions, in the silence my fears sing.

I fear the silence.

But then the birds begin to sing.

Tap tap bang bang “mummy I’m thirsty”

I sigh, and rise and look to the bed – breath in and out and take a beat.

I dream of silence once more… that is until it starts again.

Blogged by Emma Wilson

…And look at why she did it…

Hi [Jo and Tracy]. I dont generally do this, but i blame both of you. It seems since joining the group my brain simply wont stop. The dam i put up around my creative brain has been ripped down and i cant stop the flow. I woke up last week (at around 3am) and my brain just would not stop. So for the first time in a long time i wrote it all down and didnt think about it again.

Last night i took a look at what was written. To be honest i don’t even REMEMBER writing the words – reading it over last night it made me giggle.

It is completely stream of consciousness but really does sum up the life of a mother of two in my eyes.. i thought it might interest you to see it. Normally i would simply leave these musings in my notebook never to be seen again – but after meeting a fellow “compulsive writer” in Lindsey last week i think it might interest people to see they are not alone when they write nonsense words on scraps of paper in the wee morning hours.

Hope you like it


Revelations of a Notebook

The following guest blog was posted by the elusive Lindsey who not only loves to write, but needs to write. She was unable to make the inaugural meeting of the club and this is now in the guest slot in the hope that she contacts us. Mystery Blogger, Come in from the Cold…we can help you.

‘I wanted to share this that I found this evening. – I hope this might work as a link and save a few Ctrl C, Ctrl Vs. Either way, as a writer, you should look at that page.

It has inspired me to comment on your website. And accept that my modus operandi (or is it: operandum?) of writing is not so different to other writers, but how would I have known before? Only my children really know the extent of the chaos which surrounds my need to help the words escape and I know little of other writers’ methods. I had never really considered the subject until tonight.

How do you write? Longhand, computer, haphazardly, super-organised, on parchment and with a quill, perhaps? Could we all share our notebooks or glimpses thereof? I feel I need to know, now, how others write. Not the words nor the discipline, but the method, the hardware….. the biros you use.

These photos of notebooks led me to a moment of introspection. After all, it is the Equinox and a time of change, seasonally if not spiritually. And I’ve just arrived here so I feel new, naive, nervous. And I am homesick, but not for home, nor friends, nor family, although I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss them. (And they might read this)…….No, I miss, painfully, a vast wodge of paper I left behind. Said a forever goodbye to.

On finally moving out of my house last year – which I rented out on Facebook after meeting up with a long-lost old friend and imbibing a bottle of wine whilst looking at her most recent paintings – I had to say “adios” to over 10 years of scribblings. Reams and reams and reams of notes, ideas, moments of genius. (Or so I suspect and can hope, against hope but don’t know, not for sure and never will). Pages of captured meetings, memories, dark moments of self-doubt, and worse – half-written, unfinished, interrupted outpourings – what would those have led to? I can only wonder.. Where was that sentence going? Oh, the anguish at a lost thought.

Literally scores of black bin liners full of A4, envelopes, hurriedly ripped shreds of tree bark used to jot down my thoughts. All etched in multi-coloured biro, pencil and…. was that blood?

I went to a friend’s farm in Lancashire and there, with the help of Grandad, the firestarter and Boss, Mum and assorted grandchildren – pyromaniacs, all – we burnt every sheet, almost religiously ardent in our task, in a rusty, well-used and capacious iron firepit at the edge of the field, yet still in the garden to help the roses. And next to grandma’s grave because she loved fires too.

Now, I miss not only my writing and recalling how it changed with time, mood, even the colour of the biro, but also I miss my writings. What, oh what, have I lost through consignment to the flames? Yet, I had no choice. It all had to go. I could not move on with it, we were downsizing and lightening up. It was also downsized, reduced in bulk and weight, and then became embers, turning to grey, light, floating, flaking ash, thrown onto the roses and carried by the wind, drifting across the farmland to nurture future growth.

And in amongst that loss of mine and gain for the countryside I love, lies the inspiration for many more hours of an unstoppable, unexplainable force that is …how I write and the words which quite simply have to escape. I might stick to ink and pass on the blood from now on though.’


Guest Post: Confessions of an Editor

Guest PostSpeaking to a senior player in trade publishing in London yesterday, I was struck again by how some fundamental attitudes have changed in recent years. It used to be around the bars of Frankfurt during the annual Book Fair that publishers would bare their souls and fess up sheepishly to the ones that got away. Which books that went on to be runaway bestsellers did they pass on, didn’t like or more importantly didn’t think the general public in any number would like. We all make mistakes, even the most successful amongst us, was the general consensus. But our experience and instinct will make sure we don’t blot our copybook again.

Times have changed. The precarious nature of the economy in the UK, with amongst other things, just one privately backed, stock holding high street book selling chain of any size, undergoing almost constant restructuring, is just one reason editors will be expected by their bosses to be more risk averse. When an editor takes to Twitter to confess she passed on JK Rowling’s recent crime novel written and submitted under a pseudonym, no one slaps their forehead and says “fire her”. Of course she passed on it. As I’m sure many others did too. It was yet another good if not utterly outstanding, well-crafted genre crime novel. Which, if you are writing such books that would have more been more likely to find a publisher and a decent five figure advance ten years ago, must sound depressing.

But self-publishing has also changed the game. Led inevitably by the US market, acquiring editors no longer feel that literary agents represent the only source of potentially publishable content. Part of the editor’s job now is to make sure they spot books which might be starting to create a buzz and take off within niches and communities online before they have found an agent or a publisher. CEOs and Financial Directors will forgive gambling less and missing the odd bestseller. Missing the next 50 Shades of Grey bubble however probably would be a sackable offence.

John Bond

Co-founder whitefox

whitefox is the UK’s largest curated publishing services network –


Point of View

Point of View

So what are we talking about here?

Sol Stein’s definition is a good one,

p. 109, ‘The character whose eyes are observing what happens, the perspective from which a scene or story is written.’

Much has been written about ‘Point of View’, so much so that some people begin to get confused about the do’s and don’ts. Others don’t really care; they just want to write.
Sometimes we want to include so much information, all the research we did; what different characters are thinking and saying in response to any given event.

All of that is possible, but remember to keep the reader on board.

When we are listening to friends in a bar or coffee shop there is no confusion about who is saying what; they are present in the room and we are looking at them,  listening to them and sharing their stories.

We can achieve the same when we are writing. Apart from writing an autobiography we write with a mouth-piece, one of the characters, real or made up, usually the most important one for the telling of our tale; THE MAIN CHARACTER.

Having decided who fits this role we then decide on that person’s delivery. The two most popular these days are first person and third person subjective.


It was dark and I kept looking over my shoulder every time the wind blew.

We are in the mind of the character with great immediacy, using  “me, myself, I.”


‘I’m up,’ He shouted, turning over in bed and resting his head on the pillow. For extra measure he banged a shoe up and down on the floor so his mum would think he was walking around. She would set off for work soon and he would be alone. He had no intention of going to school today.

We are in the mind of the character, but once removed, using “he/she, his/her.”

If we want to get into different characters’ minds we can do so in the same way, but need to flag up the change to the reader.

Those that know suggest you keep the characters separated into their own chapters, or if that is not what you are looking for, leave a blank line or two in your document so the savvy reader understands.

First Person POV is alluring but dealing with the first person POV’s ego is harder. As Sol Stein says, p.111 ‘If he sees himself as weak, the reader won’t have much interest in him as a protagonist. If he sees himself as strong, the reader will think him a braggart. Therefore, in the first-person POV the author relies on action and the speech of other characters to reveal things – particularly good things – about the “I” character. An unreliable or villainous first-person narrator can lend credibility…

If the character takes the reader into his confidence, the character can’t “forget” to provide the reader with an essential secret or other important piece of information. When the reader learns that was withheld, he will feel cheated. The most dramatic way of handling information that the character is reluctant to convey is for another character to strip the secret from him in heated conversation.’

What do you think?


Grab Their Interest.


Our writing club opens its doors the last week of September and until then I have another opportunity to blog… Sol Stein is a terrific writer to go to for tips on techniques. Born 1926, he edited and published books for 36 years from some of the most successful writers of the twentieth century, including James Baldwin, Dylan Thomas, Elia Kazan, W.H. Auden, and Jacques Barzun. If you want a better look, check out Stein on Writing, St Martin’s Press (1995)

So, what did he have to say?

Lots. Nearly all of it valuable.

He begins by quoting E. L. Doctorow, “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” p.4

Yeah, we get it, -Show not Tell-. Good advice.

Stein studied buying behaviour in a Manhattan bookstore during lunch hour. They mostly read the front flap of the book’s jacket and then went to page one. No-one went beyond page three before either taking the book to the cashier or putting the book down and picking up another. p.9

So, no point encouraging someone to read on because your novel picks up a bit after the first few pages. Start writing where it picks up, as near to the climax of that particular episode as possible and hook the reader. No matter how beautiful your writing is, we’re in  a hurry and as a reader need to:

  • know why we’re reading,
  • enjoy where it’s taking us
  • seek the answers to the questions that got us hooked.

Stein advises we should grab the reader’s curiosity, PREFERABLY ABOUT A CHARACTER OR A RELATIONSHIP and create a setting to lend resonance to the story.

Characters Build Strong Interest.

Think of even the most meaningless soap opera. You may not admit to your friends that you even watch it, but when it’s on it’ll pull you in. There’s possibly no point talking about the plot, it may be banal, but for some reason, you care about how that particular character will react, how he or she will deal with whatever the script writer has concocted.

What Excites our Interest?

  • the unusual
  • action
  • conflict
  • knowledge that something is not right, that fate is being tempted
  • when characters find themselves in a situation  you identify with…

It’s not an exhaustive list. Think about it, what works for you? Perhaps a character wants something important, wants it badly and wants it now. Or maybe a character that you are rooting for finds herself in danger and you must find out what happens next.

Write responsibly.

We need to write for ourselves AND the reader. Imagine you are at a party and someone ‘corners’ you and insists on a boorish recital of a tale that you must listen to, politely, until an escape route opens up to you.

Do not be that boor.

How better to be captivated by something that entertains and raises questions that catch your interest long after the story ends.

Be that captivator.

Years ago I heard two girls chatting to each other at the bus stop. My bus came and I seriously considered missing it, just so I could hear more…

The hook?

‘So, was he circumcised?’


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