Serious book proposals (IX): international sales

In most countries in the world, the home market is too small for a publisher to be able to make a living from home sales alone.

In the Anglophone world, it is really only the States that enjoys that status. Publisher in other countries need to focus on achieving international sales as well as home sales.

Revenue from abroad can come in one of two forms:

  1. sales of copies (whether in print or eBook form) to export markets;
  2. sales of rights (principally translation rights).

It follows that a prospective author should seek both to (a) maximise the potential of the proposed book to reach the international market and (b) demonstrate this potential to the publisher.

This needs to be done in two ways: (1) avoiding negatives; and (2) providing positives.

To give an example of the avoidance of negatives: Britain has a public health system called the NHS (National Health System). It’s a huge organisation — one of the world’s largest employers — and it is part of the nation’s fabric. Everybody knows the NHS, right?

Wrong. Lots of people outside Britain do not know anything about the NHS. If the NHS is going to feature in your book, you’re going to have to explain it so that readers abroad can understand and appreciate the text.

The main ways of removing the negatives are:

  • allotting more space to an explanation of the context — setting the scene;
  • for minor details, providing parenthetical glosses
  • including a glossary in the end matter.

It’s important not only to do these things but to tell the publisher you’re going to do them. This will simultaneously help to persuade the publisher that the book will have international potential — plus point! — and identify you as a savvy author — second plus point!

By providing positives, I mean deliberately including content designed to appeal to readers abroad. Examples include:

  1. citing research from abroad;
  2. including cases and examples from abroad;
  3. asking an expert from abroad to provide a foreword — and asking others to provide endorsements (i.e., a sentence that can be used as a puff on the back cover of the book or on marketing materials).


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