As she acclimates to a recent merger with two notable literary agencies,
Diana Finch advises writers about their contractual
rights. She suggests that writers need to gain an understanding of the
concepts of international marketing and distribution (foreign rights)
before they sign on publishing's dotted line.
Diana Finch represents authors for two Manhattan literary agencies (Ellen
Levine Literary Agency and Trident Media Group) which merged in October
By Heather Harreld Havenstein
Word Smitten Correspondent
many writers, thinking about the complex business details of book publishing
often takes a back seat to the mission of getting the debut novel or
nonfiction manuscript published. The fervent quest to entice an American
publisher eclipses any other thoughts of marketing a manuscript.
An increasingly important area often overlooked by a new author is the
somewhat mystifying area of international book marketing and distribution.
Or as it is known throughout the United States in the book publishing
industry, foreign rights.
authors should be tackling these questions of foreign rights at the
beginning of the process. At the time a book is ready to be submitted
in the United States, authors need to examine whether to sign over these
rights to an American publisher, says Diana Finch, agent and associate
managing director of foreign rights at Trident Media Group.
As former director of foreign rights at the Ellen Levine Literary Agency
and now with the combined Trident Group, Finch represents a wide range
of authors and projects, with a concentration in serious and narrative
While most American publishers will seek to buy world rights given the
opportunity, savvy authors will calculate several factors, including
the potential foreign markets for translation and an agent's experience
in the process, before signing over translation rights, according to
A key step in this process is for an author to ascertain the potential
interest from foreign publishers, which is usually a fairly straightforward
process for nonfiction, but can be taxing for fiction. A nonfiction
book focusing on a topic specific to America, for example, probably
would not be of interest for translation. In past years, books from
American authors tackling somewhat universal themes like psychology
or self-help were popular abroad. But, recently publishers began to
turn a new crop of local writers on these subjects, and the need from
American writers has waned.
While Australian and Western European readers tend to mirror the American
appetite for fiction, China and Korea lean heavily toward literary fiction
and nonfiction detailing United States history in the 1960s and 1970s,
notes Finch. Japanese readers are keen on books that focus on finance
and management, while Brazil traditionally has been a market hungry
for New Age and philosophy books.
"The whole world turns more to the US and to England to some extent
for popular fiction," Finch says. "The most universal category
is literary fiction. It can travel all around the world."
After the reduction of the cold war politics in the 1980s, Central Europeans
snapped up commercial fiction and nonfiction exclusively. Currently,
this market is beginning to turn to literary fiction and serious history.
American authors of genre fiction and commercial popular fiction are
likely to be more alluring to foreign publishers. Indeed, they are more
evolved in their craft because it is possible for Americans to carve
out a living as a novelist whereas some foreign countries do not have
a large enough population to sustain full-time writers.
In addition to considering the allure of the topic of the work to foreign
audiences, an author will need to factor in the different type of relationship
usually forged with foreign publishers versus American houses, Finch
"A lot of it is having control…and having a more direct relationship
with your foreign publishers and also eventually having…more of
a continuous relationship. It is far more common in foreign countries
to stay with same publisher. More often, you are entering into what
is going to be a long-term relationship. They figure they will build
an author over several books. American publishers look at it as more
like one book."
Often an author can negotiate a larger advance, which may be needed
to write or finish a manuscript, by selling world rights to an American
publisher, Finch notes. Authors who sign world rights over to an American
publisher can allow the foreign rights department to handle details
such as providing foreign publishers copies of the manuscript, bound
galleys and copies of the book instead of doing it themselves.
One major difference for authors selling directly to foreign publishers:
the authors will hold onto a larger share of the profits from a book
because they are not splitting it with an American publisher. In addition,
in a foreign country where an author would be required to pay taxes,
the author would get the credit from the tax that is withheld from the
A final deciding factor can be an agent's experience with handling foreign
"We almost always prefer and would advise the author to keep the
foreign rights and have us handle them for them," Finch says. "We
have extensive contacts and solid contacts. We've also seen over the
years many different kinds of authors really build nice foreign relationships.
Now we're selling rights to books that were published here five or ten
years ago. Some agents have a lot of clients who have been published
abroad and they have handled those rights. It is something that could
be an investment far into the future."
As a senior staff member of Trident, Finch will continue to leverage
her vast experience with translation rights for her new Trident clients
and for existing clients from the Ellen Levine Literary Agency.
"I have very extensive experience with foreign rights and particularly
with serious fiction and literary fiction worldwide in all areas. Between
us it's a very good fit; we really cover all the major publishers worldwide.
Both literary and commercial," Finch comments.
The newly merged company marries Levine's 20-plus years of experience
with clients that include serious journalists and professors to Trident's
author base of commercial fiction and genre fiction, Finch says. "To
have that kind of depth and experience, very few agencies would have
that. You can bring certain aspects of techniques that have worked for
publishing commercial fiction …sometimes you can bring those to
literary work as well and vice versa."
Moving forward, Finch is interested in manuscripts tackling world affairs,
globalization and anti-globalization as well as narrative nonfiction
beset with strong story telling often focused on specific dramatic events.
Dana Finch Diana grew up in New England, graduated from Harvard, and
spent a year studying American Literature at Leeds University in Leeds,
England, where she earned her M.A. Her interests outside work include
sports, from yoga to soccer to watching the Yankees, Giants and World
Gene and The Millennium Problems" (Keith Devlin)
"Looking For Mo" (Dan Duane)
"The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" (Greg Palast)
Levine and Diana Finch are both members of
the Association of Authors' Representatives
Ellen Levine chairs the AAR Contracts Committee, and
Diana Finch chairs the AAR International Affairs Committee.
To visit the Ellen Levine Literary Agency web site,
click here for:
Levine and Diana Finch