Indie publishing is a micro business that can be as individual as the author that’s running it. This week I’m doing a series on the business side of things. What this week isn’t about: marketing. While marketing is important, this is about the details of running the business, not the strategy behind how to make your books successful. See my marketing posts here.
Most indie authors, especially when they first start out, are flummoxed by the idea of selling rights beyond the print and ebook versions of their works. After all, that is something that agents and publishers usually handle.
Guess what? YOU are the publisher now. (I know. It takes some getting used to.)
Not to say that having an agent to handle your other rights is bad – it can, in fact, be very helpful. If you have the right agent. If you can interest one in taking on just your ancillary rights without wanting to also sell your main works. Most midlist indie authors can make a living from their works without rising to the blockbuster level that will attract agent interest. Maybe someday they will, but for now, does that mean things like foreign, film, and audio rights are off the table?
Here are some options, Easiest to Hardest. These are the wildest paths of the indie revolution, so if you have further ideas of how to exploit these rights, please leave them in the comments.
By far the easiest right to exploit is audio. Amazon-owned ACX is a match-making marketplace that connects indie authors to independent narrators. You can pay up front by the hour ($100-$400 per audio book hour) or do a revenue sharing option for zero upfront cost (25% author, 25% narrator, 50% ACX). Stacey Wallace Benefiel wrote a fantastic step-by-step post on using ACX, but I can personally vouch for the ease of this option. I posted Open Minds, had about 20 narrators audition, and eventually chose Kelli Shane for the project – she has the perfect voice for Kira! It was fascinating to listen to the auditions and realize that audio is really a very different way of experiencing the story. Finding the right narrator was important, and I was glad that my Mindjack series sold well enough to qualify for the $100 stipend for narrators, so my talented narrator will benefit upfront as well as with the revenue share plan. My only regret is that I waited so long to exercise this option. The audio version of Open Minds will likely be out sometime in May, but I’m sure it would have sold sooner if it had been available. Live and learn with that.
p.s. it’s a 7 year term with exclusivity, so check the complete TOS here.
This is both easy and extremely difficult. Amazon has a bunch of foreign markets where your ebook is automatically available. Createspace now has local sourcing for print books in Europe, so even your print books are available overseas. Choose the Expanded Distribution option and your print books will also be available in the Book Depository, with free shipping to 100 countries around the world (which is great for international giveaways, like the one at the bottom of this post!). Even Barnes&Noble now distributes your ebook to the UK and Canada (note: it’s not automatic – make sure you click “worldwide rights” in your PubIt account). Apple distributes to 50 countries.
But even in English speaking countries, it’s difficult to get a toehold for your book written in English. Sometimes story concepts just don’t sell as well in other countries, but mostly it’s just a matter of discoverability. One way to get there is to have a series where you let the first book go free – this has worked for me (and other authors I know). Now that Open Minds is free in the UK and DE, Closed Hearts and Free Souls are selling well, and I’m starting to get reviews.
The Extremely Difficult Part
One reason ebooks don’t sell well in Europe is simply because the market is still tiny there (the UK is the largest). It’s amazing that English books sell at all, but they do. Getting your book translated can help sales, but it’s risky in many ways. Translations are expensive, the market is small, and you still need discoverability. However, there are translators who are experimenting with revenue-share options, just as ACX narrators are. A friend of mine (EM Tippetts) found a great German translator for her romance novels and has had great success with them. She recommended her translator to me, and I was excited to sign up with him – he was willing to negotiate a revenue share agreement and I also have a German fan who is willing to proofread. The translator was very interested, but he was booked for six months. However, I’m hoping when his schedule clears, he’ll still be interested. I’m taking the long view with publishing and six months isn’t too long to wait for the chance to work with the right person. However, finding those connections isn’t easy, and I think a bad translation can hurt you (or simply be a waste of time/effort). So, this is a tricky option, but has potential if the right opportunity comes your way.
If you think publishing is a “who you know, not what you know” business, film is ten times more so. Talent “managers” (agents for producers, actors, writers) are hard to get access to – the open email boxes of literary agents look welcoming by comparison. However, if you have contacts in the film industry, it’s actually a very small world. Everyone networks like fiends and are willing to pass information along to help out their fellow creative workers (which rocks!). And there’s always the chance that a filmmaker or producer will stumble on your novel on their own (this happens!). Early on, a friend recommended Open Minds to an independent producer (the guy who sketches up a script and pitches it to get funding to film) – he offered to option the entire trilogy at a time when only one of the books was published! It was exciting to have interest, and the guy was the real deal, but I declined for creative reasons – I wasn’t done creating the works. Later, another connection lead to the making of the Mindjack Trailer, which led to further connections. Open Minds is currently with two film agents who are considering shopping it to the big studios. If that falls through, I have a couple independent producers who may be interested in doing indie productions. I actually like the idea of the indie productions, partly because the experience of making the trailer was so incredible, and partly because indie productions are more likely to actually get made.
All of these options are easier to exploit when someone (an agent) has connections to these industries already. But they’re not entirely closed to indie authors. The danger, of course, is that you’ll spend all your time exploiting rights, and not writing your next book. While I welcome these opportunities, I try to keep my focus on my core business: writing books that people want to buy.
The rest will come from there.