Foreign rights are tricky. My book, The Twelve, did well in the United States, but it didn’t hit the New York Times best-seller list, and I thought that would be essential for it to be successful internationally. Fortunately, I was wrong about that; the book is now available in twenty-four languages, and we’ve sold 55,000 copies in China. The first printing in Korea sold out in two weeks. The book made it high onto the best-seller lists in Portugal and Germany. Now, I had some advantages when it came to the international market, because I own my own literary agency, and I have a foreign rights division, which was able to push hard for my book. Another reason for the book’s international success is the topic. The novel has a connection to 2012, which is something the rest of the world is very interested in. And, of course, I think it’s a fun, easy-to-read book, which helps.
The book also had a major publisher and strong sales in the United States. Without those things, I don’t think you have much chance of being successful internationally. International publishers are even more selective than American publishers when it comes to American authors, because in addition to the books they acquire from America, they have access to books written by authors in their home countries. As a result, only a handful of books are successful in translation.
At the same time, in many cases at least 50 percent of the revenue for a successful book can come from international sales, which was not the case even ten years ago. One positive thing about getting your book published in translation is that it’s easier to get visibility. In the United States, it’s hard to get much publicity if your book isn’t on a best-seller list. Internationally, there’s going to be some curiosity about your book simply because it’s been translated. There is also less competition in some foreign markets, which can allow your book to get noticed. I think that’s one of the reasons The Twelve has had its strongest sales in foreign markets.
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