Monday, August 16, 2010

Selling to foreign markets.

Selling to foreign markets in the midst of a recession can really help to hone your skills as a writer. As a professional, you need to learn how to do your own detective work.

I attended ‘Genrecon,’ which was held at the Sarnia Library on April 25, 2009. It was my first convention, and I learned a lot. Established authors talked about marketing, rights, selling short genre and literary fiction. Among the authors who attended; Jean Rae Baxter, Vicki Delaney, Gord Rollo, Dennis Collins, Douglas Smith, Sylvia Hutchings, and others.

We learned, “If you need to sell a quart of milk, don’t sell the whole cow, or worse, give away the whole farm.”

Gord Rollo explained it this way: “If a small, regional publication plans on publishing your story once, and perhaps archiving it on their website, what do they need the film rights for? Why would they need foreign-language rights?”

Seller beware: know what you are selling, and what they are buying. Otherwise some other person may sell your film rights, and without anything spelled out in the contract, you may have a hard time proving a case. Ignorance of the terms of your contract is not a defense, nor is it an 'out.'

And the key thing to remember is that you just never know—but TV and film producers have to get their ideas from somewhere, and they read magazines just as much as anyone else. I don’t care if they read it in the bathroom.

Aurora Award-winning author Douglas Smith talked about selling, 'reprint’ rights. Once your story has appeared and the rights have lapsed again, you can re-sell the story an unlimited number of times, although some publications don’t accept reprints, and the price or value of a reprint is less than a brand-new, first-time original story. You can also sell it at the exact same time in a hundred other languages. Recently Mike Resnick set a personal record, having sold a story thirty times. Douglas Smith also set a personal record, by selling a story on the sixty-fifth submission! His advice is, ‘Never give up on a story.”

But as he pointed out, “You can pick up an extra few hundred dollars from any given story. That adds up to real money after a while.”

Douglas has been published in twenty-four languages and in twenty-nine countries at last count. So when I learned that he had a website, with a market list, I logged on to and had a look.

Now, this is a foreign-language, reprint market, but I just wrote a few details down, went through my files, and found a small number of science-fiction stories, and started submissions by e-mail. None of these particular stories had ever appeared in English. And I began to write up every dumb little idea that I had for science-fiction, fantasy, psychological horror, or some stories which could be described as, ‘speculative fiction,’ and I suppose some stuff which defies description.

If I had an idea for a poem, I wrote it up as best I could. After a while, with a few e-mails going back and forth, I learned about other market lists. At the time of this writing I have four or five stories awaiting translation.

I have not been published as a science-fiction author in Canada, but I suppose I might as well keep trying! Sooner or later, someone around here will give me a break—I’m an internationally-renowned author after all, with a pretty good little cult following.

Now when I submit a story to a publication, I have something to put in the cover letter. I have foreign-language credits, I’ve had science fiction published, poetry, an essay; as for what’s next, I just don’t know. But I’m sure it will be something just a little bit edgy. Something out there in the badlands of the human psyche.

Something that grabs the reader, (or better yet, the editor,) by the throat and never lets them go until they’ve read my story. I want them to talk about it the next day as they’re sitting around the coffee shack wishing they were lucky enough to have time to write. Just for the record, I fell flat on my face over four hundred and eighty-plus times to get those stories out there.

Luck has nothing to do with it. Writing for foreign markets is challenging. You have to think of the foreign editors. Take out slang, contractions, colloquial expressions, folk sayings, anything that makes the translator’s job harder. What you end up with is nice, tight copy that doesn’t make your English-speaking readers work too hard, because they don’t have any time to waste either.

Only one of the stories that I’ve placed actually pays any money, but it’s something to build on. What a huge burst of self-confidence!

Other science fiction, fantasy and horror market lists include; as well as ‘The Market List,’ which I found had a few dead markets, then there’s Gareth D. Jones’ list in the U.K. For science fiction, humour and other genre markets, try for an extensive set of listings. I’ve stumbled across a couple of smaller lists as well online. The SF Site, which is Canadian, has a market list as well, and I mined through that.

One spark of inspiration hit me so far. By taking out sex, gory violence, swearing, and religious controversy, I can open up my work to a much wider potential audience. This probably applies more so to my short stories rather than the novels. Essentially I looked back and thought about all the really good books I read when I was younger. Andre Norton, Robert A. Heinlein, and Roger Zelazny, Poul Anderson, Larry Niven; these are good writers with very little of what you might call, ‘erotica,’ or language, or excessive blood and gore. When they deal with religion, they do it symbolically. They sold a lot of stories as well.

The best advice is, “Figure out who your audience is.”

My own personal perspective is interesting. I did get a contract from one publisher, and they were buying 'all rights in all languages.' It was a long contract, for five years, and an automatic renewal for three years. By coming out with new editions, they could have essentially owned that book for the rest of my life.

Think about what you are doing, before you sign any contract.

One year ago, I had never had a sci-fi story accepted anywhere, and now I've been published in English, Spanish, Dutch, Estonian, and Greek.

For that I can thank Doug's Foreign Market List, and presumably, a little effort on my part.

Good luck and good hunting.

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