My novel, The Drawing Lesson, was represented by International Titles, a company which has been attending major book fairs for thirty years where foreign rights for books are sold. That representation has resulted in two “leads” for me, one in Italy and another in Germany. Too early to tell if anything will develop. I intend to have his company represent my novel at the London Book Fair this spring. I had a chance to talk with Loris Essary of International Titles and ask him about his business.
Q When did you found International Titles?
In the early 1980s. We began meeting with buyers from outside the U.S. at what was then the American Booksellers Association convention (now BookExpo America) and the American Library Association convention. By the end of the 80s, we were also going to the book fairs in Frankfurt and London.
Q I understand that you attend all the major book fairs and carry books at your booth. What book fairs do you usually attend? How long have you been doing this?
Subsequent to beginning work at Frankfurt and London, we explored the possibilities of such fairs as those in Bologna, Prague, Warsaw, Taipei, Bogotá, Cape Town, and the Australia Booksellers Association. We even went to a specialized New Age fair in Berlin and one of the first book fairs in Leipzig after The Wall came down. The East Germans tried to set up a rival to the Frankfurt Fair after the country was divided politically. It never really worked since Communists seldom, if ever, respected the copyright of intellectual property. The Leipzig Fair continued after reunification, though the Germans used it as their “booksellers” fair and kept Frankfurt as their international licenses event.
Q Do you offer any other services to authors?
We do a good bit of consulting which, while absolutely a nebulous catch phrase, contains some fairly important aspects. Many authors can write good books. Not a lot, however, can write effective promotional materials. From time to time, authors get contracts from work other than our own and we advise them on those contracts. A few years ago, we had an author for whom we sold rights who had her own attorney do her contracts. She never knew that he called us to find out how to do them, and then billed her $1,250 an hour for our far less expensive information.
Q What is the proportion of fiction to non-fiction?
Any specific ration will always vary from book event to book event. It’s fair to say, though, that there will always be more non-fiction than fiction simply because of the far greater number of genres in non-fiction. Fiction, however, is always a substantial part of fair that we do. Fiction titles occupied approximately 20 of the 57 pages in our 2010 Frankfurt Fair catalogue.
Q What proportion of the books you carry are self-published?
A bit difficult to say since “self-published” includes a lot of different approaches to getting a book into print. Those considerations aside, it’s probably fair to say the ratio is close to 50-50.
Q Who usually visits your booth?
Again, this is largely fair specific. International book fairs are held for different reasons and different audiences. Some of the national book fairs are designed as celebrations of the host country’s culture and authors. This is not to say that international business isn’t done at these events. In varying complexity, it is. The London Fair in the spring and the Frankfurt Fair in the fall are now the two major international book events for world business.
Business visitors to our stands always include publishers and editors looking for books to buy for translations into their own languages, as well as wholesalers looking to contract the right to sell current English language editions in those parts of the world where these companies work and where English is widely read.
All fairs will have an assortment of reviewers, book clubs, librarians, teachers and most anyone working professionally in the book or associated trades stopping by.
Q What are two of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the publishing world over the years?
Desktop publishing and print-on-demand.Desktop publishing was the last step in the process of ending the stranglehold that the so-called ‘New York houses’ had on who and who could not be a published author. In reality, the New York houses had already lost that dubious position of privilege sometime earlier when the bulk of publishing in the U.S. happened elsewhere on a far more diverse basis. Print on demand has taken that revolution in another direction, but not necessarily a better one. I’d like to urge authors to use extreme caution in signing contracts with print on demand companies. They are often signing rights away to their intellectual property unawares and will invariably pay the print on demand company far too much per copy for their book. Nor do print on demand companies often if ever market for their authors. In other cases, print on demand companies will sell ‘marketing’ services to their authors at an exorbitant price, then sub-contract any actual work to a third party that doesn’t know the author’s book from a tuning fork and ends up providing scant to nil support.
I’d urge authors to do a bit of study as to what it takes to get a book into print and copies subsequently sold and do a good bit of the work for his or herself. Then work with a local printer to realize the book. In many cases the resulting book will be the equal to anything from a print on demand house and will cost the publisher far less per copy to bring out.
Q Do you see changes in “taste” over the years. How would you describe those changes?
In regard to international sales, we don’t think so much in terms of “taste” as we do in trends. Interest in genres is cyclical. A particular subject area that’s wildly popular with potential buyers one year will do well the next, then just be ‘OK.’ The interest will then leap back up the next. This has been the case throughout the three decades that we’ve been selling at international fairs.
Q If an agent or publishing house expresses interest in one of your books, tell us what you do for your author/customer?
First, of course, the initial contact has to be made. This isn’t as simple as it may seem. The one great, unavoidable limitation on international fairs is the lack of time. At events such as Frankfurt and London, there are always far more people to see than can be seen. A buyer has to plan his or her time accordingly.
It helps enormously to know people in advance, editors and publishers you meet and get to know over the years at these fairs. It also helps to have a recognizable name, one that potential buyers you don’t know recognize and stop and talk because of that.
Once the interest is there, we help our clients shape their presentations to the potential buyer. We know what people want to receive and what they don’t want to receive, as well as how they want to receive it.
If terms come to the table, we will, if asked, do all the negotiations and contract work for our clients. We’re usually able to obtain better terms and more money than they can unless they know the ins and outs of international sales.With three decades of experience, we can usually do for our clients as much or as little as they need and want.