WordSmitten Writing Workshop


An interview with
Ellen Levine Literary Agency
and Trident Media Group

In our exclusive interview with Diana Finch,
you'll read key information about foreign rights and international distribution.
Information that you need to know before signing a contract with your publisher.

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 2002.

By Heather Harreld Havenstein
Word Smitten Correspondent

For 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.

Yet, 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 nonfiction.

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 Finch.

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 most universal category
is literary fiction. It can travel all around the world.”

Diana Finch
Associate Managing Director
Of Foreign Rights
Ellen Levine Literary Agency
and Trident Media Group


"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 says.

"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 earnings.

A final deciding factor can be an agent's experience with handling foreign rights.
"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 Cup soccer.

Projects include:

"The Math Gene and The Millennium Problems" (Keith Devlin)
"Looking For Mo" (Dan Duane)
"The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" (Greg Palast)

Ellen Levine and Diana Finch are both members of
the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR);
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
: Ellen Levine and Diana Finch


More Writing Tips

:: Getting a Lit Permit
:: Finding a literary agent
:: Writing the Cover Letter
:: Promoting your book
:: Attending a writing conference
:: Fundamental Writing Tips

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