Before attending any book fair, it is important to have a solid list of titles on which you will focus your sales efforts. Knowing which books will sell is the never-ending question across every branch of publishing. Catherine Mitchell shares some best practices for building your list of titles to pitch at international book fairs.
Some titles will seem obvious as having potential international appeal, and these will be relatively easy to name. Try to assess the market or language in which you think they might work, as this will inform the countries you focus on. What may appear obvious in the office or in your home territory does not necessarily translate to the wider whole. For example, recognize that it can be hard to sell a book about Japan to the Japanese. Their first reaction may be to question why they should buy a book on or set in their country written by a Canadian. The same can be said for titles that become surprising international success stories. Virtually all Canadian publishers experienced in rights will tell you about successful international titles they never imagined seeing in a language other than English or French. Selecting the right titles is critical.
You know your books best. Go with your instincts and be prepared to make mistakes. Most experienced book fair attendees have a good sense of market response for their particular titles but give themselves latitude for being proven wrong.
Your most recent list and forthcoming titles should be examined first. After all, they are the newest and should have a fresher feel. Publishers across every market are constantly on the lookout for something new and unique. Look at content and subject matter. Do titles broach topics that are in the news? Is it an interesting take on a story in their language? Is there a link to a market that should be targeted? Have an answer for why your book would find readers. Part of your pitch should show the acquiring party the sales potential of the book, but also recognize that international publishers will know their market and current economic conditions better than you. It can be a case of presenting a new take on a subject.
Look at the author. Are they a known entity or do they have a relationship to a country that might be of appeal? Is there an obvious connection? Be sure to mention their personal background and how that might relate to that market.
What promotion has the book received? Study your backlist for titles with good sales history. As one learns, what is old is often new again. Consider if updates to the content, layout, type, or a new cover will not only bring interest from abroad but perhaps also give new life on the domestic side.
For children’s books, many stories can essentially relate to similar concepts and values. The illustrations might be what set your title apart. Is the art something that will appeal to the aesthetic of international publishers? Will it sell?
Anticipating What Books Will Travel
This is a tricky question that warrants thoughtful consideration. Assuming you hold world rights, in theory every book in your list could be promoted. Better to focus on those titles with the best chance of finding a home. Approximately a dozen books is a great start for a first fair. It’s a sufficient list to warrant a half-hour meeting and provides scope for enough work to keep you busy should interest really take off.
To every rule there are exceptions. Titles specific to a region are usually better left at home and one can always send a pdf or finished book post-fair if you receive particular interest during your meetings. Books with universal themes have a better likelihood of finding readers.
Often, your own passion can be the deciding factor between a yes or no as an expression of interest and can convince the publisher to read the work and form their own opinion. Be prepared for personal approval of a book, but understand that it can be hard to convince international sales and marketing departments that a title will indeed sell in a foreign market.
This is an excerpt from our market guide Attending an International Book Fair: A Guide for First-Time Participants. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn more about how to succeed at international book fairs. Download your copy today!