As it keeps coming up in comments here and on Facebook, I think we need to take five minutes to talk about territories.
When you self-publish, the availability of your book is a simple thing. Is it available in e-book? Yes/no. Is it available in print? Yes/no. When will I be able to buy it? On the day I’ve decided that it’s coming out, which is probably the same day I manage to publish it to Amazon KDP and it goes live on all Amazon sites.
But if you ask me ‘when can I buy Distress Signals?’…
Well, that depends on where you live.
Traditional book deals are done by territories. Publishers don’t just buy the right to publish your book, they buy the right to publish your book in certain countries. For foreign languages, this is simple enough to follow, i.e. the right to publish in German means the book will be published in Germany, and so on. But for English language rights, the situation can be more complicated than that.
The deal I signed with Corvus/Atlantic was for British Commonwealth excluding Canada. In practice, this basically means that Distress Signals will be published in Ireland and the UK, and will be available in Australia and New Zealand too.
Unless I get another, entirely separate deal with a North American publishing house, it will not be available in North America.
This doesn’t just mean that if you live in North America and go to your local bookstore, you won’t see it on the shelves. It means that you won’t be able to buy an e-book version of it either. When I go onto Amazon.co.uk (there is no Amazon Ireland), the only Kindle books I see are the ones that are available for me to buy, which are the ones that have been published in Ireland/UK and “worldwide”. Some people here have their Kindles registered to Amazon.com – when us Irish folk got our Kindles first, that was our only option – so the selection they see is different. If you live in the States, when you boot up your Kindle to go shop for new books, you are only seeing the books that have been published in the States and “worldwide”. No one is seeing all of the books.
Anyone who regularly enters Goodreads giveaways for traditionally published books or who is a member of Net Galley will have encountered this before, as both prizes and digital ARCs are generally confined to the countries or regions in which the publishers have the right to publish the book, which makes sense.
I have spent a lot of time since I revealed the cover explaining this to people, even though this was – I thought – common knowledge. What I’ve realized is that self-publishing has blurred the territories lines to the point where people either have forgotten about traditional publishing’s territories, or never even realized there was such a thing. We follow self-published authors, they publish their books, we buy them. We can go on Amazon, no matter where we live, and pretty much find whatever self-published book we want. This is because the vast majority of self-publishers publish worldwide, and why wouldn’t they? I always did.
The thing is, it’s better for me that I didn’t sign a deal for ‘world English rights’ – which would’ve made an e-book universally available – because that means I still have additional rights to sell. It may seem silly that books are only published in some places and not others, but from an author’s perspective, it can be a good thing. When you come from a self-publishing background you might find you have that “But HE wants to buy it!” knee-jerk reaction to a lack of availability in a particular place – as in, you panic because you know there’s a certain person or group of people who want to buy your book but can’t, and all you can think about are the lost sales. I know this feeling because I used to have it. But this isn’t about the number of people in the States or elsewhere who might buy this book in May if they could – it’s about how many multiples of people like them the book could potentially reach if, at some stage in the future, a U.S. deal was done. In other words, it’s better to hold out.
I do have writer friends who signed deals for particular territories and then, after publication, self-published the title in e-book in the territories in which they hadn’t secured deals. This is always an option, but it is way too early in this process – like, years too early – for me to even start thinking about anything like that.
In the meantime, if you really want to read Distress Signals – and, of course, I hope that you do! – there is nothing stopping you from buying print books that have not been published in your country from online retailers. I do it all the time with US releases that aren’t available here (and sometimes I do it just because I prefer the American cover design. Terrible, I know).
The Book Depository currently has Distress Signals available to pre-order at 10% off and it offers free delivery worldwide with no minimum order. (It also has a terrifying ‘x days to go’ countdown clock above the pre-order button. *starts shaking*) If you don’t live in Ireland, the UK, Australia or New Zealand, you could order it from them and pay a similar price, all in, to what you would’ve paid had you walked into a local store and bought it.
It’s also available for pre-order on Amazon.co.uk. (Just the trade paperback, for now. E-book coming soon.)
By the way, if you do live in Ireland or the UK, the first Distress Signals Goodreads giveaway is open now. (Side note: Goodreads have changed almost everything about their giveaways since I wrote my Goodreads giveaway post, so stand by later this month for a new, updated one.)
Thus concludes our five minute talk about territories. So was this news to you or did you know all this already? If you did want to read a book that you couldn’t get in e-book and had to order in print online, would you still bother? Let me know in the comments below…
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UPDATE: I really thought this was clear, but already the feedback I’m getting makes me think it’s not. I think the problem is that we’ve introduced self-publishing to the mix, so let’s do this: pretend for a second that self-publishing doesn’t exist.
In this world, the only way for a book to come into being is for it to be traditionally published. And the only way for a book to be traditionally published is for an author who has written a book to be offered a book deal, and for the author (and her agent) to agree to take it. [This is a very reductive description of the process but this blog post is already long enough as it is!] So it’s not that the book is going to be published everywhere and the author gets to decide who wins the rights to publish it in each place or even if it’s going to be at all – it’s that the book is going to be published only in the places where the author is lucky enough to be offered a deal.
So if you get a UK deal, hooray! The book comes out in the UK. If you don’t get any other deals, your book will only come out in the UK.
Dare I reintroduce self-publishing back into this fictional world? So because you can self-publish into specific territories, if your book was only being traditionally published in the UK, you could – theoretically – self-publish it in all the other countries, because you haven’t sold off those rights and so they’re still yours. But that’s a complex decision with lots of variables, pros and cons, and it’s my Plan B by some massive distance.
If you are pursuing publication or you’d just like to know more, Carole Blake’s comprehensive From Pitch to Publication might be of interest to you. It was published in 1999 so don’t expect up to the minute info on e-book royalties, etc. but it’s still a highly readable primer on how all this publishing business works.