We Need To Talk About Territories

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…

_ _ _

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.

14 thoughts on “We Need To Talk About Territories

  1. C. Steller says:

    Hi Catherine,
    Is it really that expensive to purchase publishing rights for North America?

    My biggest issue for online ordering is returns. For example, if you buy a book from Inidigo here in Canada, and you genuinely did not enjoy it, then you can return it with no questions asked.

    As you can imagine , ordering from an online retailer would make this much more difficult. I am not suggesting that I would return your book- just that this is how some people think when it comes to online retail.

    Ebooks on the other hand, can easily be returned online (I believe they contain a tag in them that can be set so that they can no longer be opened on the Kobo. Not sure about the Kindle). So having the eBook avaliable online to other countries via self publish would be a good option.

    As an author beginning to write her first novel, I’m curious as to why you would choose to avoid publishing in North America, whether through a company for self-publish. Is it he cost that prevents you from doing so? Do you have a larger fan base in the UK? Because I sincerely doubt that by withholding your book from North America that you will gain a larger fan base there. It seems to be like it would be the opposite.


    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I’m not sure what you mean by “expensive to purchase publishing rights for NA”. I don’t purchase anything – the publishers purchase it from me, as in, they offer a book contract that comes with an advance. The chances of this happening are the same as getting a book deal in the first place: somewhere up there with winning the Lotto or getting hit by lightning. 🙂 My agent is hopeful, but you just never know. I may get a U.S. deal in the future or I may never get one at all, but it’s better for me if I do, so I’m going to hold out and see what happens. Also, I’m no longer in this alone – I have a publisher and an agent working with me and for me, and we all want the same thing: to sell as many books as possible. That comes into it too.

  2. steven says:

    As an author of ‘mainstream’ books and ‘self-published’ books, I enjoy the differences you talk about. I love getting an offer from a far-flung (to me) territory like Germany or The Netherlands and I particularly enjoy how these territories ‘interpret’ the book (ie: change of title, different cover, etc). Like how my USA publisher changed the title of one of my books from ‘love, ghosts and nose-hair’ to ‘love, ghosts and facial hair’ – nose hair too queasy for USA tastes?
    Equally, I enjoy how Amazon allows me to publish worldwide at the click of a button.
    Best of luck with ‘Distress Signals’

  3. ashleyleopoldt says:

    This is really great to know for when I try to sell my book. As a writer in English I knew about the foreign language bit, but did not realize that not all English speaking countries would be able to see it (even on the all mighty Amazon! Gasp!). Thank you for explaining this, I truly appreciate it.

  4. Mark Williams - The International Indie Author says:

    “We can go on Amazon, no matter where we live, and pretty much find whatever self-published books we want.”

    If only that were true, Catherine.

    Actually that worldwide rights drop down menu in KDP that implies our ebooks will be available everywhere from Antarctica to Zimbabwe is pretty meaningless.

    I live in The Gambia, West Africa. When I look for your or my ebooks I’m told the ebook is not available for download where I live. In fact much of the world – most of Africa and vast tracts of Asia (Japan and India excepted) and the Middle East are off limits to buy from Amazon.

    And for the rest of the world, outside the dozen KDP Kindle countries (Kindle China is not |KDP enabled) and associated territories (Belgium and Austria, for example), if downloads are permitted Amazon imposes a $2-$4 whispernet surcharge on ebook orders – even free ebooks. A buyer in South Africa or Latin America (outside of Brazil and Mexico) will be charged $4.99 for a $2.99 ebook. In Malta and Norway the surcharge is typically $4, so the $2.99 ebook will cost them $6.99.

    None of that surcharge goes to the author.

    Amazon is great for *most* of the countries it has Kindle stores in (Kindle China is not an option in KDP, and recent Kindle country additions like the Netherlands face an uphill struggle because readers were previously being surcharged and went to other retailers instead – Bol, Apple NL, Google Play NL, Kobo, etc).

    But the idea that Amazon’s Kindle store is a global player offering indie authors worldwide ebook reach is a fallacy.

    Half the world’s population own a smartphone they could be reaching our books on. As writers we have unprecedented reach to find audiences across the globe. Even Easter Island, the remotest inhabited island on the planet, has wi-fi. – https://theinternationalindieauthor.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/free-wi-fi-on-easter-island-is-there-anywhere-on-the-planet-indie-authors-cannot-reach-readers-in-2016/

    As the Global New Renaissance unfolds all around us indie authors have unparalleled opportunities to become truly international authors.

  5. jkConibear says:

    I did not know about all this, so it was a good heads-up. My story was recently published in an anthology and discounted intro pricing, release dates all varied per amazon bookstore. With relatives in the US, UK and Canada, it was a surprise to all. I thought all I would be dealing with was timezone differences!

    yes, I order hardcopy books if I can’t get download it immediately as an ebook.

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