Irish publishing models | Conor Kostick

After the Children’s Books Forum last week - and the ensuing comments - Conor Kostick mentioned he never had a chance to discuss other models that would ‘allow for a sustained relationship with Irish publishers’. The microphone is now certainly turned on and Conor has the floor: (this is a long post - but well worth reading)

As I see it, a writer - children’s or otherwise - cannot make a living from the royalties on Irish booksales alone. So the question is, how does an Irish writer get access to the international market? Basically, there are three options.

The first is the simplest: get an agent who is orientated on the international market and who will try to sign you up with a multinational publishing company. The advantages of this route are that you lose only the 10/15 percent agent fee on your royalties. The potential disadvantage is that if you are not yet firmly established in your writing career, you might find yourself with an agent for whom your works are not a priority; or with a multinational which is not particularly interested in promoting you. If their accountants show your early works are not doing well, you might be dropped before your career takes off.

The second option is to get an Irish publisher who is active in reselling the rights of the title (via their contacts and agents or via bookfairs) to other publishers in other countries. The disadvantage of reaching the international market this way is that the income from foreign publishers will be shared between the author and their Irish publisher, with the latter taking up to 50 percent, depending on the contract. What the author has to assess is how effective the publisher has been in generating international sales compared to how well an agent would have done. Is it a case of having 50 percent of the royalty from sales in a good market rather than 90 percent of nothing?

Anyone taking this route should consider joining the IWU and have the contract appraised before signing it. The advantage for the early career author is that the Irish publisher is far more likely to make a real effort in this direction and far less likely to terminate their relationship with the author there is no immediate success. Not all Irish publishers are pro-active internationally and authors selling world rights to books to Irish publishers should ask first what measures the publisher will take for the international resale of the rights and should put these points in the contract.

Thirdly, there is the option of joint publication, whereby an Irish publisher undertakes to publish the book in alliance with an international partner. This is a rather under explored approach to date, but it is attractive if the Irish publisher has the contacts to make it work. The Irish publisher understands the Irish market and media far better than do any of the multinationals, so the author gains from keeping a relationship with them, while the multinational opens up the route to the larger markets necessary for a decent income from the book. The author typically obtains their full royalty in this model. There are no real disadvantages for the author, except that until more Irish publishers develop this model and have a number of successes in partnership with a multinational, it is simply not available. A smaller problem is that the negotiations for these arrangements are more complex than usual and can slow down the process of publication. Note that the multinational usually prefers to cut out the Irish publisher and retain the Irish market for themselves, so if the process of publication has begun with a multinational approaching an Irish author for a title, it is up to the author to state at an early stage that they want their Irish publisher to have the rights to the work in the Irish market.

A few others from the panel have kindly agreed to throw their opinions in the mix over the next few days - which should make for interesting debate. Something Conor didn’t mention but I have come across from a few writers is a fourth option, Print on Demand. I have spoken to a few Irish authors who are in a position to buy the rights to some of of their back catalogue from publishers and enter the market themselves - selling the books through schools and libraries. I’ve yet to see the idea tested but it could prove a viable option if the numbers added up…

Written by david. in: Publising | Tags:


  • Celine

    I would be very careful of the POD route, David. Any author considering it should really do thier home work first. Go into it with your eyes wide open about the amount of work you end up doing and the amount of time it takes from your writing.

    For more information on POD and all the advantages and pitfalls presented by the medium - including a whole gamut of ‘been there done that’ stories - I would advise authors to check out the many threads on the subject at the AW site

    Comment | December 1, 2008
  • In relation to the third option, the particular complexity it opens up is in relation to the production process: the irish publisher does all the work with the author to edit the book (which, as all authors know, is a real, substantial and expensive process) and then this finished manuscript is just handed to another publisher for no return to the irish publisher.

    This level of ownership of the book is what your originating publisher (be they Irish, UK or wherever) should always bring to the table when trying to sell on the rights to other publishers in other territories. If they don’t have the required level of passion, then Conor’s discussion about the agent vs originative publisher model moves strongly in favour of the agent.

    Again my point about Britain not being the world: the issue of territory will always arise with a UK publisher, and they will always want Ireland unless there is a really pressing reason not to, but will not be an issue with just about anyone else.

    Comment | December 2, 2008
  • [...] Conor Kostick expands on his alternative models of publishing. Eoin Purcell has some notes on the Forum Sinead [...]

    Pingback | December 3, 2008

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