With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Taryn Fagerness
Taryn Fagerness is the founder and owner of Taryn Fagerness Agency which specializes in representing foreign rights on behalf of North American literary agents and publishers. The Agency also represents a select number of authors domestically. Before opening her own agency in March 2009, Taryn Fagerness spent five years as the Subsidiary Rights Manager and an Agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency in Del Mar, CA. www.tarynfagernessagency.com
Can you explain what being a foreign rights agent entails? What does the process involve?
As a foreign rights agent, it’s my job to sell the rights to books into foreign markets. I primarily work with other agents. They find the authors and sell the books to US publishers, and if they retain foreign rights (in some cases the US publisher takes the foreign rights, in which case I’m not involved), I work to sell the books all around the world. For example, I will sell a book into Japan, Germany, and Brazil. The publishers in these territories will pay an advance for the book, translate the book, put a new cover on it, market it locally, and sell the book there. A book can have a whole new and different life in a foreign country. In order to sell books to these foreign countries I work with co-agents all around the world who know their markets inside and out and submit the book locally. I also attend international book fairs where I meet with my co-agents, foreign publishers, and foreign scouts. And I’m on email hours a day, communicating with people, submitting my books, sending out praise and reviews for my books, etc.
What does your average workday look like? How much time do you spend traveling out of the country? How many countries do you work with around the world?
My average work day involves A LOT of email! I submit my books via email, and send out praise, reviews, good news, etc. to get people around the world to pay attention to my projects. I also process payments, review contracts, negotiate deals, work on my catalogs, answer endless questions from foreign publishers, mail books, work on foreign tax forms, and create pitch materials for the books I handle. After all that’s done I read! Each year I usually attend the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair. Each of those is a week long. I also like to visit foreign publishers in their offices, and I’ve visited publishers in Munich, Amsterdam, and Tokyo. I’d say it’s three to four weeks of travel per year. I’ve never actually counted the number of countries I work with around the world. I’d say there are around 20 that are sort of the core territories that are more active, but then there are many smaller territories that crop up now and then. For example, I recently did my first Mongolian deal and Tagalog deal.
What made you decide to open up your own agency in 2009? What were some of the biggest challenges of going out on your own? Benefits?
In 2008 I was at a writer’s conference, and an agent I met there asked me if I had ever thought about doing foreign rights freelance (at the time I was an in-house foreign rights manager). At that time I hadn’t, but the idea percolated for a year. I knew I wanted to move back to Washington State (from San Diego) and opening up my own shop would allow me to do that. I had several agents tell me they would use my foreign rights services, and the next thing you know Taryn Fagerness Agency was born! The biggest challenges are simply juggling everything involved with owning your own business. I joke that I’m the janitor and the president. I have to make important decisions every day, and I also have to take out the trash. I’m also not a huge fan of dealing with more complicated taxes, dealing with foreign tax forms, and processing payments that come in foreign currencies. But the benefits are great! I do work long hours, but I can also go to the grocery store in the middle of the day. I can pick my clients (and I think my clients are the best!), and I love the relationships I’ve been able to develop with my foreign colleagues. I also love helping a book sell well into the foreign.
Can authors work directly with a foreign rights agent or only through a publisher or literary agent?
Authors can work directly with a foreign rights agent, if they can find one who works directly. While I do handle a few authors directly, I’ve learned that I prefer handling foreign rights on behalf of other agents. By doing this I can reach many authors through the “portal” of one agent client, and I don’t have to deal directly with umpteen different people. In other words, via my 20 or so clients I handle hundreds of books, without having to answer questions and email directly with 100s of authors. I have also found that authors often want an agent to help them make decisions about more than just foreign rights. They want career guidance. I’m not in a position to give that, as I only sell foreign rights. This is why many self-published authors still have agents. For guidance and foreign rights (and film rights) services.
Why do some publishers retain foreign rights rather than use a foreign rights agency? What is the benefit either way to an author?
Publishers want to make money. Exploiting foreign rights is a way to do that. Some publishers have an in-house team who works to sell foreign rights. Some use an outside agent (like myself—I handle foreign rights for Patagonia Books, for example). And most use foreign co-agents just like I do. Everyone is actually operating in pretty much the same way to sell foreign rights. The benefit comes in the numbers and the control the author has. If the author’s agent retains foreign rights, the money made from sales will go into the author’s pocket (with a better split). If the publisher holds foreign right, any money made from sales will be applied to the unearned advance (and the split the author receives isn’t as good). Plus, by using me, authors can have closer access to their foreign publishers. For example, I get author approval all foreign deals. When a publisher has rights, they often just accept the deal and tell you later.
Your agency offers a one-year, unpaid, internship. What are some of the benefits of interning at your literary agency? How does interning help a person’s future career in publishing?
I offer a glimpse at somewhat of a niche area of publishing: foreign rights. This can open up doors in many places: other agencies, publishers, foreign scouting, etc. It’s a valuable specialty to have. And it gives my interns a view of what’s selling globally. What works and what doesn’t. Also, since I work with 20+ agencies, I can help my interns find a job after the internship. A couple of my interns have gone on to find assistant positions at other agencies. One of my former interns is actually now an agent with one of my clients.
How much does a book transform when it is converted to a different country or language? Is there more at play than a new cover or just a simple translation?
Foreign publishers are contractually obligated the make their translations faithfully. That said, they still have to change every single word in a book during translation. I often wonder if some of the American idioms and culturally specific parts translate. I remember once a translator asked me what “flick your bic” meant (like at a concert). I thought to myself: sheesh, how do I explain this? I think this is why books with universal themes, that aren’t “too American,” and on broad topics sell the best into translation. I often ask myself: “Why would a person in Italy/Thailand/Brazil care about this?” Usually they don’t. Most books aren’t sold into translation. But those that do, usually have something special about them, and they sell to more than one territory. So, to answer the question: a book can only transform so much in translation. Maybe the writing gets better (or worse), but the story doesn’t change.
What advice do you have for Indie authors thinking about foreign rights for their books?
Think realistically about if your book even has foreign appeal. I have a lot of authors tell me “my book is set in Paris, so I think it should sell in France.” Sorry, the reality is, French people hate it when Americans write about their country. Reverse the question on yourself. Would you like to read a book set in, say, Tennessee written by a French person? As yourself WHY your book will have foreign appeal. Once you’ve determined that YES, you really think your book will have foreign appeal, get an agent who understands how to sell those rights. Not all agents do! Ask potential agents: How do you handle foreign rights? Do you think my book has foreign potential? Why?
Do you have any upcoming projects or events we can look out for?
As always, I will be at the Frankfurt Book Fair in early October. And please check out my website www.tarynfagernessagency.com for my fall catalogs which go live in early September. I may be focused on selling foreign rights, but I’m always happy when US readers pick up the books I handle too!
Thank you for interviewing with us, Taryn!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Cherise Hensley is currently pursuing her M.A. in English at the University of Idaho. She graduated from Whitworth University with a B.A. in English and marketing and also has a copy editing certification from UC San Diego. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is an editor and a writer, and loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life.