In (Part 2) experienced editor Natascha Biebow shares tips on why a strong pitch matters when selling your book to a publisher, and the role of the foreign rights sales in considering its commercial viability.

If you’re submitting a book for publication at a traditional publishing house, you will have heard people say how important it is for you to have honed your pitch, and to know and understand the unique premise of your book. But, why is this so important, and how does this influence whether a book is acquired and ultimately considered  commercially successful? In this series of blog posts, we will look at the different roles in children’s publishing and how your book’s hook is key for each one.

In order to pitch your book in-house, the EDITOR must pull together a PROPOSAL to present to colleagues, comprised of other key members of the publishing house. 


(Read about the role of the EDITOR in Part 1.)

For a picture book, a KEY element is whether it has potential to sell to FOREIGN RIGHTS MARKETS.


Publishing a picture book is a global endeavour. To understand why this matters, consider that to produce a full-colour picture book is a very expensive business. The publisher will be keen to off-set the many costs (overheads, editing/design, printing, marketing, the author and illustrator’s advances, warehousing and distribution, etc) against sales. Publishers will therefore usually acquire world rights in all markets for a picture book in order to try to maximize sales.

Also, it’s important to understand how picture book printing works: 


Four-colour picture book printing is expensive! Often publishers print in locations where labour is cheaper and books must be shipped. This can add long lead times before the publisher can even begin to sell the books in their home market to recoup any costs. Foreign Rights income is very important!

When most picture books are designed, all the text on the interior spreads sits on a separate black text ‘layer’ to the illustrations, so it can easily be translated. This includes type that is incidental, such as signs for instance. 


In The Ferocious Chocolate Wolf by Lizzie Finlay, the text black plate would include the text on the signs and in the speech bubbles as well.

If a publisher sells foreign rights, the book is translated (or Americanized) and the foreign publisher will usually supply just the text files for their edition, while the rest of the book (apart from the cover) remains unchanged.


Co-edition printing means that the originating publisher can print all the foreign editions at the same time, benefiting from an economy of scale (bulk printing reduces the unit cost). Because all the four-colour printed illustrations remain the same across editions, the printer can simply ‘replace’ the interior TEXT black in each language edition, without having to set up the book’s printing each time. This means it’s cheaper and more efficient to print all the editions together. 


From I Am Nefertiti by Annemarie Anang and Natelle Quek - UK edition

From I Am Nefertiti by Annemarie Anang and Natelle Quek - Dutch edition -
the four-colour artwork files stay the same and the translated text is a black plate change at printing stage.

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons by Natascha Biebow and Steven Salerno - Original US edition 

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons by Natascha Biebow and Steven Salerno -Romanian translation - artwork stays the same and translated text fits the same space as the original edition. Translators must not only translate the text into another language but capture the author's voice and tell the story so it's accessible to a different culture.

Because the COVER is a key selling tool, each language edition will often have a unique cover design best-suited to that marketplace; four-colour changes are then permitted (coloured title type, for example).


I Am Nefertiti by Annemarie Anang and Natelle Quek - Original UK edition and Dutch co-edition.
Note that the translator is credited alongside the author and illustrator. The cover design remains relatively unchanged.

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons by Natascha Biebow and Steven Salerno - Original US edition and Romanian co-edition. The title is different, but the design remains relatively unchanged.

Sometimes, a publisher will wait to time their printing to build a co-edition print run, ultimately cashing in on pre-sales in various foreign markets. The creators will usually receive a percentage of the revenue in a ‘royalty inclusive’ deal, which goes towards earning out their advance. This kind of printing is especially important for books that are more expensive to produce such as board books and novelty books. 


Usborne's bestselling board book That's not my... series by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells has the support of co-editions in many languages in order to make them commerically viable. (Pictured here, the UK original, French and Italian editions.)

In other deals, the publisher will agree to sell files to the foreign publisher on a limited time license, and they will, in turn, translate and print the book themselves. This kind of deal is usually a ‘royalty exclusive’ deal, where the foreign publisher agrees to pay an advance and against royalties for the right to sell the book in their territory.  


Book fairs: Foreign Rights sales teams pitch a book to foreign publishers at major book fairs around the world. The largest and most important of these is the BolognaChildren’s Book Fair (Spring) and the Frankfurt Book Fair (Fall, also includes adult books). Other fairs around the world are key business opportunities also – the Shanghai Book Fair, the London Book Fair, and so on.

The Bologna Book Fair is a busy rights fair with lots of opportunities to do business between global publishers. (Photo courtesy of Paul Morton)

The in-house creative team works closely with the Foreign Rights sales teams to put together sales material for the book fairs: a pitch in the catalogue, a pitch for the Rights Team to use to sell to their customers, and of course material to show – a book dummy with partial finished artwork and a colour cover, or sometimes, proofed copies of the nearly-finished book.


The Foreign Rights teams have meetings with foreign publishers on their stands at bookfairs such as Bologna. New projects and published books are displayed and prominently promoted. (Photo courtesy of Paul Morton)

Success varies by project and marketplace, but is intrinsically linked to some key factors:


 - International Market Appeal: Is the book universal and will it appeal to audiences around the world? Visual voices are different in some countries. It’s important to understand nuances of different cultures and how to best pitch each book. The Foreign Rights sales team are experts in this and their territories.

- Author /Illustrator track record: have they sold to foreign publishers before? If so, those will be key customers the Foreign Rights team will contact because they might be interested in the rights to that creator’s next project. For illustrators, publishers will consider what other projects the illustrator has on the go and to which bookfairs these will be taken. Consideration may also be given to the creators’ visibility on social media, for instance in the instance of a global celebrity.


** A note about the US Market: if you sell your project to a US publisher, they have access to the very large home American marketplace. Consequently, t will often print solely for this audience and sell foreign rights at a later date. A UK picture book run will be much smaller by comparison, which is why selling foreign rights is so important for UK publishers to break even on their bottom line.


At the Bookfair, visiting authors and illustrators often help to promote their books by meeting their foreign publishers. Illustrators also show their portfolios to interested publishers. (Photo courtesy of Paul Morton)

Before the acquisitions meeting, the EDITOR will often pitch your project to the Foreign Rights sales team members to gauge whether the picture book has commercial potential in their markets. The largest and most profitable global market is the US, so selling co-editions to this market is key. Some UK publishers have US publisher partners to whom they will pitch a project at this early stage.  


So, how can you maximize your book’s pitch to give it the best chance of selling foreign rights?

• Aim for a wide appeal through universal themes – highlight these in your pitch.

• Ensure that your characters are relatable to audiences around the world, even to those who are different from them.  

• Check you have a knock-out premise.

• Do your homework and avoid anything that might be regionally specific – unless that is the point of your book.
• Be aware of what is selling, particularly in the US market, since it’s the largest and often one of the most important markets.

• Share with your editor about your foreign rights track record if you have one (or ask your agent to do this).

Wrap it all up nicely,


and remember, the EDITOR and the FOREIGN RIGHTS SALES teams are your champions.

They are on your side! ⭐


*Header image: Ell Rose and Tita Berredo

Natascha Biebow is an experienced children's book editor, coach and mentor and founder of Blue Elephant StoryshapingShe loves to help authors and illustrators at all levels to shape their stories and fine-tune their work pre-submission. She runs courses on picture book craft. 

She is the author of the award-winning nonfiction picture book The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons.


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