The flourishing of Canadian literature and publishing houses is often associated with the heady days of Canadian nationalism in the 1960s and ‘70s, which led to the creation of some of the country’s best-known literary presses and authors. However, the world of Canadian publishing, in both English and French, has changed dramatically since the late twentieth century. Both authors and publishers are increasingly hailing from, and looking to, the world outside of Canada’s borders. In addition, more international readers and publishers are familiar with the work produced in Canada. At the same time, the evolving digital landscape has provided greater opportunities and challenges for publishers who are looking to build an export plan and expand into new markets.

Audiobook market is growing while ebook sales are less robust

Digital publishing has become an important way for publishers to branch out into new markets, and most publishers now provide digital content in addition to print. Originally viewed by some as a threat (and later as a boon) to traditional book publishing, ebook sales have become less robust over the last few years. The recent growth in the audiobook market and audiobook platforms, however, has the potential to help publishers fill in the gap left by ebooks. Nevertheless, whether publishers are planning on producing ebooks or audiobooks, the cost of creating digital content can be especially high. Further challenges often faced by publishers can include finding the right formats and standards for their digital content, trouble understanding and penetrating local distribution channels, and finding reliable agents to help them enter new markets.

3 key steps to help build your export plan

As in all ventures, publishers who are interested in taking advantage of international export opportunities need to do careful research and planning to make sure the works they want to sell will find homes in their markets of choice. While there is no one way of successfully exporting books, there are some key steps that will help get publishers on their way.

  • Know your titles and what will sell best in a particular market

    Gaining in-depth knowledge of a publishing house’s frontlist and backlist, as well as taking the time to decide which titles will sell best as finished products abroad, or in translation or digital formats, is the first step in developing a successful export plan. Publishers interested in certain international markets usually begin by researching the kinds of books that will sell best there. For instance, publishers and agents in emerging book markets like India might be more interested in buying rights to educational books that will help meet the demand from the growing postsecondary sector. Less experienced exporters may want to look to established markets like the U.S. and the UK, where it may be easier to find well-known agents and distributors for finished books. Publishers interested in expanding into the audiobook market will want to review their backlist for titles that will fit into niche markets that are being made more readily available through this format.

  • Find the right business partners

    Getting to know international literary presses and rights agents is an essential component of establishing a strong export plan. Much of the work of establishing good relations involves attending international book fairs and meeting agents face-to-face. Meeting a trading partner in person can make all the difference in achieving a rights sale. Some publishers and agents maintain good relations by seeing each other at least once a year at professional book fairs, such as the Frankfurt International Book Fair and the London Book Fair, or more specialized fairs like the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. While the pace of meetings at these fairs can be grueling, they can go a long way towards eventually reaching a successful deal.

  • Know your (meta)data

    While nothing beats good content, information is king when it comes to selling rights or exporting a title or promoting digital content. Canadian publishers have become adept at using metadata, such as BISAC and Thema codes, to help make their works more easily discoverable in an ever-growing sea of content. Publishers with strong export programs and digital content must also be knowledgeable about the most appropriate distribution channels and aggregators, as well as have good information on how to properly price their products for different markets. Having and providing accurate and up-to-date information is an integral component of a publisher’s exporting efforts.

    A significant portion of making Canadian titles available to international audiences lies in the efforts publishers make to export their works abroad. This applies to both the marketing of finished books and the selling of rights (i.e., translations, digital editions, co-editions) to international presses. Exporting books isn’t only a good source of extra revenue for publishers; it can also be an important way to demonstrate to authors and audiences alike that a publishing house is serious about a particular writer, imprint, or book series. At Livres Canada Books, our core mandate is to support Canadian-owned English- and French-language publishers in their export activities by providing financial assistance and export expertise, organizing a collective stand at international book fairs, and promoting titles through collective marketing tools. For more information on our activities and programs in support of exporting books, please visit the Livres Canada Books website.