With English as a shared language, there is a natural relationship between the American and British publishing industries. Most of the world’s top publishing companies, be they conglomerates or independent publishers, have operations in each country, typically in New York City and London. Literary traffic travels both ways across the Atlantic.

As English has become the de facto literary lingua franca around the world, American and British publishers seek out the same audiences at home and abroad and often challenge each other for rights. English has also become a global gateway language for translation, and books from U.S. and U.K. publishers are often used as conduits to other languages. For example, a Japanese publisher might use the English translation of a Greek novel as the basis for translation.

Neither the U.S. or U.K. has an overall advantage in this friendly competition. Instead, the industries often have a symbiotic relationship and learn from each other. Consider bookselling: the largest U.S. bookstore chain, Barnes & Noble, is now run by James Daunt, an Englishman who also runs the U.K.’s dominant chain, Waterstones, as well as a modest chain of independent stores in London. Daunt has brought U.K. high street bookselling philosophy to middle America, implementing a cleaner design, stricter curation, and multi-buy promotions. In the U.K. independent booksellers have thrived, in part by adopting the aggressive buy-local marketing strategies introduced to them by the American Booksellers Association. And the U.S. has given the U.K. Bookshop.org, the first online bookstore that is a viable competitor to Amazon (another American export).

Readers discover books and authors simultaneously across markets”—Kathleen Farrar

Strategic collaboration

There has also been a healthy exchange of bestsellers between the two countries. Take Bloomsbury as an example: when the company published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, launching the series for which it is best known, it sold U.S. rights to Scholastic. Today, the company has established its own fast-growing operation in the U.S. and has a string of hits on both sides of the Atlantic. These include the romantasy novels of American author Sarah J. Maas. At the end of January, the latest Maas novel, House of Flame and Shadow, reached #1 on Amazon in the U.S. and the U.K., as well as in Australia, France, Germany, Spain, and Sweden.

Kathleen Farrar, managing director of group sales and marketing at Bloomsbury in London, says that Maas’s success did not come overnight and was the result of careful cooperation. “It took over 10 years of working closely between the global offices, resulting in a massive worldwide campaign, year after year, with huge growth driven through this coordinated and simultaneous operation,” Farrar notes. “With rising globalization due to social media we know that readers discover books and authors simultaneously across markets.”

Coordination also helped turn Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone series into a bestseller in the U.S. and U.K. for Macmillan. “There were weekly progress meetings, a shared consumer strategy, and a global digital marketing approach,” says Belinda Rasmussen, managing director of Macmillan Children’s Books at Pan Macmillan in the U.K. “There are always more opportunities for transatlantic collaboration. Perhaps the days are gone when children’s publishers think something is too American to be published in the U.K. All those years ago, Diary of a Wimpy Kid showed us how that was no longer true. Our commissioning editors have full freedom to buy from whoever they want.”

We love doing joint rights acquisitions” —Bella Pagan

Publishers without borders

There is a growing trend among literary agents, especially those from the bigger agencies, to split up territorial rights as much as possible, but multinational publishers often prefer acquiring world English rights to streamline production and amplify sales. How rights acquisition and sharing is handled varies by company.

At Simon & Schuster, for example, if the U.S. office acquires world English rights, it gives the U.K. office a period of exclusivity to assess the submission. “If we pass on a project submitted to us by the U.S. and rights are not snapped up by another U.K. publisher, then we clear a selective number of copies from S&S U.S. for import into the U.K.,” explains Suzanne Baboneau, managing director of adult publishing at Simon & Schuster UK She adds that when both sides of the Atlantic are excited about a title and there’s a risk of being outbid by a competitor, the two offices sometimes bid together. “In many instances the U.S. and U.K. offices might share the costs of a rights deal so that we can win world English or, even better, world rights.”

Bella Pagan, publisher at Pan Macmillan UK’s Tor imprint, says, “We love doing joint rights acquisitions, where U.K. and U.S. editors coordinate at the acquisitions stage to buy from the agent, or we might acquire U.S. authors from the Macmillan rights team after a U.S. acquisition. This in no way prevents us from buying books without sister company involvement. But as publishing becomes ever more international, and social media platforms viewed by a global audience, sharing strategy and cover visuals makes so much sense.”

Perminder Mann, CEO of Bonnier UK, concurs. “There are many instances of titles where rights are sold to a North American publisher, or vice versa, and published simultaneously in the U.K. and U.S., which requires extremely close collaboration across editorial, marketing, and publicity,” Mann says. “In an age of social media and digital marketing, a simultaneous launch for a book can be incredibly effective—a joint approach and combined effort on both sides of the Atlantic can amplify the reach of a book exponentially.”

This kind of collaboration demands that staff in London travel to New York and to international book fairs often to meet with colleagues, Mann adds, calling in-person meetings “absolutely necessary” to maintaining relationships.

“Networking between North American and British publishers is a vital part of the global English-language publishing scene, whether between sister companies or between independent publishers,” says Juliet Mabey, publisher at Oneworld. “I find working closely with U.S. editors very beneficial, and our email discussions usually include the author and sometimes the author’s agent too. I not only share editorial notes with editors across the pond when we are co-editing, but also frequently discuss publicity, marketing plans, and key dates, as well as sharing new endorsements and reviews.”

Partnerships always depend on shared
editorial passion, vision, and connection

—David Shelley

U.S. publishers active in the rights trade often travel to London for the London Book Fair, while U.K. publishers routinely plan trips to New York City, often in September, in order to seal deals prior to the Frankfurt Book Fair in October.

David Shelley, CEO of Hachette Book Group, understands the need to traverse the Atlantic regularly, having in January been put in charge of the company’s U.K. and U.S. operations. Shelley, who now divides his time between New York and London, says, “Successful transatlantic publishing partnerships always depend on shared editorial passion, publishing vision, and close connection. Part of the purpose of our management structure is to help forge closer connections to develop and deepen relationships across all departments and make the most of our global presence.”

“The world has become flat,” says Valentina Rice, v-p of sales and marketing at Bloomsbury USA. “A success in the U.K. can soon become a success in the U.S. and vice versa.”

Neill Denny is the joint editor of BookBrunch. Ed Nawotka is the senior international and bookselling editor at PW.

More from our U.K. Publishing Spotlight

The Publishers Association Explains the U.K. and U.S. Export Nexus
The U.K. Publishers Association’s CEO says that the U.S. and British industries have shared interests—even as they compete for rights and market share.

Neem Tree's CEO Surveys the Indie Scene
An independent publisher considers the challenges and opportunities for small presses in her home market.

How Covid Fostered DK's Transatlantic Collaboration
The CEO of DK U.K. explains how the shift to remote work provided a vital connection to the U.S. and introduced new practices that helped grow sales by 20%.

Head of Zeus Prioritizes the U.S. Market
The managing director of Head of Zeus argues that the U.S. market presents a big opportunity for U.K. publishers, and is worth the effort to break through.

Severn House Evolves
At 50, the U.K. press is growing its list and expanding into new formats, all while keeping a sharp focus on libraries.

Usborne Builds on Its Founder's Legacy
The managing director of Usborne Publishing reflects on the legacy of her father, the company’s founder, who died last year.

Oneworld’s Winning Ways
The London indie press started with a focus on nonfiction, but in the past decade has published three Booker-winning novels.

Jessica Kingsley's Strategy for LGBTQ Publishing
An editor explains how publishing LGBTQ books poses unique opportunities and challenges when books are published on both sides of the Atlantic.

S&S UK Looks Ahead
After its parent company was sold to private equity, the British subsidiary carries on with confidence.

DK Celebrates 50 Years
The British illustrated reference publisher continues to reinvent itself a half-century on—and has used its anniversary milestone as a catalyst for examining new opportunities.

Barbican’s American Ambitions
Martin Goodman, publisher of Barbican Press, describes his move from the U.K. to Los Angeles and the challenges of breaking into the U.S. market with transgressive and radical books.

Advice for Americans Working with Brits
A U.S.-based publishing exec for John Murray Press offers five pieces of advice on working with colleagues in the U.K.

For Watkins Media, No Niche Is Too Small
Watkins Media’s head of marketing says that its unique titles, which span many categories—including the occult several countercultures—are finding success in the U.S.

Michael O'Mara's Many Roads to the U.S.
Michael O'Mara's U.S. sales and marketing director describes the company’s strategies for engaging the U.S. market, which includes mining a niche for books about the royal family.

Footnote Press Finds Meaning in the Margins
The managing director of the publishing startup describes her disruptive agenda and promises a list of "strong, game-changing voices."

This article has been updated to correct errors.