Stop Blaming U.S. Publishers for a lack of International Giveaways!

Yesterday, a spark caught and began to slowly consume the online book community. It was fanned by dozens of international readers who are upset by the lack of opportunities they have to enter and win giveaways with U.S. publishers.

I’m going to start by saying this: It is absolutely not fair that our international reader friends are not afforded the same opportunities that we are here in the U.S. Guys, trust me. I lived for a decade overseas, and just trying to get my mom to mail me a birthday present was hard enough, let alone entering a single U.S. contest.

But I want to explain why, exactly, placing the blame for this on U.S. publishers is wrong. I want to explain the differences between some of the contests you may see out there, and why some contests are open to international readers and some aren’t. And, finally, I want to offer some possible workarounds that you– yes YOU, not the publisher!– can attempt to find, so our friends overseas have more chances to win.

The first thing you need to know is Why U.S. Publishers do not open their giveaways for people outside the U.S.

In the United States, giveaways (also known as sweepstakes, contests, etc) are governed by very strict laws. There are state laws (and every state has their own); federal laws; tax regulations; customs forms; and even things that must be navigated within the U.S. Postal System. When a publisher does a giveaway, they’re working within a narrow set of rules.

Say the publisher works around every single one of those laws. They pay the export and import fees, they get the permits, they follow the letter of the law, and then they say, “Okay, international giveaway!” BUT WAIT! Then they also must navigate the giveaway laws of every. Single. Country. That’s right, international readers, your country has its own laws about giveaways too! And the U.K.’s laws are different from India’s laws, from China’s laws, from France, Germany, Brazil…

So say the publisher puts all of the work into verifying the giveaway laws of 180+ countries, to make sure every person in the world has a chance to enter.


Because what you may not know is that U.S. publishers often do not own the rights to their books outside the U.S.! When a book is sold to a publisher, the publisher then sells on the rights– audio rights, movie rights, and international publications. (I am simplifying this quite a bit, keep in mind… it’s much more complex than this.) So for example, Harper Teen (an imprint of HarperCollins) does not have the right to print their book in French, and sell it in France. There’s a publisher based in France to do that!

Edit: I don’t know a lot about book rights, but the brilliant Nicole Brinkley has more insight on this! Check out her thread:

What this means is that it’s a violation of the contract between publishers for the U.S. publisher to shove their way into an international publisher’s space and give away copies of the U.S. version.

GUYS TRUST ME, IT SUCKS. I PROMISE I UNDERSTAND! Because often the international publisher does not get the rights settled, does not print the international version, for months or years after the U.S. one.

But if I’m buying the U.S. version of the book, then the U.S. publisher should have to include me in their giveaway! I’m part of their audience, I’m giving them my money!

NOPE. I’m sorry, but that’s not how it works. When you buy a U.S. version of the book from overseas you are often going through a third party site (like Amazon). Even if you buy directly from the publisher, you are doing so with the understanding that you’re obtaining  copy of the U.S. version, and you pay custom fees (often built into that ridiculously high postage) to cover the legalities from your end.

But here’s the harsh truth: you, our lovely friends overseas, are not the audience of the U.S. Publishers. You can’t be. I guarantee you with every penny I have that these publishers would LOVE to help you out, but they can’t. Legally, they cannot. Their hands (and books) are tied, due to all of those laws and contracts I just mentioned.

Okay, you say. But why, then, are some publishers/authors/bloggers/whatever doing international giveaways, and others aren’t? This means ALL publishers should to them, right?

NOPE again.

First, let me explain that within the U.S., there are very different laws governing the giveaways from a publisher (ie, a Large Corporation), and an individual (ie, your favorite author). Smaller publishers (which are Small Corporations, for the sake of this laymans-terms-post) follow different rules still.

So when an author does a giveaway of their book, they’re giving away an object. For all the law cares, they could be giving away their favorite slippers, a nice vase, an adorable stuffed animal, or a book with their name on the cover. It doesn’t matter, because they own that individual object. They’ve obtained it legally (by paying, or receiving a free proof copy as part of their contract with the publisher) and it’s theirs. If they do a giveaway internationally*, they’re within the letter of the law.

(* sidenote: dudes, please always take a second to THANK any author or blogger doing international giveaways. These folks are paying $30 to $80 or more out of their own pockets to make sure y’all are included. A simple “thank you for this opportunity” goes a long way.)

Publishers DO NOT OWN THEIR BOOKS. That’s probably a radical statement (and, okay, not entirely true because DAMN legalities are complicated), but when it boils down to it, a book is owned in percentages. I don’t know what those percentages are, and I’m not in a sharing-enough mood to explain my own contract to you. But trust me. They can’t just say “Hey, this book is ours, we can do with it what we like!”

Bloggers are a whole ‘nother boat. I’m not even gonna touch on that one for this post.

So what, exactly, can’t you do?

Well, you can start by NOT harassing the poor, under-paid interns who staff the social medial accounts and general inquiries email inboxes at the major publishers. They have no answers. They don’t deserve your torrent of anger and entitlement.

Curious to know more about the legalities? Contact the legal department (may also be under General Counsel). Shoot them a polite email, and ask for more information.

Want a few suggestions on how to get books from U.S. Publishers? I’m happy to offer a few, but keep in mind that YOU must do the work here. U.S. Publishers are legally not allowed to find ways to circumvent the law. You want them to help you, but they can’t, so help yourself.

  1. Reach out to your local publisher. Yeah, they don’t get the books at the same time the U.S. does. Reach out to them anyways. Ask if they have any early promo, if they know of any trade shows in your country coming up where the U.S. Publisher or author may be attending. Make contacts, BE POLITE, and ask. Always ask.
  2. International bloggers and readers do come to the U.S. for trade shows. Not a lot, but they do. Work within your international community to locate the lucky ones who are heading to Book Expo America, or New York Comic Con. Then reach out to the U.S. publishers POLITELY and say, “This blogger is coming to the U.S. for ____ Convention, and returning to their international country after. As giveaways are limited by U.S. laws so that we cannot enter them, would you be willing to pass along some extra ARCs or swag to this blogger, so they may bring them back overseas?”
    1. You may want to be careful in your wording here… I’m not a legal expert (hahaha not even close) but it may be against the law for the U.S. Publisher to give a book away with the intention of it being used as a giveaway prize overseas.
  3. Find authors who are going to international conventions, or on international tours. Ask the marketing folks at their U.S. publishing company if there’s any way to include additional swag or ARCs for giveaway at these events. Maybe yes, maybe no? You’ll never know unless you ask.

There might be other ways to work around. Be creative. But yelling angrily on social media doesn’t help at all. Channel your frustration, and work with your U.S. reader counterparts. We want to help you! We’ll do whatever we can to help you!

A great resource to check out: Sara F. Hawkins, Attorney at Law, has a fantastic post discussing the legalities of U.S. giveaways.

If anyone has more insight into this, please don’t hesitate to drop a comment!


(All images are from and fall under the Creative Commons CC0 license.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s