Selling rights and negotiating international rights deals can be a tricky business and one which leaves many publishers confused. Publishing Ireland spoke to rights expert Sophie Brewer about the difficulties publishers face when it comes to negotiating international rights and the advice that she hopes to offer Irish publishers ahead of Publishing Ireland’s seminar on International Rights on 22 March.
PI How long have you been dealing with the area of international rights?
SB I’ve worked in Rights since the beginning of my career in publishing in 1991. I started as a Rights Assistant at Pan Macmillan, was promoted to Rights Manager before my departure to HarperCollins as Senior Rights Manager in 1995. I joined Penguin UK as Group Rights Director in 1997 where I stayed for 11 years. Since leaving Penguin I’ve worked in a variety of publishing roles, both rights and wider consultancy, including Headline, Short Books, Pan Macmillan, HarperCollins and Constable & Robinson.
PI What led you into this particular area? Was it a conscious career decision or a move which led organically from another area?
SB After studying Business at Manchester Polytechnic I completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Publishing and Book Production, looking to find a focus for the more general business qualification. I loved it instantly though there was very little content on the course about Rights. In fact, ironically, I overslept on the day there was a field trip to a publisher to learn about Rights and missed the entire day! I was later asked back as a visiting lecturer to fill that gap on the course. In the final term of the PGDip we were required to complete work experience with a publisher. I was lucky enough to find a placement with Pan Macmillan and while there, the role of Rights Assistant was advertised and I applied and was successful. It seemed to encompass everything I’d enjoyed on both courses; an element of editorial with a dash of marketing and of course sales and needed the eye of detail and love of organisation that I knew I had. I’m very glad that it was a role in Rights that was advertised that month and that my first boss was such a fabulous mentor.
PI You have worked with both smaller, independent publishers as well as larger houses. Was there a kind of publishing house that you felt more comfortable with or are they, as they say, different kinds of animals?
SB Before leaving Penguin in 2008, I had been a ‘corporate animal’ my entire career. Since then I have worked for companies as small as 6 staff sitting around a large table and conglomerates like Headline and HarperCollins. I’ve genuinely loved the variety of both environments and essentially would say that publishing is the same, wherever you work. There are the same decisions to be made and hurdles to jump over. As far as the International landscape is concerned, it’s predominantly the same list of contacts and as Rights is almost entirely an outward facing department, the day to day elements of the job are much the same. Smaller, independent publishers generally seem able to make swifter decisions, though larger conglomerates benefit from better efficiencies and carrying greater weight with suppliers and customers.
PI You also act as a coach for professionals in the business. In terms of publishing, what are the most prevalent issues that you come across? What are the issues that publishers are most worried about today?
SB I work with individuals both inside and outside of the publishing industry and I would say the issues are the same across most industries; how do I manage my team most effectively, how can I adapt quickly to future change, how can I make sure I still have a job in 5 years time, how can I be happy! Outside of coaching, I would say the publishing industry seems more confident in the digital environment than it was 5 years ago, though is still worried about the loss of the printed book. I would say good management is certainly in evidence but not always a given in an industry peopled by creatives who are often promoted into management roles. I think most companies are working harder than ever with fewer staff to meet the challenges of an ever changing industry.
PI Are these concerns largely the same as they have always been or have they shifted with various developments in the publishing landscape?
SB I think the concerns about good management, recruiting good staff, finding bestsellers and adapting to change are still the same, but obviously the publishing industry is experiencing huge change, digitisation as well as further conglomertisation, and the speed at which we are all working has increased hugely.
PI Would it be fair to say that the landscape of publishing has never been more international than it is today in terms of the attraction to international emerging markets?
SB I’m not sure I understand this question but I do think publishing is a truly international business and there are constantly changing markets to explore, whether that be Eastern Europe in the early 1990s or the BRIC countries now.
PI What the most rewarding aspect about what you do?
SB Helping to launch an author internationally by finding the right overseas publishers. Working with intelligent, interesting people at all levels who care about what they do. Putting a really tricky, complicated deal to bed!
PI What is the least rewarding aspect about what you do?
SB I was going to say wrangling with agents, but I rather enjoy that. Then I thought record-keeping but again there is a certain satisfaction in that… At the moment, it’s probably my commute!
PI What kind of advice do you hope to offer Irish publishers?
SB I hope I can bring some of my experience of selling rights to Irish publishers; how to pitch a book, how to use trips and book fairs to best advantage, how to close a deal, as well as how to expand their customer base.
PI How important are agents to publishers in terms of negotiating rights?
SB I’m not sure if this is in reference to sub-agents or to primary agents? Sub-agents can be essential as an ‘ear to the ground’ in a given territory with expert knowledge of the marketplace.
In order to buy rights in the first place, an agent will need to trust the publisher to sell them. Their support can also be invaluable throughout the selling process.
You can hear Sophie’s advice for publishers dealing with rights as part of Publishing Ireland’s Seminar Series on Friday, 22 March. To register for this event, contact email@example.com