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Are you looking for a new job? Do you want to break into the publishing industry but you’re not sure which job role would best suit your skills? Let’s explore how our rights departement works! Read this interview with Lizzie and Fiona now to find out more!

by Jeannie Brown

Book publishing is an exciting and creative world and there are many different career paths within it, so much so that it might feel difficult to figure out exactly what the right job role is for you. Last time we interviewed The Salariya Book Company’s editor: Nick Pierce, you can read that interview: here. This month we will be exploring how the Rights department works. The wonderful Lizzie Kelly and Fiona Turner have answered some of my questions about what it’s like to have this type of career and everything you need to know about this side of book publishing.

What are foreign rights in publishing? And how do you sell the foreign rights of a book?

Lizzie: Foreign rights is about granting permission to a publisher in another country to translate and publish their own edition of our book in their language. Generally you either licence the full content and the publisher prints their own editions and pays us royalties on every copy they sell, or we produce a co-edition whereby the foreign publisher send us the translated text and pay us to print and supply them with a print run of the book in their language. Within the contract you can agree different things like the rights you are granting to the publisher such as the formats they can sell (single books, bind-ups, digital, audio, etc), the territory(ies) and markets they can sell into and for how many years.

Is there a difference in how things are done in different territories?

The principle is generally the same everywhere, but some territories prefer to go down the royalties route and others prefer the co-edition, mainly depending on if they have cheaper printing facilities in their country they may want to manufacture the books locally (eg China). The differences are things like trends, certain styles and genres are more popular in certain places, and the prices publishers can pay (based on what the books sell for in their market) can vary hugely!

What does a typical working day look like for you?

Most of my day is spent on emails, being reactive to requests from existing and new publishers, for material, samples, prices, etc. There’s a fair bit of admin issuing and chasing contracts and invoices, approving files and so on. Then there’s the annual cycle of catalogues, presentation material and book fairs to organise.

The Salariya Book Company at the Bologna Book Fair 2022

What are the enjoyable aspects of this job role?

For me without doubt it’s the outward looking aspect, working with customers internationally, building relationships with people of all nationalities, understanding their markets, cultures and trends, and the satisfaction of having a project that is just right for them! Also working for a smaller publisher (like Salariya) I enjoy being part of the whole process of creating a book, from conception and design to seeing the finished product (and then hopefully finding someone to buy it!)

What are the challenges of this job role?

It’s disheartening when projects don’t do as well as you thought they would, whether it’s because the style doesn’t suit a particular market, or due to situations beyond your control like economic conditions in a certain country or even company. The last couple of years have certainly been tough! It can also be frustrating to try to get your books seen by new publishers, especially when you know you have projects that would really suit their publishing style; the big companies in particular can be a bit ‘Fort-Knox-like’! But the flip side is when you do make those connections and the relationship grows successfully it’s so rewarding!

Please could you tell me the responsibilities of your job role?

Fiona: I have three main responsibilities:

1) Export sales – ie selling our edition of our books to customers overseas. This is done directly with wholesalers and bookshops throughout the World. Australia / New Zealand and South Africa obviously as English language speaking nations but also throughout Asia, Middle East and Europe. We have direct relationships with distributors in Australia and New Zealand and an exclusive relationship with a distributor in Singapore and Malaysia who have their own sales people and distribution channels to bookshops etc within each country. In Europe, Asia and the Middle East much of the work is done by reps who ensure our books are seen by all the likely customers.  

2) Our main overseas market is the USA. This is handled in two ways:

i) Through Sterling Distributors, they take 80% of our titles and distribute our edition with minor americanisations.

ii) And rights, this is my main responsibility – selling the rights to publish one of our titles to a US publisher.  I also try to sell the list to large customers in the US such as clubs and membership only retail stores and Bookfairs.

3) My third main responsibility is ensuring that the Saltway sales team; Pinnacle Book Sales team of UK reps; export reps and specialist childrens eductional reps, all have enough information and material about the list to promote it effectively; ensure they know the content of the books they are selling and give them ideas and keep them engaged in Salariya. This also frequently requires liaison with the warehouse. 

The Salariya Book Company at the London Book Fair 2022

How do you get a job role like this/what is the typical career path?

I started as a rights assistant at Michael Joseph (imprint of Penguin) and moved to Bookclub and Export sales Manager at Dorling Kindersley where I was for 10 years. After which I moved out of London and have taken various part-time jobs in various publishing companies from Little Brown, to Abrams & Chronicle and most recently Salariya. I think the typical career path would be starting as an assistant somewhere and working your way up. This path, which can start in any department but often starts in publicity can move in any direction – either towards sales or towards editorial and in some cases production depending on what interests you. 

What are the key skills that you need to work successfully in this type of job role?

To me the most important thing is to remember that the customer is always right. I know that is a cliché but if you keep in mind that they are the customer and try and see things from their point of view it keeps you on the right track. You need to be creative, committed and more than anything driven by sales. The other skill is to understand what a customer wants and know what you are offering. Obviously it is also important to get on with people – you want your customers to be pleased to see you!

What is it like attending book fairs in other countries and what do you usually learn from them?

Bookfairs are extremely busy and intense.  If you are there in a sales capacity you are hoping to meet with your current customers and show them books they are interested in publishing.  You are also there to make new contacts and find new customers. You also get feedback on the content of what you are selling and an improved idea of current trends and what people are looking for.

What advice would you give someone who wants to get into the publishing industry?

In general I would say it is a very ‘gentlemanly’ industry, full of nice people who are driven by creativity rather than financial gain.

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