The Role of the Rights Department in Publishing

The Rights Department is a key important part of the publishing process. And for those of you who might not know, selling rights means selling the ‘right’ to publish our novel in another country or use part of one of our author’s novels for another purpose. This can mean selling translation rights, US rights, audio, large print and even television and film rights.  We aim to get our titles into as many different territories, formats and languages as possible so that our authors are continuing to reach new readers, and we can generate new revenue for our authors.

Although we promote new work written by contemporary authors, we also work across the backlist and sometimes get involved with titles that were written some time ago. This can prove tricky when we have to refer to typewritten contracts from the 1940s and dusty old files from our archives! At moments like these, it’s detective work, as we try to determine which rights we still have and how we can interest others to use them.

In-house, we work closely with art, production, editorial and publicity as well as collaborating with publishers across the globe. While some rights are more obvious to sell, such as translation, we also sell rights to cover art or maps and illustrations that appear in our books. It is incredible to see the ways in which our material can be adapted. We also receive calls from production companies, when they would like to feature our books as props for TV or film or even quote a few lines from one of our titles. Either way we have to look into which rights are held and where these can be used. Getting calls from film companies and newspapers is a definite thrill, but it can often also mean working to an extremely tight deadline.

Our busiest times of the year are during the two major book fairs at Frankfurt and London. These are the playground for the rights and international sales teams, because they offer the opportunity to meet with numerous foreign publishers and editors who might be interested in publishing our books. It can be fascinating to find out what readers are buying globally and there is always a great buzz at the fairs. Some of the biggest deals take place at the fairs and there’s always the opportunity to make new contacts with publishers and editors.

The less glamorous aspect of rights would be the volume of paperwork! Every deal we negotiate means contracts and correspondence which need to be carefully filed away. Copyright to a work (in UK law) lasts for the author’s life plus seventy years, so we need to make sure that decades from now we still have records of what has been or what can be sold. Who knows what we may be able to create in the future! Much like publicity, we also stuff a lot of envelopes – as we send out titles on submission to foreign editors and publishers. And we also spend a lot of time with spreadsheets, working out figures and looking at budgets. Working in rights presents amazing opportunities for travel, meeting new people and working on all manner of weird and wonderful projects.

You can also check out the rest of Tor UK’s Tor Tour series to learn more about the variety of jobs and departments within the Tor imprint and across Pan Macmillan as a whole!

This post originally appeared January 7th 2014 on the Tor UK blog.

Kerry Lagan is the Rights Assistant for Tor UK.


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