The Publishing Studies Visiting Speaker series got off to an excellent start this March as Andrea Joyce, Associate Rights Director at Canongate, paid a visit to demystify the mysterious world of selling international rights. Although a medium-sized house in the world of Scottish publishing, we soon discovered that Canongate has a real international presence through its titles; in Andrea’s own words, they punch above their weight in the global arena. Oh, and we learned just what working in rights encompassed too!
Andrea noted almost immediately that the rights department can easily be undervalued and overlooked in publishing, and she made a salient point. Of the 100 top selling UK titles in 2011, only 6 were in translation. Not the best advertisement for the absolute wealth of beautiful foreign writing out there. Our own rights experience as MLitt students came as a small part of a module on publishing dynamics, unlike our marketing and editorial modules which were self-contained. During an earlier visit from Skillset’s Suzanne Kavanagh, not one of us stood up and proclaimed an undying passion for selling translation rights and drafting co-edition licenses (but then again, not one of us wanted to be a bohemian editor of poetry either). So it was interesting to hear that this attitude is not only part of the student experience; part of the problem, argues Andrea, is that publishers might assume they don’t need the profit generated by rights sales, and that literary agents feel they are better placed to handle an author’s rights than their publisher. This is not always the case, certainly not for Canongate, and Andrea made a compelling and convincing case for the integral place of rights in their publishing strategy.
Publishing authors from all across the world, and conversely getting their own authors published in forty-five countries, is a “great source of strength” to Canongate. Certainly, the figures seem to back this up. In 2011, the rights team struck 202 deals across 45 countries, up from 175 in 2010 and 150 in 2009. Europe is their major market, with Germany claiming 20 per cent of deals, Italy 14 per cent and France 13 per cent (by value). Selling international rights has also allowed Canongate to venture into the competitive US publishing market, launching with established publisher Grove/Atlantic and already claiming 9 per cent of deals by value.
So what’s the secret to success in the international rights market? Timing, timing, timing was Andrea’s first piece of advice. We live in an increasingly interconnected world; people everywhere know when something new is launching and more importantly, they know where to get their hands on it if it’s not provided where they are – and thus bypassing territorial rights agreements and the publishing value chain altogether. With the gargantuan growth of Amazon, publishing simultaneously in the home language has proved crucial to ensuring Canongate’s rights success in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. But more than this, it’s also about trusting your taste to timing. The Radleys, the international bestseller by Matt Haig, landed on Andrea’s desk as she was departing for the Frankfurt Book Fair. Timely, with its young adult crossover potential and paranormal setting, a short captivating read was enough to convince Canongate of its potential – and many other international partners too. In rights, you have to be flexible, speedy and creative in order to take advantage of an opportunity, which sounds pretty exciting in my book.
And this was Andrea’s parting shot; it’s actually an exciting time to be working in rights. If you don’t believe me when I say that she has me totally convinced about the value, necessity and importance of selling international rights, just think where we would be if this little guy hadn’t purred his way across the world …
- Nuria Ruiz