Visiting Speaker – Rights Director Andrea Joyce

April 3rd, 2017 by rachel_kay | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker – Rights Director Andrea Joyce
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Stirling’s MLitt Publishing students were recently delighted to hear from Andrea Joyce, who spoke to us about her role as Rights Director at Canongate, and what it takes for a book to successfully transcend geographical borders.

Canongate Books is one of the biggest publishers in Scotland, currently employing about 40 people in Edinburgh and London. It has been an independent publisher since 1973, and aims to “unearth and amplify the most vital, innovative voices” with a strong international focus encompassing countries from Albania to Vietnam.

Keeping Pace

Canongate’s aim to “publish authors, not books” involves a tailored approach for each project as their authors continue to explore. Matt Haig, for instance, had published two novels before venturing into non-fiction with the wildly successful Reasons to Stay Alive. Now, with A Boy Called Christmas, Canongate is delving into children’s publishing, including their first visit to the Bologna Book Fair. These kinds of challenges keep things interesting for the rights team, who are constantly expanding their networks to keep pace with an author’s needs.

Outside the publishing house, foreign markets also continue to evolve. What worked five years ago does not work now; for instance serial and book club rights are much less lucrative than they used to be. Joyce says that this time of change and uncertainty can be both exciting and frightening. Working in rights means continuously working to develop and maintain contacts and to stay up-to-date with other publishers’ lists. According to Joyce, it is essential to have an idea of who, down to the editor, a book is likely to appeal to before approaching to make a deal.

Choosing Wisely

Not every book is suitable for licensing abroad, and Canongate needs to be selective. It is important to think about a book’s potential international audience from the start, even those which are not immediately obvious. For instance, The Radleys, superficially a YA book about vampires, can also be read as a story about teenage experience, or the burial of a wild youth in middle age. As a result, this story effectively transcended geographical borders, underwent a 9-way auction for the German rights, and was ultimately published in over 26 territories.

Joyce says it can difficult to boil down the formula for major international success, but that “the common ground is universal themes and great fiction”.

Making Changes

Successfully selling rights to a book is only the first step in a process which then involves many changes before a physical copy is produced. In the majority of cases the text needs to be translated, and the cover also redesigned to appeal to its local readers.

Flexibility over a book’s contents can be crucial. For The Novel Cure, international publishers wanted permission to customise the concept to suit their regional markets, including adding different “ailments” that needed a literary “prescription”. The outcome of negotiations was that foreign publishers were allowed to change up to 33% of the content. On the other end of the spectrum, no changes were allowed to be made to Letters of Note, a carefully chosen collection of 100 unusual and inspiring letters, due to the curatorial aspects at the core of this book.

Working in Rights

Rights selling can fit in at any stage of the publishing process, from acquisition to post-publication. However, it is usually ideal if international editions can be published simultaneously. This allows foreign publishers to anticipate demand in their area and also to harness the hype generated by Canongate’s marketing team. Thus, a rights seller needs to be kept in the loop with other departments, and attuned to the stages of a book’s development.

The role doesn’t require law training, but does entail lots of contracts work, an eye for detail, and an aptitude for selling. You don’t need to be bilingual, but it certainly helps, and travel is often involved. Looking at Canongate’s 2016 rights sales by value suggests where frequent destinations might be: last year the USA and Canada held 45%, Germany held 16%, and Asia held 8% of their market.

Many thanks to Andrea for an informative talk!

by Rachel Kay

Working at Canongate Books

June 26th, 2013 by Frances_Sessford | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Working at Canongate Books
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Frances Sessford, Teaching Fellow at Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication, went to Scottish trade publisher Canongate Books for a week recently to take a look at their inventory management system. At their Notting Hill Gate office in London, Frances joined Inventory Manager, John Seaton, for a couple of days to see how he manages the publisher’s backlist.

Publishers can make most of their profit from the ongoing publication of backlist titles. Thus managing the backlist efficiently is a big responsibility as it impacts on the publisher’s income. Yet not many publishers have staff dedicated to focussing on the backlist alone – often a commissioning editor manages both newly acquired (frontlist) and backlist titles. In reality (especially in trade publishing) most time and effort is concentrated on new titles because these take a lot of time and effort to bring to publication. This in turn can make backlist management a lesser priority, which means the publisher could lose potential valuable revenue.

Over its 40 years in business, Canongate has built up a strong backlist of around 800 titles, from authors such as Alasdair Gray, Alexander McCall Smith and Yann Martel. Advances in digital printing technology enable publishers to keep books in print indefinitely. This is the secret of Canongate’s backlist management success: short run printing. Using digital laser printers instead of conventional web litho press means that as few as a hundred copies of a book can be printed and stored profitably while maintaining quality.

Some books sell and sell for many years while some have a definite shelf life. But even the ones that sell regularly don’t remain in the same state forever. This could be because they need to be revised, or a different edition is required, or they are going to be rejacketed. In their lifetime most books will be brought out in various editions such as hardback, paperback, film tie-in, anniversary, special cover – there are many reasons for a book to be republished.

So how do you know what to print? Is it a case of just waiting until you run out of a title then ordering more? Not quite. John’s first job is to monitor stock levels and sales patterns information which is provided by the distributor and decide whether there is still sales potential in the book in its current edition. If the book is selling well and stock is running low, the appropriate print run will be ordered. If John knows that a new edition is coming through – for example, the paperback edition – then he might leave the current stock of the hardback edition to sell out and be replaced with the paperback. Or if sales of a title are simply diminishing naturally – not every book will sell forever – then John might simply decide to let the stock run down. The book’s digital file can always be printed on demand. Thanks to John’s backlist management skills, Canongate has been able to bring many of its previously out of print titles back into print over the last couple of years, and to publish these profitably.

Frances followed her visit to London by spending the rest of the week at Canongate’s head office in Edinburgh with the Editorial and Production departments. The staff were generous in giving a thorough overview of their production operation including the scheduling and management of print and electronic titles, as well as a really useful insight into how the publisher manages and communicates its title and pricing information to online retailers.

As part of her CPD programme, Frances is planning visits to other publishers in the near future, including Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis, as well as Scottish distributor, Booksource Distribution.

‘An overwhelming bias to the physical book’ – John Seaton

April 7th, 2013 by Stefani Sloma | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on ‘An overwhelming bias to the physical book’ – John Seaton
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Every Thursday we here at the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication are visited by a guest speaker, someone in some way associated with the publishing industry, who joins us for an afternoon lecture and chat. On 21 March we had a fascinating talk from John Seaton, the inventory manager at Canongate Books. John has been in publishing over 30 years, working at major publishers like Penguin and Simon and Schuster, and he’s been working with Canongate’s backlist for the past three years.

John began his talk by explaining the value of books, the fact that you can get so much for your money. John told us that he’d drunk the equivalent of FIVE books the night before at the pub! John’s career in publishing has been long and impressive, we found out as he detailed his involvement in such projects as the Faber Finds programme, an imprint of Faber that aims to find and make available many of the great classics and authors no longer in print. All of the books at Faber Finds are entirely Print On Demand, meaning they require no stock space. He went on to explain some of the challenges faced when working with a backlist. When he joined the team at Canongate he was asked to review the backlist and to revive the titles he found there. Some of the titles didn’t sell enough to warrant a standard reprint; these books, however, were perfect for short run printing. On the other hand, some books don’t flourish with this technique either, making them great for POD.  Because of his long standing career in backlist publishing, John told us that more often than not, he intuitively decides when it’s the right time to reprint and what kind of printing he should go with. While this might not seem like the safest way forward, John’s obviously proven to be successful with his decisions, and it just demonstrates that more experience makes for more knowledge.

John also spoke to us about his feelings towards e-books and their effect on the publishing industry, stating he wouldn’t speak much about e-books as he has a ‘bias towards print’. Despite saying this, John had a very optimistic point of view on the effects of e-books, saying that he didn’t feel that they would replace the physical book. He said he did feel that e-books were changing the physical book, but in a good way; the specifications for physical books are getting better, such as the choice and quality of the paper used for printing. While the physical book might change, it can’t change entirely. John said that the physical book is an excellent example of ‘sufficient technology’ that will see out our lifetimes, which tells you everything need to know really.


“Punching above our weight in an international arena”: selling international rights with Canongate

April 2nd, 2012 by Nuria_Ruiz | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on “Punching above our weight in an international arena”: selling international rights with Canongate
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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

Canongate Editor vacancy

January 28th, 2011 by prm | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Canongate Editor vacancy
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Canongate Books is looking for an editor (London or Edinburgh). Deadline: 11th February, 2011.

Details here: