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Monday, March 21, 2011

A seminar on Rights - #2


It’s all go behind the doors of the Greenhouse, and I have to admit Julia and I are pretty excited as the countdown begins to the Bologna Book Fair. I’m getting there a bit early, so I can acclimate to the time zone and also have a couple of days of relaxation in Bologna and nearby Florence, both of which I love but rarely have time to actually enjoy. 

I’m flying Thursday evening, via Frankfurt, and will stagger into our hotel – round the back of the glorious Piazza Maggiore – some time Friday morning.  Thinking of sending me a submission? You might do better to wait till I’m back on the 31st, as I won’t have time to look at email while I’m away.  I’m trying to get really up to date before I leave though, so if you’ve sent me a submission in the last week or two you should be hearing from me.

I talked about territorial rights on my last blog post, and rights are still very much in my head as Julia and I prepare our Bologna documents: our list of ‘backlist’ books (those already with primary deals – ie, either in the US or UK, or both) and also our exciting list of new and upcoming projects that we’ll be pitching. Even if we know we won’t have the final manuscripts for a few months, editors love to hear what we have coming up.  Everyone is looking for the Next Big Thing – or even the next smaller thing, which could nonetheless fill a niche in their forthcoming list.

In return, we want to know how each editor/publisher/scout/film person sees the marketplace and where they feel it’s going.  Several days of those kinds of conversations add up to a lot of invaluable knowledge about the international scene, and provide clues as to where we should particularly invest our time and energies in the coming months.

So, from my last post you already know that the publishing world still divides territorial rights into chunks, even if the electronic era blurs the edges a little at times. But what other rights are covered in a publishing contract?

Everything in the contract to be exercised by the Publisher is called Primary Rights.  But suppose the Publisher can’t exercise those rights for some reason (eg,they’ve been granted audio rights but don’t have their own audio list) or suppose they see opportunities to exploit the potential of your book in more diverse ways?  In that case, they can LICENSE a range of rights to a third party – and that bunch of rights is called Subsidiary Rights.

What is included in Sub Rights? Well, I mentioned Translation Rights (or Foreign Rights) in my last post, and those are probably the biggest clump of rights within this bit of the contract – if the Publisher has been granted World rights. If they haven’t, then those rights remain reserved to the author – either directly or on the author’s behalf by their literary agency.  It’s in the exploitation of these rights that Bologna (Frankfurt / London Book Fairs too) plays such a big part.

But there’s a lot more within Sub Rights.

We’ve already mentioned audio, which is rapidly becoming a dealbreaker for many of the bigger houses due to expanding potential for electronic download etc.

Ebook has been fairly straightforward for a while, but is increasingly coming under complex negotiation due to its potential for ‘enhancement’. Some of the complications lie in specifying clearly what those enhancements may be so there’s no confusion with potential film or TV deals down the line.

Here are some of the other rights can be sold to a third party:

First Serial (publication of an extract BEFORE first book publication – for example, to a newspaper/magazine) and Second Serial (publication in a newspaper/magazine AFTER first book publication).

Textbook rights


Large Print


Graphic Novel, Comic Book

Theme Park (I always wondered about that, until the Harry Potter world/ride opened at Disney!)

Dramatic – including Motion Picture, TV, Radio; and Non-Dramatic – ie, straight reading of the text as a performance.

Merchandising and Commercial rights – these being particularly significant if Film/TV is sold and the project actually goes into production.

Are you still with me? And you thought publishing was just a matter of your words making it on to the printed page of a book!?

Each of these rights above can be sold – ‘exploited’ – separately, and each has a split of monies set out in your publishing contract – many of them 50/50 (between publisher and author) in US contracts.

As I’ve said before, the story you tell – the manuscript that spews in a clump of messy pages from your printer, or downloads from a file on to your e-reader – is much more complex than you might think. And much more full of diverse potential.

Sure, your novel is an artistic work of entertainment, but it can also be described as CONTENT. Content to be chopped and parceled and sold in myriad ways.

It is, in business terms, a portfolio of rights. And Bologna is the ultimate rights marketplace in our industry of books for young readers.

Ciao! More from me after the fair. Wish us luck!

Pix:1) Brunelleschi contemplates his masterwork - the Duomo in Florence; or maybe he’s pondering foreign rights?  2) The merry-go-round of publishing, also Florence.  3) Ostensibly Florentine pigeons in love - but actually a pic of me pitching a new storyline to an editor at the fair . . .

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Monday, March 07, 2011

A seminar on Rights - #1


A good time was had by all at Southern Breeze’s Spring Mingle 2011 last weekend. At least, I’m presuming everyone else enjoyed it as much as I did!

Southern Breeze is the bit of SCBWI that covers Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, so southern accents and warm hospitality aplenty in what I thought was a brilliantly organized conference. Thanks to Heather Kolich and her team – and especially to Sharon, my Guardian Angel (yes, she was literally designated as that!), whose job it was to make my life incredibly simple and pleasant for the weekend. Wow, everyone needs a Guardian Angel Sharon in their life! I just wish I could have packed her in my suitcase and brought her home with me, where she is sorely needed . . .

One of the things I always enjoy about conferences is getting to know the other faculty members, and this faculty was small, so we spent a lot of time together. ‘We’ being Erin Clarke (Knopf), Katie Carella (Grosset/Penguin), E.B. Lewis (award-winning illustrator), and Lindsey Leavitt (Greenhouse author of PRINCESS FOR HIRE/SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD).  We rocked that tricky First Pages panel, didn’t we!

Anyway, I digress. Friday night, when we still had a modicum of energy left, everyone piled into the hotel bar – perfect for bookish discussion and bonding. Nursing my glass of wine, I decided to strike out and talk to random people, in the knowledge that writers get very few opportunities to talk to people in the industry, so it was time to make myself available.

I got into a conversation with a lovely group of people, and soon found myself holding forth about various aspects of the Greenhouse and the publishing world, in particular the foreign-rights scene at Bologna.

Suddenly I realized this was a one-sided conversation and that there were some very blank faces looking back at me. I stopped mid-flow, and a nice man piped up: ‘Sorry, but what exactly are rights?’

At which point I was reminded of how easy it is to make assumptions about what people know, and how very opaque this business is.  I set about explaining and, though I’ve covered it before in this blog, I shall do so again now for any of you readers who feel as lost as those new friends in the bar.

So . . .

Pick up a book and look at it. What do you see? Paper and print?

When I look at a book, I see two things.  1) A story that is also a work of art.  2) A bundle of very diverse rights.


Let’s start this week with territorial rights, which form what we might call the ‘primary deal’.  I’ll do my next post on the other rights, since the subject is too big to cover at one go.

Here goes:

The English-speaking world tends to be divided – in publishing terms – into two chunks.

1) US and Canada (ie, North America)
2) UK and Commonwealth. Here is a list of the Commonwealth countries:

In fact, Canada can be sold separately, but is generally grabbed by either the US deal or the UK deal, so it depends who gets there first; I tend to reserve it for the USA.

English-language Europe is highly contentious (you know, there are quite a few English speakers in mainland Europe and there’s a market for those readers) – both the US and UK would love to include it in their rights package! In that instance, Greenhouse tends to reserve it for the UK deal – their market is smaller, and some UK houses actually call it a ‘deal breaker’ if they can’t have it.

There are some smaller countries that float in between these North American or UK/Comm territorial bundles, depending on the deal and the houses involved, and those we call ‘Open Market’. In other words, both the US and UK publishers can sell there, though often there will be contractual restrictions on WHEN each side can sell, so one side doesn’t outstrip the other and grab all the sales.

As you can imagine, there is often some fierce discussion at contract stage about exactly which pieces of the territorial pie belong to whom (and one reason you have an agent is so you can put your feet up and have a cocktail while your agent does the rough stuff).

If you are American, your primary deal is likely to be with a US house. If you are British, your primary deal is likely to be with a UK house.  If you are a Greenhouse client, we could do both deals at the same time (depending on the book, of course). We did that with Sarwat Chadda’s DEVIL’S KISS and Megan Miranda’s FRACTURE, and were virtually simultaneous with Lindsey Leavitt’s PRINCESS FOR HIRE and Jill Hathaway’s SLIDE.

Unlike other US or UK agencies, we will take 15% commission for both deals. (Regular US agencies will take 20% for UK deals. Regular UK agencies will take 20% for US deals.)

And then there are Translation Rights. In other words, deals done in countries that are not English-speaking. These we also call Foreign Rights. A huge amount of time is invested in seeking such deals, they are frequently fiddly, and they are done for us by our sister company, Rights People. If you saw a printout of exactly where our books/manuscripts are on submission at the moment, you would be amazed.  For example, we’ve recently had one manuscript on submission to 30 publishers (always at their request) in France alone. You can imagine the volume of stuff we have out there at any one time!

Many translation-rights deals are small - $5000 or less. But you can do better financially in some markets – like Germany – than with your primary deal. And those deals can really mount up in value, if you have a sought-after property to sell.

Still with me?

OK, so those are the rights parcels. But suppose you DON’T parcel up the rights. Suppose you sell all territories at one fell swoop?

That is called World Rights.

There are rare occasions when the Greenhouse sells World Rights to publishers (perhaps we’ve been made an offer so good that it’s hard to recommend to our author that they turn it down). But in the main, we parcel up those rights and sell them separately on a territory by territory basis.

Why? Because we can generally make our author more money that way. 

If Greenhouse sells Translation Rights for you, you will keep 75% of the monies.  If your publisher sells those rights for you (under a World Rights model), you will keep 70/75% (depending on the publisher’s customary split) minus your agent’s regular commission of 15%. In other words, you will actually take home 55% or 60% of the deal money.

Hah, you say. So obviously that means I don’t need an agent!!!!!!!

Yeah, well. You have to see this issue in the round. There are many questions to ask yourself. Like . . .

Are you able to get a deal on your own, in a timely way, without an agent’s help - given it’s almost impossible to get your manuscript into the hands of a publisher?

Are you able to negotiate optimum terms for yourself?  In the obvious question of Advance, but also royalties and all the other terms, splits, safeguards, out-of-print/ remainder etc etc etc clauses that will determine your long-term writing destiny.

Are you able to liaise knowledgeably and confidently with your publisher on all issues regarding the process and management of your book(s) and career?

Having been in this industry for 30 years, on both sides of the desk – and having worked with countless authors, both bestselling and debut – I can honestly say that a good agent at your side will be an investment you are very unlikely to regret. And I know quite a few authors who did decide to go it alone, and ended up in a bit of a mess!

Your book is like a pie; a pie of potential slices. And we love to carve up that pie and market those slices.  Give us a great book and the slicing can be really lucrative for you!

But talking of pies, I’m reminded that it’s Sunday night and I deserve a good dinner, a pair of slippers and a little zoning out before the Monday Madness starts.

Ta-ta for now.


Pix:  1) My example of selling rights in parcels! Del Ray Market, Northern Virginia. 2) My example of selling world rights - all territories in one go. Also Del Ray.  3) Spring Mingle: Me, with Greenhouse authors Lindsey Leavitt and Megan Miranda

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