Monday, August 18, 2008

13 Ways of Looking at a Rights Deal

This month's Franfurt Book Fair's newsletter includes profiles of 13 rights professionals -- all members fo the Fairs Rights Directors Advisory Board -- I helped compile. Most are enlightening and many, entertaining.

Mrs. Anne-Solange Noble, Foreign Rights Director, Gallimard (France)

My job for the last 22 years has been to promote Gallimard’s French authors abroad and to convince foreign publishers to translate them. I’m absolutely passionate about opening up new worlds to people. Being born and raised in Montreal made me bilingual. Then I lived in Mexico and learned Spanish as well. I happen to be trilingual, but I’m not criticizing people who don’t speak another language. Think about Roger Strauss at the American publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He had so many Nobel Prizes on his list that he was in Sweden almost every year, yet he only spoke English. He was just incredibly open and internationally minded.

Mrs. Annette Beetz, International Sales Director, Gräfe und Unzer (Germany)

As a publisher of illustrated reference guides, we work with a multitude of publishers, projects, and people and I can truly say that I have never been bored during the eight years I’ve been in the job, not even one single day. Over this time, digital technology has made serving the needs of our clients much easier. It's much more convenient to make data (rather than film) accessible to a multitude of people in almost no time, and it permits the combination of text and images from a variety of titles into one new title that will exactly meet the client's needs. We have just begun to explore the many options of selling digital rights to a variety of customers, many of them not part of the publishing world but rather from the corporate world of big brands in the food and health industries.

Carole Blake, Literary Agent, Blake Friedmann Literary, TV and Film Agency Ltd. (UK)

I've been running the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency since I established it in 1977, having spent 14 years previously working for publishers. The advent of the digital world hasn’t changed my job that much at all: of course new rights means vigorous negotiation for the royalties etc but there is so little income stream from many of these new rights so far, so little else has changed. I haven't yet found an e-book reader that suits me - I want one that will take my manuscripts and allow me to edit on screen and am not going to buy one until they do. Social networking? Talking, having meetings, book fairs - that's real social networking. And that's what makes publishing work. Still, the biggest thrill for me since starting was being asked to record my life story -- verbally on tape -- for The British Library.

Diane Spivey, Rights & Contracts Director, Little, Brown Book Group (UK)

I started out when the big money and emphasis was on licensing paperback reprint rights which is almost unheard of today – then book clubs were the next big thing. In the UK, serial rights had a massive boom which has since faded now that the newspapers are losing advertising revenue, and now the emphasis (though sadly, not as yet the big income) is on digital rights such as ebooks. The disturbing downside, though, is a tendency for people (not just the general public but other book trade professionals) to assume that something transmitted or available digitally commands less value than the physical equivalent (ebooks v printed books; audio downloads v CDs). I was involved in a UK publishing initiative which brought together the Publishers Association, the Authors’ Agents Association and the Society of Authors to try to come up with contract guidelines and definitions of publishing terms that would work for the future. In the end we were not able to agree, but I think all parties found the exchange of views very informative, non-confrontational and a good basis for ongoing individual negotiations. So, success from failure, I guess you could say!

Riky Stock, Director, German Book Office New York (USA)

One of the GBO’s tasks is to establish personal contacts, as we strongly believe that book rights sell because of the true enthusiasm of a rights director or an editor. During the GBO’s 2006 editor’s trip, we were meeting with editors from Random House Germany when Martin Mittelmeier’s phone rang. Mittelmeier, an editor at the literary Luchterhand imprint, left the room only to return a few minutes later with a big smile on his face. His author, Saša Stanišić, had just been shortlisted for the German Book Prize. His excitement infected everyone, including Grove/Atlantic editor Lauren Wein. After the trip, she bought the rights to Stanišić’s debut novel, How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone. Stanišić was then selected as a Writer-in-Residence at Deutsches Haus NYU and participated in the 2008 PEN World Voices Festival. The book is currently selling well and receiving positive reviews in the US.

Marcella Berger, VP, Director of Subsidiary Rights, Simon & Schuster (USA)

I’ve been with S&S for 32 years. Twenty years ago you dealt with ten countries, now you deal with 40 countries. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, countries in Eastern Europe and elsewhere all want the same books, and often those are American books. I’m always a little surprised at how informed publishers in, say Latvia, are about America. We may not buy a book by the prime minister of Germany, but everyone wanted Hillary Clinton's book Living History and rights sold sight unseen to the book in 33 countries. In recent years, people wonder why it’s still important to go to Frankfurt when you can do everything electronically. I will say things have become a little impersonal with all the email. I still feel the personal contact is important and the personal relationship serves you in good stead when you put books on submission or when problems arise. That’s why we all go to Frankfurt.

Lynette Owen, Copyright Director, Pearson Education Limited (UK)

I spend a significant amount of my personal time running training courses on copyright and licensing in the UK (for the industry and for publishing degree students) and abroad (for publishing professionals - most recently in Vietnam, Mexico, Argentina and Spain - for Catalan publishers in Barcelona). I would say that the most exciting aspects of my job are the ways in which my own company has developed and expanded into new areas over the years; the sheer range of travel I have been able to undertake in connection with my main job and for training purposes - often when the markets concerned were first opening up to licensing opportunities. Also, the amazing range of publishing people I have had the privilege of meeting in markets from the Baltics and the Balkans to Mongolia, China and Vietnam - people who have often had to combat difficult local circumstances in order to achieve their goals. I am happy if the training work undertaken by others and myself has enabled them to operate more confidently on a more level playing field.

Robert Baensch, President, Baensch International Group Limited (USA)

I’ve been involved with rights management since the beginning of my career at McGraw-Hill in 1974. For Frankfurt, I have been the program coordinator of the Rights Directors Meeting for many years. What’s been most interesting to me in the past decade is to see the development of all the former Soviet countries into their own cultural and intellectual publishing arenas. Slovenia for example used to be required to use Russian, but now they publish and read in their own language. I ran a publishing conference in Almati, Kazakhstan, and 66 publishers showed up for my seminars. What used to be viewed as insignificant and irrelevant has emerged into a viable micro market. For many authors being published into these markets, it’s not the money or commercial side that’s important – it’s that they were published in so many countries. When that happens, I hear things like “The edition of my book in Thai, in their script, was the most beautiful edition of all.”

Beatriz Coll, Literary Agent, RDC Agencia Literaria (Spain)

I primarily sell rights for our Spanish author's abroad, via a wonderful co-agents network, and sell rights on behalf of USA and UK houses/agencies for the Spanish and Portuguese language markets. I also sell for some German and Dutch, and one Thai house as well. Selling rights is unpredictable, but there is a rewarding feeling of having found, negotiated and closed a deal with the right house for the right author/work. Also, selling those little jewels that won't ever be mega-sellers a priori, but that have their home in the suitable house, is satisfying. My biggest success recently was selling Stephenie Meyer’s books for translation into Spanish.

Kerstin Schuster, Foreign Rights Director, S. Fischer (Germany)

As foreign rights manager at S. Fischer I am in charge of rights/license sales throughout the world for fiction and non-fiction titles published by S. Fischer, including a huge backlist with authors like Thomas Mann and Sigmund Freud. But the most wonderful day in my 15 years in publishing was the day when José Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1998 - I used to work at the Ray-Güde Mertin agency at that time and we represented world rights to the author's works. Saramago was at the Frankfurt airport, about to leave and then came back to the Fair -- all his international publishers could celebrate this day with him. My most recent success has been the licensing of last year's German Book Prize winner Julia Franck's novel "Die Mittagsfrau" – we’ve sold it for 30 languages so far.

Carolyn Savarese, Group VP, Director International Sales & Marketing, Sub Rights, Perseus Book Group (USA)

I started at Perseus a decade ago and now oversee all matters regarding international sales, contacts, royalties and licensing rights. Most publishers try to keep licensing and sales apart because they see them as competitive, but I think it helps us serve the author better. I first came into this business after spending a year in Rome and then working in New York for Italy’s RAI -- I did the weather one night on television and booked appointments for the Cannes Film Festival, which I realized later was a good primer for Frankfurt. I somehow ended up at Mondadori's New York office, where my favorite part of the job -- and I’m dating myself now -- was distributing the telexes to the offices on our floor. It was like getting to read people’s mail every morning. The scout Maria Campbell was there and I was able to read what publishers around the world were saying about these great books – by John Updike, Umberto Eco – years before they would be published.

Irina Prokhorova, Editor, New Literary Observer (Russia)

I launched Russia’s first independent academic journal in 1992 -- the ‘New Literary Observer’ – something unthinkable in Soviet times. In 1995 I also started publishing books. We participate in all major international book fairs, Frankfurt in first place, selling and buying rights. Publishing is a kind of eternal adventure – in spite of all calculations and professional efficiency the only thing you can basically rely on choosing a book for publication is a dark intuition. This mystery of public reception and a game of chance you play with the text (and yourself) is the most exciting experience for a true publisher. My greatest success came last year when we published a special issue of NLO devoted to the close historical study of the single year of 1990 – the crucial though most oblique year in recent Russian history, where all the political and social changes of the late perestroika became irreversible and undeniable. We did it both in print and an electronic version, including a detailed day-by-day chronicle of the year with hyperlinks to various articles and discussions as well as biographies of the participants of those historical days, audio & visual material. To some extent, it is a realization of the French concept of ‘total history,’ meaning exhaustive description of historical events of a certain period.

Susanne Schettler, Senior Account Manager English-speaking world, Frankfurt Book Fair (Germany)

I head the team that is in charge of all our company's profit-making and non-profit activities involving the English-speaking world. That includes the organisation of Hall 8 and the Literary Agents & Scouts Centre at the Frankfurt Book Fair as well as German collective stands at book fairs in English-speaking countries, plus other projects. Coordination of the German Book Office New York, GBO, is also part of our team’s remit. Rights trade in all its aspects is of course one of the major concerns preoccupying the publishing world in “my” region, which is why it matters a great deal to me to be able to help in organising the annual Rights Directors Meetings. I have been a member of the advisory board since 2008 and I am very much looking forward to working together with the other board members.

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