Thursday, May 20, 2010

Subsidiary Rights - What the Heck is That?

In an earlier post about jobs in publishing, I mentioned that one reason not to be quite so convinced that Editor is the only job for you is because there are a ton of other jobs you're not even aware of, and how do you know that one of those might be even more perfect for you? Subsidiary rights is always the department newbies to the industry are least aware of, but it's really cool.

Subsidiary rights sells paperback rights, audio, large print, foreign rights, film rights, reprint rights, and so on. Reprint rights can help get the public’s attention, such as when an excerpt is printed in Vanity Fair or Newsweek. Any foreign rights sale goes a long way towards the bottom line, and can make the difference between a book being profitable or not. The people selling foreign rights get to travel internationally several times a year, usually attending the Frankfurt, London, and Bologna book fairs.

It can be an even more important and exciting job in the children’s side, where the licensing of characters, for toys, on cereal boxes, and TV shows, is much more likely than in the adult world. It make seem soulless, but every time someone buys a Fancy Nancy lunch box or a set of Pinkalicious barrettes, an author gets another check with which to pay her mortgage! And it's never good to tar everything with a wide brush - after all tons of respected classics are licensed widely, from Winnie-the-Pooh to Paddington Bear to the Hungry Little Caterpillar. The licenses allow authors and illustrators to quit their day jobs and really concentrate on their craft.

This job has a more relaxed atmosphere than editorial, takes some patience and persistence and a match-making state of mind, while having very little interaction with authors. As previously discussed, authors aren't always the easiest people to deal with (ah, artists!) It is a mix of sales and agenting. Like an agent, the subrights rep tries to send out a novel to the British editors who are most likely to see the promise and potential. Naturally, there is selling involved (and a little bit of contracts but that's all boilerplate so don't let that detail scare you off.) It can be very creative (I wonder who first thought of making Kraft Macaroni & Cheese into shapes other than elbow macaroni such as Spongebob Squarepants?) I have seen everything from Twilight-inspired underwear and skateboards, to Harry Potter "Bertie Botts" candy, and I'm sure there are crazier licensed products out there (in fact, I also saw some items from Twilight that were certainly X-rated!)

And it can make all the difference in the world between a book being successful or not. When the publisher's sales reps can tell bookstores that a book has already been sold into 16 countries, that is a vote of confidence for the book that helps it get more prominent display and more reviews domestically. Usually the publisher and an author's agent split the rights. So the publisher might get English-language rights while the agent retains foreign language. But they often work cooperatively together, as proceeds are split between the publisher and author (and author's agent). So in this example the publisher would work to sell off the Canadian, UK, and Australian/New Zealand rights. They can also sell English language books in India, Singapore, South Africa, and for European export. The markets for both large print and audio have been growing of late. Audio is mostly due to the success of the iPod as well as lengthening work commutes. Large Print is very directly tied to the aging of Baby Boomers, although LP books are also perfect for reading on the treadmill. It's not that frequent that books get turned into movies or TV shows or plays, but it does happen sometimes, such as with HBO's "True Blood." This is also the department that is contacted when someone wants to reprint an essay or a short story in an anthology or textbook. But really, aren't the keychains, bobble heads, and board games the real fun in this arena? Sound like a department you might consider now? I thought so. (And yes, literary agencies also employ subrights reps.)
By the way, this week's podcast of Books on the Nightstand also talks about getting a job in publishing. This link is to the blog which links to the podcast.

1 comment:

Carin said...

You know, that actually sounds like a job that I would like. Where do I sign up?!!! Hehehe! This type of job would be more appropriate for me with my business degree than some of the other publishing jobs out there. I did have an interview with a third party vendor company that does e-publishing recently. It's a possibility at least that I might get hired!

Thanks for your continued input on the publishing industry. I always find your posts on it really interesting!