Knowing how to ‘sell rights’ can feel a little daunting, if it is an area of publishing that you have not had much experience of.

For those who are ‘new to rights’  our short, 10 step guide will guide you through the basics of selling rights, so that you can make the most of the opportunities (and the revenue) available.

Selling or licensing rights to third parties is a fantastic way to boost bottom line income (rights income is usually treated as pure profit in a publishing P&L). It brings additional benefits too, including:

  • getting your content in front of a new market who wouldn’t otherwise have had access to it,
  • raising your author’s profile
  • enabling you to develop intelligence around different routes to market ahead of making any investment decisions for your own publishing operations. 

Plus, there are many other benefits besides.  If you aren’t currently selling rights to your content, you are definitely missing out!

It seems obvious…but the first rule of rights selling, is to ask “What rights do you have? And to ask that question before you sell anything!

You will usually find the specific terms in the author agreement. Even if you have standard wording in most of your author agreements, authors may retain some or all subsidiary rights, so never assume you have the rights, without checking a final signed copy of your agreements carefully. 

Don’t forget that you need to take account of the rights you have acquired in all of the content that forms part of your book, not just the main text (e.g. illustrations, interviews, diagrams and figures), before determining what can be included in any potential licensing agreement. 

2. Consider “What rights should I sell?

There are a wide range of rights that can be licensed. These can include responding to simple requests to reproduce an extract from a work (this is often referred to as ‘permissions’ – learn more here). It can also include translation rights for different languages, or granting the right to reproduce your content in new formats, such as audio, digital or film and television rights. 

Having reviewed your agreements carefully, you will have a good understanding of the rights available to be sold and can then think about which types of licensing are likely to lend themselves to the content that you publish and who might be interested in licensing it from you.

3. Grow your network of rights buyers

The opportunities for rights selling are virtually limitless but your time isn’t. So, think about the types of rights and the markets that make the most sense to focus on given the nature of your list and prioritise your time accordingly. 

You can track down prospective rights buyers in all kinds of ways, such as using fair catalogues, trade directories, social media and, of course, Google! 

Review their websites to try and identify potential licensing partners that would be a good fit for the content that you have to offer and then reach out to them to find out who to best to start a conversation about rights with. 

Once you’ve made some contacts, it pays to spend time developing your relationship and building trust.  It is a great way to really increase your understanding of their respective markets and their own particular requirements.  It also enables you to make good recommendations from your list in future. 

4. Get help from agents

If there are markets you don’t have time to develop yourself, then using agents is a great option.  Sub-Agents, as they are generally known, will represent your titles to a particular market and negotiate deals on your behalf, in return for a commission.   

Make sure you check in with any sub-agents regularly, keeping them up to date with new title details and other useful information that might help them such as press coverage, award wins, etc.

5. Promote regularly

Once you’ve started to grow a network of contacts, you will need to keep them up to date with the rights you have available to sell.  Most publishers will produce a rights guide, twice a year, to coincide with the Spring and Autumn bookfairs. In between, you should keep in touch with regular newsletters or emails to keep potential buyers in the loop about particular titles that have launched.

 A rights guide is used to highlight new and forthcoming titles to which you have rights.  It doesn’t have to include every title you are publishing. If you have a large list, it is probably best to make a selection of the titles that you think have the best chance of success, so as not to overwhelm potential buyers. Once created, rights guides are often sent out to prospective buyers and/or used in bookfair or sales meetings as a basis for pitching new titles. 

6. Keep on top of submissions

If you have managed to pique the interest from a potential buyer with your promotional activity, they are likely to ask for some review material. Typically, you would supply a PDF of the proofs or a final edition, depending on the proximity of the publication date. It is a good idea to ready your materials before you do any promotion, that way you can “strike whilst the iron is hot” and get something out immediately when your contacts respond.

When sending out material clarify the rights on offer and the basis on which you are sending them something to review – exclusive (they are the only party reviewing for the rights in question – sometimes called an ‘option’) or non-exclusive (multiple parties are reviewing for the same rights simultaneously). It is usual to ask for responses within a set period of time and although buyers don’t always work to your timescale, this can be a useful date to go back to them and follow up to see how they are getting on. 

7. Negotiate smart, not hard

Following review, you might be lucky enough to receive an offer. Whilst it can be tempting to just reply with a grateful “yes” it is worth spending some time evaluating offers carefully.  Offers are usually made in one of two forms – a flat fee or an advance and royalty.  Financial terms will vary according to the rights and content being licensed. 

In general rights buyers are willing to negotiate.  However, pushing too hard on terms or making negotiation unreasonably onerous. It is a balance between good business, good will and longevity of relationships. 

8. Create clear and transparent contracts

Having negotiated terms, the next stage is to record them formally in a written agreement or contract.  As the seller, the expectation will be that you will provide this, although if you use a sub-agent (see above) they will often do this for you. There are excellent boilerplate templates, with guidance notes, for most types of rights sale in Clark’s Publishing Agreements. Avoiding archaic legalese in favour of clear and straightforward language will help ensure that your contract is easy to understand, and therefore easy for licensees to comply with.

Your contract should contain precise details and make sure that all your expectations are clearly articulated to reduce opportunities for misunderstanding. 

9. Manage the contract throughout its duration

Once an agreement has been signed by both parties, it will be your responsibility to ensure that the terms of the contract are being met.  From making sure you have fulfilled your obligation to send out any production materials, to ensuring that your licensee submits anything that requires your approval and, of course, sending examples of their finished product to share with your author(s).

Arguably the most important aspect of contract management is making sure you get paid!  It is relatively easy to ensure that any fees or advances due on signature of the agreement are invoiced and received but it can be harder to keep track of later stage payments you might have agreed, e.g. any payments due on completion of the licensee’s product.  In a royalties deal, you need to keep track of whether the licensee is sending statements in accordance with the agreed schedule, and whether they have calculated any royalty payments due correctly as well as ensuring receipt of any payments due as a result.

10. Keep meticulous records

Licensing rights can get very complicated, very quickly. If you are dealing with multiple submissions for multiple titles, alongside negotiations, and contract management all at the same time.   If you don’t keep excellent records it can be very easy to miss opportunities, cause difficulties with customers, or you could even sell rights you’ve already sold!

Good record keeping will not only help you to manage your day to day rights business effectively, but give you an opportunity to undertake some analysis of the data that you have compiled. 

Dedicated rights management software like our app, RightsZone, will help you manage your workflow more efficiently, as well as keeping your rights records in good order.

We’d argue the best way to learn is to get started! The only way you will be able to see whether there are rights opportunities for your list is to get stuck in and start seeing if you can generate some interest amongst prospective rights buyers.  

However, we also appreciate these 10 recommendations only scratch the surface of everything involved with selling rights. Plus, there is so much more to building a strong rights business and department.

If you are keen to learn more, these resources are a good place to start

  • Rights & Licensing Hub – explore a collection of online resources and courses.
  • Selling Rights – this book, by Lynette Owen, is now in its 8th edition and recognised as the leading guide to all aspects of rights sales and co-publications.
  • Clark’s Publishing Agreements – this book edited by Lynette Owen is the ‘must have’ legal resource for the publishing industry and as mentioned above included lots of useful templates.

Finally, book a time to talk to us.

RightsZone offers more that just an app. We offer consultancy, training, a community and support. We are always happy to talk rights.

Cover image credit: Photo by photonblast on Unsplash