At a recent Rights2gether network meeting, Kim Williams (Co-Head of PUP Europe and Digital & Audio Publisher at Princeton University Press) and Emma James (International Publishing Consultant and, formerly, Director of International Publishing & Licensing at DK) shared their experiences of getting a job in rights and what it is like working in rights, in a discussion chaired brilliantly by Polly Silk of Oxford Brookes University.

Polly, Emma and Kim talked about the skills that they had and also acquired from working in rights roles. They discussed and how these had helped them to develop their publishing careers both within and beyond the rights department. 

We’ve drawn out 3 key areas from the advice they shared that could help you to get your first job in rights and will be invaluable as you develop your rights career.


There were three important, transferrable skills that stood out to us as we reflected on our own professional experiences, as well as listening to those of Polly, Emma and Kim. These included: paying attention to detail, identifying trends and being agile.

Let’s explore each of those in turn when thinking about a new job in rights.

Attention to detail

Detail is an important element of rights work. Whether you are drawing up contracts, verifying incoming royalty statements or simply checking author agreements to know what rights you have to sell, paying attention to the detail will ensure that you protect the intellectual property that you have responsibility for, whilst maximising its earning potential.

It is important to your own publishing business, as well as those that you sell to, and the authors on whose behalf you are working, that the details (no matter how big or small) are accurate. ‘Caring’ about this detail is a key skill for working in rights. The ‘want’ to get it right matters.

Trends identification

Do you like looking for patterns? Are you keen to identify trends? Then, that’s a great skill to have when working in rights.

There are patterns to be discovered in all areas of the job, whether it’s spotting certain market trends or getting to know the ‘preferences’ of each of your licensing partners.

Carrying out analysis of your own data will help you to create a picture of what is working (or not) in each market. 

For example, you might be able to identify which sort of content is most popular, get a better understanding of customer interests or get a sense of the usual financial terms for particular markets.  The results of this analysis will then inform your licensing decisions and priorities going forwards.

Using software like RightsZone makes this even easier!

Agility

Publishing doesn’t ‘stand still’ – that’s probably one of the best reasons to choose a career in book publishing. There are always new ideas and new innovations. There are always new ways of working or ‘best practices’ to adopt.

Therefore, a good skill to have is ‘agility’ – the desire to move with the times and adapt to new ways of working. Audio, digital, etc. were all disruptors in rights when they first became part of our licensing landscape and a good rights professional will look at the opportunities new technologies bring, and find ways to make these changes work well…or, even better, work hard!…for their rights business.

When working in rights, agility is also a good skill in terms of looking for career opportunities. You don’t have to take a linear career path, as both Kim and Emma’s experiences show.  There are many routes into a rights career, and many areas of publishing you can move into that will benefit from the skills you acquire in a rights role – think editorial, sales, production, digital publishing, for example. 

Rights is also a broad church, it’s not just about translation rights.  There are jobs in digital licensing, content acquisition, permissions, audio and television rights, brand licensing, co-editions, royalties and more.  

There are rights opportunities in book publishing, but also in journals and magazine publishing, in digital first products and in other content industries too – music, TV, film, theatre. 

Well-honed rights skills can take you anywhere and set you up for an exciting future.

Getting publishing jobs is notoriously hard, but there are a few areas you can work on to set yourself apart from other applicants, particularly when it comes to rights roles.

Passion

If you are applying for rights roles, above all else the interviewer will want to see that you have a genuine interest and passion for this part of the business.. From your initial application, through to your interview, make sure your enthusiasm for rights comes across clearly. Prepare by ensuring you have a clear understanding of what rights entails

Read more about selling rights here:

Follow what is happening around the world. Explore social media. Take an interest in bookfairs and look for rights related stories in the trade press too. The knowledge that you gain from these activities will deepen your interest and translate into passion when you have the opportunity to talk about rights with others.

Curiosity

In all jobs today, a natural curiosity is a really good characteristic to showcase. What are you curious about when it comes to rights? As mentioned above, having the skills to identify trends is great and this often starts with a question, for example:

  • “why am I seeing changes in this market?’‘
  • “whatever happened to that licensing partner?”
  • “what opportunities have we missed?”
  • “what more could we explore?”

Curiosity can also extend to looking at processes and systems. Be curious about what could be done differently or improved, to help both every day jobs and once-in-a-while tasks.  Demonstrating your curiosity, as well as the ability to find answers to your questions, shows that you will bring much more than just being able to do the job.

Support

The reason we love working in rights is the community that comes with it. Polly, Emma and Kim’s experiences reflected this too. We have chosen the word ‘support’ here, because we know that getting work ‘experience’ can be difficult. However, starting to build a network of contacts in rights can be really helpful. 

  • Engage with rights people on social media.
  • Attend rights events on-line or in person.
  • Look for mentoring schemes.
  • Contact us if you’d like to join the rights2gether network.  

Being able to reach out to the connections you’ve made and ask for support when looking for a rights job or looking to enhance your rights career is invaluable. Publishing is a ‘small world’ and rights is a sector that contains a particularly supportive bunch! Don’t be afraid to ask for support when you need it.

What we learnt from Emma, Polly and Kim is that good experiences for working in rights may not be what you expect!

Identifying transferrable skills from previous jobs

In terms of work experience, there are many transferrable skills from all kinds of jobs that will bode well for a career in rights. Being precise and conscientious in an administrative role are great skills for ensuring meticulous records of your rights deals. Problem solving and customer service experience from working in retail or hospitality is fantastic for client facing interaction, including dealing with enquiries, negotiating and the face-to-face meetings we still conduct at book fairs, conferences and also via video call.

Travel experience

From being experienced in navigating your way around airports, new locations and finding accommodation, through to the organisation of trips, being a seasoned traveller is great preparation for working in a rights role, which can involve making lots of travel plans.

Furthermore, enjoying exploring new places and learning about different cultures is a great asset in a global role where you need to understand how markets around the world operate, and certainly something to share in a rights job interview.

Interest in different languages

Finally, if you speak other languages this can be a useful  skill in a rights job, particularly if you are working on  translation rights.

Whilst command of a foreign language is not essential for every rights role, where a job is likely to involve working with partners from other countries, even being able to offer a few words in your customer’s language can be a really nice way to build a connection and lasting relationships.

We hope you find this an interesting insight, and thanks again to Polly,  Emma and Kim for sharing their experiences with the Rights2gether network.

We work hard to ‘connect’ individuals within the RightsZone community and the Rights sphere more widely.

Do follow us on LinkedIn where we often share rights job opportunities, as well as rights related news and event details.

COVER IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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