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Licensing: Moving a Story Beyond Books

Elisabeth NWilkes15 June 2016

This next department is not one often thought of when people enter publishing, but it is one that is growing. Licensing is a segment of the industry where either books’ merchandising rights are negotiated with companies, or a publisher buys the rights to turn products, such as films, tv shows, or toys, into book products. This has become a growing segment of the publishing industry. According to Claire Somerville, the Deputy Manager Director at Hachette Children’s who gave a lecture on licensing to our class last term, the licensing industry was worth £10.2bn in the UK in 2015.

Merchandising has been a major source of revenue for the publishing industry, not to mention a major component for the spread of book culture and brand awareness. If the following sounds like you, perhaps you should give this part of the industry a little more thought.

 

  1.     You are a culture buff– Perhaps you really like books, but also love your Netflix and movie nights just as equally. This is a great section of the industry where that love of other mediums really comes in handy. You will be poised to make better judgments as to what is worth buying and who is worth selling to.

 

  1.     You like fandom culture– Not only are you all about different types of entertainment, but you love to go on Pinterest and collect pins of someone who has made their own Harry Potter mix-drinks. You will be a better judge of which brands are likely to get people excited and what types of products fans would enjoy the most.

 

  1.     You are especially interested in children’s publishing– This is where licensing is the most versatile and most lucrative. You can work with companies to produce merchandise that older fans are less likely to purchase, such as toys, sticker books, board games, and the candy. It’s an exciting way to make the younger readers more obsessed with your publisher’s stories or characters.

 

  1.     You can ‘sense’ the next big thing– Are you constantly finding yourself saying, “I liked such and such before it was cool”? Are you amazed at how often the shows you love suddenly get really popular? This sense is incredibly important for people working in licensing, especially for books, which take longer to produce and put out than a doll or a shirt. Being intuitive of what could be big allow you to strike while the iron is hot and not miss the boat, only to be stuck with books and products that are no longer popular.

 

Licensing can be a fun way to spread your publisher’s stories that goes beyond the pages of the book. While it is a fine line between “selling out” and creating extended interest, it can be fun to work on building an extension of these books.

 

Well, this is the last section I will be discussing for this blog. There are other sections of the industry, so always explore to see what will be best for you. I do hope that these monthly posts have given you something to think about when you go job searching though. It has been a great year and I am happy to have shared what I have learned for aspiring publishers. There is much more to Publishing than being an editor, so be sure to be open minded about what part of the industry you want to enter.

Marketing: How to Break Through the Noise

Elisabeth NWilkes18 May 2016

In 2014, the UK officially published more books per capita than any other country in the world, with over 184,000 books published in just one year (Flood). This is great because who doesn’t want a world full of books? It also, however, poses a big challenge to making a book stand out. This isn’t just little fish in a big pond. This is little fish in an ocean, making it seem as hopeless as Marlin’s quest at the beginning of Finding Nemo.

This challenge has been met with a slow shift in publishing to put a lot of focus on discoverability, which has made Marketing become a much bigger player in the process than ever before. It is a field that requires as much creativity as the books they are selling, and where some of the most exciting advancement in the industry are coming from.

In last month’s blog we talked about how Publicity works to bring this book to the readers, but Marketing does this in a way that requires slightly different skills. Here are just a few:

1. Know how to budget– You will have more money to work with than Publicity, but not much more. Unless you are a big publishing house working with a brand name author, you will be expected to do a lot for a book with very little funding. So if you have expensive taste and wild expectations, you might want to learn how to tone them down a touch.

 
2. Be a good researcher– Because you will be given money, you will have to be able to justify your plans to many people along the way. You might have a wonderful plan that looks great on paper, but you have to be reasonably sure it will reach the right people and will encourage them to act. So be ready to back up everything you suggest to the finance team.

 
3. Understand the reader– It used to be that the main selling relationship was between the publisher and the bookseller, who in turn would know how to sell to their customer. Now that more direct publisher to reader interaction is viable, due mainly to the introduction of the Internet, it is much more important to understand the readers directly. Your marketing plan will have to reflect reader’s behaviour and likes and dislikes, so knowing them is crucial.

 
4. Have a good head for planning– Like many sections of the industry, you will not be working on one title at a time. Perhaps a big name will force you to put a lot on the back burner, but most of the time you will be juggling many campaigns at once. Not only will you have to keep all of your projects straight, but you will have to be able to give them each their due amount of energy. So be ready to have multiple checklists and find some helpful apps to keep everything straight.

 
5. Be creative and innovative– You cannot do what everyone else is doing or even what has always done. First, each book has its own purpose, audience, and voice, which would make any cookie cutter marketing plans forced. Second, we are bombarded by advertisements and other marketing ploys everyday, and it’s not just books competing for our attention. If you are bland or safe, your book will just become part of the background. Finding different angles that fits what your title is and how to inform the people who would care about it is key to discoverability.

For those who also have the skills above, you really should consider this segment of the industry. If not, check out what will be the final blog in this series, International Publishing and Licensing!

Working in Rights: Calling All Extroverts

Elisabeth NWilkes24 February 2016

As a proud introvert, I must admit that the idea of working with books, which I often turn to recharge from too much social interaction, comforted me. While I knew (and even welcomed)  that socialisation would be involved with working in the publishing industry, I dreamed of the precious alone time, reading and thinking critically about the works my publishing house would be presenting to the world.

Despite introverts stereotypically holding the monopoly on being ‘bookworms,’ extroverts can love books just as much as they do. In fact, there are many bibliophiles that are energised by crowds and excitement instead of drained by over exposure.

And let me tell you, the book industry needs those extroverts. We need them in all segments to balance a workforce that typically attracts more introverts by the very nature of what they produce.

One section of publishing that you extroverts might want to check out is Rights. Below, I outline a few reasons why:

  1.     It doesn’t involve a law degree – Despite what it might sound like, this section of the industry has far less to do with copyright law and contracts than it does with selling. Of course, you have to be aware of the copyright and trade laws to know what you can and cannot negotiate, but your main duty is to “maximize a book’s financial potential – whether it’s selling translation … rights, merchandising, serial or book club rights, or even film rights” (Working in Publishing).
  2.     You may have the chance to travel – If you have a strong sense of wanderlust and love traveling the world and talking to people from different cultures, you should definitely look into selling foreign and translation rights. Not only are you often sent to the major book fairs (London, Frankfurt, BookExpo, etc.), but also to individual companies in many different countries all over the world.
  1.     You get to talk – a lot – This part of the industry requires a lot of relationship building between people both outside of your company and outside of your industry. If you work in serial, your interactions will be with the media, and if you work in film rights you’re talking to film producers. While there is a place for ‘getting down to business’ when making these negotiations, a major contribution to success is mastering small talk and lively conversations. It is a socialites dream, where they not only sell and promote a product they love, but also meet different types of people and build fast connections.  

This all being said, many introverts love socialising, travelling, and networking. If this is you, please consider Rights if it sounds up your alley. I only highlight Rights for extroverts because it is one of the more natural fits for extroverts wanting to be part of the book industry, but is less thought of than, say, Marketing or Sales. If any of these points interest you, please consider positions in Rights.

If, however, you have more of an artistic side that you feel needs feeding, check out next month’s post on Design to see if it may be a better fit for you.

Production: Where Books Come to Life

Elisabeth NWilkes27 January 2016

After learning about literary agency in the last post, we are now going to jump to the middle with production. The bare bone definition of production is turning a manuscript into a physical book. While it may sound like working on an assembly line, the position offers much more creative opportunities than it sounds.

According to “Working in Penguin: Careers with Penguin Group,” production is, “the physical process of transforming a manuscript into a finished book. This includes everything from producing the initial costing, arranging the typesetting, and selecting and buying paper, to organizing the printing and binding of the book and its delivery into the warehouse.” (Link)

 

This segment of the industry is not as romanticised as positions such as editor, but it can offer people a place to express their love of books in a different way. See if any of these describe you:

 

  1.     If you are practical, but also somewhat crafty: While design does most of the work with the appearance of books, production isn’t completely void of chances for artistic expression. Production is the bridge from the abstract book to the incarnated version. Design team might have an idea that works in the head, but for some reason, be it budget or unexpected demands, it is impossible to follow the plan. Production has to then step in to give alternatives to allow the book to work.

 

  1.     If you like solving problems: Production team members often have to find solutions to any issue that comes up in printing. They also have to negotiate to get prices for the paper design would like, or suggest alternatives if a solution cannot be found. Their main task is to do everything to keep the book on schedule and overcome any unexpected delays. It requires a lot of thinking on your feet and flexibility.

 

  1.     If you are organised: In production, you are working on many projects at one time and often on a strict schedule. It therefore pays to be a little finicky to make sure none of the projects get mixed up and no dates are missed. So if you like fixing chaos and are a bit of perfectionist, you might consider this part of the industry.  

 

  1.     If you like people: Working in production requires interacting with companies who supply the puzzle pieces for the book, such as paper, foil, and printing. They are also in communication with the design team, as well as marketing. Production managers must build connections and relationships with both sides. So if you like talking to many different types of people and getting out of the office every once and while, this job might be a good outlet for you.

 

If you have any number of the attributes or skills above, you might think of exploring deeper to see if this part of the industry is a good fit for you. This job is especially desirable for people who love watching ideas become a physical book to hold (not to mention that production team members are the first to see the finished product!) It’s a job with a balanced mixture of creativity and resourcefulness.

Still not piquing your interest? Then come back next month, when I will be talking about Rights!

 

Literary Agents: How to Be a Publishing Gatekeeper

Elisabeth NWilkes30 December 2015

After clearing up misconceptions in the last post about what an editor does, I think it is important to take one step backwards in the publishing process and start with the gatekeepers: literary agents.

Literary agents are a relatively new addition to the publishing industry, only starting to appear in the 1880’s. As the book market began to flourish and authors had less face-to-face interaction with publishers, writers with no connections found it harder to get their books published and sold. Authors needed a liaison to help them, especially those who knew nothing about the publishing process. Thus the position of literary agent was born to fulfil that need.

I’ll admit that out of all the positions in publishing, this career is the one that intrigues me the most. It is close to the literary action and it is the position closest to the authors. However, there are a few things you have to know to be a successful agent.

  1.     You have to know your own taste: If you cannot answer what your favourite book or genre is, you have to figure that out. For authors to find an agent and submit their work, they need to know who will be interested in reading it and who has connections to publishers who would interested in publishing the book. If you say you like, “everything,” you will get everything. And if you are not passionate about what you are receiving, you will have a hard time selling your works. So be picky!
  2.     You have to be diplomatic: If you hate being stuck in the middle, literary agency would be hell. Editors will want to make changes to the book that authors would sooner die than submit to and authors will want to know why the marketing team isn’t renting a Good Year blimp to advertise their book. The job is much more people-oriented than it appears, and if you are not efficient at diffusing tense situations, you might want to consider a different part of the industry. 
  3.   You have to be social: This is probably the hardest part of the job for naturally introverted book lovers. Not all of your books will come to you through emails. If you want to be successful you have to woo authors and discover rising stars that you can add to your clientele, and that involves going to writing events and booking coffee dates. Publishers also rarely approach agents first. You have to seek them out, pitching books you know they won’t buy just so that in the future they might remember you and ask what you have new. It really is a lot of social legwork and networking.
  4.     You have to care about money: Your main job is not only to get your authors published, but to get the most financial benefits for your author from that publication. The margins are not that great for book sales, so publishers will do anything they can to keep as much of the money for themselves. Your authors, especially those who have little experience with publishing, will depend on you to get them a fair deal. So you will, at times, have to play hardball. You will also have to encourage friendly competition during book auctions or even turn down deals from big-name publishers who aren’t taking your author seriously enough. If you don’t care about the deal as much as the book, you won’t get very far as a literary agent.

 

Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t inherently a social butterfly or have a few things to learn about negotiating. You will likely start as an assistant anyways, so you’ll have time to practice.

If the job just doesn’t quite sound like your cup of tea, however, tune in next month, when I will be talking about moving from the words on the page to the actual book in the exciting world of production!