To be a successful publishing rights manager you'll need excellent negotiating skills and the ability to make industry contacts
A rights manager develops and oversees publishing rights for books and related products in order to ensure that a publishing company makes a maximum profit.
This might include arranging foreign rights, as well as the sale of rights to book clubs or for reprint paperbacks, North American editions, serials and extracts, audio and electronic formats, and translations.
Rights managers coordinate the whole process, from initiating the sale of a publication to new contacts, through to ensuring that the particular publication is produced on schedule. Their work involves liaising with editors and other publishers and depending on the size of the organisation may either cover the publishing rights for a specific section, or the whole of the business.
The nature of the work varies according to the type of publication you work on. Illustrated books, for example, require a more technical and structured approach than selling rights in fiction.
In general, however, typical work activities are focused on increasing the profitability of a company's publications and usually include:
- managing a small team (both freelance and in-house staff)
- liaising with publishers, editors and production teams - face-to-face and via phone and email
- agreeing rights for foreign editions, updates and co-editions
- negotiating translation rights
- maintaining positive working relationships with publishers
- sharing information and opinions with contacts about the company's range of books
- identifying suitable new material for publication and liaising with relevant contacts
- developing new links with UK-based and overseas publishers
- writing 'pitch' letters to new contacts and 'soft selling' publications
- undertaking high-level negotiations with relevant partners regarding, for example, complex legal agreements and contracts
- identifying new publication opportunities and initiating contact
- submitting proposals for new publications to the editorial team, using your market knowledge
- preparing for and attending major trade events, such as book fairs, to make new contacts and sell publications
- ensuring that the publication of specific books progresses to schedule
- travelling overseas to attend meetings and develop new contacts
- assessing the financial viability of agreements
- overseeing invoicing systems and monitoring payments
- keeping accurate and up-to-date records
- setting departmental targets and ensuring these are met.
- An entry-level rights assistant would typically start on a salary of around £18,000. Pay may be slightly lower in smaller companies.
- The range of typical salaries, for a mid-level rights executive, falls between £22,000 and £25,000.
- As a rights manager you can usually earn between £25,000 and £35,000.
- Copyright/rights directors earn £45,000+. Directors with a lot of experience may earn more.
Job titles vary within different publishing organisations and salaries may differ according to a particular job specification. Salaries also vary according to the size and sector of the publisher you work for.
Figures are intended as a guide only.
The working day may extend outside normal nine-to-five office hours during busy periods, particularly around the time of major book fairs.
What to expect
- In smaller companies, the duties of the rights assistant or manager might be combined with other duties, for example sales and marketing.
- Jobs tend to be in-house with a publishing company or with an agency. Freelance work for those with experience and a network of contacts is more prevalent in other areas of the publishing industry.
- The majority of jobs are based in London, the South East, Cambridge and Oxford, although Scotland also has a healthy publishing industry, based mostly in the central belt (Edinburgh and Glasgow). The combination of relatively low salaries with the usually higher living costs in all these areas can be challenging, particularly in London and at the start of a career.
- Although no figures have been gathered, the publishing industry lacks BAME diversity. For information on issues relating to equality in the publishing industry, visit Equip (Equality in Publishing).
- This role can be challenging as it carries considerable responsibility for unforeseen production problems, the task of negotiating prices with sometimes demanding clients, and the pressured conditions of the publishing industry as a whole.
- Travel is usually an integral part of the job; involving some day-to-day travel to meetings and regular visits to book fairs in Europe, and sometimes the rest of the world for meetings with publishers.
Although the requirements of employers vary, modern language degrees can be particularly useful for rights management, particularly when dealing with translation rights.
Other relevant subjects include:
- publishing/publishing studies
- marketing and publishing media
- media/electronic media.
Other common degree subjects are English and history. Subject-specific qualifications are helpful for specialist areas of publishing, for example a science qualification may give you an edge when applying to a scientific publisher.
Entry is sometimes possible with an HND only, although a degree-level qualification is the norm in this highly-competitive industry.
Postgraduate study is not essential for entry to the profession but may be useful. Many people in publishing, particularly journal publishing, have a Masters degree. Courses tend to cover the whole area of publishing rather than rights management in particular, although rights management may be covered as part of the course.
Masters and diploma courses are available in areas such as electronic communication and publishing, and publishing/publishing studies. Search for postgraduate courses in publishing. Research courses thoroughly, carefully considering which ones would be most relevant to your requirements.
You will need:
- excellent oral and written communication skills
- commercial awareness
- negotiation skills
- excellent sales technique
- the ability to identify and exploit opportunities
- enthusiasm (for promoting titles)
- administrative and organisational skills
- the capacity to prioritise and manage your own workload
- team working skills
- time management skills and experience of working to deadlines
- a meticulous and methodical approach
- the ability to persuade and influence.
Pre-entry, practical experience is highly valued by publishers and almost essential when trying to get interviews for entry-level posts.
Entry into rights management is generally by opportunity. Try to gain as much experience of the industry as possible before making applications. It is often difficult to find voluntary or one-off work placements within rights management itself, so you may need to try different approaches to create opportunities.
Try approaching smaller companies and networking at events put on by organisations such as The Society of Young Publishers (SYP). This is a good way to make contacts within the industry. General publishing work placements, internships and voluntary opportunities are advertised through a number of sources, including the SYP.
Unpaid work experience positions are not endorsed by BookCareers but it offers guidance about careers in publishing and provides a range of support and information to jobseekers, including information about paid work experience opportunities.
This is a fairly specialised area of work and is steady in its recruitment patterns, so competition for jobs is strong. Many rights managers move into their jobs after working for some time as rights assistants and then rights executives.
It is possible to move across departments, especially at the beginning of a career in publishing, so a move into rights management from another related role is possible.
As rights sales are a key part of the profit-making process for companies, typical employers include large and small-scale publishing companies from a variety of sectors. The types of publications they produce include:
- children's books
- illustrated books
- academic and educational publications
- professional publications.
Publications for which the sale of rights might be involved include journals, magazines and e-books, as well as books.
The kinds of contacts and skills required vary slightly according to the type of publications you work with.
For example, selling rights for publications with large colour illustrations is likely to require more technical knowledge and a more artistic eye than selling rights for fiction.
Look for job vacancies at:
- The Bookseller
- Equip (Equality in Publishing)
- Independent Publishers' Guild (IPG)
- The Society of Young Publishers (SYP) - you will need to be a member to view jobs.
- National press, particularly Guardian Jobs.
- Local press in areas where publishing companies are concentrated, e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Bristol.
Larger publishing companies tend to advertise vacancies on their websites, so it is worth checking these on a regular basis or following them on social media.
Vacancies are advertised by specialist publishing recruitment agencies such as:
Use resources such as the Directory of Publishing: United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland - usually available in your university careers service or in your university library - and the charitable network organisation Publishing Scotland to research publishers for work experience and employment opportunities.
Opportunities vary according to the nature and size of the company you work for, but generally training is gained on the job.
The role requires the application of a variety of soft skills, such as communication and time management, which can be developed in post.
Postgraduate and professional training courses can provide a valuable background to the world of publishing and may also provide useful contacts.
There are limited opportunities for professional training, specifically in rights management as most publishing courses available through training providers, universities and colleges tend to cover areas such as proofreading, editing and production.
Generally it is the responsibility of individuals to progress their own CPD by gaining as much valuable experience as possible and working towards making new contacts.
Keeping up to date with industry trends is a more informal element of professional training, with membership of bodies such as the Publishers Association (PA) and Women in Publishing being part of this process.
The number of rights staff employed depends on the size of the publisher. Smaller publishers may integrate the work of a rights manager into a sales and marketing department. There are a number of different avenues within rights, such as foreign rights, newspaper serial rights and character licensing.
Generally, rights managers begin their careers in rights assistant roles and progress on to rights executive positions, before becoming rights managers.
Typically, you could work for about five years in the publishing business before you secure a role as a rights manager. With a number of years' experience, some may find a post as a rights director.
Rights managers may find that their work history defines their future prospects. For example, rights managers who only have experience in children's publishing may find it hard to move into other areas. However, working in rights management develops commercial skills that can be transferred to other industries.
Career development can take some time and the somewhat structured progression route means that opportunities to progress from one rights management role to another may be limited. As most publishers tend to employ only one rights manager or director, in addition to a rights assistant/executive, it may be necessary to move companies in order to gain promotion.
A vital part of career development is to continue to make new contacts and keep up to date with changes and developments in the publishing industry.
Working in rights can be a route into other areas of publishing, although people working in rights often tend to stay in this area. Experience in this field might also lead to associated roles, such as working as an author's agent.