Episode 56 : Orna Ross, Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors
In this episode I talk to Orna Ross, Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors about selling publishing rights. She has recently co-authored the book How Authors Sell Publishing Rights (ALLi How-to for Authors Guidebook Book 4) with previous guest Helen Sedwick on this topic.
In the simplest terms what are publishing rights, and why should authors worry about them?
Orna says that, to begin with at least, most authors don’t need to worry about them at all. Rights are the granting of a license to someone else to make use of your book in a particular way in a particular country (either publishing the book in another country to your home market or converting it into another product like a film). Historically in traditional publishing most publishing houses would only keep the “rights” to sell their books in their own territory and sold rights to publishers in other countries. But with globalisation and the global platforms that self-publishers use (like KDP and Kobo) this isn’t relevant for self-publishers, as they can reach customers all over the world themselves.
What kind of rights can an author potentially sell?
The most obvious are foreign rights (the right to translate the book into another language) and TV and Film rights (to make a film from your book). Often with film rights people will buy the option to make a film from the book, but it is often the case that the film is never made. The other big area is audio book rights. There are now good distribution options for audio-books (ACX and Audible) but it is possible to sell your audio book rights to a publishing company. One example of a self-publisher doing well selling audio-book rights is Andy Weir selling his audio rights to the Martian to Podium books.
Can an author who has already distributed their book in English on KDP sell on their English language rights later?
You can, and if your book is doing well you might end up getting offers from publishers for the rights to your book. Amazon’s Publishing arm also makes offers to successful self-published authors.
If an author is interested in selling rights to their books how do they start looking for buyers?
If possible waiting for someone to come to you. However obviously this doesn’t happen all the time. Usually self-publishers are trying to sell translation rights. It makes sense to find an agent to try and sell these rights, because while it is possible to sell these yourselves it is not at all straightforward. Orna recommends only doing this yourselves without an agent if you enjoy the process of negotiation.
Are the agents you use for selling foreign rights different from those an author would use if they were looking for a traditional publishing deal?
Normally they are handled by different agents, except for some agents from small companies who are generalists. It tends to take a while for an agent to understand particular foreign markets, so it is quite a different set of skills from a traditional agent selling unpublished books to local publishers.
You have to be careful if you use a publisher that they don’t try and take more rights away from you then you are actually looking to sell, which is where a good agent comes in useful.
Should authors be practising a pitch for their books, and would that pitch need to be different for the type of rights they are selling?
Yes, authors need to be able to pitch their book if they want to sell some of their rights. Rights buyers are deluged with people trying to sell them books so the pitch needs to be good and targeted at them if possible. Make sure you are pitching your book to the right people, for example merchandising rights to a children’s book would need to be pitched to a totally different audience to French rights to a literary novel.
If someone is approached by a publisher asking to buy their rights, how do they know if they are being offered a good deal?
You should try and get advice. You can start by getting hold of Orna and Helen Sedwick’s book about rights. If you aren’t keen on contracts then if you have had an offer it becomes relatively easy to get an agent to negotiate the deal for you. They will usually charge you 15-20% but will get you a better deal unless you are a good negotiatior.
What is the most unusual kind of rights that you have heard of an author sell?
Generally in areas like Children’s books and Science Fiction you get into things like merchandising rights, which are rights to produce things like figures, cuddly toys and board games.
Orna is impressed by the way that J.K.Rowling who has created the Pottermore website based on her Harry Potter books.
How do people get hold of your book about rights?
How do people find out about you and the Alliance of Independent Authors?
Orna Ross can be found at OrnaRoss.com, and you can find out about the Alliance of Independent Authors here. The Alli blog which contains lots of self-publishing advice can be found at selfpublishingadvice.org.
(Note I am an affiliate of the Alliance of Independent Authors. If you sign up to the Alliance from any of the links on this page then I’ll earn a commission. It’s the same price either way I just earn a referral fee).
If you liked this episode then you might like Legal Issues with Helen Sedwick (Episode 19), How to Sell Your Books Through Bookshops with Debbie Young (Episode 21) or The Dark Side of Assisted Publishing with Chrissie Parker