Byte The Book’s March event brought together Strathmore Publishing’s Nic Jones, screenwriter and novelist Jeff Norton and literary agent Rachel Mills to discuss the topic of global rights. It was chaired by publisher and entrepreneur Tom Chalmers (IPR License, Legend Press).
Justine thanks our event sponsors, Frankfurt Book Fair (Amy Webster in blue sitting next to Alex Hippisley-Cox in the literary frow)
Rachel, who works for leading literary agency Peters Fraser and Dunlop, began with some background on the importance of global rights to authors. International deals, she explained, are becoming more and more important to the average author’s income. The UK market simply isn’t lucrative enough to sustain most authors and, as a result, those hoping to write full time have become heavily dependent on international sales. She cited the case of Bear Grylls, one of PFD’s clients, as an example – in the UK, a recent title of Grylls’ sold around 50,000 copies. In China, it sold 2.2 million.
Managing and nurturing authors’ international profiles is central to Rachel’s job. She pointed out that very rarely would an agent encourage an author to sign world rights to a single publisher since, unsurprisingly, “fifty deals are more lucrative than one”. A wide portfolio of deals also allows an author to earn out each advance separately, which can be hugely beneficial when it comes to royalty distribution.
Jeff Norton, who has worked on every side of the negotiation table (though primarily as a storyteller), had some words of wisdom for the aspiring writers in the room. He called himself “media agnostic”, stating that he “cares passionately about story”, above all else. Books are a very efficient mechanism for delivering stories, he said, but they are far from the only one, so when approaching a new project, writers should keep an open mind about which medium to use. Find the one that’s right for your story, and the audience you want to reach, and build the project from there.
Nic Jones, who has been with publishing services company Strathmore for twenty years, echoed this sentiment. “Put yourself in the position of your audience”, he said, “and consider who you’re aiming at, and what they want”. Like Jeff, he urged writers to think about which medium their story will work best in, and not just create, say, an audiobook, for the sake of it. Apart from anything else, audiobooks (along with apps, computer games and all the other various channels for delivering stories) are a huge amount of work, and deceptively difficult to do well.
When the floor was opened to the audience, one writer asked whether authors should be honing and modifying their work, as they create it, for different global territories. Rachel warned against this approach, advocating that writers simply focus on the book they want to write, and let the experts worry about selling it around the world. As Nic put it: “If the author isn’t honest, it shows”.
Libby Whitehouse of IPR License enjoying the event, between her colleague and Amy Webster of Frankfurt Book Fair
Speaking of honesty, one of the highlights of the evening came when Jeff lifted the lid on his submission figures. Talking about the importance of perseverance, he pointed out that although he currently has six screen projects in development, those six victories came from a pool of 286 submissions. “Know what that means?” he asked the audience. “It means 280 people told me to f*** off”.
And in an industry defined by rejection, that was strangely comforting to hear.
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