Behind the Scenes at Usborne: Working in Rights
I’m Not (Very) Afraid of the Dark by Anna Milbourne, in Finnish, Chinese (complex characters), Portuguese, Romanian, Japanese and Norwegian
In the first of a new blog series about working at Usborne, Emma Lagarde and Irene Olivo take us behind the scenes of the Usborne Rights department…
How did you get into publishing?
Emma: I came into publishing quite traditionally. I did an undergraduate degree in English and Journalism and a postgraduate degree in Publishing. On the side I did an editorial internship at a magazine publisher and an internship at a literary scouting agency. I also had several part-time jobs in retail and hospitality while studying, which provided me with lots of transferable skills. Towards the end of my postgraduate degree, I was offered the role at Usborne.
Irene: Working in publishing was not in my plans until I started working as a Waterstones bookseller after a BA in Film Studies. The retail experience was invaluable for getting a job in rights, and bookselling was a great way to get educated about the UK publishing world which, as someone born and raised in Italy, I was quite unfamiliar with. On the side, I was doing internships in the film and tv industry and became fascinated with rights, so thought of looking for a job in the field. I started an internship in the rights team of a children’s publisher, which resulted in a six-month contract, towards the end of which I was offered the role at Usborne.
What does the Rights team do at Usborne?
The Usborne Rights team is responsible for selling translation rights to Usborne books. Most of our books are written in-house by Usborne writers, and so we own the copyright and can sell them worldwide (except in the case of fiction – see below!). We have sold Usborne books in a total of 137 languages, ranging from widely spoken languages to regional dialects! Where available and appropriate, we also sell audio, film/tv and educational rights. We also look after giving permission for extracts of our books to be used in other content.
We also attend book fairs as a team three times per year and some of us go on additional sales trips to key territories.
How do Rights work for our fiction books?
Our colleagues in the Usborne Fiction department work with agents to find books we want to bring out to the market under the Usborne brand. Agents represent authors and their books, which means they control the rights. There are rights for every language, audio, film and TV, merchandising…the list goes on. Even when it comes to English language rights, agents might only sell English throughout the UK and Commonwealth to a UK publisher, licensing English throughout North America to a US publisher separately.
Cogheart by Peter Bunzl, sold in over 16 languages
Other times, agents license world rights in all languages, meaning the rights team gets to search for the perfect publisher in each territory around the world. A big, recent fiction success for rights was The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson, which we have sold in 20 languages so far.
What does an average day for you in Rights look like?
No two days in a Rights department are the same and each territory requires a different approach and focus. That being said, this is an overview of what we normally do in a day! The morning usually begins with working through the emails that came in overnight. This is especially important for those of us who work with Asian markets as they are about to go to sleep, but even most of Mainland Europe is ahead by an hour.
Throughout the day most of us will work on paperwork, from drafting contracts to requesting invoices, as well as negotiating deals with our customers and liaising between our Production department and the customers on printing scheduling, plotter proofs, shipping documents etc. The office also receives daily deliveries of books from our printers. Some of these are UK editions that we send to our customers interested in translating and others are already translated editions that we keep for our records.
What do you most like about working in Rights?
Emma: What I like most is that no two days are ever the same, which means it can’t get boring! I also always enjoy opening the boxes with translated editions and seeing the physical and beautiful result of all the work everyone's put in.
Irene: I love selling books I particularly admire from our list to smaller territories and lesser-known languages, it’s a great feeling to know children all over the world will be reading a certain book as a result of your work.
What are the biggest challenges?
Co-ordinating printings of rights editions to suit lots of different publishing schedules is always a juggling exercise, which requires high organisational skills, but it is very rewarding when it all comes together perfectly. At the end of the day, as with most customer-facing roles, working in rights has its own set of challenges daily, but that is where great teamwork and customer service skills come into play!
What skills and qualifications do you need to work in Rights?
None of us has the exact same set of skills and qualifications and our team comes from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. You definitely don’t need a (publishing) degree to get a job in Rights. Based on our experience, the following skills are very useful:
- Customer service skills and previous experience in customer facing roles
- Sales experience
- Office and admin experience
- Proficiency in Microsoft Office, especially Excel, and some knowledge of the Adobe suite
- Being highly organised with a keen eye for detail
- Knowledge of a foreign language, although not essential
- Being personable
Turkish editions of the Billy and the Mini Monsters series – complete with bookmarks and knitted mini monsters!
What did you find most surprising about working in Rights?
Emma: How fast-paced it can be. Sometimes you’re receiving translated files on Friday for a deal that wasn’t even on the horizon on Monday!
Irene: Seeing what kinds of books are needed and most read in each country – working in Rights really gives you a precious insight into other cultures and histories!
What’s been a memorable moment since you started working in the Usborne Rights team?
Emma: Attending my first Bologna Book Fair was so memorable. Book fair preparations are intense and take up a lot of time for the whole team, so seeing all that hard work come together on my first work trip abroad was a great experience!
Irene: Attending my first Frankfurt Book Fair and seeing the Usborne stand for the first time, it’s great to witness the work of a whole company coming together!