The indie author movement is maturing. It’s no longer about throwing up an ebook up on Amazon, it’s about professional standards, creating an excellent book and turning your intellectual property assets into multiple streams of income. Today I talk to Orna Ross about How Authors Sell Publishing Rights.
In the intro, I mention the news that Amazon Giveaways are now available for ebooks, and an article on Written Word Media that shows authors who earn over $5000 per month have written 13.75 books, use professionally designed book covers and pro editors, write in popular genres, and use free as a promotional technique.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Orna Ross is a bestselling novelist, poet and author of creative non-fiction. She is the founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors and has been voted one of the top 100 most influential people in publishing by The Bookseller.
Today we’re talking about her new book, How Authors Sell Publishing Rights, co-written with Helen Sedwick who has also been on the show before.
- What rights are and why they matter to authors.
- How rights originated.
- On print rights and the ‘zone of total possibility’.
- Authors deciding if they want the responsibility of dealing with and selling their rights.
- How to find and pitch to a publisher to sell certain rights, including the resources available to authors to undertake the search for rights buyers, like IPRLicense.
- Strategies and advanced planning for selling rights at book fairs.
- The different ways authors have had success with rights sales.
- The necessary maturity of authors who want to explore rights sales.
- On film and TV rights and the best strategy for selling those.
- Why getting a lawyer involved is more important for film and TV rights.
You can find Orna at www.OrnaRoss.com and on twitter @ornaross. How Authors Sell Publishing Rights is here on Amazon.
Transcription of interview with Orna Ross
Joanna: Hi everyone. I’m Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com, and today I’m here with Orna Ross. Hi Orna.
Orna: Hi Joanna, and hello everyone on Joanna`s podcast, delighted to be here.
Joanna: Yes, it’s great to have you back. Just a little introduction. Orna is a best-selling novelist, poet, and author of creative non-fiction. She’s the founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors and has been voted one of the top 100 most influential people in publishing by The Bookseller.
And today we’re talking about her new book, “How Authors Sell Publishing Rights”, which is co-written with Helen Sedwick who has also been on the show and is absolutely fantastic. So Orna, we’re not gonna to talk too much about you today, because you know we’ve had you on the show talking about your stuff. We’re gonna to talk about this book, so let’s start with the definition.
What are publishing rights anyway?
Orna: Publishing rights are essentially the permission you grant to other people to produce some kind of format of your work. So they are protected by copyright.
If copyright law didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have publishing rights to sell, and a lot of work went into securing copyright as a right for authors. As a result, we can turn our work into audio books, maybe have a movie made, reprint rights, even reprographic rights. You know, people who photocopy your work are supposed to pay you a fee. So there are just loads and loads of different rights.
And essentially, the function of rights in publishing is to extend your readership. You know, why would you bother with publishing rights?
To extend your readership, and to add to your bottom line. They can really quite significantly add to the bottom line, and I think authors, indies, have not given enough thoughts to rights, which is one of the reasons why Helen and I wanted to just write this book.
Taking a publishing rights perspective on your work is, I think, the sort of missing link for the indie author, and it’s really important to trade publishing trades in rights because it’s a valuable commodity, and very often in trade publishing the assessment as to whether to take on a book or not, the rights department will be very keen on that, and particularly for certain kinds of books which lend themselves to rights more than others. But you know, very often the rights department will be called and asked, “What will the rights plan be?” And that will affect how much of an advance and investment a publisher is willing to put into a book.
I suppose we started off very much from the point of view, “Well if it’s valuable to trade publishing it’s valuable to indie publishers and to indie authors.” But how we might go about the business of selling them might be different. So yeah, that’s the long answer.
Joanna: Yes, there’s so many questions I want to delve down deeper into, because you know people are listening going, “Oh, there’s a lot to talk about.” But let’s just take a step back, forgetting indies for a minute.
How have rights always been sold?
I mean you talk about a rights department. Just put it in the perspective of what still happens in traditional publishing in terms of how rights are sold, and I guess what are some of the more common rights that are sold with books?
Orna: It very much depends on the book, I suppose that’s the first thing to say. It is impossible to generalize across the board about rights, it really does vary very much.
But the sorts of rights that a publisher will be looking at would be primarily, first of all, print rights in author territories. So traditionally, and this is changing, there are two kinds of challenges in the writing of this book, and in discussing publishing rights. One is that it is quite a complex area, and the second is that it is changing as we speak, and self-publishing is changing it quite considerably.
But first of all, just looking at it from trade publishing perspective, which is where the whole rights thing grew out of, and which to an extent as authors we have to negotiate and understand otherwise we can`t do the job. So we we may look at how it’s done and decide, “I’m going to do it differently.” But if we don’t know how it’s done conventionally then we will approach people in the wrong way.
How it has emerged traditionally is that the English language publishing world was essentially carved up between the US and the UK about a hundred years ago, and they sort of divvied it out, a bit colonial, divvied it out between them and said, “Okay we’ll go into certain territories”.
The UK traditionally has a very well-established Commonwealth publishing arena. So it goes into very easily Canada, Australia, and various other and Commonwealth or ex-Commonwealth countries. And then the US is South America and various other territories where it tends to be more commonly available.
You get a sort of a gentlemen’s agreement, whereby, “I won’t go into your territory if you don’t come into mine.”
And so in Europe you occasionally had a sort of a US version and a UK version coming into Germany, say, unless these things were negotiated out. The rights department’s job will be to ensure they secure the rights for particular territories, and then go on to sell the rights.
And contracts are designed really to take all the rights from you.
Not that they think they’re going to necessarily use them, but they want to be able to if they can, or if an opportunity ever arises in the life of the contract. So they approach it from that perspective, they will start with a contract that tries to hoover up as many rights possible, and the author or author’s agent should, authors far too rarely do, but… And a good agent can let a lot go too depending on what’s on offer, and what suits them in terms of short-term gain, maybe that an author might prefer a more long-term approach.
So we would begin with trying to hold as many rights in as many territories in place, and so on. So that’s how it kind of goes.
Now, along comes the internet, and all of that no longer makes a lot of sense, because if you’ve got online sales then you can’t say, “Well this is the UK version, and this is going into blah, blah, blah.” So very difficult.
And then, at that point in time, publishers started to purchase world rights. But in the old days, if you were purchasing world rights, you really paid for world rights. Now you’re lucky if you get the advance that you would have just got for your home territory and Commonwealth say, but you’re expected to give away world rights for that. So yeah, that`s kind of the history.
Joanna: You will remember when I was on a panel at the London Book Fair, and an author in the audience asked about selling “World English Rights”. And was advised to take that, and I was like, “What? What`s going on?”
Because I don’t think authors realize that world English means, as you say, all territories in the English language, right? And as indies we can self-publish into 170 countries or something through the channels we have like Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, without signing these different things.
So for authors who are listening who have already signed some of their books with traditional publishing, what should they be looking at in those contracts to see if they can exploit any other rights for themselves?
Orna: Well, if they’ve already sold world rights it’s very difficult to get those back, unless the contract goes into reversion.
You could possibly, depending on when it was signed, argue that, “When I signed world English the Internet didn’t exist and I didn’t have these options.” Or whatever, but it’s going to be a tricky one. Before you sign the contract you need to start thinking about these things.
I have a lot of authors who come and say, “Yay! They want to do world rights!” They think this is a wonderful thing, they assume that if a publisher is buying world rights they’re actually going to be selling into all these territories.
But the truth is there are only five publishing companies that have the wherewithal to actually get you in through their own auspices and on their own imprints. They are the big five.
Outside of that what they’re doing is selling on to other publishers. They sell on to other publishers, you get the percentages allocated to you in the contract, which is 50% in a reasonable contract. Which sounds okay, but you can get 70% yourself, and control the pricing, and control the marketing, and just have a much more direct connection with readers by selling into those territories yourself, and doing some marketing in those areas yourself.
So now that self-publishing is there you have to be comparing those two, and you have to be saying, “Okay, I am willing to go with you guys if you can show me that you have a plan here. You know, that you actually can sell more books than I can.” Then it’s worthwhile. It might well be worthwhile.
The other thing is that if you sell the rights to a trade publisher then very often… I’m talking now if this is your primary contract for your English language book, you know your home territory and that contract.
If you do all the right sales will be aggregated against an advance, and so you won’t actually earn any rights income until you’re advances are endowed. So, if it’s a sizable advance, you could be putting off that rights income for a long time, whereas if you kept your other territorial rights, just sold them the English language rights or the US rights then you can straight away start looking at other English language options, not to mention translation, and get that income more upfront. But again, if you’ve got a great publisher behind you and they’ve got a good plan they can possibly reach places you can’t.
So you’ve got to make a decision. You know, it’s a consideration. And in trade publishing there will be a big meeting about a book, and they will talk about the balancing those options. They will look very carefully before they decide how much to pay out on a rights income basis, and you should do the same.
Joanna: Yeah, and I think what’s important to note here is that there is there are a lot of choices that an author needs to make, and this is a reflection on how indies have matured, how the space has matured. You know, people started out going, “Oh, here’s my print book from create space, and here’s my ebook on Amazon”. And that’s kind of level one.
But what you’re talking about is going far beyond this. I’ve talked a lot about e-book sales, and global English e-book sales through these channels, self-publishing. But let’s talk about print rights, because… And I’m just going to be selfish and use me as an example. I would love to sell print rights in countries because, as you know I’m not massively into print. I have print versions, but that’s something I would like to sell.
If people listening, or me, would like to sell print rights in English or other languages, how likely is that, and how would someone go about that?
Orna: In terms of the likelihood, I think it is something that we are educating the industry to realize that they’re going to have to do. So when you’re starting to sell your rights you’re dealing with two types of people. One is the most forward thinking people within the industry, who totally gets self-publishing, and are ahead of the posse, and think from a rights perspective, and you know are there. You don’t have to convince some… You know, that’s a tiny, tiny, tiny proportion of rights buyers.
In general, publishing is a very conservative industry, some publishers don’t even know self-publishing has happened yet. I kid you not. The inspiring side of it is a more… You know it’s a conservative side. So there’s an education process going on, but what is happening is that people are beginning to realize that they can make money without buying up all rights, and the ideal for an author is to hold your lucrative e-book rights and then try to sell on print, which is what you’re talking about.
Traditionally, not that long ago, a print book was a hard back.
There was no such thing as a paperback. When you said, “I’ve got a publisher,” you meant somebody was putting your book into hardback. The publisher then, they sold on the paper book back rights to what were called paperback houses, they were a separate. It’s only in relatively recent publishing history, you know 30 years or so, that the same publishing houses actually brought out first a hard back version and then the paperback. So I see it as going back to that in a way.
That e-books are now the standard primary publication for an indie, and then they try to sell print rights. There is already a very established market for what’s called reprint rights, and that will be when you reprint a different edition from the original print version. So a reprint might be a very fancy hard back, or it might be a cheaper version with you know less good paper and stuff in another territory, or it could be a book club version, or you know… There is a very well established historical precedent for reprint rights.
We’re stepping into a zone of total possibility, except that there is resistance because the book rights are lucrative.
Everybody wants them, and publishers trying to bundle it all together, and authors should be trying to pick it all apart. So how you go about it is really very simple. You write and you tell them, “I’ve got this fantastic book”. You’re back to pitching, you’re back to pitching the trade industry. And so you pitch and you tell them, “I’ve got this great book, it’s done such and such in e-book. The print rights are now available for sale, and I’d like to send you the South African English language right.” So you’re really specific, or the North American, which would be Canada and US, or the USA print rights and begin a conversation.
Joanna: But it’s so interesting. Right now I’m writing Destroyer of Worlds which is set in India, and I’m revisiting all my photos of India. And I remember being there, and most books are sold now in India print, you know print books.
And like you talked about the cheaper versions, they’re often a lot smaller. You know, what you see in Asia is the smaller versions, very densely packed kind of books, and you know I would love to be on these tables in those bookstores. Part of me really wants this Indian print deal, because it’s very hard to do self-publishing right now in India with print on demand because of the cheap price that they have here, and I know create space will look into it at some point.
But you mention that it’s easy, you just e-mail and do this. But let’s go into that a bit more.
So taking that example, what would be the process of trying to find the most appropriate publisher for someone’s book?
Let’s say you have a specific country in mind, because you don’t want to just scatter gun the whole world, do you? You want to be quite specific.
Orna: It really does make sense to look at a book first of all and think about where it fits. The first thing you should do, before you actually get to that point even, is to do an assessment. First of all of yourself, your own skills. And the book goes into this in some detail, what are the skills that are actually necessary to sell rights, do I have them? Is this something I want to do? It’s not something every author’s going to want to do. That you said that I said it was easy, if I did say that I’m taking it right back. And I don’t think I did.
There’s nothing easy about this, it’s not for the faint-hearted.
Selling rights is not easy, even for established authors and established publishers. It’s very possible however, and and I will say that authors are willing to take deals the publishing houses and agents are not willing to take. So that’s the niche where you’ll kind of most likely slot into. So agents want a decent good size deal with a big advance, because that’s the only way they get paid.
They’re only getting 10, 15 maybe 20 % of most of the deals, so the deal has to be sizeable for it to be worth their while to put the time and effort into it. But if an author can get an extra £5,000, or £10,000, or £15,000 for a book they’re really happy with that amount. Now, no agent will get out of bed for anything like that. So that’s where you’re kind of likely to slot in.
Once you’ve done it in one territory it does become easier to do it in others. And that’s the English language, we haven’t even spoken yet about translation and so on, which we’ll look at in a minute. So do an inventory of yourself. If the skills that you need are in the book, I’m not going to go into that now, we don’t have time.
And then do an inventory of your books in terms of rights, because some books sell better than others, and some books sell better than others in certain territories. Again, the book gives advice around this to some degree, but you are going to have to do your own research, because again everything is changing very quickly and going off.
Let’s say you want to send your book into India. I guess there are three or four approaches you can take. The first one is you can just get a list of publishing houses in India, look at who publishes the kind of books you publish, and do a scatter gun 100.
In a pitch letter telling them a little bit about your book, obviously sales points and if you’ve sold well. And truly there’s not much point in getting into right selling until you’re doing well at that primary level, however you define that, for a couple of reasons. First of all because why are you doing that? You need to do well. You know you need to know how to sell books, and you could be just getting off into rights and distracting yourself from the fact that you haven’t actually managed to become a good publisher yet. And secondly, they’re not going to be that interested.
They need to see some sort of sales record and some sort of proof that you have reader interest already, otherwise you don’t know any difference between you and just the next person who pops up. So do and inventory then of the books, specifically in relation to that territory.
And how you do that as you look at industry magazines and online websites to tell you what’s selling where.
A good source of information is IPR License, which is a rights based licensing operation that you can use in lots of different ways.
You can use it just as a base to kind of hold all your rights together in one place, or you can actually actively use them to try and promote your books, and they have a magazine. You can read, and catch up, and see what’s what’s selling where. I would say the platform is not perfect, but I definitely think it’s the best one. There are about eight or nine different platforms, and it is the best one and the most author-centric of the platforms. They’re in development, and we’re constantly feeding back to them, so we are always interested to hear as well from authors as to how they found the platform, and how it could be improved. So that’s one way.
They have a long list of all the different rights buyers, and their magazine tells you where you can go.
You could look to get an agent who would do some of this on your behalf. It could be an agent at home who would take on your oeuvre and kind of put it out there. And we have a dedicated agent in the Alliance who is working with our professional members at the moment, and hoping to roll that out more widely in time. But you can also approach agents in the territory.
So they know the local publishers. And to be honest, if you sell your book, if you have an agent at home, that’s what they’re doing. They’re actually approaching some agents in the territory and dividing the commission between them. So it makes sense for you to go and just have to pay one commission if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to do that.
And the other way then is book fairs.
So if you know that people are coming, which they do, to wherever your local book fair is, Frankfurt, or London, or wherever. And obviously Frankfurt is the big right sales book fairs, the biggest of them all by far, and most all the rights buyers in the world turn up to Frankfurt. You plan a book fair strategy, and you line up the people that you want to meet, and you go and talk to them.
But much of this is now being done by email, and being done by people who don’t know each other at all. So traditionally though it’s a very people based industry, people like to trust each other, eyeball each other, see each other face to face. You can if you’re really hopeful about your book, and if you have a really good strong instinct also do a sales trip where you actually go and arrange to meet.
Publishers and agents are much more open to approaches, particularly from people who have had some self-publishing success, than authors often realize. So we can be a bit intimidated by the whole world. But if you have some success, if you have reached readers and you can show that, and you’re on a growth sort of trajectory, then honestly people will want to talk to you.
Joanna: Even this week we’ve seen, I think it was The New York Times with Meredith Wild who had a massive hit with her Hacker trilogy, and now she’s started buying other books and marketing those. And, you know, it was funny reading the article because of course we’ve seen this happening with other Romance authors in particular doing this, and other people setting up their own imprint. This is not unusual, but the tone of the article was almost this realization that authors could actually do this type of thing, and it was so funny to read it because I feel like they’re just catching up.
You mention book fairs there. Now I’ve been to Frankfurt with you, and I ended up in the Chinese section just trying to shelter myself from the intensity. And many listeners wont know much about book fairs. Can we talk about book fairs in particular, because when we were there we saw somebody who said, “I’ve come all the way from South Africa, and I’m not getting any books sold.”
How far in advance should people plan either a sales trip or a book fair, and what are the best ways of them arranging their time?
Orna: At least three months, I would say start six months out to be frank. If you were seriously thinking of going to Frankfurt this year with a sales strategy in mind, I would say start thinking about it now. Begin to think about who you’re going to approach. And if you write to them earlier on, the early bird does get worm here because of their appointments. It’s really relentless if you’re an agent.
I did work as as literary agent briefly, and the book fairs were so punishing. It’s every half hour, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, appointment, appointment, appointment, appointment, appointment. And people are selling hard. You need to have all your paperwork in place, so you need a rights guide for each title that you’re trying to sell with the sales point information, and what rights have already being sold if any, and so on. But mostly you need to have appointments, so that lady who had kind of just wandered in from South Africa thinking she could talk about her book. And people were interested to have a little book chat, but they’re definitely not going to buy rights under that situation.
Very often the deals are actually done in advance of the meeting. The meeting is kind of to ink the deal, so you really can’t plan too far in advance I would say, and you need to be strategic. You need to show you’ve done your homework, you need the buyer to realize that the book suits that buyer, they do actually publish fiction if you’re trying to do a novel.
Joanna: Yeah, that`s a very good point.
Orna: Yeah, all of that. So lots of research to do. I would say, if you want to go to Frankfurt later on this year, start now.
Joanna: And we’re in February, and Frankfurt is in October.
Orna. That’s right, yeah. Start now by investigating the territory. What are the current trends there? Who are the publishers who actually publish books like yours? Who are the agents who deal with those publishers? What is kind of topping that the charts at the moment? What is the self-publishing scene in that place? What do they think of self-publishers? And so on.
And then get yourself a list together of approaches, and then begin softly, softly with the approaches saying, “I’m going to be in Frankfurt in October, I would really like to meet you. I’m such and such, and blah blah blah.” And the very fact that you are talking about going to a book fair, and showing that you understand that’s where the businesses is done, ask if they are going to be there, and planning in advance shows them… Already you’ve distinguished yourself from the person who just turns up hoping for the best. Rights buyers are inundated with catalogues.
Joanna: Yeah, and there’s loads of paper, isn’t there, at these things?
Orna: So much. And you know book, after book, after book, after book, picture after picture, to sales thing after sales thing. But that’s why the personal touch is important. They get very busy as the fair actually approaches, with all the people they already know who are convinced they have a great deal for them this year. So try and work in the sort of gaps between the fairs. Makes a lot of sense especially as you’re starting out.
Like anything in the author front it’s not an overnight thing if you are going to do this. Do give it two years for you to understand the landscape, and pitch well, and to make mistakes, to fail badly, to feel horrible, to you know go home and kick the cat, and to get back up on it and go again.
It does take time, and investment of time, and you will feel at first a book fair can be a very overwhelming experience. Then, if you get on top of it, and I speak as somebody who, you know, I started in the in the literary agency thing. I ran a writing school, and we had some talented people coming through, and they were getting such awful deals from publishers. That’s where it all began, and ended up then going to book fairs, and so on. So we started from scratch in our agency, we had very little experience. And we built a rights business, and it did take two years. Everybody wants a book that sells, if they think the book will sell, you’ll sell it. They’ll take a pitch.
Joanna: I know that everyone is now going, “Why would I bother?” Because you know… “Is it better that I spend my time writing another book in English?” And that’s kind of where I am at the moment, but I’m still really interested in this. Could you share some of the success stories that you included in the book to give people an idea of where they could be once their author business matures a little? And I put myself in that category, I’m not at the maturity level of doing this yet either, I want to be but I’m getting there.
Give us some of the success stories.
Orna: I will give you success stories. But just before I do that, I want to stress it’s largely an administrative job. So you know, once you’ve done the research, which can be quite enjoyable and interesting actually. Once you’ve done that part, the actual sending of the emails and stuff I think is best farmed out to somebody else to do on your behalf, so you’re not getting caught in it, and you can carry on writing and doing your other things. And it’s something you would just once a month or whatever would have a review of and push out there.
The research, and the understanding the territory, and understanding yourself and your books, that’s the hard part. Once that part’s done it’s not terribly time consuming, I do want to say that. In terms of the examples, these are some of the different ways that people have done it. And there’s no one way to to work with rights. The ideal is they approach you, and that does happen.
Joanna: It happens when you hit the top of the charts, but not everyone hits the top of the charts.
Orna: And it does happen further down. I would say it happens, not necessarily top of the charts, but somebody who has a lot of books. You know, a good series that sells well consistently is also of interest to agents. So Dean Wesley Smith talks about himself and his wife Kathryn in the book, and they just think agents are death. They won’t go near them, they don’t trust them at all. And particularly in the area of translations on foreign rights, they just feel it’s ripe for investment, and authors don’t know half of what’s going on, and just go directly to the publisher yourself.
And they both had approaches from publishers and reached out to publishers, and both have done really well at what I would call that consistent level where the rights income is nicely supplementing what you have already. They don’t put a huge amount of effort into it, and so I would say they’re probably leaving money on the table. But that’s absolutely fine, because they’re getting on with their writing, and that’s where they put it in their lives. We give the example of the John Penberthy who wrote, “To Bee or Not to Bee”, as in B-E-E, buzz.
Joanna: Buzzy bee.
Orna: Buzzy bee, which is a kind of mind, body, and spirit book. He used foreign agents, a selection of them. And so he approached agents, and his thought on the agent thing was that they have an in to the market that, you know, is just take too long for me to understand and to do. So that was his approach, and I think he, on last count, had 45 or 46 different foreign right sales.
There’s “The Martian”, which a lot of people know was a big Hollywood blockbuster movie during the summer. Now, very few people know that is actually a self-published rights success story, in that he published first of all on his blog free, and put his episodes out as he wrote them.
And then it was a 99 cent book on Amazon. Podium, they began to rise up the charts and podium, which is a very good audio book publisher, approached him. And they made a very nice audio book which won an award, which then attracted the attention of Hollywood, and now the book has obviously got a print deal after that. And that went up through the audio book route.
So I mean, they’re three examples. They just give you an idea of the kind of variety of the ways in which it can happen.
At Frankfurt last year, I met a young woman, mind, body and spirit again, she’s a hypnotherapist. She had just taken a stand in Frankfurt, done her prep, and sold the rights to 40 different countries translation wise, on the spot. I’m trying to follow up with her since to find out how many of those deals actually did Land, and did come through. And I haven’t actually got the the answer on that, but she was super excited that day.
And that’s what I was going to say, at first it’s overwhelming, then when you crack it it’s super exciting. It’s really good fun, and you meet some very nice people. It’s a side of trade publishing that’s much different, much more interesting, because it’s often, you know, people from different territories speaking even different languages. And, you know, you just see a whole different side of publishing there, I think. And people… Yeah, there’s a real buzz if you sell… At books fairs, a really good buzz if you sell, do a couple of deals. It feels nice.
Joanna: I think that’s exactly the point. There will be people listening who haven’t even finished a book yet, and there will be people who are currently self-publishing their first book. And we know, we’ve been through this, learning how to self-publish in the first place is overwhelming at first, and then learning how to market your e-book in English is overwhelming at first. But we master these techniques, and we master the process, and then we move on.
I look at Dean and his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch. They’ve been in publishing 40 plus years. Their processes have got to that point, as have yours. And I feel like this is, for me, I feel on the edge of, “This is where I want to go.” But there’s a process that you have to learn. And, like you say, as you get into each of these things you master it, and then you move on. So I can see that, and I hope people listening will realize that this is the maturity of the industry. This is people moving from just self-publishing an e-book, or a print on demand book into this kind of future of the publishing industry, I guess.
Orna: You’re making a really important point, and it is really important. I mean, I can hear already, we’ve probably lost them already. They’ve switched off and said, “I cannot possibly take up another task!” This isn’t about doing this today, necessarily at all.
But what it is about, and this is the important part, is that knowing you can do this so that at the very start you are thinking that this book that you’ve put a lot of time and effort into, you can actually take it out in lots of different ways, you’re not just restricted to one format on one platform. It’s an option, you can do it, but I would suggest that a rights based mindset is a much healthier mindset, you’re not depending on any one sort of outlet. You’re understanding that there are lots of different options, you’re taking your time, you’re not trying to run before you can walk, and you’re not trying to do everything all at once, absolutely not.
Just take your time, take your time with it, and know that you can do it. If you start to achieve any level of success you will get somebody approaching you, and just know enough to know that you stop and you think. You don’t go, “Ah! Somebody wants to buy my book!” Because if they do, and they’re trying to take all those rights, if they’re valuable to them they’re valuable to you. So to think about it that way from the start doesn’t mean you have to do it immediately.
Joanna: Yeah definitely. And you know, I’m what, seven years into this and I haven’t really done this yet. So just before we move on, we’ve talked a bit about translation, because that fits into the global side. And I would say that, as someone who’s tried self-publishing in translation, for me is not financially viable to continue bothering, so I want to sell translation rights. But the other thing that excites everyone is film and TV.
As the last topic, talk a bit about film and TV rights. Because that’s kind of completely different again, isn’t it? You don’t do that at Frankfurt Book Fair?
Orna: No. Though there will be people, scouts, who’ll be looking and so on. But yeah, I mean but this is best done as a direct pitch again, I think. I mean there are books and books written about how to go about this.
People say, “Should I do a treatment?” Or, “Should I send the book?” Or, “Should I send the script?” The ideal is all three, actually have the idea, book, and a script based on the book. Failing that, have the idea and the book, but a good pitch pack behind that which identifies the market, identifies the genre, at least has a couple of scenes written up to show that it is visually interesting, and so on.
The book goes into this in some detail. It’s a good starting point. I mean, the rights book we’re talking about, it’s a good starting point. But if you’re serious about film, it’s a very complex area. Translation rights contracts are quite simple, actually, compared to home territory publishing rights. TV and film contracts on the other hand, multiply by a hundred. You need to think about what you going to do at contract stage, shall we say.
Again, there are a couple of people in the space who are doing interesting things. There is Voyage Media who have brought some self-published people through to actually green-lit projects now that are actually in the process of being made. It has taken time, and we’ve been following them for the last three years saying, “Anything green-lit yet?” No, just options. But finally they have a couple that have been. And that’s the length of time, it can take four to five years between option and delivery. So again, don’t get excited about it.
But it’s well worth keeping your hand in there a bit and seeing what’s going on. There are lots of people getting into this space. So it’s, again, changing as we speak. These new platforms are much more open to dealing directly with authors, and in this area I think you’re probably best to get a lawyer to look at the contracts, rather than an agent necessarily who isn’t likely to have the contacts built up any better than you are, because the area’s are so new. Hollywood’s different, you know, having an agent and somebody who knows the right people, that does help. But again it’s pitching, it’s having a great pitch. It’s understanding where your book fits in the ecosystem, understanding, “Is it actually a film?” Because lots of books are not. And then it’s luck, huge amounts of luck in these things. And then right place at the right time, and all that kind of stuff.
Joanna: Yeah, Lee Child I think it took 10 years to go from option to fall through, fall through, and finally got made, Reacher got made. I’d also direct people to the interview with David Morrell, who wrote “First Blood” which became Rambo. He talks about the merchandising off the back of a film contract, and that the money was very much in merchandizing in sequels, and writing the novels for the sequels. Which is something like people don’t really think about, but like you said the contract is so complicated that you have to be really careful.
It all in the end comes down to having a book, doesn’t it? Having a book out there, and more books. Because one, you can’t wait for a lightening strike.
Orna: Exactly that, you build your books, and you build your readership, and you pitch, and you put stuff out and see what gives. You don`t stop writing, you don’t stop producing books for this. This is something you add on. You know, once a week you dip into it, or whatever you decide, it’s something you add on, it’s not something you do instead of.
Rights income is supplementary, it’s never going to replace the primary income from your books. And that’s important, but it really can extend your readership. And going into another format makes a huge difference, particularly film, but also there are radio dramatization rights, there are merchandizing rights directly from the book depending on the kind of book you have. Some mind, body, spirit books lend themselves to merchandizing. Lots of children’s books, obviously, other illustrated books particularly.
The list of subsidiary rights is growing all the time, and this is an area that is growing and is full of potential, I believe. I really do think so. So if you’re up for it, and if you’re ready for it, give it a go. If you’re not ready for it yet, keep it in mind when you’re talking to anybody about your book. And if you are thinking about starting here, I do think this is the only guide that I’m aware of, that’s the reason we wrote it. It’s the only guide I’m aware of to this territory, it’s very much an introduction, very much about locating yourself, and very much about creating that rights mindset so that you can begin to add this dimension to your business.
Joanna: Super exciting. So, tell people where they can find the book online, and also yourself.
Orna: Yeah. Well, I’m Orna Ross at ornaross.com. The book is for sale, the best place is on the sales page at selfpublishingadvice.org, just go to guide books on the rights book. It’s widely available at Amazon, Kobo, all the usual suspects. And we’ll have a print version probably for launching at Frankfurt Book Fair, so it’s an e-book version only for the moment.
It launches next weekend at San Francisco Writers Conference, and all the writers there will get a free copy to take away and hopefully spread the word down there where, you know, they’re close to film world, and they can all start taking a rights approach to their books. So yeah, I hope it will be useful to people. It’s free to members, as all our guide books are to our members. And we’re really interested in feedback.
I know there’ll be a second edition of this pretty soon, because it is such a changing area, and also we thought, “Lets just get it out, and hear more from authors about what they’re doing.” And I’m sure there are super exciting things happening outside that we’re not yet aware of, and we want to hear from authors about what they’re doing, and I know you do too.
Joanna: Yeah, definitely. So thanks so much for your time, Orna. That was great.
Orna: Thank you Jo. Bye.