The publishing rights manager has one core job: handling the rights of materials his or her company decides to get. For instance, a commissioning editor takes a manuscript into the company. It is the rights manager’s job to handle the contract for that manuscript.
The rights manager is also responsible for arranging the rights of foreign titles that the company plans to acquire and distribute—including the rights for reprints, translations, and electronic formats of the book. In turn, when a foreign company decides to get foreign rights for a product the book has produced, it is the publishing rights manager who handles the negotiation.
The rights manager is part of the entire process here, from starting the sale to the execution of the project. At times, they even go to book fairs and trade conferences to look for materials to buy and for buyers for their products. The job entails a lot of liaising, both internally (with other departments of the company) and externally (with other publishing houses overseas).
Salary & benefits
Publishing rights managers can get £17,000 to £23,000 a year, although the actual amount will depend on the company.
Bigger companies can offer as much as £30,000 a year for qualified publishing rights managers.
The job is largely office-based, but it does require the usual travel to meet with contacts and authors for rights negotiations. Travel opportunities (to attend book fairs and conferences) are also common here, although this may depend on seniority (more experienced managers may get to travel).
Freelance work as a rights manager in publishing is not usual, but it is possible for those who already have established credentials and, more importantly, the contacts.
Although the job should only be concerned with the rights of materials, rights managers need to make sure that the production process will follow the clauses in the contracts.
This means that managers coordinate with the production team very often—so much so that they can be directly involved with the production process. The job is on the typical eight to nine hours a day schedule, but overtime work should be expected.
A key objective for the publishing rights manager is to ensure that the company earns as much as possible from the deals it takes on. Therefore, the job is very business-oriented, with the manager minding the bottom line more than anything else.
Publishing rights managers usually have degrees in humanities and in publishing, with some employers preferring one over the other. Trade or specialist companies may want applicants to have a background in their field as well, but in general those with a background in publishing, media, and marketing are favoured.
The job requires good communications and negotiation skills. Smaller companies even require rights managers to handle the marketing of titles too, so marketing skills are essential as well.
In general, this area is one which involves a lot of persuading and negotiating. Companies dealing with foreign rights may want their rights managers to know some a foreign language.
Training & progression
Training in this field is work-based, mainly because the skills involved here are “soft skills” (in short: non-technical skills, such as communication or administrative skills).
Rights managers usually start as assistants. Assistants should attend short courses and programs in rights sales, rights agreements, and negotiation. Those taking these courses usually have to undertake them on their own, without the assistance of their employers.
Rights managers can be promoted to publishing rights directors, although other executive positions are available to them as well. Bear in mind, though, that a manager who works in specific fields may see their options widening in that area, but not elsewhere.
This can be a challenge, so new graduates should always consider their employment thoroughly. Working in publishing rights is good stepping stone to other administrative and executive areas, but in itself it can be quite a limiting field.
The skills they gain here, however, will be useful in many areas and industries.