In the latest instalment in our series providing an insight into life and careers in the publishing industry, we’re speaking with rights executive Nick Ash.
I’m in charge of… selling the rights to translate our books into certain languages and territories for the wide range of books which fall under the Adult Fiction and Non-Fiction lists at Bonnier Books UK. The process starts with pitching books to international editors and gauging interest, before negotiating deals for these titles and then drawing up a contract and making sure the publishers have all the materials and information they need for a successful publication.
Specifically, I look after the translation rights for China, Taiwan, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Israel, and the Arabic-speaking world. I also handle audio-only rights to US publishers.
My first task of the day… is checking through my inbox, of course – I’m sure that’s a common response! For me in particular, because of the time difference, I normally receive emails from our co-agents in China and Taiwan overnight which I check first thing.
Around book fair season, my first task of the day will be to double-check my schedule of meetings for the day. In Rights, our year is orientated around the two major book fairs – London in the Spring and Frankfurt in the Autumn. Though there are also many other fairs throughout the year! At the moment, we’re holding meetings virtually and the schedule can get pretty jam-packed, so it’s worth checking you have all your prep, Zoom/Teams invites and schedule in line before the day kicks off.
The thing I look forward to the most… is the buzz of a book fair environment – particularly in that pre-pandemic world! Nothing beats the energy and enthusiasm of going into a fair as we prepare our rights guides (the catalogues of the books we’re focusing on in our meetings with international publishers). I’d say we tend to be quite social people too, so we’re always looking forward to meeting colleagues old and new. The job at this time revolves around having lots of conversations about books, getting to know people and finding out exactly what they’re looking to publish for their own readers.
What nobody else knows about my job… There’s a fair amount of critical reading and thinking involved in working out how to pitch books to your markets. We don’t always use the same sales strategies as you might see utilised for UK-focused channels, as readers across the world have differing tastes in both fiction and non-fiction.
As a team, we’re also sometimes asked for feedback on a book’s rights potential when the editorial team is considering acquiring a book. In Rights, you can enjoy being part of a book’s journey from the point of acquisition right through to its UK publication and up to the moment the foreign editions you’ve negotiated end up in an author’s hands. Yes, this does mean there’s quite a lot of administrative leg work, a responsibility I share with other members of the team, and it can be a bit of a balancing act! You could be drafting a contract one moment, whilst also preparing a catalogue, or being asked for thoughts on a book that’s just come in. My inbox is never really quiet!
How I got the job…. I was looking for the next step in my Rights career and the Bonnier Books UK position seemed like the ideal next step. I had worked at Hachette UK for 2 and a half years, initially as a rights assistant across four divisions and then on a royalties-focused project. Before that, I was briefly a rights intern at HarperCollins and had a placement in the Rights team at Penguin Random House in Spain too as part of my year abroad. Having worked at a few different Rights teams and across a range of adult books, you begin to have a feel for what works well in particular countries even if each Rights team itself is structured a little differently.
I think the breadth of what Bonnier Books UK publishes was a big draw for me as the list can be so wide-ranging. I now work on bestselling historical fiction from the likes of Heather Morris at the same time as handling books from our new non-fiction imprints focused on everything from wellbeing and music to business. During the interview process, I felt I got on really well with the rest of the team and it seemed like both the company and the environment would be a good fit for me!
My advice for anyone breaking in… is to work out if Rights is the department for you. And if you already have a particular interest in international culture, or maybe languages, and like the sound of getting to know international publishers and colleagues, it might very well be the Right department (pun intentional)!
It’s worth browsing through a publisher’s or agency’s rights guides, which are often easily available online. These catalogues will give you a feel of the books each Rights team is currently pitching and might help highlight the differences between working in a team based at a publisher or a literary agency. Rights is one of the few departments that pops up in both. The guides will probably also include some books in advance of their publication, as well as some you might not otherwise have heard about.
The guides demonstrate how being a wide reader is so important and underline the need to have suitable comparison titles for every new book when pitching, to act as an international frame of reference. Some publishers or agencies might excel in one genre, and other teams in publishing might exclusively work in one area of the market, but for Rights you often need to be a jack-of-all-trades.
The path I might have chosen… There was a time I was considering a career in theatre, inspired by acting and producing plays at university. There are moments when I’m self-taping a video pitch for editors in China and Taiwan when I really do feel the fantasy! Perhaps that door hasn’t fully closed quite yet as there could be an option to handle the rights to film/TV or other dramatic adaptation rights. It really isn’t that big of a step from what I’m working in at the moment.
For those looking to learn more about other roles in the industry, you can also take a look at interviews with colleagues in audio and editorial. And don’t forget to check out our Instagram @Inside_BBUK.