« Editorial

5 Tips for Self-published Authors to Maximize Rights and Licensing Deals

Hannah Sheppard is creative director at IPR LIcense

By Hannah Shepphard

The discussion of the pros (and cons) of self-publishing (or indie publishing, if you prefer) rages across a wide gamut of publishing media every day. But the debates all focus on the idea of getting a book published in one market — what few fail to address is how self-published authors can maximise the full potential of their creative work in terms of rights licensing deals.

This is partly a knowledge issue. Most people understand the process that takes them from written manuscript to published books, but few realise the additional elements that make publishing a profitable business. Rights licensing plays a huge part in that – whether it’s selling translation rights, audio rights or optioning the film rights — these all help balance the book’s books.

So, how can a self-published author make the most of the lucrative rights arena?

1. Be Professional

This may sound simple but it’s an area I think some self-published authors fail to fully grasp. They need to ensure that they produce the best book possible. This includes professional cover design incorporating a cover which is eye catching in small thumbnail, and possibly in black and white for some ereaders. There is also editing to consider. No matter how good the writer, editing is a must. These may be costly services but it makes a huge amount of difference when trying to attract international interest. What’s the saying? You have to speculate to accumulate — it’s what a traditional publishing house would be doing so it’s vital that authors don’t sell themselves short.

2. Consider a Strong Web Presence

If and when authors attract interest, the first place a person is going to look for them is online so certain criteria must be asked and fulfilled.

Author Profile
Are you easy to find? Do you have a professional looking profile on all the relevant book sites? It’s wise for authors to take a look at some of the profiles for traditionally published authors on Amazon and GoodReads to get some ideas.

Book Profile
On sales sites is your metadata complete and up to date? Have you categorized your book properly so it can be found easily?

The sales blurb for each book must be working as hard as it can to attract buyers (it might be worth considering some professional help with this, too).

As much as telling a potential reader what the story is about, authors must also show them what they’ll feel when they read the book to really pull them in — read blurbs for similar books and see which ones work and analyse why.

Social networking
I’m not advocating joining all social networks, nor am I suggesting persevering if it doesn’t feel natural as it won’t work. But, if there is an approach that fits then use it to build up your network. Join in conversations with other authors (and their fans) who write in the same area. But the key here is to actually join in the conversation rather than bombarding everyone with sales messages.

Keep the idea of being professional at the forefront of everything that’s being done online – it may be tempting to answer back to a bad review, or rant about some bad service but if authors come across as someone who could be a potential PR nightmare then there is every possibility that the elusive deal may never come their way.

3. Focus Your Efforts at the Start

There has been a raft of success stories of authors who have gone from self-publishing ebooks via Kindle (Amanda Hocking, Sylvia Day, Abbi Glines…et al) in recent times which is greatly encouraging. It may sound counter intuitive in an article about making the most of the wide range of international licensing opportunities but the key to their success was that they knew their readership, engaged with them and stayed focused in order to build sales which then reached a tipping point and attracted traditional publishing interest and international success. Therefore, developing a loyal fan base to talk about and recommend an author’s work remains invaluable.

4. Understand What Rights are and the Available Opportunities

Self-published authors need to do lots of research and make sure they understand what rights they hold in their work. If they are considering signing with a self-publishing company rather than going independent it is vital to know what rights they are giving away. For example, if using a self-publishing company to print a book in English, authors shouldn’t assign the world rights for their work to the company as this would leave them unable to exercise those rights for themselves.

It may sound like a big job but those who self-publish need to act like a professional publisher and understand the industry. They should read the trade press and subscribe to all the book related newsletters. Following rights related news is also important in terms of knowing which types of books are selling in which areas: Publishing markets around the world fluctuate frequently based on trends hitting at different times and cultural differences meaning that (for example) while Italy may not be buying anything other than paranormal romance, Brazil might be desperate for crime.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Advice

Rights licensing can be a very complex area with many pitfalls. There are some brilliant organisations such as the Society of Authors and the Alliance of Independent Authors who can advise on services and contract points that may need checking. There are also agencies to consider who can represent translation and subsidiary rights. Or there are services such as IPR License which helps showcase authors work to publishers in who might be looking for something similar.

Hannah Sheppard is creative director at IPR License. IPR License launched in 2012 and is the global, digital marketplace for authors, agents and publishers to list and license book rights.

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  1. Sandy Thatcher
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    All of this is good advice, but one has to wonder how remote is the chance an author who is self-publishing and has no track record at all (unlike, say, Amanda Hocking) as well as no connections with agents or editors overseas will actually succeed in selling any subsidiary rights. Hope springs eternal, of course, but harsh reality generally prevails.

  2. Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    After some KDP experimentation last year, I launched my own publishing company in January to develop a line of “how-to” guides under the In 30 Minutes™ brand. Hannah’s advice is good, but I am wondering if she could elaborate more on international licensing. Based on the success of the books I publish in the U.S. and English-speaking markets, I would like to expand to other countries, but don’t have an idea of where to start — how do you make contact with foreign publishers? Or is there another channel?


    Ian Lamont
    Publisher, In 30 Minutes guides

  3. Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your comments.

    Sandy, I agree that the current processes make it difficult for talented authors without a track record, but that’s part of the reason for the creation of our site which aims to be more of a level playing field. Once work is registered and a preview is uploaded it appears in search results based on the category/subject and where rights are available. The idea is that quality will be found regardless of current track record. Different territories have different market needs at different times and the publishing industry is changing dramatically in its attitude to self-published work meaning there are now opportunities that may not have existed before.

    Ian, take a look at our website (www.iprlicense.com) for an idea of how we help publishers find international licensing deals. Feel free to email if you have any questions.

  4. Posted April 11, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Ask for advice! That’s the element that I find often gets lost among the other suggestions. I work with authors who are too afraid to admit they don’t understand the process of something when I don’t expect them to know.

    No one knows until they go out and learn it, you’re not born with the knowledge. It’s okay to ask!


    eBook Cover Designer

  5. Posted April 15, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    As a sometimes successful niche independent publisher, my experience validates four of the five points. I have found, however, that is much more difficult to discern who is correct when experts disagree (as they often do) over rights and licensing. There are still only 168 hours to a week, and one needs to time to research, write, edit, revise, and market. The greatest challenge I have found is finding and maintaining balance between production, distribution, and marketing. Rather than just consulting experts and asking for advice, one should – it seems to me – be prepared to hire experts with sufficient expertise.

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