Ten Rights Hacks: Actionable Advice From Two Key Players

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The rights business is about relationships—and digital tools, say rights experts Kris Kliemann and Jane Tappuni. Here are their top ten tips for publishing rights professionals.
Rights buying and selling in the 2016 Literary Agents & Scounts Centre (LitAg) at Frankfurt Book Fair. Image: Frankfurter Buchmesse, Marc Jacquemin

Rights buying and selling in the Literary Agents & Scouts Centre of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Image: Frankfurter Buchmesse / Marc Jacquemin

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Use Tools! And Other Key Tips
One of the most instructive programs on the Publishing Perspectives Stage at Frankfurt Book Fair last month was a special presentation of “Ten Rights Hacks” from US-based rights expert Kris Kliemann, who until recently directed global rights for John Wiley & Sons, and Jane Tappuni, who leads business development and marketing for the transactional rights marketplace IPR License.

Here’s a review of the ten points that Tappuni and Kliemann offered to the audience, with some of their comments.

As in any good Top 10 list, Kliemann and Tappuni started with No. 10 and worked backward.

10: Know Your Rights
Jane Tappuni

Jane Tappuni

This was a fine cautionary note that unless you really know exactly what your publishing house or agency has to offer, you can’t possibly capitalize on the possibilities.

“And systems” that track the metadata defining a portfolio of intellectual property “are only as good as the information you put into them,” Tappuni said. “Use systems to detail things like assigned rights, what rights you own, what rights you haven’t sold…all so that you know what you can and cannot sell. Remember, copyright is where the money comes from, but it’s also the law. So make sure you document everything very, very carefully.”

Whatever software you decide to use, she said, should have the correct return on investment from your sales. “If you document your rights correctly, and know what you’ve got,” she said, “these systems should pay for themselves.”

9: Make a Great Rights Guide
Kris Kliemann

Kris Kliemann

This one was Kliemann’s suggestion and she drew on her long experience to recall how, “For years, it would be a point of pride to come to Frankfurt with these paper Word documents that didn’t have a ton of information on them and weren’t interactive and weren’t the most sophisticated selling tools. But this is not the 19th or 20th century. This is the 21st century, and there are all kinds of systems that can help you to make a great rights guide.”

Too often, she said, rights are sold in the rights halls that are the hearts of the industry’s trade shows “using the same description for their attempt at licensing right as the description you might see on an Amazon sales page. But when I’m trying to sell rights to a publisher, I don’t want to tell that publisher that she’ll enjoy reading this book,” which is what a consumer-facing sales blurb does. “Instead, I want to tell her why she should

“Instead, I want to tell her why she should publish this book. Why a company would benefit from publishing a book is a different story from why a reader might enjoy reading that book.

“You do a bit of writing, you get a version of your pitch that might say why publishers in Japan would want to publish this book. Think about customizing your pitches.”

Kliemann also recommends that a publishing house should have a rights site giving potential right buyers interactive access to the list and to details they know of what’s available.

8: Expose Your Backlist

Picking up on Kliemann’s suggestion about having an online rights presence, Tappuni reminded the audience that “Successful frontlist becomes backlist. And if you expose your backlist, then it’s a perfect dovetail” to your other availabilities.

She took this opportunity to point out that not only your own rights site but also an aggregator of rights availabilities such as IPR License’s transactional platform can display and offer backlist titles as well as new ones. The advantage in that case—as a support, not competition, to your own site—us that there’s a certain built-in audience for a major site like IPR’s, and you’re thus bringing more eyeballs to your backlist availabilities as well as newer work.

7: Know Your Customers

“At Book Fair,” Kliemann said, “this is a particularly complicated thing. Because I have, basically, half an hour, and I have Mr. Denmark and Ms. Latvia and Mr. France and a Ms. France.”

Considering how much time is lost simply to chitchat, she said, “If you’re not on top of who this person is in front of you,” you’re at a disadvantage in trying to make a sale. The answer here, she said, is a system of highly comprehensive information on each contract. “We want a system that doesn’t only have your [a potential buyer’s] email address but also what I sent you, what you said to me after you saw it, what you’ve bought from me, what you paying habits are, how we’ve done together, what were our sales?”

This is a data file, she says that gives you, as a seller, the chance to say to a customer, “We had this and that success in the past, what can I do to help support you when you publish?”

These details—”stored outside your head,” she stressed—can become a way to search for the right sales targets, too, based on what these buyers have done in the past.

Jane Tappuni on the Publishing Perspectives Stage. Image: Porter Anderson

Jane Tappuni on the Publishing Perspectives Stage. Image: Porter Anderson

6: Sell in Aggregation and Chunks

“This is both about using systems,” Tappuni said, “but also about being creative. The book is just a wrapper. Think of your content” as a kind of group of intellectual property,” not necessarily tied to one format (a book) or another.

In this case, Tappuni was talking mainly about nonfiction work and ways that it’s been handled by companies including O’Reilly Media and Safari.

“You can sell things in chunks,” she said. “You can license single chapters separately. You can put different bits of content together. You might allow people to put things together for coursework. But it’s all about exposing your intellectual property.

“If you have a good system, a CMS [content management system], it’s all part of an ecosystem for publishing, licensing, and selling. If you have the time to understand what you can license, there’s money to be had. Please don’t leave money on the table.

“The way our world works now is much more fluid. These systems should be open, they should be able to see each other, and data should be able to be pulled in and out of a rights system. If you know your customers, you should be able to customize content for them” based on your ability to mix and match as needed.

Kliemann picked up on what Tappuni was saying about being creative with content that might be sold in “chunks” instead of as whole books, saying, “I think there’s a certain amount of fear” for many in the traditional industry “with this idea of breaking things up.” She recalled being a travel publisher at Fodor’s and advising readers that, “You don’t have to keep the two shoes together” in a suitcase.

“I think it’s time,” she said, “to take the book out of the wrapper, as Jane says…to experiment and do more.”

5: Stay in Touch

In the past, Kliemann said, publishing trade shows were rare chances to see each other. But today, she said, we have new tools for face-to-face communication. “Use Skype,” she said, “have face-time with your customer. Take the time throughout the year to have conversations with each other” rather than waiting for each year’s trade shows.

“Especially for those of us dealing with each other across cultures, very often our emails are misinterpreted. You thought you said one thing and the customer is interpreting it another way. If someone is seeing your face in a video call or listening to your voice in a phone call,” there’s a better chance for understanding.

“And then,” she said, “I think you should send someone a written letter. Just one time this year, go to the card store on Valentine’s Day and write your favorite customer a sweet note with your hand and a pen and a stamp. And see how long it takes to get to China.”

Kliemann laughed at how she was describing this, but her point was serious: “We have so many modes of communication, and yet many of us have locked ourselves down to gigantic, overflowing inboxes.”

Kris Kliemann on the Publishing Perspectives Stage. Image: Porter Anderson

Kris Kliemann on the Publishing Perspectives Stage. Image: Porter Anderson

4: Be Creative and Flexible on Deals

Tappuni asked the audience to consider “how licensing deals are constructed” today. “You ask for an advance, based on future royalties, you send your royalty statement in at a pre-determined time, every six months or quarterly or annually.

“But do we really have to do that?” she asked. “What happens if somebody from a minor territory wants to license something really quickly? Could you not just do a one-off deal and say, ‘Yes, we’ll accept this deal for the next three years’?

“The business models are out there in the digital space. Why not recognize it to get more deals done quickly?”

This can leave time, she said, for the major deals, which will still be done in the standard way. “When you’re looking at your mega-France sale, that’s where you want to focus. So why not find a way to get quick and easy things done faster?

“Manage your time better by being more creative on these business models.”

Kliemann added, “If you start with the idea of ‘yes’ instead of ‘no,’ you can come up with all kinds of ways of doing things.”

3: Listen and Learn

“This goes back to the kinds of conversations you can have with customers,” Kliemann said, “and how focused we can become on telling the stories of our great books and a set of 55 titles you feel you have to get through in 30 minutes.

“If you’ve done a little bit of bonding” with your customer and pre-selected several books you know that buyer might want.

“Tell them about them and then stop talking,” she said.

“Just stop talking for the last 10 minutes of your meeting. And listen to what they have to say. Ask a few questions. Find out what they know. What’s happening in their market? If they could have any book they want, what would be the dream book they want?—and is there a way for you to create that book?

“Why not really try to help your customer understand the kinds of things that could really help them?”

2: Be Swift To Respond

“What kills us in business,” Tappuni said, “is the time it takes for us to execute a deal.”

Prior to the advent of email, Tappuni said, “We would do actual deals here at the Fair. I mean sign contracts. Write checks. Things happened really quickly. Once email came into play,” she said, “things started happening really slowly.

“Think of ways you can make things faster. One thing might be digital signatures” to prevent having to move physical copies of documents back and forth.

And another thing, she said, involves being ready with answers for the “after contract” questions that tend to come up, something that again is supported by having good systems with metadata properly logged and a strong view of what your intellectual property looks like.

1: Use Tools!

Here, both experts focused on how important it is to take advantage of the technological into-management processes available today. Among the comments here, from both Klieman and Tappuni:

No more card files, Word docs,  notebooks, Post-Its, contracts kept in the building down the road—or “Heaven forbid,” said Kliemann, “keeping it in your head!

“If you haven’t graduated to using spreadsheets to manage detail, then go for  it.  

“Or better yet, look into some of the great systems and tools out there that can get you to the next level with your data, marketing, negotiations, and contracts.”

Modernize and conquer, these two specialists told their audience. There’s money to be had by those who use the best systems available to them today.


For more coverage from the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair, download our Publishing Perspectives Show Dailies here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. Prior to that he was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a channel at The Bookseller focused on digital publishing. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.