Insights From the Foreign Rights Specialists Shortlisted for the 2018 British Book Awards

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

‘Knowing the current trends for all the different countries’ is among challenges tackled by the foreign rights experts who are shortlisted for this year’s British Book Awards. Their Nibbie is called the Rights Professional of the Year.

An image tweeted out from the 2017 British Book Awards by Nosy Crow, on winning Children’s Publisher of the Year. This year, Nosy Crow’s Ola Gotkowska is among shortlisted rights pros at the Nibbies. @NosyCrowBooks

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

Challenges, Successes, and Mentors

This evening in London (May 14), the prize ceremony for the annual British Book Awards—also known as the Nibbies—is scheduled to be held at Grosvenor House in central London under the traditional lavender lighting that bathes this fashionable evening.

In a market that probably has more awards programs than any other, the industry angle has never left this program entirely. In 2017, under The Bookseller’s administration, the event combined what had been called the British Book Industry Awards and the British Book Awards, and even when it comes to the 42 titles on this year’s book awards shortlists, sales success is considered “imperative,” as the award criteria specify.

New this year are three categories:

  • A new audiobook honor is now among a group of seven sub-categories under Books of the Year
  • An Author of the Year prize is getting its first outing
  • An Illustrator of the Year award is also new to the list

There are three retail prizes grouped under “Bringing Books to Readers”; seven subcategories under “Publishing Success”; and four under “Great People.”

And it’s one of those four types of “Great People” we focus on today, as we hear from some of the eight shortlisted candidates for the Rights Professional of the Year prize, an award sponsored by Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 10 to 14).

On this year’s shortlist, we find that Hachette leads with two nominees, Jason Bartholomew of Hodder & Stoughton and Andrew Sharp of Hachette Children’s Group. Other publishers represented with one nominee each are Simon & Schuster UK, the Quarto Group, Kogan Page, Canongate Nosy Crow, and Chicken House.

The full list of nominees is:

And as we wish each of these rights pros the best of luck at tonight’s awards, we’ve asked them to give us their input on several questions about their important area of the industry. We hear from each on challenges, successes, strong regions for sales of their work—and colleagues to whom they might want to give an award, themselves.

Little, Brown’s Kate Hibbert, left, was the British Book Awards’ 2017 Rights Professional of the Year. She was pictured at the ceremony with Dorothea Grimberg of Frankfurter Buchmesse, which sponsors the award. Image: Frankfurter Buchmesse


Amy Joyner, Kogan Page Ltd.

Publishing Perspectives: What’s the most challenging aspect of working in rights in today’s books business?

Amy Joyner

Amy Joyner: Ensuring our books and authors get exposure across all types of subsidiary rights across all territories is important at Kogan Page. We’re proud of our content and we ensure that we’re seeking the right buyers for our specialist content—looking for partners that are similar subject specialists.

PP: What’s a rights-sales success that stands out for you?

AJ: Kogan Page published Developing Mental Toughness in its second edition in 2015. We’ve sold rights in four languages, and the Polish edition has just won the Best Overseas Business Book award from the Polish Association of Business Trainers. Seeing our books win awards in translation is always a thrill.

We also work hard at Kogan Page to ensure that we’re finding the right home for our titles.

We worked with the Innovative OD Center in China in 2016 to translate Organization Development into Chinese, and because they have the right audience for the book, it’s selling very well. Considering these nontraditional licensing partners and being agile enough to work with them is important for rights sales for us.

PP: Are there languages or territories you find to be consistently responsive to your company’s catalogue?

AJ: We’ve seen huge growth in China over the last three years of more than 400 percent, demonstrating a clear commitment to business books. We’re also seeing good growth recently in Southeast Asia, in Thailand and Vietnam particularly, as well as in Russia. Audio rights continue to gather pace globally.

PP: How long have you been working in rights, and can you recall another rights professional to whom you’d like to give an award of your own?

AJ: I’ve worked in rights for more than 15 years and had the pleasure of working with Lynette Owen at Pearson. Lynette wrote the book Selling Rights, and is a champion for the value of rights sales in the wider publishing community. I also learned a huge amount from my first manager in publishing, Susannah Bowen. Susannah taught me invaluable skills in sales and marketing, all of which I’ve endeavored to mix into my rights career.


Andrew Sharp, Hachette Children’s Group

Publishing Perspectives: What’s the most challenging aspect of working in rights in today’s books business?

Andrew Sharp

Andrew Sharp: Keeping up with demand for our books as we leverage the breadth and depth of our publishing—and our unique position as IP holders for Enid Blyton [1897-1968]—to delve ever deeper into an increasing number of markets globally.

Ensuring that we match our authors’ and illustrators’ books with the best global partners to optimize their income has always been a big part of the challenge—and fun—of rights selling.

PP: What’s a rights-sales success that stands out for you?

AS:  I was immensely proud to conclude three deals with a Nepalese publisher last year. My colleagues at Hachette Children’s Group, the authors, and their agents were all excited, too.

The deal announcements created quite a buzz in the office. The publisher is mounting a huge  campaign to promote literacy in Nepal, where rates of illiteracy remain high. I’m proud that Hachette’s books and authors form part of this campaign. Global literacy is a cause that’s very important to me.

PP: Are there languages or territories you find to be consistently responsive to your company’s catalogue?

AS: Our US rights sales are strong across all genres and have been growing nicely year-on-year.

Hachette’s illustrated publishing sells particularly strongly in China. Our children’s fiction sales to Germany are massive, led by Enid Blyton, who’s a household name in Germany. Our partners tell us that many Germans believe Blyton is German, herself.

Our new baby, toddler, and preschool imprint, Pat-a-Cake, has launched very well in a number of markets, including the USA, France, Spain, Wales, and South Korea.

PP: How long have you been working in rights, and can you recall another rights professional to whom you’d like to give an award of your own?

AS: I started working in rights five days after sitting my finals at university. Once I started working in the children’s sector, I never looked back.

I’d give two awards. One would be to Joanna Lawrie, who was my first manager, and herself a rights executive. It was rather “trial by fire” for both of us. Jo taught me a huge amount and we remain friends more than 20 years on.

The second award would be to our senior publisher at Hachette Children’s Group, Anne McNeil. Anne and I have worked together for about 15 years. In that time, Anne has been something of a mentor to me, teaching me much about publishing, working with authors, illustrators, and publishers. We’ve built many authors’ careers together and had a lot of fun in the process. Working with Anne has made me a better rights sell.


Elinor Bagenal, Chicken House Books

Publishing Perspectives: What’s the most challenging aspect of working in rights in today’s books business?

Elinor Bagenal

Elinor Bagenal makes four points:

  • Keeping ahead of the ebb and flow of the tide in children’s publishing.  Knowing what is and isn’t working at this moment. And more importantly, what everybody is going to want in two years’ time. If only we knew for sure.
  • In conjunction with my colleagues, trying to be way ahead of everybody else with the next ‘big idea,’ rather than following on with lots more ‘me, too’ books.
  • Knowing the current trends for all the different countries. Is it only middle-grade this year for Korea? Or YA in Iceland?  Or multi-illustrated for Japan. What’s big in Russia today is maybe the last thing Germany is looking for at the moment.
  • Building strong connections between countries that might or might not be politically at odds by the acquisition of the same title, and then setting up meetings together, sharing experiences together, and definitely acknowledging a shared love of books together.

PP: What’s a rights-sales success that stands out for you?

EB: Selling Fandom by Anna Day—a YA debut—to 25 countries before UK publication.

Also, keeping the 37 countries that bought the first book in the Beetle Boy trilogy by M.G. Leonard involved and continuing to support the whole trilogy.

And continuing to sell bestselling backlist titles like Lucas by Kevin Brooks and The Extincts by Veronica Cossantelli years after original publication.

PP: Are there languages or territories you find to be consistently responsive to your company’s catalogue?

EB:  We champion and support mostly debut books from middle-grade through to YA, therefore our list changes so regularly I don’t notice a consistent response from any particularly territory. Having said that, everybody knows that our list is not limited to any specific genre, so people from around the world arrive on the stand at Frankfurt and Bologna expecting to be surprised and entertained. Which they generally are.

The thing that most countries respond to across the world is the quality, beauty, and memorability of our covers. This really encourages people to read the books, which then results in sales.

However, I do notice that if Germany likes something, the Netherlands generally does, too. And the same goes for France and Italy.

At the moment we’re having a very great success with both our middle-grade and young teen books in China. This has changed dramatically over the past two years. In fact, China was the first country to make an offer for The Way Past Winter, the third title from our bestselling middle-grade author Kiran Millwood Hargrave.

And I’ve just had an offer in for eight of our older middle-grade, teen and YA titles from Poland, which is pretty good going. So perhaps Poland is going to be my new best friend.

PP: How long have you been working in rights, and can you recall another rights professional to whom you’d like to give an award of your own?

EB: I’ve been in children’s publishing for more than 30 years and have mainly worked for small publishing houses. As a result I’ve been involved not only on the rights side but also on the creative side. Being involved with the creation of the book right from the start has always made me able to sell in a different way from other people.

And the person who taught me how to do all these things was Mathew Price.  He gave me my first job in children’s publishing and taught me that however small you are,  you can make a big impact. Matthew is best friends with everybody around the world, knows how to sell, knows how to seek out and nurture new artists and authors, knows how to push and when to let things take their course.

Mathew has flair and individuality as a person but always let the individuality of each book be center stage in all his presentations.

And I hope I do that too.


Stephanie Purcell, Simon & Schuster UK

Publishing Perspectives: What’s the most challenging aspect of working in rights in today’s books business?

Stephanie Purcell

Stephanie Purcell: There many challenges such as fluctuating currencies especially with Sterling V the Dollar rate compared to last year. On the co-edition side we have had increased print prices which means we have to work really hard to maintain our profit margins.

PP: What’s a rights-sales success that stands out for you?

SP: One of our proudest rights success is our sales of The Storm Whale by Benji Davies which is now sold in 35 languages.

PP: Are there languages or territories you find to be consistently responsive to your company’s catalogue?

SP:  China has been a great market for our children’s list and Germany is perennially a great market for our commercial women’s fiction.

PP: How long have you been working in rights, and can you recall another rights professional to whom you’d like to give an award of your own?

SP: I’ve been in rights for 20 years and I have huge list of people that I’d like to give multiple awards too.

However one person I’d mention is Tracy Phillips, rights director at Egmont who for six years was a wonderfully wise and nurturing boss.


Karine Marko, The Quarto Group

Publishing Perspectives: What’s the most challenging aspect of working in rights in today’s books business?

Karine Marko

Karine Marko: For a catalogue like the Quarto Group’s, opportunities to sell our IP are abundant. We welcome new customers and develop new markets every year. The challenge is to work fast and to develop ever greater agility in seizing these opportunities.

PP: What’s a rights-sales success that stands out for you?

KM: I’m very proud of the Quarto foreign rights team’s ability to sell so many titles every year in more than 10 languages, often reaching as many as 20 or 30 languages on occasion.

I’m particularly proud that we sold 700,000 copies of our interactive Build The series for children in 29 languages and 150,000 copies of our Creative Lettering title in 20 languages.

PP: Are there languages or territories you find to be consistently responsive to your company’s catalogue?

KM: In general, France, Germany, and the Netherlands have been consistently responsive to our catalogues for both children and adults since Quarto’s foundation, and this is still the case. Our children’s business is strong globally, particularly in Italy and China.

Our bestsellers in reference traditionally find homes in Poland or Spain, while Nordic countries’ publishers are often the first to acquire our trendiest titles.

PP: How long have you been working in rights, and can you recall another rights professional to whom you’d like to give an award of your own?

KM: Ive been working in Rights for 20 years. I’d give a professional gong to the Quarto foreign rights team and to its directors in particular. They do an exceptional job of finding the best licensee for every title and keeping the backlist alive year after year.


Andrea Joyce, Canongate

Publishing Perspectives: What’s the most challenging aspect of working in rights in today’s books business?

Andrea Joyce

Andrea Joyce: Publishing is a challenging business in every country. With the additional cost of translation thrown in, there’s a danger that publishers are only looking for sure-fire big sellers, and the innovative, the quirky, and the brilliant mid-list books could get overlooked.

It’s also a fast-changing area. Streaming and subscription models seem to be in a constant state of development. Having said that, the pace of change is exhilarating and the great joy of working in rights is coming into contact with international editors who are absolutely passionate about books and often want to find the hidden gem. 

PP: What’s a rights-sales success that stands out for you?

AJ:  I’m really pleased with the way we’ve sold Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo. This is a debut novel by a young Nigerian writer that we were thrilled to acquire translation rights to. We all fell in love with the book at the acquisition stage and it went on to be shortlisted for the Baileys last year. We have now sold rights into 18 territories. It’s a true hand-sell and I think we’ll continue to license the rights to many other countries as we continue to spread the word about this beautiful and moving novel.

If I’m allowed a second success then I’d love to mention Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive which we keep on selling internationally. We’ve now licensed rights to 39 territories.

PP: Are there languages or territories you find to be consistently responsive to your company’s catalogue?

AJ: We have a relatively small list and we aim to sell everything everywhere. In general, we find that our nonfiction, especially popular science, sells really well in Asia and China, in particular. Debut fiction sells well in Germany and Italy, often at auction.

PP: How long have you been working in rights, and can you recall another rights professional to whom you’d like to give an award of your own?

AJ: I’ve been working in rights for 18 years, and I’m really inspired by my rights colleagues at Canongate.

Jessica Neale, our senior rights manager, has a forensic understanding of the markets she handles. Caroline Clarke, our senior rights executive, works with our sub-agents to generate a huge and ever-increasing number of deals each year, and Pauline Cuchet, our rights assistant who joined relatively recently is already generating income with large print and audio.

We’re also incredibly fortunate in having in Jamie Byng as a CEO with such huge expertise and interest in rights sales.


Jason Bartholomew, Hodder & Stoughton

Publishing Perspectives: What’s the most challenging aspect of working in rights in today’s books business?

Jason Bartholomew

Jason Bartholomew: The biggest challenge is the negotiation between literary agents and publishers to obtain the rights. With the UK book market stagnant, anyone who controls the US and translation rights stands to make a bigger return on their investment.

PP: What’s a rights-sales success that stands out for you?

JB:  One of the biggest recent successes–just as it’s still paying royalty money–was a deal I did for Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove with Peter Borland at Simon & Schuster in New York. Peter took a chance on the book, where all other New York editors passed, and paid quite a modest advance.

Since the deal was struck Simon & Schuster has sold more than one million copies of the book.

PP: Are there languages or territories you find to be consistently responsive to your company’s catalogue?

JB:  Across all genres, we tend to emphasize sales where markets are growing. Germany traditionally pays higher advances than other global territories, but of course we send every genre widely across Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East, and beyond.

PP: How long have you been working in rights, and can you recall another rights professional to whom you’d like to give an award of your own?

I’ve been working in rights for nearly 20 years now.

I started my career at Little, Brown in New York, and one of the best rights people in the business (and my former boss) is Nancy Wiese. She’s the current rights director at Hachette Book Group USA. If I could give Nancy a gong I would do so in a heartbeat!

Members of the @JohnMurrays team tweeted out this shot after John Murray Ltd. won Imprint of the Year at the 2017 Nibbies


There’s a full list of the 2018 shortlistees for the British Book Awards here, including the 42 books that are in contention. More from Publishing Perspectives on the British Book Awards is here. And more on publishing’s prize programs is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter Google+

Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He is also co-owner and editor with Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet, the newsletter for trade and indie authors. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, at London's The Bookseller. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.