Subrights 101 and Meet the Team

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jul 05 2022

In publishing, we focus so much on getting that first deal that sometimes we forget about the other ways a book can make money. Primarily this means subrights. The sales you make after that first book deal that help expand your book’s audience and your bank account.

Defining Subrights

Subsidiary rights, otherwise known as subrights, is the hidden revenue behind a book deal.

Subsidiary rights cover every form of the book that is not the physical book (or ebook) itself. When an agent sells a book to a publisher, it’s known as a primary deal. While negotiating that deal, the agent is also discussing who has the right to sell (or, more technically, license) certain rights including foreign and translation, audio, merchandise, theater, and film/tv rights. These rights are either “sold” to the publisher or kept by the author. Keep in mind, no matter who handles the rights, the author should always see a fair portion of whatever earnings they make.

In order to capitalize on these rights, agencies and publishers have a subrights department or team they work with. This behind-the-scenes team works on selling secondary rights while agents work on managing authors’ careers. Subrights teams are constantly talking with foreign agents, film agents, and merchandising contacts to keep pitching and sell all their books—backlist and frontlist—because you never know when a topic becomes timely in another market.

Today I’ve asked Jessica A. and Jenissa to jump in and talk a bit more about what it’s like to work in subrights.

Meet Jenissa, the Subrights Manager

Jenissa moved to BookEnds in April 2022, where she is now Subrights Manager and Associate Agent. While actively building her client list, Jenissa is excited to support all the wonderful BookEnds clients in subrights, primarily licensing audio, merchandise, and film/tv rights.

In Audio licensing, BookEnds pitches a book to independent audiobook publishers. To encourage a sale, Jenissa looks at how well the book is doing or expected to do, because a successful book will likely make for a successful audiobook. Will there be a big first printing of the book? Is there a marketing and advertising campaign planned or underway?

Merchandising licenses allow artists, vendors, and merchandise companies to create, market, and sell products based on a book or its characters and settings. Jenissa will look at if the book has generated a large fandom. Was there a unique world created that readers have fallen in love with? Does the book have a cast or character that can easily crossover to plush dolls, t-shirts, or pajamas?

Film/TV Option gives production companies, streamers, or studios exclusive rights to produce a film or a TV show based on what the author wrote. The option usually goes for a short period of time (anywhere from 12-18 months). The film party can either extend or drop the option. An option does not mean that the book will be produced, and if the option(s) do not lead to a purchase, the rights go back to the author.

Jenissa believes subrights are an integral part of shaping an author’s career, a nice complement to the primary book deal, and a hidden gem in getting books more exposure.

Meet Jessica A., the Foreign Rights Director

Jessica Alvarez has been an agent at BookEnds since 2011, representing everything from rom-coms to cookbooks to true crime. She took over managing BookEnds’ foreign rights in late 2019.

Along with managing her own client list, Jessica works with agents across the globe to sell translation rights for many of BookEnds’ titles. If the initial book deal was for World rights, the publisher’s subrights team handles translation sales for the author. Foreign publishers typically aren’t interested in titles for translation until the book sells in its original language. So Jessica’s work begins once an author has that first book deal. She considers bestseller status, critical praise, and previous translation sales.

Then, Jessica sorts through all that information to prepare our rights guides twice a year to coincide with the big book fairs—London and Bologna in the spring, and Frankfurt in the fall. Jessica sends these rights guides to BookEnds’s co-agents abroad, as well as scouts and foreign editors. Once our co-agents have time to review, Jessica meets with them to discuss projects in more detail and answer any questions they have so they can pitch the books to editors in their territories. This is Jessica’s favorite part of the job: building relationships with the co-agents and learning about what the publishing landscape looks like in each of their territories.

One of the questions that comes up frequently from authors is when is the right time to sell translation rights on their books. It varies some by territory, author, and project, but our co-agents typically wait until a book is fully edited. Especially with picture books, cookbooks, or anything else with a lot of graphics and heavy formatting, it’s important to wait until we can present a file that fully shows what the printed book will look like. Just like with submissions to English-language publishers, we often get just one shot with a foreign publisher, so we want to put our best foot forward. As with anything in publishing, things can move slowly and often require patience. Sometimes we get these foreign deals quickly, but continue to push our titles for years after initial publication. Frequently, this results in backlist title sales!

One response to “Subrights 101 and Meet the Team”

  1. Avatar Naomi P Lane says:

    This was an interesting read. Your team looks fabulous and seems to stay on top of every subrights angle. Kudos!